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In Your Cups

[Summer Guide] At our local United Nations of bars and restaurants, every World Cup game can be a home game

I fell in love with the World Cup 16 years ago, the same day that it broke the heart of one of my best friends.

It was July 9, 1994. After weeks of hearing my friend Johan Vogel—photographer, environmental activist and Dutch as Dutch could be—ramble on about something called the World Cup, I decided to join him on a pilgrimage to watch his homeland, a “football”-loving country that had never claimed the sport’s holiest grail, take on Brazil, the land of Pele and three World Cup championships, in the single-elimination knockout stage.

But finding somewhere to watch the game in pre-Bourbon-Street-West downtown Fullerton proved difficult. Even the local British pub, the Olde Ship, didn’t pan out. Not a TV in the place.

Comida, corner kicks and cuteness at El Gaucho Meat Market
Beth Stirnaman
Comida, corner kicks and cuteness at El Gaucho Meat Market

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African Hut

27637 Forbes Road, 20
Laguna Niguel, CA 92677

Category: Restaurant > African

Region: Laguna Niguel

Mozambique

1740 S. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Restaurant > African

Region: Laguna Beach

El Gaucho Meat Market # ll

847 S. State College Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92806

Category: Restaurant > Argentine

Region: Anaheim

Monty's House

821 S. State College Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92805

Category: Restaurant > Pizza

Region: Anaheim

Agora Churrascaria

1830 Main St.
Irvine, CA 92614

Category: Restaurant > Brazilian

Region: Irvine

Amazon Churrascaria

1445 S. Lemon St.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Fullerton

Regina

11025 Westminster Ave.
Garden Grove, CA 92843

Category: Restaurant > Argentine

Region: Garden Grove

DooRi Restaurant

1811 W. Commonwealth Ave.
Fullerton, CA 92833

Category: Restaurant > Korean

Region: Fullerton

Koba Tofu Grill

1993 W. Malvern Ave., Ste B
Fullerton, CA 92833

Category: Restaurant > Korean

Region: Fullerton

Benihana

2100 E. Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92806-5126

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Anaheim

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We wound up in a Red Onion on Harbor Boulevard. There were maybe five people in the bar, and none of them was paying particular attention to myself and the guy dressed head-to-toe in bright orange—the color of the Royal House of Orange.

But we didn’t care: The match proved to be a classic, the Netherlands falling behind 2-0 early in the second period but knotting the score with two goals in 12 minutes. It was a nerve-wracking affair until the 81st minute, when Brazil’s Branco (née Cláudio Ibrahim Vaz Leal) scored on a long free kick. Brazil held off a furious late-match flurry and went on to win its fourth World Cup.

I felt exhilarated after my first exposure to the raw intensity of the world’s greatest sporting event. Johan? He sat alone in the middle of the bar, a 6-foot-tall block of orange sherbet, tears flowing down his usually stoic face.

The point of the story isn’t to show the depths of emotion that the World Cup elicits—that’s obvious from a look at the stands during any match. It’s that the experience came at a completely soulless, impersonal corporate restaurant. Even if you’re watching a World Cup match in an Applebee’s or a TGI Friday’s, as long as you have one die-hard native around, you’re going to have a great experience.

But, thankfully, in Orange County, we have dozens of bars and restaurants that either cater to expatriates of countries represented in this year’s final 32 teams or are drenched in the colors, flavors and aromas of their native lands. So, if you’re looking for a place to view the World Cup surrounded by fanatics, try the following joints.

The World Cup is in South Africa this year, meaning many first-round matches will start as early as 4:30 a.m. PST, with the latest of those games beginning at 11:30 a.m. The tournament kicks off Friday, with South Africa vs. Mexico at 7 a.m. and Uruguay vs. France at 11:30 a.m. For the full schedule, go to the official site: www.fifa.com/worldcup.

AFRICA
As host continent for the first time this year, Africa landed six teams in the World Cup, none of which is expected to seriously contend for the title (no African team has ever made the final two rounds).

But an ideal place for an authentic South African World Cup experience in Orange County is the African Hut (27601 Forbes Rd., Laguna Niguel, 949-582-9546), a global market that offers dry goods, jerky, sausage, and, most important, beer and wine from South Africa and neighboring nations.

As far as African restaurants with a World Cup flair, the African Hut’s manager, Lorelle Purkis, recommends Mozambique Restaurant (1740 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, 949-715-7100), a steakhouse with plenty of traditional African fare, including Durban curry, a South African staple.

 

THE AMERICAS
Eight countries from the Western Hemisphere qualified for the 2010 World Cup: the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. And there is no better place in the county to be fully immersed in fútbol hysteria when any of those nations play than El Gaucho Meat Market (847 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, 714-776-6400).

It’s not that the international market—which opened in 2002 and specializes in meat, deli, wine, beer and other products from across Central and South America—is enormous. Its sit-down deli area probably comfortably seats 40, and with only three TVs, it’s not exactly a mega-sports bar. But you won’t find bigger soccer fans than the owners, who hail from Argentina and Uruguay.

“Really, if you want to enjoy the World Cup with a taste of how South America does it, this is the place to come,” says the Uruguayan co-owner, Carlos Patti. “We’re going to show all the big games, even if they start at 4:30 a.m.”

The market sells sandwiches and empanadas and offers several South American beers.

Next door to El Gaucho is Monty’s BBQ (821 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, 714-809-8533). For years, it was your typical sports bar/pizzeria. But a few months ago, it was purchased by a couple of Mexican nationals, and with five TVs already and plans to bring in a few more, co-owner Lalo Duran says it should be jumping for the World Cup.

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