Costa Mesa

Its got the rest of OC licked when it comes to dining

Photo by Keith MayChunks of the town have been known in the past as Fairview, Harper, and Rancho Santa Ana del Yorba y Don Diego para Salma Hayek la . . . mmm, Salma Hayek . . . de Mission Viejo los Blah-Blah-Blah. It used to be prime farm country, with sweet potatoes, corn, tomatoes, strawberries, apples and the Segerstrom family's beans all growing in abundance. Now the Segerstroms grow office towers and shopping malls. Muckamucks through the years have given the town such chest-thumping nicknames as "Goat Hill," whose origins actually date back before the white man, when young Indian frat boys needed a name to put over the tavern in which they gathered to play darts and hoist microbrews; "City of the Arts," which glorifies high-falutin' theater and performing-arts venues in a town that has refused to acknowledge "Day Without Art," which memorializes artists lost to AIDS; "City With a Heart," which glorifies the many charitable ways the city helps the needy, including trying to drive soup kitchens, homeless shelters and "fucking Mexicans" out of town; and "The City That Refuses to Celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day."

EAT ME

The usual suspects. Sure, knock Costa Mesa around the block for assorted wackiness, but it's got the rest of OC licked when it comes to dining. Here's a partial list of great places praised previously in the Weekly: Costa Mesa Super Burgers, 2966 Bristol, (714) 662-2572; El Toro Bravo Tortilleria, 745 W. 19th St., (714) 631-4464; Gypsy Den Cafe & Reading Room, 2930 Bristol St., (714) 549-7012; Habana, 2930 Bristol St., (714) 556-0176; Memphis Soul Cafe & Bar, 2920 Bristol St., (714) 432-7685; Nick's Pizza, 2300 Harbor Blvd., (949) 722-7566; and Homegirl Arrissia-recommended Taco Mesa, 647 W. 19th St., (949) 642-0629. Country Inn Garden Caf. Once you step into this quaint little charmer at the end of "Antique Row," you forget you're steps away from one of the most traveled intersections in the country: Newport Boulevard and 17th Street. That Edenic sense of isolation is due not only to the soothing waterfall and atrium-like patio but also to owner Kim Simpson's pleasing menu. She uses only the freshest ingredients and a home-style flare in her delicious (and reasonably priced) food. You gotta try her scones. And cobb salad. And don't think of leaving without some peach cobbler. And . . . 130 E. 17th St., (949) 722-1177.Frank's Philadelphia. When a City of Brotherly Love exile laments OC's glaring lack of real Philly cheesesteaks, march him/her over to Frank's. Not only do they serve the real deal (and other mouth-watering sandwiches), but also the walls are adorned with memorabilia from championship Eagles, Flyers, Phillies and 76ers teams. 224 Fairview Rd., (949) 722-8725.

INTO THE OUTDOORS

California Scenario. Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi's tribute to California ecologies is a sculpture garden in an unusual setting: between South Coast Metro office towers. Landowners the Segerstrom family recently reached an agreement with the city to keep the garden intact for another 50 years . . . unless they decide to rip it out. 611 Anton Blvd., (714) 435-2100.Rockreation. Sure, you could go outdoors and risk getting stabbed or run over by a lawn tractor. Better you should confine yourself to the air-conditioned comfort and safety of the great indoors, where 11,000 square feet of fake terrain wait to be climbed. 1300 Logan Ave., (714) 556-7625.

EYE CATCHERS

Ali Baba Motel. The Taj Mahal-like exterior of this longtime dive motel (that's meant in a good way) appears in the Southern California pop-culture montage that is the video for Randy Newman's "I Love LA." Makes you wonder how many tourists wind up lost in South-Central looking for the Baba, unaware that it's actually an hour away—or more, what with traffic. 2250 Newport Blvd., (949) 645-7700.Trinity Broadcasting Network. The Christian network's gay Grecian wet dream of a world headquarters is even more over-the-top than founder Paul Crouch's loopy wife, Jan, whose poofy hair, outrageous outfits, glittery jewelry, paint-by-numbers makeup and free-flowing crocodile tears make Tammy Faye Bakker seem like the Queen of Subtlety by comparison. Even unbelievers have to browse through the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh Gift Shop and watch the blood-splattered life of Jesus movie in the Virtual Reality Theater. 3150 Bear St., (714) 708-4805.

BETTER SHOP AROUND

Hi-Time Cellars. Costa Mesa is built on the principle that everyone loves to shop—and that everyone who loves to shop loves to shop in shopping malls. B.S.! The best stores are freestanding, indie jobbers like this one. If you're into beer, wine, hard liquor and cigars and the fine food and accessories that go with all that like a hangover, this is your Valhalla. Besides stocking everything from everywhere, the knowledgeable staff (composed mostly of the owners and assorted family members) will find exactly what you're looking for—even if you knew not what that was when you walked in. 250 Ogle St., (949) 650-8463.The Lab. Okay, so the so-called "anti-mall" is more "mall" than "anti," but it's got great restaurants in Habana and Gypsy Den, cool shops for unique gifts, and the latest in vintage/clubwear/action sports clothing. And coming soon across the street: Lab mastermind Shaheen Sadeghi's The Camp, a one-stop source for outdoorsy types with an Adventure 16, CycleWerks, Patagonia and the nation's first Billabong retail store. 2930 Bristol St.Modern Amusement. In the tiny backroom of this outlet store (look for the cool convertible VW parked outside), Jeff "The Crow" Yokoyama and his staff of four design and make men's, women's and kids' clothes that have been described as a cross between Polo and Stssy. Mostly jeans, caps, tees and button-up shirts—think kind of dressy casual, kind of surfy casual, always fit for raving. Some Modern Amusement duds and caps—many of which feature the signature "Crow" insignia that was derived from a restless youth when Yokoyama never slept past sunrise—are in Fred Segal and Kbond in Los Angeles. But the entire line is here (and in Modern Amusement outlets in Honolulu, Osaka and Tokyo). Next off the assembly line: shoes. 770 W. 17th St., Ste. A, (949) 642-7053.
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