By Matt Coker
By R. Scott Moxley
By Charles Lam
By Nick Schou
By Gustavo Arellano
By Gustavo Arellano
By Steve Lowery
By R. Scott Moxley
Apparently, most of us. But if you want to experience American cooking with pride, go to T.K.'s. T.K. Burger serves up charbroiled, fully but not overdressed hamburgers that taste so damn good I ordered one to take home and eat later, for when my stomach made more room.
With just two locations—one by the pier in Newport Beach and the other on PCH in Huntington Beach—T.K.'s is a study in simplicity. The menu has about five items, almost all of them grilled and wedged into a bun. You can tell by the way they're carefully flipped and hand-wrapped right in front of you that these cheese-topped masterpieces are made with love. T.K.'s patties are thin enough for each bite to balance itself with toppings and bun yet thick enough to retain their warm juice. Bring a napkin.
At $3.95, the "Big Bargain Special" secures you a cheeseburger with lettuce, pickles, red onions, tomatoes and dressing, plus a big ol' bag of fries. And, oh, those fries: crispy and dark, with just the right heft. T.K.'s also grills up smoky veggieburgers (Gardenburger brand, for those who care) topped with bell peppers and red onions.
T.K.'s is no secret; it's been broiling char here for around two decades. The clientele is a diverse mix, the décor is (of course) surfing-themed, and the music isn't the usual timid fast-food fare. But you ain't there for the music. 2119 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-3438; 110 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-3238.
BEST SUMMER DRIVE How do you find Chino? Not bad! [Rim shot!] But seriously. No. Really. You take the 57 north out of OC to the 60 east and drive until you smell the unmistakable stench of cow shit! [Rim shot!] And then you turn left! [Rim shot! Rim shot!] But no. I love Chino. Love it a lot. Chino makes Arkansas look like Oklahoma! [Rim shot!] Just as you're entering Chino, bang a right onto the 71 and go south. When you hit the 142—that's called Carbon Canyon Drive—proceed south again. If you're from Orange County, you're headed home; if you're from Chino, you're probably wearing an orange jump suit and manacles! [Rim shot!] Am I right?! [Rim shot!] Am I right?! [Rim shot! Rim shot!] And the car you're driving is stolen! [Dead silence, save for sound of cricket chirping and distant wolf howl.] So, where was I? ["142 south!"] The 142 south, Carbon Canyon Drive, one of the most beautiful summer drives in Orange County. You're going to see things you thought were long gone from Orange County. Scarce things—scarce things like an open road! [Rim shot!] But seriously: rolling green hills, canyon oaks and scrub oaks and California oaks. Winding road. Oh, and a little community called Sleepy Hollow. "Sleepy Hollow." Can you believe that? You're in Orange County, and you're thinking "headless horseman"! [Rim shot!] But no, that's just "heedless horseplay" at the nearby La Vida Roadhouse! [Cricket chirp.] But—you're gonna love this, here's the point, here's the really funny part of the whole thing: at the southern end of the 142, just before you enter Yorba Linda, you'll start to see these little homemade signs saying, SAVE OUR HILLS. Just like that: SAVE OUR HILLS, SAVE OUR HILLS, SAVE OUR HILLS. And then, alongside the road, with these greener-than-green hills and oak trees all over like big green fists, suddenly the shoulder alongside the road is bare earth, freshly turned up and bulldozed, and it's clear there's some road-widening project going on, and you're thinking—I know I'm thinking, I'm not sure about you! [Rim shot!]—you're thinking they're going to tear up the wilderness so that more people can enjoy the wilderness. And then you see the houses. And you realize, no, they're just going to tear up the wilderness. Period. Thank you! You've been great! God bless!
BEST PLACE TO SEE A HARE KRISHNA DRINKING BEER Ocean Avenue Brewery is a refreshingly small, non-corporate, copper-toned brewery, where a diversity of Epicurean Laguna locals find solace and refuge against unsettling summer tourists, Hare Krishnas, Deadheads, neo-hipsters and Harley bangers who converge along the avenue, especially outside the Marine Room across the way. Smoked glass divides the philosophical patio from the inside, and everything here is earth-colored and non-abrasive to the eye—it's like being inside the belly of a friendly whale: enveloping, organic, gas-lamp toasty. There's an array of award-winning brews to imbibe here, most exemplary among them the Red Sunshine (pint, $3.50). It's an American-style pale ale that offers a candy-caramel nose, lithe carbonation, delicate hops and a sweet finish that leaves the mouth aroused and wanton. Ocean Avenue Brewery, 237 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-3381.
BEST PLACE TO HAVE TEA WHEN SOMEONE ELSE IS PAYING High tea is a custom rarely practiced in this country, and it's too bad (although if we voted to take on another European custom, I'd lobby for the midafternoon siesta). Tea can be a wonderfully social and unifying event. I was bicycling with a friend through the English countryside one summer when a local couple flagged us down. It was time for afternoon tea, and, they observed, we obviously had none; they insisted we hop off our bikes and share their tea and homemade crumpets. So we did. I'm not sure that kind of impromptu fraternizing among total strangers could happen here without serious gun legislation. Until then, we'll be wary. And when we're flush again, we'll try high tea at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Dana Point.