Wot is Villa Park? Does Villa Park exist? Does anyone know where it is? These are all good questions.
"Isn't that somewhere near LA?" my stupid friends say. Stupid friends. No, no, it's not. But you can't really blame anyone—Richard Freschi/Mischa Barton/Tom Wilson—for asking. Except Freschi. He's the mayor—and for the record, he has never asked for directions. His city is a teeny bedroom community incorporated in 1962: just 2.1 square miles, 1,900 homes and about 6,500 residents. It's no Brea. Villa Park has five beauty salons, three banks, two travel agents, a gas station, a pharmacy, a civic center and library, and a smattering of restaurants, all in the same strip mall—like that block-long Twilight Zone town that keeps spooling by the people stuck on the train.
With numbers like these, is it worth leaving to the coyotes and unincorporating? Coyotes and the oddly named county/state agency LAFCO—Local Agency Formation Commission—say yes, though a coyote spokesperson (Latin: Carnivorous vulgaris) did not return repeated telephone calls seeking comment. LAFCO argues Villa Park isn't self-sufficient enough to avoid merging with neighboring Orange—weird, 'cause, uh, here they are.
One reason Villa Park has only 1,900 homes is because each sits on a half-acre lot. Property values here are the third-highest in the county—surpassed only by Newport Beach and Laguna Beach—and people have money. And they want to remain Villa Park, which makes a certain amount of sense considering the bucolic splendor that is theirs.
Best Malts Villa Park Pharmacy. A combo drugstore/old-timey soda fountain, with milkshakes, ice-cream sundaes, malts and eight kinds of homemade fudge. (Does everything come in multiples here?) Prices are much more reasonable than at Watson's in tyrannical Orange—a milkshake at the counter is $2.85. Try a piece or a pound of the toffee crunch or rocky road fudge, and if there's two of you, set up the chess set that rests behind the counter. 17821 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, (714) 998-3032.
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Best Neighborhood Bar A town without a bar is a town without pity. The Coffee Grove, a coffeehouse, is the closest facsimile to such a local hangout, unless you count the patio at Ralph's. You don't. 17769 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, (714) 974-2650.
Best Shaggy Dog Story That coyote thing. A preschool here has pet chickens out back, and one recent morning they saw a small gray coyote (Latin: Famishus famishus) giving one of the chickens a ride in his mouth. At which point the coyote (Latin: Canis pretentious) and the chicken ran off together, and the preschool owner decided to break out his $285 catch-alive trap from Georgia, where varmints are big business. Also, delicious! They baited the trap with a chicken—experience having shown coyotes are fairly indifferent toward baby-back ribs—and next morning found a coyote inside, but no chicken. The kids were mesmerized at this transformation, and the owner thought about killing the beast over his missing chickens and the absent pets of several neighbors, until he started hearing the children saying things like "I don't know why anyone would ever want to kill it," and "It's just so pretty." And the owner relented and had animal control release the coyote back into his natural habitat, which is where exactly?
Best Suzhou Embroidery China Panda. Over every table at most excellent Chinese restaurant China Panda hang small Suzhou-style embroideries by Chen Cai-ping, a champion embroiderer from the Jinangsu province in eastern China. Suzhou, with its intricate and colorful silk stitching, is one of the oldest embroidery techniques in the world, and Chen's are reportedly some of the best. In 1988 she won the gold medal at the National Embroidery Art Silver Needle competition for her embroidery of, of all things, Princess Diana. And as long as you're here, try the moo goo gai pan—chicken slices stir-fried with mushrooms, water chestnuts, Chinese peas and bamboo shoots in a delicious white sauce. The spicy ma la shrimp is also swell. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Ste. 102, Villa Park, (714) 998-4592.
Best Couture Pink Laundry. This city's designer sportswear answer to Fashion Island, etc.: your stop for Twisted Heart sweats, Seven jeans, Ella Moss—the good stuff. You should go. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Ste. 106, Villa Park, (714) 921-8685.