Favorite Los Alamitos story: sitting with a buddy and his girlfriend—who, technically, could be referred to as a stripper inasmuch as she danced naked at a Westminster strip club and had an entirely made-up back story that included being an innocent farm girl (from St. Louis) who'd come to make it in the big city (Westminster)—in Los Alamitos' popular Original Fish Co. restaurant.
I was reviewing the place and told them the whole thing was on my paper, which is all the woman needed to hear to order both Alaskan king crab and filet mignon dinners, dismembering them in a manner liable to irk feral dogs. Somewhere mid-carnage, she announced she had to go to the bathroom and made us promise to "guard" her food—"They'll take it right off your plate." When I assured her the Fish Co. was not that kind of place—it was in fact one of the most popular and reliably exceptional restaurants in the county—she offered that people had been "staring at my crab legs all night." They had been staring at her, but it was because of her consummate proficiency at extracting meat fromsaid legs. The story doesn't really go anywhere from here—my buddy and his gal were arrested, weeks later, for having sex on the roof of his house—the point is, you can meet just about anyone in Los Alamitos, which, in many ways, is the county's crossroads, wedged as it is between the 405, 22 and 605 freeways. Los Alamitos refers to itself as Orange County's "gateway," but I think "crossroads" gives it more of a bluesy feel.
People come here for a wide range of activities, from horseracing to high school football; meat pies to matzo balls; military bases to independent bookstores . . . what? It's not there anymore? HOW MANY MORE, BARNES & NOBLE, BEFORE YOUR BLOOD LUST IS SLAKED?!
Anyway, the range of folks and things to do is probably to be expected in a town built on sugar, destroyed by nematodes, and rebuilt on dog food by a Dr. Ross, who converted the town's sugar refinery into a plant that processed horses. It's that kind of can-do attitude that makes for a great gateway/crossroad. Of course, it also led to Dr. Ross' ruin during the Great Depression, his mill torn down. He died a pauper . . .
. . . still . . .
Los Alamitos! Where the strippers go!
Best Hottie Mr. Los Alamitos II. You may remember Jason Lewis from his role as Smith Jerrod, Samantha's hunky boyfriend in Sex and the City. Someone just told me he's from Los Alamitos, and I went on the web and apparently this is true. You know what else was confirmed to me? Dude is really good-looking. Now, c'mon, don't be like that. I'm a dude, but, c'mon, I can appreciate another dude if that dude's got a ripped bod, chiseled good looks and the kind of soft eyes you imagine staring into on a stormy night . . . tighter, Jason, I'm frightened.
Best Mr. Los Alamitos John Barnes is the winningest coach in Orange County high school football history, having won 240 games, including four Southern Section championships at Los Alamitos High, which he built into a national power. Barnes' reputation is such that the once-great power Servite High pursued and hired him to resurrect its once-proud football tradition. Or, at least, they thought they hired him. The day he was announced as the school's new football coach at a press conference, Barnes went to say goodbye to his Los Al players and found he couldn't. "You know how people say you have a gut feeling," Barnes said. "Well, I had a gut feeling. This isn't the right situation for us . . . I've always been happy at Los Al ever since I've been there." Interesting fact about Mr. Los Alamitos: he lives in Placentia.
Best Jeweler Imperial Jewelry. You take your grandmother's ring—the one your grandfather had made for her at the height of the Great Depression with money he earned selling used cars—in to get sized for the woman who will—may—be your wife. And it occurs to you: "I may never see this thing again." That's why you take it to Imperial Jewelry: not only are they honest as can be, but they also have the deft touch you need for a lacy, delicate bauble like this. 11072 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, (562) 598-9523.
Best Track Los Alamitos Race Course. Since 1951, people have come from miles around to watch—and bet on—the equine equivalent of drag racing: quarter horse racing at Los Alamitos Race Course. In feel and temperament, it is much closer to the Old West than such tony tracks as Santa Anita that try for that Olde English feel. Los Al is filled with regular folk who watch their mortgage payment trail the pack while downing the track brew, which packs a wallop. Sure, it's not always what you would call spic and span, and yeah there always seems to come a point in the evening when someone throws up in a trash can. But hey, it's a racetrack; you're betting hard-earned money on an animal that poops while walking. At Los Al, races are decided in, like, 20 seconds. Quarter horses are built for terrific short bursts of speed—none of this running around. 4961 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (714) 995-1234.
Best School Los Alamitos High. Perhaps Orange County's best all-around public high school, considering its consistently exceptional combination of high academic performance as well as terrific extracurricular and athletic programs. Just about everything at Los Al is very good, and some things are damn great. Forget John Barnes not being able to leave Los Al—just ask some of the locals to tell you stories about how people in the surrounding areas attempt to weasel their way into the Los Al district to get into school. Very creative.
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Best Hawaiian Island Grill, which sells Hawaiian food with a Japanese bent, meaning you can get your sushi and bento box fill along with sumptuous teriyaki bowls. Regardless of the main course, your dessert should be the shaved ice: a frosty, chilled monolith flavored with fruit and so delicate you could whittle it down with dental floss. 4390 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 431-6496.
Best Chicken Pittsburgh Broasted Chicken is just what the name says, plus a cute bird mascot armed with a baseball bat. They pressure-cook the gals with the same relentless intensity of the Steelers steel curtain, producing plump meat inside a fine knobby skin. 3671 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-0140.
Best BBQ Papa's Western BBQ smokes its meat Santa Maria-style—tri-tip served lean with a marinade dipping sauce that's salty yet delicious, the meat soaking up the redwood smoke of its heated chips. Baby-back ribs split apart like Legos are served sauceless save for that marinade. Chicken, steaks, pork loin: anything bathed in that dark, dense marinade transforms into the divine. 10900 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-9251; www.papaswesternbbq.com.
Best Pasty Pasty Kitchen is home to the English pasty, a dish riddled with mystery meat and wrapped in a tasty enigma. It's a turnover filled with what was described as "paste"—piles of meat, vegetables and whatever else is lying around chopped together and folded into a delicately sublime crust. 3641 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 431-9747.