Poor Columbus Tustin. In the late 1800s, he and Nelson Stafford bought 1,300 acres for a buck-fifty an acre—and they still couldn't make a profit. Eventually, Tustin began giving lots to anyone who wanted one—and even the official website of the city that bears his name describes him as dying "a bitterly disappointed man."
California real estate: man, it can break your heart.
Tustin, which incorporated in 1927 with 900 residents, was ripped from a bunch of Indians (Gabrielinos), has its agrarian past (from walnuts to oranges), its midcentury evocation of military might (the Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, and its hugest-hangars-in-the-world, was built during WWII), and its current incarnation as bustling suburb. It's sort of like Irvine, but with charm and Mexicans (fully a third of the city! Yay!) and a drive-through prayer house, a former Fotomat in a strip mall parking lot with a 24-hour prayer hot line (714-505-4500). It's also pretty young, with its biggest chunk of folks (almost 30 percent) between 18 and 34. That makes its bars particularly seedy and fun. The Swinging Door, of course, is quite well-known, with its pool tables and flocks of bros, but we like the karaoke—and the skeevy old men—at McClure's. Tustin, for some reason, has a wealth of outstanding Italian restaurants. There's world-class Pina's Bistro, an unassuming little joint, and our personal favorite, Carbonara on El Camino Real, whose pretty food is only matched by its pretty Italian men. And Godfather's is legendary, as are some of the bizarre rumors that surround it. But all of Tustin—and therefore, the county, the state and the world—can be reduced to one perfect microcosm: God's own strip mall, El Camino Plaza. There, where El Camino Real abuts the 5, in all their glory, you will find each of the following, plus more we got too bored to include! The only thing it's lacking is a sex shoppe.
Photo by Heather X
Best Japanese Near a Blimp Hangar Kappo Suzumaru. Features such favorites as teriyaki anything, tempura as sweet as cotton candy and bento boxes crammed with about a dozen separate goodies. Kappo Suzumaru, 17292 McFadden Ave., Ste. B, Tustin, (714) 665-1300.
Best Bakery Cream Pan. Simply the best bakery in OC, with exquisite French (baguettes, croissants, custard/cream-filled stuff) and Danish pastry, together with Japanese panko bread, red bean paste doughnuts, and bento box sandwiches. It's a microcosm of the strip mall's microcosm, a chocolate-fondue pot of meltingness! What do you suppose the Nazis would say? 602 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 665-8239.
Best Place to Commemorate the Deed Before the Christ-ies Bring Out the Pitchforks Gifts by Agam. What the deli next door is to food, this is to religious tchotchkes. Go ahead, bubbeleh! Buy a tallus! And rest assured that not a single soul will ask you if you've accepted Jesus as your personal lord and savior. 696 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 665-0874.
Best Gulab Jamun and Boondi Laddu Laxmi Sweets and Spices. We're such a liar: like we even know what gulab jamun and boondi laddu are. Still, Laxmi is an awesome classic Indian market with a great deli/takeout counter, boxes of prepared foodstuffs Trader Joe would give his left nut for, a huge selection of teas (including, oddly, large boxes of Lipton's), gorgeous desserts and smoothies, and a Bollywood video rental desk. 638 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-4671.
Best Place to Expound on Fellini Video Land. Video Land's got to be the last independent video store in town. By all means, go and annoy them before Netflix runs 'em out of business—if it hasn't already!155 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 838-1441.
Best Place to Surreptitiously Rip Up a Bush/Cheney '04 Sign on Your Way Out the Door Deva's. Who doesn't love a dive bar? Who doesn't love a dive bar with pool tables, a fairly good jukebox, a mixed clientele, a hot drunk bartendrix wearing what appears to be a weightlifter's belt for a skirt, and Republican signs and stickers covering every available surface? Dude, they're so hardcore, they stick Michael Ramirezcartoons up on the billboards. The owner's hot, and she ran for governor. Fun! 672 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 731-9900.
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Best Pan-Asian Trio Long Hai, Kogami Asian Grill and BBQ, and Kitajima. We haven't tried Long Hai, but there are always lots of Viets in there. Kogami is innovative fusion cuisine, really interesting and good, with nice young proprietors. And Kitajima is a popular sushi and teppan place, all cool wood and pretty people. All that's missing is a boba shop. And we probably just overlooked that one. Long Hai, 682 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 838-8118; Kogami Asian Grill, 654 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 734-0029; Kitajima, 658 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-8110.
Best Place to Be a Soccer Mom Soccer USA. You probably thought we didn't love you, didn't you, Suburban White Mom? But we do! And so does Soccer USA, with its uniforms, shoes, equipment, blah blah blah. At least you know there's one thing here for you. 600 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 731-7766.
Best Hippie Haven The Mind Body Store. Herbs, supplements, healthy snacks, freaky New Age info and surely something that will cure your flaring herpes. 640 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 689-3050.
Best Gym Giants Gymnastics. Yes, there's a Bally in this strip mall—for Christ's sake, there's one of everything in this strip mall—and it's nicely unpretentious. But Giants has gymnastics classes for all ages. Drop off the childrens, and you've got your choice of sandwiches at TJ's Subs or a smoothie at IV Caf (or, hell, a mango lassi at Laxmi or something bad-but-good at Cream Pan). Or you could go get some errands done at the tailor or the sheet music store or the Best Hair Care for men and women, or buy yourself something fairly unremarkable at the fairly unremarkable jewelry store . . . or you could sneak a drink at Deva's. The choice—and the world—is yours. 632 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 665-2496.