By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
The idea of putting together a Best of OC issue that would present separate guides to each city came to us five months ago. Since that time, we have compiled lists of cities, pored over those lists, discussed those lists, and assigned cities to writers from that list. When it came time to take pictures, we made another list. Then we made copies of all the lists, passed them out, checked them over, and checked off cities. Discussions grew from the lists: "Are we doing enough on Stanton?" "Aren't we laying it a bit too heavy on Santa Ana?" "Where can you get great falafel in Brea?" Every city was considered and reconsidered on photo run lists, story lists, and deadline lists that were gone over I can't tell you how many times in how many staff and private meetings.
I don't tell you this to pump up our staff or to make you feel sorry for us, even though the labor was intense and sustained. I tell you this now, here, in this space—NOW—because after five months of staring at lists, on the day of the issue's deadline, OC Weekly staffer Anthony Pignataro said this word at 4:16 p.m.:
And there was a great silence and much staring, followed by a great bugging of eyes and tortured giggles and wrenching of guts and that thing that happens to your pooper when you're going down a roller coaster. Because, at that moment, we all realized we'd forgotten Tustin.
Scurrying ensued, which produced the result you are now reading. As to the question of why we forgot Tustin, we apologize profusely, but in our defense, we believe this is the way the people of Tustin would have wanted it.
Tustin is a really nice place to live—folks from bordering Santa Ana and Orange have been known to lie and say they live in Tustin—where middle class is an entry-level position. It's the kind of place where nice people with nice jobs get nice homes, albeit homes very close to their neighbors' nice homes—locals joke that you can't look into your neighbors' back yard without kissing them. There is one big shopping center—the Tustin Marketplace —and lots of nice little places to eat. But Tustin folk aren't that interested in becoming a destination. It's enough that people gawk at the blimp hangars. Which explains why, in this prototypical bedroom community, you can find numerous signs protesting growth. Tustin doesn't want growth. Growth has not always been good to Tustin.
In the 1870s, Columbus Tustin, a northern California carriage maker, and his partner Nelson Stafford purchased 1,300 acres of land and created Tustin City. But sales of home sites were so slow that Columbus ended up giving free lots to anyone who would build a home.
By 1912, the town had grown to the point that the local elementary school could boast an eighth-grade graduating class of 20 students. All 20 flunked the county math exam but were allowed to graduate anyway. How far standards have fallen.
Just a few years later in 1969, the first recorded murder took place within the city limits. And just 12 years after that, Tustin had the second highest crime rate in the county, with one in 10 Tustinians victimized. Is it any wonder that the city would be wary of growth?
Tustin is just fine being Tustin. They don't want you to forget about that. Just about them.
TUSTIN GETS ALL OLD-TIMEY
Old Town Tustin. The terminally quaint, faintly beating heart of Columbus Tustin's carriage-making metropolis, now packed back-to-back with sweet little boutiques like the Ruffled Tulip Flower Shop, Flying Geese Fabrics and quality vegetarian eatery Rutabegorz. The Tustin Marketplace might offer style, but Old Town is all substance, if by substance you mean antiques and dried poinsettias. Main Street and El Camino Real.
Chavante Jewelers. Hidden behind a Spoons in a standard strip mall is this gem. Mary Swingle's original designs are breathtaking yet simple and classic—just like the lady herself. 13681 Newport Ave., Ste. 12, (714) 832-5770.
House of Lamps. Mission style? Art Deco? Deconstructionist? If it's a lamp you're looking for, you need to be looking here. 2842 El Camino Real, (714) 505-4048.
TUSTIN GETS HAIRY
Salon Gallery. Almost five years ago, Thomas Penna and his wife opened a modern-looking salon, with art on the walls and art walking out every day on the heads of their clients. The usual trappings are here: manicurists, aestheticians, hair stylists (including the Weekly's favorite troika of Rosana, Melanie and Hein). But the real ace up its sleeve is Thomas himself, offering honesty and hospitality. 220 El Camino Real, Ste. 1, (714) 505-9367.
Caffe Piemonte. Luigi Ravetto makes all of his ravioli by hand. His hard work is evident in the ravioli d'aragosta: pasta pillows plump with lobster and crab meat in a light tomato-cream sauce, topped with jumbo shrimp. If you've ever been to Ravetto's native Piemonte, welcome back. 498 E. First St., (714) 544-8072.
Koki's Japanese Teppan House. You'll enjoy the granite-and-neon splendor of this teppan house, and I don't remember shrimp ever being as succulent or steak as tender. These dinners come with soup, salad and a shrimp appetizer. 1061 E. Main St., (714) 505-6738.
Lingonberry Café. Their insane mealtime bargain includes not only food but also free baby-sitting! So hightail it upstairs for the manager's special: a godsend that includes a large portion of Swedish meatballs with creamy gravy and two steamed red potatoes. 2982 El Camino Real Blvd. (at Ikea), (714) 838-4000, ext. 325.
Mangga Grill. The menu reflects the diversity of a 7,000-island archipelago heavily influenced by Chinese traders, 400 years of Spanish domination and a half-century of American occupation. Oh, and their honey-stung chicken with Manila rum sauce is amazing. 341 E. First St., (714) 730-1332.
Pina's Bistro. From her earthy navy-bean soup to voluptuous Naples-style pizza with homemade fennel sausage, Pina Ercolamento, a native of Italy, puts Neapolitan pride into all of the creations in her tiny Tustin trattoria. 640 W. First St., (714) 730-5442.
Zov's Bistro and Bakery. In his 1992 thriller Hideaway, Dean Koontz's main characters dine at Zov's on calamari and black-bean soup that was "such a perfect sensual experience that the monochromatic bistro seemed ablaze with color." 17440 E. 17th St., (714) 838-8855.
TUSTIN GETS DOWN
Tustin Tiller Days. In the old days—and by old days we mean the 1880s—Tustin had three churches, a hotel, a bank, and a horse-drawn "tallyho" trolley line that ran all the way to Santa Ana. And a lot of farms. Hundreds of acres of farms. Tustin Tiller Days recalls those halcyon days when men were men and dirt and horses were the city's mode of production. The festivities, usually the first weekend in October, include such agriculture-related fun as Irish rock bands, a Ferris wheel and pancake breakfasts. Columbus Tustin Park, the corner of Prospect Ave. and Irvine Blvd.
TUSTIN BLOWS UP
U.S. Navy Dirigible Hangars. Largest wooden structures in the U.S., not counting Keanu Reeves. Visiting these bygone relics of blimpier days (formerly the province of the U.S. Navy, located on the abandoned Marine Corps Air Station) constitutes trespassing, but a leisurely cruise up Redhill Avenue still provides a hell of a panorama. But the glory isn't quite gone: although zeppelins have yet to come back into style as America seeks non-Greyhound-related alternatives to air travel, slick Hollywood types see the hangars' potential—look for these local boys' most recent appearance in Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. Tustin Marine Corps Air Station, the corner of Tustin and Redhill.
TUSTIN ÜBER ALLES
Ikea. Modern? Check. Efficient? Check. Cold, soulless and inhuman? Check, check and check! With a design aesthetic like this, it's no surprise that Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad was once involved with Nazi-supporting rightists during the '40s—after all, Ikea doohickeys are just the thing to turn a smallish living room into real lebensraum! Of course, he's very sorry now ("It was the biggest disaster of my life," he told British newsmen this year), so if you're the kind of person who appreciates an apology for the biggest crime against humanity (not counting Keanu Reeves), visit Orange County's only Ikea location and burrow into the volkstyle with a clearer conscience than ever. 2982 El Camino Real, (714) 838-4000.
TUSTIN STARTS A WAR
The fight over the Tustin Marine Corps Air Station. The old Tustin base covers 1,600 acres. The Santa Ana Unified School District and the Rancho Santiago Community College District, which actually has jurisdiction over part of the base, want 100 acres for a kindergarten-through-college campus. The Tustin City Council, which controls the base reuse process, wants to give the districts just 22 acres. Santa Ana accused Tustin of being racist. Tustin countered that Santa Ana is desperate and greedy. Now Sacramento's involved. It can only get worse from here. . . .
TUSTIN GETS SEEDY
Pickup Basketball. In the mood for a good pickup game of basketball? Want to wager a little money on your skills? You know, just a friendly, under-the-table bet? Tustin's your place. Now, we're keeping the location of the courts out of deference to the locals who tipped us off, but Tustin's not a big city. Ask around. And make sure you work on that jump shot.Skratch magazine. Punk's not dead, but Skratch magazine will make you want to kill it: for 66 mostly monthly issues (which is about 66 too many), Scott Presant's semicoherent, unfunny, skate-boner jock-off advertorial rag strives mightily to beat independent music down to the lowest common denominator, without ever using words with as many syllables as "denominator." The place you turn to find out where all your favorite boardshorts-and-beer-bellies bands will be making mall-punk a threat again. Any publicity's good publicity, though, right, guys? 17300 17th St., Ste. J, (714) 543-1411 or (714) 543-1414.
The Swinging Door. The premier hole-in-the-well hooch joint in Tustin, with a sweet selection of swing on the jukebox and each bartender prettier than the last (verified by several objective sources, even). Everyone who's a local anyone (grizzled old blimp pilots, perhaps?) sops up beer around here, and even at 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, this place oozes boozy fun. 355 El Camino Real, (714) 730-9934.
'Beat it . . . please.'
Villa Park is so small—just 2.1 miles in area—that you could drive by and not notice, which is how most of its 7,000 residents like it. They are quiet folk, mostly upper-middle class and just plain upper class. The Spanish/ ranch-style/colonial homes are generally on at least half an acre; the seemingly requisite pools, tennis courts and horse stables are out back. The driveways showcase cars in near-showroom quality: late-model SUVs, sedans and midlife-crisis sports cars. Most of the neighborhoods have no street lamps or sidewalks, which would suggest that no one walks in Villa Park.
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."
EATING AND PICKING UP IN VILLA PARK
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.
GOD, DRUGS AND THE NEATEST RALPHS
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.
Hi-Tek Video Store. Speaking of the younger, apolitical generation in Little Saigon, the one thing that can get the kids to hit the street is a businessman dumb enough to hang a photograph of Ho Chi Minh inside his video store on Bolsa Avenue. The store's not there anymore, of course; it never did any business after the massive demonstrations that saw up to 10,000 protesting Vietnamese-Americans outside its doors in early 1999. The store owner in question, Truong Van Tran, also flew a Vietnamese flag—what's called the "communist flag" in Little Saigon—inside his store. On several occasions, police had to escort Tran from his store to avoid almost certain parking-lot lynchings. Finally, Tran called police to the store to respond to an alleged burglary attempt. Inside his attic, police found more than 100 looped-together VCRs and thousands of pirated tapes. Tran was arrested, appealed, lost and served 90 days at the Orange County jail this summer.
Meanwhile, video piracy is alive and well inside Little Saigon. Even as Tran sat behind bars, the Weekly surveyed five nearby video stores, all but one of which appeared to offer customers only videos that were pirated. Of course, Westminster police deny they arrested Tran simply to sweep a troublesome business owner out of the way and end the largest and longest-running instance of civil unrest in the city's history. 9550 Bolsa Ave.
Nguoi Viet. Little Saigon is the county's busiest media center. Dozens of newspapers, bookstores, and radio and television stations operate in a five-square-mile radius. First published as a four-page weekly in 1978, Nguoi Viet (Vietnamese People) is the granddaddy of all Little Saigon newspapers. Yen Do, the newspaper's former publisher, is the iconoclast who dictates how the other Vietnamese-American media outlets handle the news. His newspaper was firebombed for seemingly progressive economic ideas—he advocated free trade—but what is a refugee community without radical war vets who want to take back the homeland? 14891 Moran St., (714) 892-9414.
Little Saigon Radio. Turn the dial to 1480 AM and listen to news, cooking recipes and advice on health. Most Vietnamese-Americans use the radio not just for entertainment but also to learn how to function in American society. It remains one of the most authoritative ways that the community receives information. 15781 Brookhurst St., Ste. 101, (714) 918-4444.
Tony Lam. Lam is the nation's first Vietnamese-American elected official. If you don't want to meet him while he sits stonefaced on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at Westminster's City Council meetings, why not go to his Vien Dong (Far East) restaurant? Located in nearby Garden Grove, the councilman's restaurant focuses on traditional Northern Vietnamese dishes like banh tom (a shrimp fritter) and bun rieu, a rice vermicelli noodle soup with ground crab and tomato broth. Feeling braver? Go for the bun oc (rice vermicelli noodles with escargot). 14271 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-8253.
Asian Garden Mall. There isn't much of a garden here, but this two-story complex is full of Vietnamese shops selling food, clothes, music, medicines, books and Buddhist artifacts. You'll also see lots of old South Vietnamese soldiers—sans sidearms—hanging out, with cigarettes dangling from their lips. When you're done shopping, relax with one of the many Vietnamese dessert drinks offered in the mall. If you're looking to explore what Little Saigon offers in one quick trip (and we don't recommend this), go here. 9039 Bolsa Ave.
Alerto's. The best 24-hour place in Westminster to eat greasy Mexican food. The portions are ridiculously huge, and nothing costs more than $6. Order the carne asada if you can handle a two-pound plate of savory seasoned beef with all the fixings. We usually stick with the breakfast burrito—nothing settles the stomach after a hard night of clubbing like a Frisbee-sized flour tortilla stuffed with eggs, chorizo, potatoes and cheese. 15681 Brookhurst St., (714) 775-9550.
Uyen thy Quan. This may be the best restaurant in Little Saigon at four in the morning. If you get lost in the menu, ask your server for help. This place is very accommodating. 9600 Bolsa, Ste. M, (714) 839-1166.
Mi La Cay. Mi (yellow rice noodles) are actually Chinese, but many Vietnamese places have incorporated them on the menu. Funny how 1,000 years of colonization can do that. Mi La Cay is continuously one of the most popular restaurants in the genre of mi cookery. Bring your appetite, and order a heaping bowl of Mi La Cay dac biet (the house special). This noodle soup is served with roasted chicken, fried shrimp and pork. 8924 Bolsa Ave., (714) 891-8775.
Kim Su. The coolest place to eat lunch—traditional Chinese, great dim sum (similar to hors d'oeuvres and usually consisting of a variety of dumplings, steamed dishes and desserts), but we usually go for the lunch specials like sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef, and kung pao chicken. We like this place for two reasons: (1) you can mix and share food so easily, and (2) we are cheap bastards, usually paying no more than $6 per person. But avoid this place at dinner, when the same plate will triple in cost but not size. 10526 Bolsa Ave., (714) 554-6261.
Thanh My. A longtime favorite of both locals and visitors, this blindingly bright, informal restaurant offers a huge selection of Vietnamese pho (pronounced ph-ah) as well as rice and noodle dishes. It is consistently busy, especially late at night. 9553 Bolsa, (714) 531-9540.
Coffeehouses. These are where the business gets done: over cups of blacker-than-black coffee or heady tea. Mind you, we're talking about the real business—not the stuff that appears in the Orange County Business Journal. Business, if you take our meaning. A few years ago, the Westminster PD (which takes our meaning) tried to push through new coffeehouse regulations—brighter interior lighting, no tinted windows, shorter operating hours. The regulations went down in flames. Nobody interferes with the business of Little Saigon's coffeehouses. Address? Are you kidding?
Gala Bakery. Was the last time you had a decent baguette when you met that special someone in Paris, walked through the streets of the Left Bank hand in hand, and professed your undying love? What happened? Did you lose touch? Did she cheat on you with a dirty Spaniard? Did he cheat on you with a slutty Canadian? Things happen. Go to Gala Bakery, and order a few fresh loaves of baguettes and some iced café au lait, and try to remember a time when love was not so cruel. 14570 Brookhurst St., (714) 775-7327.
Little Saigon. Orange County's own Boswell, T. Jefferson Parker—the author of such best-sellers as Laguna Heat—wrote this suspense thriller that apparently didn't thrill everyone. About the "renegade son of a powerful land baron who kidnaps his brother's Vietnamese wife and is plunged into a wealthy family's web of tragic secrets," the book now ranks 1,323,682 on Amazon.com, owing somewhat to reader reviews such as this: "Really, really bad, jingoist, myopic, unthrilling thriller. I usually like T. Jefferson, but I hated this one. Blech!"
The Spy Shop. The CIA helped get us into the Vietnam War, so it's only appropriate that Westminster should have a place to buy assorted weapons and spy gadgets. 14032 Beach Blvd., (714) 899-1155.
Ice Palace. When the Kmart on Springdale went the way of family farms, the Ice Palace people gutted it and installed a rink, boards and glass. Where once a voice beckoned shoppers to the blue light special, Canucks and kids with names like Smith, Nguyen and Rosales work to light the lamp red. Coming out of a nearby bar one night—it had to be 2 a.m.—we found a group of aging adult-leaguers gliding across the pond, working the corners, and generally playing as if Dave Taylor were watching. 13071 Springdale St., (714) 899-7900.
The Flying Whale. One can only imagine the comfort this airborne cetacean overlooking the 405 has given the huddled masses fleeing the filth and degradation of Lakewood, Westchester and points north. Floating above a car dealership, the whale is Orange County's Lady Liberty, promising a new life to those fleeing communities less, um, planned . . . capiche? You think it's a coincidence the whale is white? Grow up! The whale signals that you are entering a new life or, sadly, leaving a happy one. Either way, one thing is certain: we have absolutely no idea what the flying whale is supposed to be selling us. Cars? Other floating whales? Floating whales the size of cars? Floating cars the size of whales? Flan?
Richard Nixon was bored here
Let's not kid ourselves: the only reason anyone has heard of this colorless, 18.6-square-mile collection of strip malls and white-bread housing tracts that bills itself as "The Land of Gracious Living" is because a lying, conniving, manipulating, scheming, malcontent ex-president named Richard Milhous Nixon was born there.
More than 60,000 people dwell in Yorba Linda, which translates as "Beautiful Yorba," referring to the Spanish explorer Jose Yorba, who took possession of the city in 1809 as part of a 62,000-acre land grant from the Spanish king. For most of its life, the city was nothing but a bunch of small farms. Nowadays, it's not much more than a bunch of half-million-dollar tract homes.
There aren't that many places in Yorba Linda to get a good meal, and as far as anyone knows, the city has just one bar. Its old-timey historic district is nice and quiet, but its also small and not particularly tourist-friendly. For years, the city has been trying to bill itself as "Spectrum North," a kind of Irvine-like home to high-tech companies, but that idea is pretty much dead—the concept of vast technology parks overtaken by vastly more profitable retail giants like Home Depot.
Original Pancake House. Located in what was once a Koo Koo Roo chicken place, the House sells, well, pancakes. And they do so with all the homey innocence of a Little House on the Prairieepisode. Where else can you get something called Cottage Cheese Pancakes? How about Coconut Waffles? And since this is a breakfast place, it closes at 2 in the afternoon, so eat fast. 18639 Yorba Linda Blvd., (714) 693-1390.
Fitness Pizza & Pasta. Sure, the interior resembles an ugly LA industrial-dance bar, but the food is great. The oval-shaped thin-crust pizzas have sporty names like Triathlete, Iron Man and Soccer Player. I've always preferred that chicken sandwich thing—you know, the one with the chicken? The salads have all the exotic-looking plants that yuppies and healthy types like to graze on. 18246 Imperial Hwy., (714) 993-5421.
Blue Agave. This is about the best thing going for Yorba Linda. Ostensibly the Blue Agave is a Southwestern restaurant, and the native desert décor mostly makes that point. But the best item on the menu is the Montego Bay coconut-shrimp appetizer: big, plump prawns fried in shredded-coconut batter and served with an orange-chipotle marmalade for dipping. 18601 Yorba Linda Blvd., (714) 970-5095.
La Betolla. In English, the name translates as "The Tavern." A cavern lined with stucco walls, bad art and terrible murals, this little Italian joint serves fantastic food. The focaccia is fresh and hot, and the butter is all buttery and garlicky. Try the homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach, slathered in a tomato cream sauce and tossed with crisp broccoli. 18504 Yorba Linda Blvd., (714) 695-0470.
YORBA GETS BOMBED
The Canyon Inn. The sole bar and grill in Yorba Linda. Wednesday nights feature Steve the Karaoke Dude. Other late-night entertainment includes the Pacifico Girls, the Miller Girls and the ever-popular Bud Light Girls on various nights. Taco Thursday features $1 tacos. Hey, who's going to argue with a place that has Newcastle on tap and kielbasa and eggs for $6.50—including country potatoes and biscuits and gravy? 6821 Fairlynn Blvd., (714) 779-0880.
YORBA REWRITES HISTORY
Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace. This is where the old guy came to remake his legacy as disgraced president who resigned from office amid the greatest scandal in American political history into something more palatable: elder statesman. In fact, the museum is essentially just Nixon's attic—rows of exhibits of all the junk he collected during his quarter-century of pissing people off while on the public payroll. For the $5.95 admission price, they even allow you to visit the house in which Nixon was born and the grave in which his cheating, thieving body is buried. The gift shop is also a swell place to get those classic Christmas stocking stuffers like Nixon-meets-Elvis float pens. Coming attraction: the soon-to-be disinterred corpse of Checkers, the dog that masterminded Nixon's upset victory in the 1952 vice presidential race! 18001 Yorba Linda Blvd., (714) 993-3393.
Old Towne Yorba Linda. If you're expecting a quaint, historic, tourist-friendly shopping district like the Orange Circle or downtown Seal Beach, think again. Barely a block long, Old Towne features a travel agent, chiropractor, hair stylists, numerous antique stores and a Masonic Lodge. But it is a quiet place, with lots of benches and tables where you can sit and relax. And there's a Farmers' Market every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. On Main Street just off Imperial Highway.
Vintage Radios. Got a beat-up old Philco radio that gets lousy reception and needs new tubes? Want one? This place has your RCA, your Zenith and your GE radios, all from a time when radios were huge, heavy boxes that had a million knobs. 4893 Main St., (714) 970-1928.
YORBA GETS ALL WEIRD
Old caboose abandoned on side of road. That's pretty much it—a big, yellow-with-red-trim Union Pacific Caboose with boarded-up windows and just enough track under its trucks to hold it off the dirt. I think this is where the old Richard Nixon railcar "museum" was located, but that's long gone. At the intersection of Park and Lemon, just off Imperial Highway.
Yorba Linda lakebed. Thirty years ago, this was a beautiful lake, with lots of homes built around it to take advantage of beautiful lake views. Then all the water in the lake started going away, until it became the bone-dry desert it is today. Today, most guys just go here to drink beer and get in trouble. Like that guy who got killed here a couple of years ago. For a time, the city wanted to call it Richard Nixon Regional Park, but that idea dried up, too. And that's too bad because we can't think of a better name for a wasteland populated with lizards.
YORBA GETS BACK TO NATURE
Richard M. Nixon Park. This tiny scrap of a park is on the intersection of Imperial Highway and Yorba Linda Boulevard, just behind a Mimi's Café. Unlike its namesake, it's quiet and unpretentious.
Chino Hills State Park. There are many entrances to this large state park straddling the Orange County-San Bernardino County line, but the best is in Yorba Linda. You can't get away from the smog, but you can enter a peaceful, natural world far removed from the beige stucco that fills so much of the city and county. There are enough shady nooks and trickling streams to cool off the hottest summer day. Watch out for mountain bikers and hardcore runners. Take Fairmont Boulevard north from Yorba Linda Boulevard. Turn left on Rim Crest. Take it all the way to the end. Then start walking.