There are few local restaurants that seem more desolate than the RIVER’S END CAFE, a dull, sandy-brown structure at the westernmost edge of the county. Immediately north is the mouth of the San Gabriel River; walk west if you want to wade in the Pacific. Eastward is a giant parking lot, while a turn south finds a public restroom constructed from the same cinderblock used to create the River’s End’s main building.
The River’s End is far from traffic, businesses—everything but flocks of seagulls and the flocks of folks who like to greet the rising sun with a mimosa and a fruit bowl. They enjoy the shack’s combination of haute beach-bum cuisine and grub that will delight aficionados of Norms. So you can get stacks of fluffy pancakes and French toast; crunchy chicken-fried steak; or gooey, substantial eggs Benedict amongst the 10 types of omelets. Lighter eaters can delve with similar gusto into the chilaquiles, the Mexican tortilla casserole decorated with mozzarella and Parmesan and doused with a tomatillo sauce that won’t draw sweat beads from your forehead but will provoke shallow breathing. The lunch menu (available even during the morning) expands to include burgers and sandwiches but also a hefty jerk chicken salad and the End’s tostadas, two of the crunchy suckers buried beneath black beans and orange sauce; it’s a dish that draws from Latin America and the Orient like few things since ceviche.
While few pleasures beat a beachside breakfast, it’s actually best to visit the River’s End Wednesday through Sunday in the evening, when owner Mike Balchin extends his business day to serve dinner. It’s the only time you’re privy to Balchin’s fusion-friendly cheese platter: jack, Cheddar and Swiss cheeses paired with chewy sausage and cucumbers glistening with lime juice and generous amounts of cayenne powder. While the entrée menu features porterhouse and filet mignon steaks, stick to the surf with the enchiladas del Pacífico, three enchiladas of shrimp, green onion and shredded crab in a corn tortilla tomb with a mild jack cheese.
Dessert brings the crepes of mango and oranges doused with a light brandy sauce. But the sweetest thing around here is the mango chicken. Imagine luscious chicken breast and mango strips side by side with black beans and white rice plumped up with a sweet Brazilian butter. Then imagine everything showered with a mango marmalade. Mix. Bite. Yum.
RIVER’S END CAFE, 15 FIRST ST., SEAL BEACH, ?(562) 431-5558.