Mission Viejo

The Paris of South Orange County


Aliso Creek. Known hereabouts as the Mississippi of South Orange County, Aliso Creek was once a seasonal stream of fast-moving rainwater. Today, it's a sewage pipe for the runoff of such cities as Mission Viejo. An apparently nameless tributary of the mighty Aliso flows parallel to Los Alisos Boulevard. Nearly dry much of the year, in the rainy season, it races fast in the tree-lined crotch of a narrow, verdant little park that stretches for nearly a mile, like a stripper's boa forgotten by the side of the road. Between Trabuco and Santa Margarita Parkway, along Los Alisos Boulevard.


Live Like a Millionaire. Golf's cheap at Casta del Sol—18 holes are just $20 till 3 p.m., $15 from 3 to 5 p.m., and a measly $12 after that. Golf carts are more, but we figure if you're too lame to walk, you belong in the PGA. 27601 Casta Del Sol, (949) 581-9701.Bowling-Alley Food. Throwing rocks demands high-octane fuel—just the sort served in the Saddleback Lanes snack bar. There, amid plastic plants, mood lighting and padded booths, kick back with a frosty ICEE and a bowl of clam strips ($2.95). Mmmmm! 25402 Marguerite Pkwy., (949) 586-5300.Bowling-Alley Art. The mural by lane No. 1 depicts a bowling ball crashing through five pins that look like they've been knocked out of this universe by the Bose-Einstein effect. I mean, these pins are hard evidence that matter can, indeed, be destroyed! Ka-POW! 25402 Marguerite Pkwy., (949) 586-5300.


Deep in the Fried Heart of Mexico. Ah, the chicken chimichanga at Maya Inn: seasoned (but not molten), tender chicken in a deep-fried tortilla with ample salsa, guacamole and sour cream flying atop the thing like a Mexican flag on a submarine. Cheap! 25571 Jeronimo Rd., Ste. 8, (949) 768-0401.Best Italian. Capriccio Italiano Ristorante. If God were to appear to Abraham again (as he did in Genesis in regard to Sodom and Gomorrah), warning that he would send a fireball to destroy all of Mission Viejo lest venerable Abraham identify one good eatery—not a Del Taco, Burger King, Wienerschnitzel, Coco's or Pizza Hut, God would stipulate, but a real chophouse, bistro or café—Abraham would undoubtedly settle upon Capriccio. A fixture in a city that is otherwise fixtureless, Capriccio started off in the 1980s with four stars in a stock strip-mall retail center and got better. Great wine list (we like the 1995 Nozzole Chianti), better food, amiable service. Mission Viejo's residents would be wise to build a shrine to Capriccio, but it seems they're across the parking lot at Swensen's building personal shrines to spandex. 25380 Marguerite Pkwy., Ste. D, (949) 855-6866.Best French. At La Ferme, I have eaten things I would touch nowhere else. Like François Mitterand, who is said to have eaten a sacred songbird at his last meal, I have dined on snails—garlicky, buttery mollusks helped down my gullet with whatever wine the waiter suggests. And not merely snails, but duck, veal and sweetbreads. And great rivers of good wine. And then I've gone back to work knowing that the experience had cost me a week's salary. And I regretted nothing. 28451 Marguerite Pkwy., (949) 364-6664.Best Burger. Royal Donuts No. 6. Do not be put off by the terrifying nominal collision of fats. The doughnuts are good, but it's the sloppy double-cheese numbers that really shame the chains. 24501 Marguerite Pkwy., Ste. 5, (949) 837-3909.


Best Story. Alias was 15 when he left Iran for an English boarding school in Southampton, followed by 28 years as a chef and artist in Edinburgh, where he picked up Italian cooking. He settled in Mission Viejo a couple of years ago and opened the wonderful Bar Roma. For reasons that escape us, Alias has traveled all over Europe but never visited Italy. 27230 La Paz Rd. (Commerce Center), (949) 855-8001.Will Fight for You! City Councilwoman Gail Reavis! PLUS: she opposes an airport at El Toro (and, on at least one occasion, was ejected bodily for insisting on her right to enter a public meeting on the subject), has protested the Riverside-OC link via the Santa Ana Mountains, has pressured the Santa Margarita Water District to clean up the city's urban runoff, and would like to see Martin Sheen elected president of the United States for real. MINUS: While campaigning, she promised she would fight to keep porn out of the library because, you know, so many people are fighting to get it in there. And she likes Rosemary Clooney. See Gail Reavis in action on the first and third Mondays of every month at City Hall, 25909 Pala, in the High Park business park.


Tierra Nativa. Growing up in Mission Viejo, there was nothing in the neighborhood to nurture the imagination of a growing child. No haunted houses to speak of, no graveyards to spend the night in on a dare, and absolutely no decent place to build a treehouse. But there was the creek. It ran behind the Norman P. Murray Senior Center, where an expanse of undeveloped land was host to a variety of flora and fauna not known to the average kid. Besides possessing a whole ecosystem right in the middle of suburbia, this valley was our hideout. We built forts up against the trees, played hide-and-go-seek among the cattails, and frolicked about in the tall grass. Years later, I returned to my former sanctuary. The creek had undergone many changes. A year or so ago, someone organized a cleanup and beautification of the creek. It was a community-wide group project that allowed anyone to mosey on down and plant a tree or bush. The group organizers named the valley Tierra Nativa (Native Land) and constructed a path down to the canyon with a trail leading in and around the creek area. They also built a bridge and a wall with a pretty tiled mural on one side. Although the creek will never be as wild and forbidding as it once seemed, that won't keep me away. It may not be Yosemite, but the creek is a nice place to take your sweetie for a stroll or chase rabbits with your dog. Just keep it clean and nice for the other nature-lovin' folks. Off Jeronimo Road (past Marguerite Parkway) on your right. Call general city information at (949) 470-3000 or Parks and Sports Field Reservations at (949) 470-3093 for more information. (Suzanne Speed, Mission Viejo)
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