By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
2043 Westcliff Dr., Ste. 100, Newport Beach
The only downside to Kéan Coffee is that it's not a countywide or nationwide chain like Diedrich Coffee or Starbucks, which is a shame because unless you live in Newport Beach or Costa Mesa, you're probably going to settle for a more generic cup rather than battle the traffic on the 55 Freeway. Founder Martin Diedrich—yep, the surname is no coincidence: he's the son of the founder of Diedrich Coffee; Martin was forced out of the business after it was bought up by Irvine-based Taco Bell—grew up on a coffee finca in Antigua, Guatemala, and still roasts beans by hand in the coffee roaster his brother invented, which is based on the antique roaster his father used.
Kéan Coffee is the only place where you can buy hand-roasted coffee that's so fresh they only sell it in paper bags—no plastic to artificially extend the life of the beans—that even tell you what day Diedrich personally roasted the coffee. More than three-quarters of the beans at Kéan are fair-traded, which means they were grown by farming cooperatives in the Third World, who actually don't get ripped off by the industry's notorious middlemen. So the coffee not only tastes great, but it's also guilt-free. But the best thing about Kéan Coffee is the guilty pleasure that comes with drinking it. Because Diedrich, who has decades of experience selecting and roasting beans, knows how to roast each blend—whether its an earthy Huehuetenango or a silky Sumatra—to fully realize the bean's flavor. No fast-food, one-(dark)-roast-fits-all approach here. And if you order a latte or cappuccino, take a moment to savor the spoon-tooled artwork in your foam. And stick around to drink it: On any given day, you're likely to see Diedrich himself behind the bar, carrying out the family tradition with an infectiously broad smile.
Readers' Choice: Starbucks
Best French Toast
4114 E. Third St., Long Beach
Eeeeevery now and then, it's okayto treat yourself to some nostalgically wonderful, sugary confection of a breakfast food. Especially if it's the Broiled San Francisco Stuffed Toast from the ever-adorable Starling Diner. The place is decorated with all sorts of precious tchotchkes and gramma-'n'-pop-pop sort of wall art. Wicker chairs and Mason jars used as cups top off the charming feel of this tiny eatery. Cuisine that tastes like it was homemade (like, you know, if your mom could actually cook well), but still abundant, with touches that make it just that much more extraordinary. Example? The complimentary cucumber water or creamy potato polenta that anchors just about every dish served up there. Starling's breakfast menu is the perfect way to introduce yourself to the cozy neighborhood restaurant. Besides their various scrambles served with polenta and sliced baguettes and basket of freshly baked scones, their take on the traditional and once-familiar French toast is particularly notable. Made with sliced baguettes, the bread is broiled, stuffed with a velvety Marscarpone and an even-more-velvety crème fraiche, and then topped with fresh seasonal berries and whipped cream. It's pretty to look at, but it tastes even better going down.
Le Croissant Dore
9122 Bolsa Ave., Westminster
When you're looking for a good croissant in Orange County, go to Vietnam. A mix of Parisian and Vietnamese tastes makes the meaty croissants at Le Croissant Dore in Westminster's Little Saigon something of a cross between a hearty Chilean empanada and a flaky Turkish baklava. In addition to the varieties listed in Vietnamese—chicken (gá con) and raisin (nho kho)—you'll find plain, almond, ham and cheese, and chocolate, all of which are hearty, buttery and freshly baked. A big mural of a quaint Parisian street covers the back wall of the little bakery/café, which is generally stuffed with locals sipping tea and chatting in their native tongue.
Blue Mountain Bagels
12115 Seal Beach Blvd., Seal Beach
Who doesn't love a good bagel in the morning. And Blue Mountain Bagels knows how to bake a killer bread circle. Try their cranberry bagel. Cut in half and toasted, then topped with cream cheese, tomato slices and lemon pepper, it's a bagel-lover's dream. They also make some killer coffee. But wake up early—this bagel bakery closes its doors at 2 p.m.
Readers' Choice: Shirley's Bagels
15333 Culver Dr., Ste. 660, Irvine
Here's a bakery that does it all and does it well. The petite cakes are topped with fresh fruit or layered with ganache; neither too sweet nor too rich. The fried bread is stuffed with breaded pork cutlets, and the white bread loafs have their crusts already removed. Airy buns are glazed to a mirror shine, and the curry puffs stay hot just until you bite into them. These are the delights of JJ Bakery; a proving ground for all things flour.
Best Boba Tea
665 N. Euclid, Anaheim
No doubt you've heard the array of monikers (tapioca ball, pearl tea, black pearls, boba, bubble, milk tea) that make ordering that milky, pastel-colored cold drink with a fat straw and dark marbles on the bottom of the cup a little tricky. The craze was born in Taiwan about 25 years ago, when stands sold the cold teas as an after-school treat for kids. The gummy "pearls" are balls of cooked tapioca starch, reprocessed cassava or "yucca" root. TenRen's Tea in Anaheim gets our vote for being around for 10 years, long before the boba craze became mainstream in the U.S. And they do their boba old-school-style: no shrink-wrapping over the plastic cup, no powdery artificial-tasting teas, and a good selection of flavors (including flan!). And their pearls are the perfect consistency: pliant and smooth.