This Hole-in-the-Wall County

Orange Countys 74 Greatest Holes-in-the-Wall

Holes are our friends and, these days, so very necessary. One must protect one's holes against attack—gas mask, lead underwear. One is advised to have a hole to retreat to and, hopefully, another hole to retreat to and eat. The latter would be a hole-in-the-wall. Now everyone has a definition of what constitutes a hole-in-the-wall—they're all wrong. Some consider the Vietnamese bánh mì chain Lee's Sandwiches hole-in-the-wally, but no true dive has 18 locations across California. Others maintain that Felix's Continental Cuisine in Orange qualifies, but can a restaurant really be hidden in a location as prominent as the Orange Circle? Or how about Dragon Phoenix Palace, where few speak English and the dim sum carts rattle against each other as if engaged in some sort of culinary Daytona 500? Maybe, but no hole-in-the-wall costs you half of Cambodia's GNP in one sitting.

No, my definition of a hole-in-the-wall is simple: hard-to-find locales/cuisine, super-cheap grub, and damn great dining. Holes-in-the-wall exist in storage rooms and hang from cliffs; they offer salted crickets as finger foods, hawk the cuisine of nether-countries such as Romania, Bolivia and Lithuania and there are hundreds of them in Orange County. It would take a small phone book to list all worthy of haunting. Here's but 74 of them:

1 Mariscos Licenciado #2sells Sinaloan seafood but lies landlocked in the same decaying Anaheim commercial pocket JC Fandango calls paradise. Nevertheless, a coastal breeze flows through the simple eatery. It starts somewhere in Mazatlán, sweeps past the tiled counter where men in tejanas sit and curse at televised soccer matches, and cools giant vats of boiling octopus and shrimp with a salty Sinaloan soul. But the main reason you're here at Orange County's best restaurant (go ahead, start the letter writing) is the aguachile, one of the more remarkable seafood combos harvested from the deep blue. It's ceviche writ amazing: scores of shrimp, cucumbers, red onions and tomatoes crammed onto a large molcajete—the mortar-and-pestle contraption used by Mexicans since before Jesus that gives aguachile an earthy tone rare to marine cuisine. The crustaceans are pale, swollen by the soup's lemony broth. Aguachile is an incredible contradiction: light yet debilitating, intensely sour but curiously cooling, burrowing itself into the recesses of the palate yet its redolence remaining immediate. 1052 N. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 776-3415.

Location Info


The Pasty Kitchen

3641 Katella Ave.
Rossmoor, CA 90720

Category: Restaurant > English

Region: Los Alamitos

Yellow Basket Restaurant

1430 E. Edinger Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92705-4801

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Santa Ana

Crystal Cove Shake Shack

7703 N. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Laguna Beach

Nuoc Mia Vien Tay

14370 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843

Category: Restaurant > Grocery

Region: Garden Grove

Burrell's Bar-B-Que

305 N. Hesperia
Santa Ana, CA 92703

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Santa Ana

La Palma Chicken Pie Shop

928 N. Euclid St.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Anaheim

Banh Mi Cho Cu Bakery

14520 Magnolia St., Ste. B
Westminster, CA 92683

Category: Restaurant > Sandwiches

Region: Westminster

2 You'll no doubt endure a Disneyland-long line at the 61-year-old Crystal Cove Shake Shack, but you'll hear nary a complaint. After about a half-hour in line—on the sagebrush-bearded cliff above stunning Crystal Cove—fill your gullet with a cold-cut roast beef sandwich and the Shack's creamy, intense date shake. While dining, gaze westward toward the majestic Pacific; no one wants to acknowledge the synthetic Newport Coast development at their backs, across PCH, a project that eradicated some of the most beautiful hills God ever formed to make way for…Starbucks?! 7703 E. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-9666.

3 The best drink in Orange County is also the least advertised. The Vietnamese candy shop Nuoc Mía Vien Tây in Garden Grove sells an ambrosial sugar-cane juice profiled in the New York Timesand NPR and renowned throughout the Vietnamese diaspora. A deep sip reveals its greatness: frothy but smooth, the sugar cane's earthy sweetness is tempered with the citric candor of tangerine and kumquat squirts. It is patient, it is kind—it's the I Corinthians 13 of the beverage world. 14370 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-9801.

4 Though African-Americans continue to number in the single-percentage points in this county, the small community in Santa Ana keeps Burrell's BBQ alive and smoking. This iconic shack in the middle of a Latino neighborhood smells like a slab of the Deep South, as longtime and first-time customers content themselves on picnic tables covered with hot links, self-stuffed sausages and peach cobbler. If more Atlanta natives knew about the Burrell's pulled-pork-shoulder sandwich, they'd start a second Great Migration. 305 N. Hesperian, Santa Ana, (714) 547-7441.

5 Orange County's original hole-in-the-wall, the La Palma Chicken Pie Shop, is where hipsters go to eat like their grandparents—sometimes with the aforementioned coffin dodgers. This place is so ingrained into the county fabric that when current owner Otto Hasselbarth bought it nearly 30 years ago, the restaurant was already a landmark, having operated for two decades. And as for those pies…the only thing I miss about my high school sweetheart is how she would bring me those flaky, steaming chicken pies daily after completing her shift at the Chicken Pie Shop bakery. I still think about her when forking into those pies—and like her lips, they're wonderful. 928 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 533-2021.

6 Seemingly half of Anaheim's Little Arabia district visits Kareem's three times a day, taking comfort in one of the few Orange County Middle Eastern restaurants to offer distinctive breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Owners Mike and Nancy Hawari are the sole employees of the tiny place, and the waiters/cooks/ hosts coddle their customers from entrance to exit with wondrous pine-nuts-and-beef hummus and a smile rounder than a pregnant woman's belly. And then there are their falafels—moist emerald-green interiors encased in a crunchy outside. Orange County's—quite possibly the world's—finest. 1208 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 778-6829.

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