Not full of hot air

Bordered by Santiago Canyon Road to the west and Loma Street to the east, this little suburban anti-mecca offers limited shopping and entertainment opportunities, mainly because there's just one shopping center. Villa Park's motto might be "Beat it . . . please."


Bagel Me. Twenty-six kinds of bagels, 14 different spreads, smoothies of countless variety (actually, you could count them, I just didn't want to), coffee drinks, salads, sandwiches, juices and a full line of MET-Rx drinks for the healthy Villa Parkian. Grab a bagel glazer with a cinnamon/sugar glaze and hot chai latte. Then find a table outside and relax. 17767 Santiago Blvd., (714) 998-1212.

Rockwell's Bakery. This family restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, but people come back for the baked goods. Rockwell's bakery cases are loaded with brownies, fruit bars, cookies and an amazing selection of muffins—20 different kinds on my last visit. (My favorite remains the carrot cream cheese.) They also have fantastic cakes, including the chocolate curl cake (filled with your choice of mousse flavors or fruit, whipped cream icing, and white or chocolate curls). This is what Villa Parkians dream of at night. That and mulch. Mmmmm, mulch. 17853 Santiago Blvd., (714) 921-0622.

China Panda. With close to 200 menu items, I'd lean toward the three ingredient taste, an ESL-named chicken, beef and shrimp combo in a broccoli brown sauce. Or the honey shrimp with walnuts; the salty, sweet shrimp go perfectly with a cold Tsing Tao beer. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Ste. 102, (714) 998-4592.The Coffee Grove. Villa Park's answer to Cheers, the Coffee Grove is a place where you can chat with the locals or read the paper while they whip up your favorite coffee drink. 17769 Santiago Blvd., (714) 974-2650.First Class Pizza. Go for the employee sampler, which features four different pizzas, including the barbecue chicken, zesty Italian, Villa Park special with fresh basil and garlic, and the combo with pepperoni and sausage. 17853 Santiago Blvd., (714) 998-2961.


Ralphs Fresh Fare. Designed to compete with Gelson's and Bristol Farms, this isn't your average Ralphs. No, sir. This is Ralphs Fresh Fare, with the "fare" cleverly serving double duty—as if this might also be a public gathering, a festival, a "fair." The floors have granite-tile accents, and the aisle signs are highlighted with wrought-iron work and carved wood. The bakery case is abundant with carbohydrates, the produce is organic, and the meat is all premier USDA choice. They even have a wine steward. You don't get that in Anaheim, but you could stop by Ralphs Fresh Fare on the way home and choose from among more than 20 varieties of olive oil and goat cheese to go with your mixed field greens and candied walnut salad. I say go for the Bertolli's Extra Extra Virgin. 17801 Santiago Blvd., (714) 998-0004.

Banking in Villa Park. There are no churches in Villa Park, but there are three banks and four real-estate offices. Amen.

Odd combos. The Villa Park Pharmacy looks like a turn-of-the-last-century drugstore, with a soda fountain and a counter serving ice cream and coffee. They make their own fudge, including cookie dough, Heath bar and chewy praline. But they also specialize in homeopathic medicines such as phytonutrients, Chinese medicines, vitamin and mineral supplements, and many others. 17821 Santiago Blvd., (714) 998-3030.

Villa Parkless. There are no parks in Villa Park—lots of grass, many trees, loads of flowers and gardens, but no parks. Makes you think.


Phuo Loc Tho

Wedged between the 405 and 22 freeways, Westminster has no great parks, beaches or mansions. It does have dozens of strip malls, tract-housing communities and streets as jammed up as Dick Cheney's black heart. But this small inland community also has what much of the county lacks and craves: genuine culture.

Westminster was once little more than auto yards, small farms and empty lots. Beginning in the 1970s, Vietnamese fleeing the collapse of the Republic of South Vietnam arrived. They transformed the town into the spiritual home of the world's largest Vietnamese population outside Vietnam. In 1987, they built the Asian Garden Mall—known to locals as Phuoc Loc Tho—as one of the main attractions. City officials estimate that Little Saigon attracts more than 300,000 Vietnamese-American tourists per year—and it's obvious they come from both sides of the hyphen. Where else outside the old country can someone order tiger testicles from herbal pharmacies to increase virility, deal in pirated designer clothes and CDs, and buy a jade necklace?

Try this experiment: tune your car radio to 106.3 FM, the Voice of Little Saigon. Slowly drive Bolsa Avenue between Brookhurst and Magnolia. Sixty percent of Westminster residents are white, but the sights, smells and sounds will convince you that you are in a distant Asian locale.

Visitors should not be shocked to see the yellow-and-red-striped flag of old South Vietnam flying defiantly at shops. The war ended more than a quarter century ago, but many older local Vietnamese still feel that defeat deeply and express their anger periodically at the slightest hint that someone in the community isn't sufficiently anti-communist.

Much to the frustration of the older generation, younger Vietnamese—particularly those born in the U.S.—cringe at the mention of the war, tend to support Democrats when they vote, and prefer English as their daily language. They are not interested in Ho Chi Minh, Henry Kissinger or Dien Bien Phu. They are frequently interested in hip-hop, Hondas and high tech. Corporate America hasn't overlooked this point: Little Saigon is sprinkled with huge roadside billboards targeting local Vietnamese-American yuppies.

« Previous Page
Next Page »