Eucalyptus trees aside, this city will never live up to its name; it's too busy and too messy and that's okay: one Ladera Ranch is enough for any county. Garden Grove takes its visual cues from places like Santa Ana and Long Beach: aging burgs with similarly large immigrant populations—and infrastructure problems—that are infinitely more interesting in spite of themselves.
In 50 years (2006 is the anniversary), Garden Grove has gone from eucalyptus-screened orange groves to a town of ex-GIs to an immigrant stronghold with two major Asian districts—the Korean one along Garden Grove Boulevard, and Little Saigon epicentered at Magnolia Avenue and Westminster Boulevard—and an equally significant Middle Eastern enclave.
It's become a marvelous mishmash of comfortable stucco homes, punctuated by the occasional clapboard siding '50s-modern dwelling. Commercial architecture is much the same; moribund postwar poultry farms pass on to Vietnamese coffeehouses with adorable waitresses that yield to glass office buildings.
The city itself has failed to pace the growth spurt that has punted its population somewhere north of 170,000. Money goes places it shouldn't, like political mailers from councilman-turned-assemblyman Van Tran or land grabs for hotels to serve an imaginary theme park (councilman-not-turned-supervisor Bruce Broadwater)—and now there's a budget shortfall looming.
He didn't actually do much to help, but the Garden Grove (22) Freeway, once an insider's fast track in and out of the county, is still Broadwater's pet project; he leaned heavily on it in his unsuccessful race for supervisor. Work is ongoing—but as a result of lanes and ramps being subtracted willy-nilly, the 22 should remain a parking lot for the foreseeable future.
At least it's getting done; the city's theme park didn't happen; neither, so far, have city plans for a casino—though council members were diligent enough in their pursuit of potential developers to accidentally discuss the matter in secret. (Facing that budget shortfall, they're examining it again.) Nor has much been done to ease gridlock on surface streets; those funds went for the theme park that never was.
But as in most cities its size (fifth-largest in the county), these machinations probably don't matter to the people who live here. They come home to nice houses, shady streets and world-class cuisine. It's only the getting there that sucks—but if you live here, you're used to it.
Photo by Matt Otto
Best Monkey Gone to Heaven Nickel Nickel 5-Cent Games. This place would have cost you so much more in the '80s, when video arcades were the new disease. Now it's the new economy: games cost a nickel, except the spendy ones like Gunman Wars or Sogeki or Tokyo Wars—all shoot-'em-ups—which cost three nickels. Unless you're really old—35, say—then you go all the way to the back, where Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede and Donkey Kong Jr. are all free. 10912 Katella Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-5050.
Best Shakespeare Shakespeare Orange County. Which periodically visits upon this agrarian dell a brace or more plays by the Bard—outdoors as they should be. Village Green Amphitheatre, 12740 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 744-7016.
Best Middle Eastern Enclave Little Karachi. Named for the Pakistani capital, restaurants and shops here are clustered around the Islamic Society of Orange County—the county's oldest, largest mosque. Don't miss Noorani Halal Tandoori's delectables: Indian sour minced-beef shish kebab, or else the Pakistani aleem: a sticky, tasty, oatmealy blend of mashed lentils, shredded wheat, ginger, dried chiles and beef. During Ramadan, Fatima Rahman runs the best buffet in the county at the Society, preparing $2 Styrofoam cartons of awesome Indian food and baklava for dessert (the rest of the year, it's only available during Friday services). Islamic Society of Orange County, 1 Al-Rahman Plaza, Garden Grove, (714) 531-1722; Noorani Halal Tandoori, 14178 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 636-1000.
Best Place to Stay When Visiting Disneyland Garden Grove Redevelopment Zone. Bruce Broadwater's loss—a slew of hotels for a theme park that never happened—is your gain. And because the city has mortgaged its financial health to put up these hotels, you won't just be saving money by not staying in Anaheim—you'll be saving a city too! Crowne Plaza Anaheim Resort, 12021 Harbor Blvd., (866) 888-8891; Hampton Inn & Suites, 11747 Harbor Blvd., (714) 703-8800; Hilton Garden Inn, 11777 Harbor Blvd., (714) 703-9100; Homewood Suites, 12005 Harbor Blvd., (714) 740-1800.
Best Theater The Grove Theater Center. A two-fer: the Gem Theater gets all up in your face onstage about things like capital punishment, but wait: you also get community concerts like old guys Michael McDonald and Christopher Cross (sigh) belting out all the golden-plated oldies. 12852 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 741-9550.
Best Chimichurri Regina's Restaurant & Super Mini Market. The signature tangy-Argentinian marinade isn't the only draw here; this joint bastes you with authenticity. Televised soccer follows you to the can, the wine cellar has an Argentinian vintage for every dish, the parillada overflows with beef, and businessmen play native card games into the early morning hours. 11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-9595.
Best Place to Pimp Your Ride Stanford Avenue between Brookhurst and Nelson avenues. Home to the exotically monikered Exotic Auto Body, assorted paint stores and two gems in the rough: Hillco Fasteners, where can be had everything to put your car back together and keep it there; and Johnny's Upholstery, where they upholster everything from ski boats to lowriders. Hillco Fasteners, 7522 Park Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 657-7442; Johnny's Upholstery, 10655 Stanford Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 636-9017.
Best Brush With Danger The guy in the silver Taurus who probably thinks you want to fuck and follows you for blocks after you leave Garden of Eden Adult Book Store and video arcade. This is the place you were warned about: racks of medieval dildos and VHS; grungy arcade spooling snowy porn; parking lot behind where no one can hear you scream. Gets the blood pumping. 12061 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 534-9805.
Best Glass House Crystal Cathedral. Cheesy, sure—the multitudes of statues in the garden—but there's also the view up through God's windshield. Say what you will about Robert Schuller, but his 25-year-old Crystal Cathedral is an architectural triumph that transcends the earthly bonds of denomination. It seats the masses in the high style that was the hallmark of the late architect Phillip Johnson—who, ironically, was gay. (Schuller remains avowedly anti-gay—though, as R. Scott Moxley reminds us, he may not be anti-gay enough: "Gypsies, Tramps and Bigots," March 24, 2000.) So the garden is sappy bordering on obnoxious: the retreat as theme park. So the bookstore is sad: smaller than the editorial department at Weekly world headquarters—and they've been printing the word a lot longer than we have. You're supposed to focus on the Lord—or on your dashboard. Making your pilgrimage across the acres of parking lot, you realize: it's wired for sound—so if the cathedral's full, you can still get a drive-in sermon. Which is how it all began for Schuller, 50 years ago. 12141 Lewis St., Garden Grove, (714) 971-4000; www.crystalcathedral.org.
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Best Sausages International Meats and Deli. Not exactly the home of the zesty kolbsz links (that'd be Hungary), but where kolbsz goes to get away. Your chance to live like they do in Budapest: a table of bread, cheese, beer and a tower of spicy sausage. And thou. 10382 Stanford Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 539-6334.
Best Six-pack to Go The Rainbow Room and Rainbow Liquor next door. Soundtrack: Hank Thompson, "A Six Pack to Go." How it plays out: hit the Rainbow (Room), one of the city's coolest neighborhood dive bars, a half-hour before last call. Have a drink; step and repeat. When they won't hit you again, quick-walk one door south to Rainbow (Liquor)—the '60s-vintage light box sign looks great at night—and splurge on the malt of your choice. Rainbow Room, 12942 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 537-9946.
Best Nonalcoholic Beverage Nuoc Ma Vien Ty's sugar-cane juice laced with tangerine and kumquat citrus flavors has been raved about by everyone from TheNew York Timesto the Weekly's Arellano. Go find out why: plunge below the froth that tops your glass, into the deep, dark sweetness it hides—and get a natural sugar high for once. 14370 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-9801.
Best Karaoke Bar Crooner's Lounge at Azteca Restaurant. All oak and stained glass, this place reminds us of the Velvet Turtle or the Brass Dolphin. It's got the fearless, late '70s/early '80s, audience-is-listening kind of vibe that—coupled with the anonymity of darkness—is just what you need to cover J. Geils. 12911 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 638-3790.