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End of the Line At La Habra Heights Cafe

[Hole In the Wall] American food with Mexican flourishes in the birthplace of the Haas avocado

The westernmost point in Orange County is the mouth of the San Gabriel River; the southernmost point is somewhere off San Clemente's beaches. But if you want to find the literal end of Orange County, where our familiar features turn into the unknown, then Whittier Boulevard is your drag. Even though it starts in Brea, it's far more famously associated with East Los Angeles. And as it transforms from Brea's tract-home hell to La Habra's early-1970s-era prosaic strip malls to Whittier's Googie-esque dreamscape, you wonder why this street is even part of Orange County to begin with, so far removed from freeways, so distant from even La Habra.

Why, even the last restaurant on Whittier before it empties into Los Angeles County, La Habra Heights Cafe, doesn't even make a pitch for OC eaters—La Habra Heights, after all, is a tiny city in Los Angeles County, on the hills overlooking La Habra, most famous for being the birthplace of the Haas avocado. But it's in this eatery where OC and LA make peace, the customers a mix of working-class gabachos from La Habra, third-generation Mexican-American retirees from Whittier, and Mexicans from both cities streaming throughout the day. They're here to feast not only on classic diner food—pancakes, omelets, gargantuan hamburgers, irrelevant salads—but also on what the future holds.

I'm not sure of its space's history—it looks nice and worn in, complete with a dining counter, ample booths and a fading mural that takes up most of one wall—but La Habra Heights Cafe has only been around for about a decade. The owners and staff are Mexican, which makes their tweaks to American standards delightful—and delicious. The carne asada omelet, for instance, isn't just a nod to Latino customers, but also perfect—eggs fluffed to a wispy heartiness, cheese oozing out, with meaty chunks worthy of a 2 a.m. burrito from Albatros. The rib-eye breakfast plate is quintessential diner nostalgia, but even better is the machaca breakfast plate, which is just as American at this point in our Southern Californian lives. And what signifies the melding of the old and new OC and LA better than a breakfast burrito? Here, they're large enough to put in a swaddling cloth.

There's a separate Mexican menu, but as with Whittier Boulevard, La Habra Heights Cafe is a place of seamless transition. There's no other place like it in Orange County—really, it's more of an LA County type of dive. But it's with us, so let's count our blessing by downing our fifth malt shake while dreaming one day it'll feature the flavor of horchata.

 

This column appeared in print as "End of the Line."

 
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