Best Of :: Shopping & Services
A scrappy little record store on the back side of a Costa Mesa storefront, Factory Records uses every bit of available space in its cramped quarters to offer as many records per square inch as possible. It's a true record digger's dream, with boxes stacked, records stuffed in crates so tight there's no room to flip through the selection, and all the Springsteen and Supertramp records sitting on the floor. Even more impressive than the Tetris-like set-up is its selection—if it makes your record-geek pants tighter just thinking about it, Factory probably has it. And though virtually no time, energy or money has been spent on decorating the place for aesthetic value, the shop isn't without its charms, thanks to the dry wit of owner Dave Noise, in the form of love notes left on the record covers via stickers and snarky section dividers, including the infamous "Pretentious Audiophile Bullshit" section and the "We're Fucking Over It" clearance bin.
Gabrielle Dion is not only one of the best bartenders in Orange County, but she also runs the best bar store in the land. Need some non-Angostura bitters? Head to the Mixing Glass in the South Coast Collection's OC Mix. Need some quality barware? Head to the Mixing Glass. Need a goddamn absinthe spoon? Yeah, you can probably find it there. And then while you're shopping, go ahead and take advantage of Dion's knowledge and sign up for one of her classes. There's really nowhere else you'll need to visit to outfit the hardware side of your bar. Now, if only there were a cocktail bar at the Mix. . . .
Forget Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma, as purty as they are for your kitchenware needs: Go to H-Mart. You might feel a little uncomfortable at first, but it's a breeze. Pots and pans? Cheap, normal-looking and functional. Chopsticks? So many chopsticks. And the knives? Who needs Shun or Henckels when you have a Kiwi cleaver that can lop off your hand? Best yet, it costs $8 and comes wrapped in plastic in a cardboard box full of other Kiwi cleavers. Nice kitchen stuff is a nice luxury, sure, but seriously, next time you're buying sashimi, take a walk down the kitchen aisle. Dare you to leave without a cleaver.
This fall, Japanese fashion giant Uniqlo opened in South Coast Plaza and finally gave young twentysomething men in Orange County a place to buy basics that isn't H&M, American Apparel or, well, Target. The premise is exciting: Affordable, high-quality basics. Timeless, but well-fit cuts. Flexible styles. It's something that should've happened years ago. But then, years ago, Uniqlo didn't even have any U.S. locations. It didn't operate in the country until 2005, when the company quietly opened three small stores on the East Coast. The first West Coast location didn't open until 2012, and that one is in San Francisco. The buzz quickly outgrew the brick-and-mortars, and soon people were buying through proxy services, visiting stores while on vacation, and biting the bullet and buying blind online. The South Coast store is the first in Southern California, after 16 other Uniqlos have opened in distinctly less Asian areas of the United States. But hey, that'll be forgiven—just give us some cheap oxfords.
Usually when one hears of a high-school gym teacher's heroism, it involves a winning strategy to remove the itch from jock straps. (God bless you, Mr. Reusch.) But that's not why the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, honored 57-year-old Richard Irvin "Rick" Moore of Laguna Niguel. On Aug. 14, 2013, the teacher from Creekside High School in Irvine was vacationing in Maui; he heard a scream and saw a young woman in bloodied water about 150 feet off a beach. Without regard for his own safety, Moore darted across the sand, jumped into the surf and rescued the 20-year-old, who'd been bitten by a tiger shark. Sadly, the German national died about a week later in a hospital. Moore was among 22 people honored in July with medals and cash awards from the organization named for Pittsburgh industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.
The Fullerton-based nonprofit Orange County Veterans Employment Committee (OCVEC) helps connect returning (or long-returned) U.S. veterans with the resources available for them. The goal is to match vets who need jobs and services with those who can provide those things, especially if the providers are veterans themselves. The state Employment Development Department has co-sponsored job fairs with OCVEC, and the nonprofit has sent vets to job centers in Irvine, Anaheim, Santa Ana, Buena Park and Westminster. To help get vets where they need to be, OCVEC has provided gas cards, bus passes, career-development training, OSHA certification fees, security-guard card fees, state licensing fees, work clothing, tools, computers and networking assistance. Considering the wars this country is getting out of—as well as, alas, getting into—OCVEC's work is only going to grow more critical in the years ahead.
The caffeinated company has taken hits from haters ever since it started brewing coffee, but Starbucks' focus on community isn't just a nod at pimping themselves a positive image; it's the real deal. It provides health care for part-timers, reimburses tuition for employees finishing their bachelor's degree (whether those employees stay with the company or not), supports the work of young leaders with money, funds international clean-water programs, encourages and rewards employee volunteering, and gave $9 million in grant money to nonprofits during 2013 (according to its website). Last, but not least, it asked members of open-carry gun-rights groups to leave the weaponry at home. Go, baristas!
Hidden in a strip mall, you'll find this unobtrusive treasure trove across from Target, near a hipster café and a bridal shop. It's small in size but as charming as the mom-and-pop comic shops you frequented as a kid: a wall devoted to toys, T-shirts and cards, plus shelves full of the latest issues, with pricier, rare books displayed up-front; miles of ample white-boxed back stock; a section of trade paper and hardcover compilations; statues in a glass case; a small manga section and a mandatory collection of Star Wars memorabilia. If that sounds like the usual for a comic shop, it's the friendly, non-aggressive sales clerks who set it apart: there if you have questions or need them to pull and hold future issues of your favorites, but not hanging about making nerdy nuisances of themselves. Now, if we can just get them to update the store's website. . . . Guys, your opening/close times are wrong, some of your links are bad and the last newsletter was in 2012! (We only say this because we love you and don't want you going the way of so many other stores.)
Have you ever raced down south Laguna Canyon Road, saw a bunch of Jeeps gathered on the other side of the highway, thought it was the collection of some gnarly hippie, then continued on your merry way? You actually passed Jeeps R Us, perhaps the only car dealership in the county devoted to those old battleaxes nowadays favored only by off-roaders, surfers and 1960s reptilians. Not only does it have dozens of them in stock, from Flower Power-era rarities to more modern versions, but it's also the place to customize your ride, whether putting on Baja tires or dropping it like a lowrider.
This one is specifically for the Asian guys. If you want to find the best barber for non-Asian hair, check out Dane Hesse of Eagle and Pig or A-Unique Barbershop in Anaheim (you can find both of them in last year's Best Of). Now, on to the Asians: Finding a barber who can do Asian hair is a pain in the ass. The face shapes are different, and Asian hair is super-smooth, so it can be hard to cut. Enter Sola Salon Studios. The owner is Korean, the most stylish of Asians, and he's got the requisite sense of style, but the thing that puts him over all of the other Asian stylists is this: He's not afraid of calling you out on your shit. Have a bad idea? Eye roll. Bad prior cut? He'll talk shit on your old barber, and he'll recommend something you didn't even know you wanted. He's the kind of guy who'll tell you something you don't want to hear so you end up getting a better cut, and for most of us second-generation-ers, that's just what we need.
We were really hoping someone else would finally catch up, if only to give the title to another for once—but those crazy kids at the Costa Mesa standard keep upping their game. Even if you set aside the place's perennial strengths (the great selection of beer and liquor, the cavernous storefront, the family management, the tastings, the C'est Si Bon baguettes), what continues to set it apart is its commitment to bring in not only high-priced booze, but also good, new, hard-to-find stuff on the cheap. Case in point: Green Spot Irish Whiskey, one of our Drink of the Week selections from earlier this year. Not only did Hi-Time offer one of the finest whiskey's we've ever had during its first international run, but it also sold the liquor for cheaper than you would find in Ireland. Sorry, competition, maybe next year.
The bozos who designed California's underfunded government-employee pension system made it ripe for a long list of abuses. There is, of course, the infamous double-dipping scams in which a government worker wins generous retirement benefits at one agency, retires, gets hired immediately at another agency and wins a second pension. Still, our own ex-Sheriff Michael S. Carona remains the face of the warped system. Now a convicted felon in the midst of serving a 66-month punishment in a Colorado federal prison, Carona's soothing, nightly dreams probably consist of dollar signs and an overflowing jackpot. About $1.5 million in taxpayer money will be deposited into the crook's bank account while he's incarcerated for public corruption. If the 59-year-old man lives another two decades, he'll grab at least $4.4 million more.