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What's Cookin' Behind the Curtain - Sorry Belgium, It's Still About the Beer

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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.

If you were to give me a word association test and prompt me with “Belgian cuisine”, I would immediately answer waffles. Then beer. The chocolate. Then French fries (despite the misnomer, I’m in the fries originated from Belgium camp). Then a big fat blank stare.

What is it about Belgian food that is so unremarkable, so unmemorable? Perhaps it is the fact that the cuisine draws heavily from the nation’s larger neighbors, France and Germany. Or maybe it’s just the lack of standout ingredients to give the food a distinctive flavor or aroma. And quite possibly, it’s the fact that Belgian waffles, beer, and chocolate are so good, they overshadow everything else.

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I actually think one of the biggest reasons why Belgian food is oft-forgotten out here (at least in my mind) is that there are virtually no authentic Belgian restaurants throughout the Southland, and a paucity of quality non-French European restaurants in general. When I lived in Chicago, all sorts of European cuisine were readily accessible, which is no surprise given the contrasting immigration patterns of Chi-town relative to LA (let’s just say the Chinese food out there is, um, suspect). I’ll admit, I’m also somewhat predisposed against Belgian food because I like more robust, spicy flavors and lighter ingredients.

But in order to give Belgian food a fair shake, my food buddy Amy and I decided to wander over to Brussels Bistro in downtown Laguna Beach. The subterranean restaurant features a modern décor to match the artsy vibe of the area, but has a menu with faithful representations of classic Belgian dishes, as well as live jazz during the week and DJs on weekends. Though to be honest, we were mostly interested in feeding our craving for some good French fries than experimenting with the entrees.