In this list of morning meals, you'll find not just the egg, bacon and pancake joints (although there are certainly a lot of those in there), but also a certain Swedish furniture super store that practically gives away its food, a Cambodian/Vietnamese noodle shop and a place to dip Chinese fried crullers in hot soy milk. Let's face it, not everyone considers loading up on fried eggs and processed pork products breakfast...not that there's anything wrong with that.
And if this were a list of 20, you would've also seen McDonald's for their Egg Muffin and the breakfast burritos at Athenian Burgers #3, which Gustavo actually has already praised in his list of great burritos.
Share your favorite places for starting your day in the comments.
The 99-cent breakfast from IKEA, in business parlance, is called a "loss leader". It's an item priced at or below cost to attract customers. In laymen's terms, it's bait--the proverbial carrot for cheapskates to come and eat and then get subsequently lost in their inescapable showroom/maze. But for us? We know the route to bypass the IKEA furniture labyrinth. It's quite easily bested, actually. And once we gobble up our eggs, bacon and taters, we can usually escape without seeing a single Klavsta lampshade. Served on actual IKEA plates, with IKEA silverware and eaten in their IKEA furnished dining room, the breakfast is still scooped from an industrial trough. The eggs are curdled and overcooked. The two slices of bacon are so thin, it might as well be transparent. But the home fries--crispy outside, soft as fluffy cotton inside--are worth the hundred and seven cents (when you include tax) already. The best day to come is on Mondays where the 99-cent breakfast is actually free! Yes! Free and thus further immune to any sort of snide criticism. So do your cheap ass a favor and order the Swedish pancakes, too.1475 South Coast Dr. Costa Mesa, CA 92626, (714) 444-4532; http://www.ikea.com
9. Rick's Atomic Cafe
You've had egg breakfasts at home, at Denny's, at your local greasy spoon. What Rick Le Blanc of Rick's Atomic Cafe serves starts with the same basic kind of ingredients as everyone else: bacon, eggs, toast and potatoes; but the end product is somehow better, more special, thanks to the fastidious care he takes. The toast is from artisan bread, buttered by Rick, ready to be spread by a thimble of preserves he selected out of a bigger jar. A food nerd with horned-rimmed glasses and a buzz cut that makes him look more like a NASA engineer than a cook, Rick will salt things with care and put in some elbow grease to hand-squeeze a dozen oranges just so he can give you one glass brimming with pulp. And oh, Rick's potatoes! The cubed spuds burst with flavor, steam and other intangible toe-curling properties. 3100 Airway Ave., Ste. 113, Costa Mesa, (714) 825-0570; www.ricksatomiccafe.com.
8. Plum's Cafe
Plums Café serves food that's distinctly Pacific Northwestern, a grub devised to fortify lumberjacks and other hardy souls against damp weather and rugged terrain. Dutch babies, its signature brunch item, is described as a deep-dish pancake, but with its girth and puffiness, it can double as Paul Bunyan's shower cap. And, of course, there is smoked salmon, scented of sweet alderwood and tossed into a chunky hash with red potatoes, onions and peppers. To this, a poached egg with Hollandaise makes the plate perfect for an Oregonian day, whether it's jamming with a grunge band or hauling lumber. 369 E. 17th St., Ste. 7, Costa Mesa, (949) 722-7586; www.plumscafe.com.
7. Champion Food Co.
Pancakes, schmancakes. If you want to eat breakfast the way 1.3 billion people on our planet do, go to Champion Food Co. From 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., the otherwise-humble boba shop transforms into a Chinese breakfast factory. The most popular item is a sandwich-taco hybrid of shredded beef and scallions stuffed inside a wrapper half as thin as a tortilla. But there are also salty crullers longer than a policeman's nightstick, deep-fried to airy, golden puffs. Dunk 'em in steaming Styrofoam bowls of soy milk like donuts in coffee. And for those who simply must have breakfast on the go, grab a ci fan tuan--Saran-wrapped glutinous rice burritos filled with pork rousong. It's the anti-Egg McMuffin. 17090 Magnolia St. Fountain Valley, CA 92708, (714) 841-0398
6. Original Pancake House
Two words: bacon waffle. And no, there's no punctuation error here. No comma, period, or the word "and" is needed. One of Original Pancake House's best items isn't a waffle with some bacon on the side--it's a waffle with bacon in it. Also great: Dutch babies sprinkled with powdered sugar and lemon; and corned beef hash, served as a perfectly-formed patty, with a thin and crispy outer crust that leads into a butter-soft interior so smooth it eats like pudding. Of course, no visit would be complete without some of their namesake item: pancakes. An order of banana pancakes will be fanned out on the plate like petals on a flower--too much for a normal human being to consume, each one ethereally fluffy, like it was blessed by the breath of angels. Check www.originalpancakehouse.com for its multiple locations.
Because Chef Danny Godines combines the French, the Spanish, the American and the Mexican, you'll see crepes existing alongside huevos rancheros. But laser focus on the excellent chilaquiles, the huevos rancheros, and most of all, the huevos divorceados, a breakfast of over-easy eggs topped with a red and green sauce on either side, each blubbering chicken ovum cradled by slightly fried tortillas and sprinkled with cheese and cilantro. 415 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 771-2333; www.anepalcoscafe.com
4. Trieu Chau
Breakfast in Vietnam and Cambodia usually involves noodle soups like those Trieu Chau serves starting at 7 a.m. To come, you have to have a soft spot for noodle soup first thing in the morning (and why wouldn't you?), and an even softer spot when it comes with the meat of at least four different animals. Trieu Chau's Chao Chow noodle soup, also known as hu tieu or mi nam vang, is just that dish, topped with shrimp, liver, fish balls, chewy flaps of fish cake, ground pork meat, slices of roast pork and, last but not least, roast duck. And of course, the broth! It's a deep-flavored, marvelous, golden, soul-nourishing nectar, wrung from the bones of bird and hog, and probably MSG. Get there early enough and you'll be able to snag some deep fried crullers you can tear into pieces or dunk into your soup. 4401 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 775-1536.
3. Pop's Cafe
You'll wish you had a fedora to hang up as you enter. Pop's is the kind of diner that's pretty much extinct everywhere except in an octogenarian's fading memories and old film noirs in which Bogart plays a gumshoe. The cherry-red swivel stools at the counter wiggle unstably, worn from decades of use. Above you, precariously hung long-stemmed ceiling fans sweep the air like the propellers of a plane taking off to fight the Nazis. Coffee is poured generously into thick mugs, the beverage of choice for the breakfast plates that feature hash browns as hash browns should be: massively portioned, crisped brown where starch met griddle and soft as mashed potatoes in the middle. The same can be said of the corned-beef hash, which is the closest you get to meat pudding. The deep fried French toast sticks is recommended. And of course, their country biscuit is blanketed in a pepper-flecked gravy as rich as a milkshake. Under the deluge, you'll find a sausage patty huge enough to be mistaken for a gourmet burger. Enjoy it as your grandparents might have in their youth: without a care in the world about their heart health. 112 East 9th Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701-3505, (714) 543-2772
2. Da Lu'au
Da Lu'au's breakfast should be appreciated not just because it's cheap (there's a permanent $4.95 special on two pancakes, two eggs, hash browns and a meat of your choice); but because it's good and cheap. There's also the fact that the ukelele music that they've got on a loop never fails to transport you to some island town where Spam is served with scoops of rice without a trace of irony. You can ask for Da Lu'au's bevel-sliced Portuguese sausage for your meal--a breakfast meat rarely seen stateside except at places like Da Lu'au. Spicy enough not to require Sriracha or Tabasco, it is imbued with chili flakes and sweats red grease. And the pancakes are so thick, so airy, you could conceivably lay your head down on it to take a snooze. The eggs are, yes, just eggs, cooked properly to your specification; but Da Lu'au supplies not one but three hot sauces to douse them: the aforementioned Sriracha and Tabasco, but also their house gochujang, which never fails to make an egg breakfast more than just an egg breakfast...even if it's already "Hawaiian". 14151 Jeffrey Road, Irvine, CA 92620, (949) 748-8855
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1. Break of Dawn
Dee Nguyen is no stranger to lists like these. As far as this rag is concerned, the former Ritz-Carlton chef who struck out on his own to create OC's preeminent breakfast and brunch stop in the shadow of the Laguna Hills Mall is the Godfather of Brunch. Who knew that what we've been missing all these years is the thing he calls tempura-poached egg? Or that Portuguese sausage, scallion purée and pickled green papaya salad are the multicultural friends your sunny-side-up has always needed? We could write about the beef short rib or the crème brûlée French toast with Mexican chocolate, but really, by now, you should've already paid your respects and had your lives and bellies enriched by il capo di tutti brunch capi. 24351 Avenida de la Carlota, Laguna Hills, (949) 587-9418; www.breakofdawnrestaurant.com.
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