Irvine's official website says God raised the curtain on homo erectus irvinus about 12,000 years ago, but that it took 10,000 years—100 centuries—for that group to do anything; Irvine's done more today in the time it took me to write this sentence. I don't want to impugn the integrity of our forebears—I'm not making an ontological argument here (I'll leave that to UC Irvine's world-famous philosophy department, a faculty that included, until his death last year, Jacques Derrida). I'm talking about doing. Irvine is a city of activity—of relentless AYSO games in the park; ambitious companies with a global reach (did you know that Irvine-based Broadcom is the No. 2 fabless semiconductor company in the world? Do you know what a fab is? If so, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org); of a City Council sophisticated enough to brew up its own Chicago-style scandals; a city of homes that are remodeled and then remodeled again, so that they become more like the folding tents of the Fezzan Bedouin; a city of Chinese, Iranians, Koreans and Indians eager to fit in, but not so much so that they're willing to forgo great food and the occasional cricket match in the park.
It wasn't always this way. The first homes went up about 2,000 years ago, and though the city website tells you the builders "enjoyed an abundant food supply of shellfish, waterfowl and land animals"—pretty much what we're eating now—it also tells you their homes were "huts," round, woven huts. Consider that for a moment, and now consider that the city has okayed for takeoff the construction of 30,000-square-foot castles in the San Joaquin Foothills, the city's last line of natural defense before it abuts voracious Newport Beach. Nowadays, the WASPs' nests have given over to a rich and diverse Asian population supported by the most nourishing environment outside New Delhi. Didn't the Native Americans come over from Siberia on some land bridge? In a way, this somehow returns Irvine to its original owners, thousands of years after the fact.
Photo by Heather X
Best Place for an Intimate Exchange in Irvine Excluding those creaking, creepy Ferris Wheels run by reformed meth addicts at your Annual Guano Fest, OC has two remarkable Wheels o' Cheese—one at the Balboa Peninsula Fun Zone and this one at the Irvine Spectrum. It's just $2, but at its apex (over 100 feet in the air) is just the right place for that heart-to-heart talk with someone you love, like Matt Dillon with Sean Young in 1991's A Kiss Before Dying. Those kids in the picture? They belong on the Spectrum's merry-go-round ($1). 71 Fortune Dr., Irvine, (949) 753-5180.
Best Synagogue on Ice University Synagogue. Irvine scored its first ice hockey rink in the late 1990s—a big red barn-looking thing, like something a tornado lifted out of Salina, Kansas, and dropped at the corner of Michelson and Harvard, across the street from Boomers! The rink flourished briefly, and then for reasons unclear was sold in 2000—to University Synagogue. With 440 families, we'd say it has a strong bench and good coaching, but may be a little weak on skates—but, then, much the same could be said about "hockey" at this point. The new owners repainted the brick-red building a vapid gray, and we miss the "hockey." But there's something really beautiful about looking at the building, if only from your car, and considering Moses or Isaac Bashevis Singer on Bauer Vapor XX skates: zooming over the blue line, driving the puck down into the corner, feeding it to Sandy Koufax or Maimonides, who blazes into the slot and knocks it in top shelf: past Jesus. 3400 Michelson Dr., Irvine, (949) 553-3535.
Best Intersection for Asian Cuisine The corner of Walnut Avenue and Jeffrey Road, where a wonderful array of different Asian restaurants specialize in Japanese, regional Chinese and Vietnamese food. There are enough good places here to eat at a new one every night for a week (or more). Bin Bin Konjac (translation: icy konjac) offers Taiwan's answer to the smoothie, based around the flavorful, fiber-heavy glucomannan. (5406 Walnut Ave., Ste. C, 949-651-6465); O'Shine Caf offers up authentically delicious Chinese sundries like, of all things, beef stew. (14805 Jeffrey, Ste. H, 949-559-5888); Taiko proffers amazing shrimp tempura and a bellyful of delicate Japanese niblets. (14775 Jeffrey Rd., Ste. K, 949-559-7190).
Best Chance to Tune In, Turn On KUCI. Welcome to the revamped and revved-up KUCI—cooler (if maybe less consistent than Indie 103), with a competitive roster of live sets by local-but-we-don't-mean-local-as-in-suck bands like Rilo Kiley and Matt Costa and an engaging schedule that combines rookie enthusiasm with serious cultural chops from classic county radio shows like Howdylicious!, Closed Caskets For The Living Impaired and Riders of the Plastic Groove. An OC institution that deserves as much broadcast power and as much respect as KXLU. KUCI 88.9 FM or listen on the web at www.kuci.org.
Best Haircut Metro for Men. "Men need to be educated," Master Stylist Krista Martin says, which is kinda hard to hear and comprehend in a posh men's salon like this, where every station is hardwood in manly tones, where your shoes are off getting a mirror shine, where flatscreen TVs blast news/sports/program of your choosing. But education—on things like the new men's Redken line and why she's cutting your hair this way—is very necessary. Men don't take care of ourselves the way we should, which is part of the reason we—you—are going bald. 15382 Alton Pkwy., Irvine, (949) 450-0150.
Best Non-threatening Skate Experience Active Ride Shop. Sometimes you just want to hug a skater and get a hug back, and for that you take your 4- to 25-year-old here for all the commercially sanitized skate gear you can shake a deck at. I say that like it's a bad thing, but Steve Alba can havethe peely vintage tees, the empty pools in the boonies and the tetanus shots. We'll rock the curb outside our house—and some skinny purple cords. 3851 Alton Pkwy., Stes. C and D, Irvine, (949) 955-1058.
Best Mitigating Factor Jack-in-the-Box. Fast food destroys the environment. Solar power saves the environment. So standing inside a solar-powered Jack restaurant is the perfect way to balance the guilt you feel at eating detritus for dinner. Also, the franchise owner, John Lin, runs his Mercedes (bio-diesel) on its used vegetable oil. Everyone wins. 4289 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 823-8983.
Best Private Parties Jimmy Z Grill. Jimmy Z is Jimmy Parvin, former owner/chef of Forty Carrots in South Coast Plaza: an Iranian, married to a Californian, who has projected his marriage onto his menu: American cuisine with a Persian sensibility. Jimmy's other brilliant idea is to eagerly host private parties—with one caveat: the place is still open to the public for a bargain $10 cover, making them apparently semiprivate parties. Who cares? It's still great food, good ambiance, hookahs, fire—all life's pleasures at hand. 4517 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 737-6700.
Best Scandal Great Park, brought to you by Larry Agran. When Irvine's token liberal politician first proposed replacing the old El Toro Marine Corps Air Station with a park to rival New York's Central Park, it seemed the perfect response to what the county had in mind: the nation's fifth-largest airport. And so came much ado about rolling hills, meadows, tree-lined walks, the Bronx Zoo—except now it's becoming increasingly obvious we'll actually get less park and more great housing and shopping. And Agran's friends will likely have a disproportionately great role in its construction. The Weekly has revealed three people with Agran ties who have started five businesses geared specifically to capitalize on the Great Park—and critics caught Agran's top adviser, Ed Dornan, promising to comp a partisan poll in the 2004 mayoral election. How the mighty have fallen . . . Great Park Conservancy, 1100 Irvine Blvd., Irvine, (714) 544-5410.
Best Miniature Golf Boomers! You can't miss this gigantic pink castle jutting out of the ice plant next to the 405, and there aren't many finer escapes from reality to be had. Stay till midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, then wander over to Irvine Lanes for cosmo bowling. 3405 Michelson Dr., Irvine, (949) 559-8341.
Best Bike Path Path from Sand Canyon to Portola Parkway. This section of bike path is short, but a good connector to other trails. Beginning at Sand Canyon, follow the path as it parallels the train tracks. Cross Jeffrey Road and continue to Harvard Avenue. From here, take a short dogleg to the right, cross the train tracks, and pick up the path again on the other side of Harvard. Continue for several miles and end up on Portola Parkway. If you turn left on Portola and right on Jamboree Road, you can climb for several miles and reach Santiago Canyon.
Best New Bike Ride Quail Hill Bike Trail. This relatively new trail cuts through the Shady Canyon. Short in length, it is mostly valuable as a connector between Irvine and Corona del Mar (via Bonita Canyon and Newport Coast drives). Begin at the intersection of Sand Canyon and Quail Hill. Follow the bike path up a steep climb and then through Shady Canyon. Construction is being completed on a pedestrian bridge (over the 405 freeway) that will allow you to ride from Shady Canyon to the San Diego Creek bike trail.
Best Dim Sum China Garden. Tastiest, plain and simple; worth waiting for one of those little carts to bring you a bellyful of cha shu bao (sweet barbecue pork bun) and the obligatory oolong tea. Also, the de rigueur fortune cookie, which isn't even Chinese. 14825 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 653-9988.
Photo by Alex Brant-Zawadzki
Best Place to Farm Tanaka Farms. A true landmark, and not just because its strawberries ooze wonderful juices or because its tours teach county kiddies about farm life. It's run by the Tanaka clan, one of many Japanese-American farming families that are Orange County's last ties to its agricultural past. The farm's primo location in Irvine—you can see Fashion Island from the highest hill—is a stubborn, beautiful patch of undeveloped territory in the face of the ever-enveloping Irvine Company. And its manager Aimee Buck has the most infectious laugh since Krusty the Klown. 53803/4 University Dr., Irvine, (949) 653-2100; www.tanakafarms.com.
Best Secret Genius Breeding Pens University High School (whose mascot is either the Trojans or the Philosophes, can't remember) is ranked No. 53 in the nation—No. 4 in the state—for brains. They've got 35 National Merit Scholars for 2005-2006, and their most recent SAT results were the best of any school in the county. Whatever they're putting in the drinking fountains, it's warping Irvine's mental mojo something terrible. 4771 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 936-7600.
Best Raqs SharqiDarband Persian Restaurant. The food here always satisfies, but on Friday and Saturday nights, the Raqs Sharqi—belly dancing—here goes above and beyond duty's call. Heh, duty. Also: the ceiling here is painted like a cloud-speckled sky, which makes you feel like you're eating outdoors—or in the Forum at Caesar's Palace. If that doesn't move you, there's always jazz on Thursdays. 14210 Culver Dr., Ste. H, Irvine, (949) 857-1103. Honorable mention: Caspian Restaurant, 14100 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 651-8454.
Best Way to Slake Your Thirst Thirsty Thursdays at Gina's Pizza. "Mamma" Gina Costa started the first Gina's Pizza in Corona del Mar in 1974. Her seventh restaurant, a joint on the UCI campus, has become the darling of the impoverished student community on Thursday nights, dubbed "Thirsty Thursdays." Premium beers like Heineken, Firestone and Sierra Nevada are $7 for a 60-ounce pitcher. Coors Light is $6, if that's what makes your back teeth float. And with the closing of the Anthill Pub for student center renovation—and all-around uncertainty about whether it will ever reopen—Gina's proves you don't have to spend Steelhead prices for decent brew in Irvine. 4533 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 725-1144.
Best Place for Digi-Geeks Beall Center for Art and Technology. The Beall Center goes lo-fi (shadow machines/Pong) and hi-fi (Twilight Zone-ish video games whose landscapes you control), and sometimes the exhibits suck and are boring (the robot band I thought would be awesome), but they're always smart-tech/new-media/won't-the-future-be-grand! It's also a great place to meet science nerds if you don't want to go to Comicon. UC Irvine, Bridge & Peltason streets, Irvine, (949) 824 4339.
Best Concrete Blocks University of California, Irvine. William Pereira and Associates developed UCI's original buildings, such as Langson Library, in a "brutalist" style, from the French for raw concrete. It worked: 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes was filmed among these eye-popping edifices. University of Chimpanzee Imperialism? Nowadays UCI's mission statement is to have architecture as interesting and stimulating as the curriculum. Frank Gehry, Maya Lin and James Stirling are among recent architects with a hand in UCI development, but as the current plan is to double the physical size of the university, don't be surprised if some new faces (and edifices) turn up soon. University of Contruction Innovations. University and Campus Drs., Irvine.
Best Natural Resource The Duck Club. Nestled—a polite word for hidden—behind the Irvine Ranch Water District's wastewater reclamation plant is the Duck Club, home of the Marsh Education Project, a preserve that aptly named board member Peer A. Swan worked with Sea & Sage Audubon to create. The club itself, which dates to the late '80s, is your standard set of buildings, small Audubon Society wildlife museum, public meeting space, etc., but it's a great place to walk and watch the birds of the Back Bay without having to leave Irvine. Also? They have summer camp. Behind Michelson Waste Reclamation Plant, 3512 Michelson Dr., Irvine, (949) 453-5300.
Best Markets You can be vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hmong, Thai, Pakistani, Indian, Tibetan, Hindi, Sikh, Iraqi, Afghani, Iranian, Saudi, Syrian, Armenian, Turkish or Israeli—and Irvine has what your mother used to make. Wholesome Choice, of course, is chock full of organic goodness. (18040 Culver Dr., Irvine, 949-551-4111); Super Irvine has your Persian delectables. (14120 Culver Dr., Ste. #B, Irvine, 949-552-8844); 99 Ranch has most things Asian, from lychees to cuttlefish to rice cookers. (15333 Culver Dr., #800, Irvine, 949-651-8899 and 5402 Walnut Ave., Irvine, 949-651-8888; Irvine J's Market is your Japanese hookup, which for us is always Bandai Ultraman toys-with-candy and great fish. (4250 Barranca Pkwy., Ste. F, Irvine, 949-551-6136); Han's Market has your Korean connection—what you need to make kim chi and savory Korean barbecue. (14210 Culver Dr., Ste. G, Irvine, 949-552-6924.)
Best Graduate Degree A Master of Fine Arts in English from UCI. What do Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones (a No. 1 best-seller); Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay (a Pulitzer Prize winner); and Aimee Bender's Girl in the Flammable Skirt (Ellen Griley's favorite book) have in common? Their writers each earned a Master of Fine Arts in English from UCI. Go ye and do likewise. Department of English, 435 Humanities Instructional Building, Irvine, (949) 824-6712.
Get the ICYMI: Today's Top Stories Newsletter Our daily newsletter delivers quick clicks to keep you in the know
Catch up on the day's news and stay informed with our daily digest of the most popular news, music, food and arts stories in Orange County, delivered to your inbox Monday through Friday.