My primary focus is reporting on what's out there locally. Not reviewing or waxing poetic about such-and-such; it's just not my style. I leave the creative prose to our creative Weeklings. Instead, I am tasked to interview many inspired and passionate cooks who introduce readers to their specialty. And I'm fortunate for these introductions, because that's how we learn about the cuisine Orange County is known for. These guys and gals are having a grand time in the kitchen-- and it shows.
5. the slummin' gourmet
For my high end taste, this lonchera BRINGS it. They aren't shy about pricing, either. because that $10+ burger has a cringe-worthy food cost associated with it. But damn, it's so good. And so are their sweet potato tots with a chipotle maple drizzle, as well as the jam-packed shrimp corn dogs. They serve an ever-changing menu between local roundups like Irvine Lanes, Best Buy Fullerton and the OC Fairgrounds. I hear about tap takeovers and guest chefs at sit-down restaurants, but Tony Lu was collaborating with Waffles de Liege on a chicken and waffle dish that is white linen and decrumber worthy. Slummin's cuisine pushes the preconceived notions most folks have of what a lonchera should be serving, and we noticed. www.theslummingourmet.com.
Yay, crust! Just when I thought OC was covering a breadth of cuisines, out pops another concept. A welcome first behind the orange curtain, eating with my hands hasn't been this much fun since . . . I don't know when. I stand behind the dozen or so savories in the display case, especially their ode to my favorite meal of the day-- stuffed with beef, onions, cheese and cherry tomatoes underneath flaky goodness. And when you've got neighbors like Sidecar to contend with, managing a steady clientele deserves applause for the pie masters. Look forward to next week's On The Line interview with their kitchen.
HopScotch has changed chefs in the last handful of months for the better. I was introduced to Cody Storts and the Culinary Militia when they were doing Nieuport 17 pop-ups for another concept. Originally acting as restaurant consultants, they did a round of menu development with the management team before it first opened at the Fullerton transportation depot. Once they eventually took the reins, things have gone uphill ever since. And no, I'm not just saying that because of our love of brunch. . . although it (and their killer pastry chef) certainly helps. I order the escolar fish and chips, lamb belly stroganoff and their PB&J with house pepita butter. Plentiful booze, hearty appetizers and a love of the pig make for one badass militia.
2. ARC Food & Libations
I recall Noah's interview, when he gave an inkling of what to expect with ARC. To be honest, I felt like I was jumping on a proverbial bandwagon by loving it here. And I tried to resist their charms, but the truth is, this place pulls together all the elements of what I love in a dining experience. Whether I'm here with a confidante ordering all the side dishes Wednesday night at 10 o'clock, or tackling a $20, no-longer-off-menu burger with gusto (and yes, I can and did finish it) one lazy Sunday afternoon, ARC fits the occasion. Simply prepared meals, served by a passionate staff, including barkeeps who have me requesting Dickels in a Box (thanks Cho, for ordering our first). And let's not forget moody fire-- either seated at the counter, entranced by the wood-burning oven, or socializing out on the patio. It's pretty near perfect.
1. Xa Sweet & Savory Cafe
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What makes Shawn Xa's modest space in an otherwise ho-hum plaza so special? The entire menu. Salads, iced teas, hot teas, vegetables, proteins, and those cookies. I surprised a friend who only knew Shawn for his dessert specialties. Seemingly simple lunches nail their flavors and textures. Every cooking preparation is just right. Chicken has never tasted so moist. Grilled watermelon or romaine? Yes, please. Xa's menu evolves for the greater good, introducing sauces in lieu of rubs, and wacky Spam and garlic cookies in addition to those apple pie ones.
Edwin recommended Shawn as a subject for On the Line, and I was glad he did. I am willing to hedge bets Shawn's cuisine will take him to higher levels in the next few years. In the meantime, go there and feel good about yourself. Every meal is delicious, good for you, and made with precision. And the only way you'll spend over $15 is if you start ordering more cookies. How many individuals bounce between chef and baker? I only know one at the moment.