Best Of :: Food & Drink
The South Coast Collection near South Coast Plaza is quickly becoming a food juggernaut, and the crown jewel of the collection of small, artisanal shops is the weekly farmers' market on Saturdays. While it's not the largest in Orange County, it's one of the best-curated, with a collection of vegetables, fruits, sweets and bread, not to mention one of the best meat vendors since the days of the Californios' cattle kingdoms. There are typically half a dozen or so luxe loncheras parked along the perimeter, a kids' play area in the center and culinary demos on a regular rotation. The market is such a popular fixture at the plaza that the management constructed the county's first permanent market structures, which makes it feel a bit like the Rialto Market in Venice, and there are plans to expand to a midweek evening to meet the demand.
Kareem's is one of the oldest Middle Eastern restaurants in Anaheim's Little Arabia, and it's legendary for its falafels: emerald-green and poofy on the inside, dark-brown and crunchy on the outside. But while a falafel plate is fine, the better option is the pita sandwich, with the falafels lined up in a row, accentuated by the sharpness of tahini sauce, freshened by the red onions and fresh tomatoes within, all kept orderly by warmed bread. It might not seem like much and is pretty straightforward, but wash it down with a Vimto, and Anaheim returns to its rightful spot as the Happiest Place on Earth.
It's been screamed from the corner booths, the mountaintops and even these very pages, so it bears repeating: Nick's Pizza (not to be confused with worthy contender Nick's Pizza D'Oro) serves the best pizza in Orange County. Zip it with that it's-not-real-pizza-unless-it's-thin-crust-like-in-New-Yawk crap: The kitchen will deliver a thin crust at Nick's if you ask, but why the hell would you when the normal crust is similar to a piece of the best hot, fresh bread you'll eat all week? Crunchy on the outside, perfectly chewy on the inside, the pizza dough joins all the other ingredients (hell, all the other entrées) in being perfectly prepared from the best ingredients around, including fresh mozzarella and a sweet, never-burnt homemade tomato sauce. Topping choices, which adhere to the same taste and freshness standards, include all the favorites, from olives, mushrooms and eggplant to sausages, pepperoni and meatballs. The pies cost more than, say, Pizza Hut's, but you pay for quality, tightwad.
Having a bagel boiled is the best way to make it delicious—otherwise, it's just bread with a hole in it. East Coast Bagels does it right, offering flavors such as pizza, cheese jalapeño, plain, everything, cheese and onion, garlic—all of them chewy yet soft, toasted and yeasty, and concentrated in its particular flavor. Add a multitude of sandwiches that arises from said bagels, great coffee and a crowd that looks straight out of pre-gentrification Brooklyn, and it's as close to a New York bagel heaven as you can find in this goyim county of ours.
Inside Mitsuwa Market food court are eaters bouncing from stall to stall, depending on whether they want ramen or udon for the day, Japanese-style Chinese food or even Hawaiian grub. But the only option that is more than a one-trick pony is this humble spot, easily identifiable by its plastic food displays behind a glass counter. Miyabi-Tei's pork-cutlet curry offers an ocean of the murky, sweet sauce and a crunchy cutlet for 7 bucks; a combo with cold soba noodles goes for $9. The most expensive thing is the bento special, which varies from day to day yet never costs more than $15. While other Japanese restaurants in OC are fancier or more studied in their approach, Miyabi-Tei is Japanese at its finest: fast, furious, shared among masses and cheap as hell.
Pita is now so common to the American palate we assume the entirety of the Middle East eats it, but each country in the region has its own bread traditions—and the best of the bunch is the khubz popular to Iraq. It's similar to pita bread except fluffier and the diameter of a basketball hoop, and it's made fresh every day at Al Tannour, the county's first Iraqi restaurant. Get it with any order, or take some home.