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What's Cookin' Behind the Curtain - Grubbing Before the Rooster Crows

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Every Friday, LAist is taking you on a trip down to Orange County to uncover the unique dining experiences that await adventurous eaters willing to explore beyond the county line.

This month, LAist has brought you daily coverage of some of LA’s finest late night dining spots from all over the Southland. So we’d be remiss if we didn’t throw in at least one spot from OC.

Some of you readers that have probably never set foot down in the giant suburbia known as Orange County might be surprised to learn that there is actually a bar scene and late night crowd. True, you have to look a little harder to find it, but it does exist. I swear.

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One of these little hamlets of nightlife activity exists in Costa Mesa. While it appears to the naked eye that Baker St. seems abandoned after about 9 pm, there are actually a number of bars and clubs within a half-mile radius of the 73 Freeway, primarily located off the main drag in strip malls and industrial centers. Though hidden, these nightspots range from divey bars to chic lounges. And Rooster Café is the restaurant that services all of these hipsters after they’ve had their fill of carousing.

Rooster Café was actually opened by the owner of Kitsch Bar (off Baker/Bear) several months ago, replacing a popular neighborhood ramen shop. It’s primarily a brunch spot, opened daily from 7 am to 3 pm, but it is perfectly tailored to meet the needs of the late night crowd as well, re-opening its doors from 10 pm to 3 am on Friday and Saturday nights. It brings in a rowdy crowd from the Tin Lizzie Saloon, a gay bar next door, as well as pedestrians from the other neighborhood joints that are too sloshed to drive home. Offering counter service and holding about ten tables, the cafe attracts plenty of loiterers content to chat with some of their new best friends. The café has a minimalist décor, with red walls and furniture that looks more IKEA than Pottery Barn. Alternative music blasts from the speakers and the help is mostly tatted up or wearing some hipster threads.

The menu at Rooster café is simple, designed for fast and easy preparation of orders at the grill in the kitchen. The breakfast portion of the menu features various egg scrambles, French toast, and breakfast burritos, all for four to five dollars, as well as bowls of cereal (how yummy is a bowl of Cap’n Crunch after you’ve been drinking for five hours?). The lunch menu offers up different cold (BLT, tuna) and warm (meatball, grilled veggie) sandwiches ranging from five to seven dollars. And for those patrons that haven’t gotten their fill of liquor, bottled imports like Newcastle and Amstel are available, not to mention mimosas.

The one thing that distinguishes Rooster Café from a typical greasy spoon is the quality of the food. The ingredients are actually fresh, bringing an element of gourmet, not like the food was just thrown in a microwave or cooked in a deep fryer. The French dip is a popular example of this. Thinly sliced cuts of roast beef are served with sautéed mushrooms, grilled onions, and melted swiss cheese, all piled into a French roll, thus making it as much a cheesesteak as it is a French dip. But served piping hot with standard au jus on the side, it’s actually a really good sandwich, not just a really good late-night sandwich (big difference). In other words, sober people will appreciate the food as much as a drunk. The sandwich comes out literally steaming because of the meat, and the onions and mushrooms give it plenty of extra flavor, with the fresh roll providing the appropriate amount of crunch to absorb the au jus without getting soggy.

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The breakfast burrito is also a tasty dish that provides the comfort of post-bar finger food without compromising the quality of the food. Anyone who eats at roach coaches knows about the legend of roach coach breakfast burritos. Warm, greasy, so good going down, not so good coming out. The Rooster Café breakfast burrito is just as good going down, not as greasy, and does not result in the same degree of aftershocks. The burritos are thick, a big flour tortilla filled with fluffy scrambled eggs, hash browned potatoes, melted cheddar cheese, bacon or Portuguese sausage, with a side of fresh pico de gallo. The potatoes are not overly fried, helping to reduce the oiliness that weighs roach coach burritos down. The amount of meat and cheese is moderated to bring great flavor without dominating the dish and the lightness of the eggs and the coolness of the pico de gallo really lift the burrito. In effect, you get the benefit of feeling like you’re eating greasy food to absorb the alcohol without it being too greasy (relatively speaking).

When you’re on the lookout for a little nightcap, and you have that bug, any food will do. But it’s nice to find a place like Rooster Café that is a decent spot to hang out in after the bars have closed, yet offers good food that you may even remember when you wake up in the morning.

Rooster Café
750 St. Clair St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

All photos by Ryan Young for LAist