Best of OC 2004: Part 1

5. Matt Barnes. If Jann Browne was Mick, Matt Barnes would be Keith. If she was Anita Pallenberg, he’d still be Keith. Whether it’s coming up with the perfect instrumental hook that tethers Jann’s voice to a song or continuing a lyric’s emotional thread through his string-rolfing solos, he’s the ideal musical co-pilot. I mean, if Jann were Han Solo, he’d be Chewbacca.


1. Show up. Little Saigon is probably the most neglected-by-natives ethnic enclave in the country. Sure, Vietnamese from across the globe gravitate to Bolsa Avenue every weekend, making the traffic as snarling as Saigon circa 1968. But for a county that hosts the largest Vietnamese expatriate population in the world, the average (read: non-Asian) Orange Countian’s lack of knowledge regarding the area is as criminal as Agent Orange. New Yorkers and San Franciscans know their Chinatowns; almost all of Miami is Little Havana. But ask someone when was the last time they visited Little Saigon, and you’ll most likely get a quizzical why-would-I-go-there? look than an actual response. The only famous Vietnamese restaurant county non-Asians frequent is Lee’s Sandwiches—and even knowledge of that sparkling chain is limited to chowhounds and biracial couples.

2. Use your fingers. Level of English fluency varies according to the age of workers in Vietnamese restaurants, so be safe and expect non-fluency. Upon entering the restaurant, gesture with your fingers the size of your dining group; the worker will promptly grab the necessary number of menus and guide you to an appropriately sized table. And don’t worry if the owner knows no English and you can’t communicate with your hands if a spot in heaven depended on it: Vietnamese restaurant owners are entrepreneurs just like everyone else. We’ve seen Latino families that look fresh from the border happily slurp down pho, with owner and patron communicating mainly via smiles and knowing glances.

3. Don’t feel pressured. The waiter will allow you to peruse the menu maybe a minute before they loom over you, expecting you to snap out your order with the comfort and assuredness of a regular. To the novice, this might seem a bit rude and conjures up antiquated stereotypes of rude Asians, but let’s be logical here: most Vietnamese restaurants are woefully understaffed—usually Mom, Dad, the kids and maybe the grandparents—and you’re not the only eater in the place. Hurry up and choose, already!

4. Be ready to eat. The service at a Vietnamese restaurant is as brisk as a fast-food restaurant, only with edible food. We’re still not sure how they do it: seriously, we’ve entered with parties of 10, and everyone gets their dish in about five minutes, if that. If all restaurants were this efficient, there would be no need for the drive-through.

5. Get up. Rare is the Vietnamese eatery that brings diners the bill. Get up, go to the counter and pay up. They haven’t forgotten about you—indeed, the minute you pull out money, the cashier/owner/waiter/cook will fish through a stack of papers and quickly pull out your receipt.

6. Say, "Cám un." It means "thank you" in Vietnamese. And see your hostess smile.


1. Food Not Bombs. For the past two and a half decades, Food Not Bombs has been serving fresh, hot vegetarian food to the homeless and others in need. With hundreds of chapters covering six continents, it isn’t hard to find a location near you. But just in case: Food Not Bombs serve meals every Friday at 2:30 p.m. at the Max Berg Plaza in San Clemente; every Saturday at 1 p.m. at La Palma Park in Anaheim; and every Sunday at noon at the Catholic Worker House in Santa Ana and at 3 p.m. at the Santa Ana Public Library.

2. The Gay and Lesbian Community Service Center of OC. They can definitely use your help, considering the events galore the center participates in. Their volunteers fill in as HIV specialists, health-education teachers, event coordinators, board members, even receptionists. Don’t worry, they’ll train you, and if you’re lucky, they might even feed you. Had something else in mind to help with? Just let ’em know what you want to do, and they’ll work around that.

3. Surfrider Foundation. What could be easier than hanging around the beach and picking up a couple of scraps of trash? Best part about it: come for the cleanup, but stay for the free parking and great waves—plus, it’s the cleanest the beach will be all month. They meet in Huntington Beach the second and last Saturday of every month from 8 a.m. to noon and in Seal Beach every fourth Saturday from noon to 3 p.m.

4. Be the Cause. With one of the most aesthetically appealing volunteer listings on the net, this nonprofit organization has exactly what you need to fulfill your community-service fetish. They’re an entirely volunteer-run organization that coordinates monthly Compassion Cells that vary from day trips to Mexico to hang out with orphans to fixing up local homes in Santa Ana to painting murals on the sides of YMCAs.

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