Summer Eats

Part Two

LAGUNA WOODS

Nothing against giant chain restaurants, but I wouldn't consider the Olive Garden a restaurant so much as a feeding center—what happens inevitably when, as Marx predicted, the thesis of capitalism meets up with the antithesis of communism and produces the synthesis of socialism. But in Laguna Woods, that's about all there is, this synthesis embodied in the Olive Garden, which really isn't much of an option, if you ask me. I've got three meals to write about, and from what I hear, the only thing worse than eating institutional Italian food is reading about it, and I'll be goddamned if I'm going to serve readers that kind of overboiled pasta. Given that the vast majority of land in OC's newest city is located within the gates of Leisure World, it would seem to me that the only way to get a real meal is to become a guerrilla diner—to somehow penetrate the walls of the elderly enclave and rustle up some native grub. Here is my diary. [BREAKFAST] In the wee hours, I scale the barbed-wire-topped wall of Leisure World, which is easier than I thought it would be—until my landing on the other side is noticed by the guards working in the security kiosk at Gate 5, who promptly give chase. Eluding the elderly security guards is easy—like, well, like running away from old people —until I notice blood gushing from a vampiric gash on my right hand, presumably caused by the barbed wire. I wake up on a couch in Clubhouse 4 three hours later, where I was taken, I'm told, after I was apprehended when I lost consciousness and collapsed on the sidewalk. I am given a breakfast of a few stale butter cookies from a tin (to replenish my strength) and a Styrofoam cup full of water before being escorted out by a pair of snickering security guards (average age, 68). [LUNCH] I am instructed to leave the city. Considering the clusterfuck now known as the Breakfast Incident (as reported in that day's edition of the community newsletter), but still refusing to subject my taste buds to the bland-o-rama that is the Olive Garden, I head over to neighboring Laguna Hills for a meat-loaf sandwich at the Split Rock Tavern. The way I see it, if there isn't a decent meal to be found in Laguna Woods, perhaps it is only a matter of importing one. I take the sandwich to go. At a comfortable spot within the city limits on the shoulder of El Toro Road, a rapping on the driver's-side window turns out to be produced by the knuckles of an OC Sheriff's deputy inquiring about the wound on my right hand and informing me that eating in my car on the shoulder of a busy street is against the law. I will have to find a more appropriate location. I explain, to his bewilderment, that I absolutely had to eat the rest of the sandwich within the city limits—foog wavyoo, I say, meaning "food review," but it comes out "foog wavyoo." If I don't beat it, Fife says, I'll finish my sandwich in the back of his squad car. And while proud that I have managed to eat half of my lunch in Laguna Woods, I consume the balance of it in a Target parking lot in Laguna Hills. [DINNER] It looks as if serendipity is going to smile on me for dinner: I remember a story that appeared in the Weekly last summer about Leisure World resident Bob Ring, whose pro-incorporation organization helped the community gain cityhood last spring. I find a pay phone and give him a ring (get it?), dialing with my good hand and holding the receiver under my chin. He turns out to be just as kind as he seemed in the article, patiently listening to my quandary and informing me that within a year's time, Laguna Woods will indeed have more restaurants. In the meantime, he kindly offers to cook me dinner at his home, but I balk at the image of Ring cooking for the Weekly's 215,000 readers (he is in the autumn of his years, you know). Before hanging up, he suggests I go to the Olive Garden. Defeated, humiliated, lacerated and rejected, I wind up eating salad, ravioli and at least a dozen bread sticks at the only place I can think of. As it turns out, the Olive Garden is pretty good. I would probably go back. (TM) Split Rock Tavern, 24635 El Toro Rd., (949) 458-7939; Olive Garden, 24256 El Toro Rd., Laguna Hills, (949) 583-1020.

LA HABRA

Don't believe what you may have heard from bitter ex-residents—like, oh, me—but breakfast, lunch and dinner in La Habra does not necessarily translate into McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King. You just have to work a bit harder on your search for non-corporate eats. A good example for [BREAKFAST] would be Arthur's coffee shop, which is all lonely and isolated at the back of a Pic N' Save mini-mall yet somehow welcoming with its building-length sign proclaiming that the place has the "GREATEST BREAKFAST IN TOWN." Yeah, the food's good and all, but the atmosphere is even better, like scenes from an unwritten Tom Waits song—waitresses sporting "OKIE SPOKEN HERE" T-shirts take the orders of Korean War vets who have axle-grease stains on their well-worn Dickies; blue-collar couples make camp at a corner table and complain about high taxes and the Idiot Politician of the Moment; and everywhere you look, there's finely polished, simulated-wood-grain paneling plastering the walls, a hallmark of highway truck-stop chic. Arthur's serves real food for real people, damn it. For [LUNCH], my mom (who also lived in La Habra for 19 years) swears by the Chicken Box, a tiny room on Whittier Boulevard that always seems to be quite packed. They fry up all the bird parts you'd expect—legs and breasts are the most demanded—with just enough grease to keep things tasty, as well as ribs, batter-fried fish, and reasonably healthy stuff like salads (what's the point?). La Habra is also a fine burg for Mexican food, especially the [DINNER]s at Ricardo's El Ranchito, a muy caliente casa in yet another mini-mall on the city's Southwesternmost tip. Go here for three reasons (though you'll come up with more): to watch the tortilla makers do their thing inside a glass booth (tip nicely); to mack out on the light, flaky flour tortilla chips they give you to nibble on while you wait for your meal; and to feast on the superb camerones rancheros, a droolingly wonderful dish of shrimp cooked up in a sauce with peppers, onions and tomatoes. Really, there's more to La Habra than those krappy Krispy Kreme doughnuts. (RK) Arthur's, 1281 E. La Habra Blvd., (562) 691-7793; The Chicken Box, 330 E. Whittier Blvd., (562) 691-1701; Ricardo's El Ranchito, 1351 S. Beach Blvd., (562) 943-6020.

LAKE FOREST
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