Announcing the First Class of the OC Food Hall of Fame!
Illustration by Jeff Drew
It's been a long road, but Orange County finally gets proper nationwide recognition as a place where important food happens, where people look for the next big trends instead of us waiting four years before ripping off something from Los Angeles (seriously, those of y'all who create "concepts"? Nashville hot chicken is SO 2013). So in that spirit, we present the inaugural Orange County Food Hall of Fame. The following people, chains, restaurants, dishes, and even fruits and vegetables all played an important role in defining Orange County food culture, and many of them went on to influence eaters nationwide. No, seriously: I recently ate at a restaurant in Chattanooga that offered a Southern take on aguachile, the Mexican seafood dish immortalized by Carlos Salgado at his Taco María in Costa Mesa. It was okay, but its taste wasn't the point: It's that we've finally arrived.
Remember: This is a Hall of Fame, not the Greatest or Most Beloved Restaurants of All Time. And this is the inaugural class, which means many worthy people were left off (maybe next year, Mother's Market!). But it's time we recognize our pioneers, in alphabetical order, and teach youngsters about the legends. Know your OC food history!
Afters Ice Cream. It's amazing that no one ever thought of stuffing ice cream into doughnuts until Andy Nguyen and Scott Nghiem debuted their milky buns in 2014. The dessert is now slowly conquering the United States—watch out, Choco Taco. Various locations; www.aftersicecream.com.
Sayre (in suit) surrounded by SanTana's lonchera class; Alebrije's Grill owner Albert Hernandez is in red
Photo by Jeanette Duran
Alebrije's Grill. In addition to its delicious, chilango-inspired food and the legendary taco acorazado (battleship taco, a beautiful beast of breaded beef, rice, cactus and cheese on a corn tortilla as thick as a pinkie), Alebrije's has led loncheros for more than a decade in the fight against loser politicians who want to ban taco trucks in SanTana. In 2006, founder Roberto Guzmán filed a successful lawsuit against the city that won the right for taco trucks to park without harassment, sparking a scene in Southern California rivaled only by Los Angeles. Now, current Alebrije's owner Albert Hernandez is rallying his colleagues in another fight because the current City Council threatened to legislate them out of existence earlier this year. A taco man for mayor! On the corner of Main and Cubbon streets, SanTana.
Alex Foods Inc. Sonoran migrant Alejandro Morales began selling tamales in Anaheim from a horse-drawn wagon in 1894—and an empire was born. His XLNT beef tamales, fat and soft and delicious, were Southern California's favorite frozen tamales for decades and are still available at supermarkets; his Alex Foods Inc. scored a commissary contract for many of Disneyland's first restaurants when the theme park opened in 1955. That's where an Alex Food worker invented Doritos, which were first manufactured at the factory on what's now the corner of Lemon Street and Carl Karcher Way in 1966. www.xlntfoods.com.
Alta Coffee. Gypsy Den before the Gypsy Den—and still great more than 30 years later—Alta brought back a bohemian vibe to OC coffeehouses after many were shut down in the 1960s. It doesn't get nearly enough credit for this—until now. 506 31st St., Newport Beach, (949) 675-0233; www.alta-coffee-co.com.
Anaheim Pepper. Fuck oranges; this Anaheim-by-way-of-New Mexico pepper is our most famous culinary export, even if it's not exactly the best pepper around (get poblanos to make your chile rellenos, instead). Consider it the Rube Marquard of this list.
At Home On the Range. Orange County gave the world three cult TV shows: Hot Seat With Wally George, Robert Schuller's Hour of Power, and this 1990s cooking program, which paired RV magnate John Crean with self-proclaimed ditzy redhead Barbara Venezia. You can watch nearly all the episodes online and witness the two invent many of the onscreen hijinks everyone now uses on their YouTube cooking channels, Snaps and Instagram stories: the mugging, the wisecracks, and the Burns-and-Allen back-and-forth between Crean and Venezia as they tried to cook everything from ribs to dog food. www.hotrange.com.
Break of Dawn. The first buzz restaurant of our internet age—you gotta try this place in Laguna Hills! Yes, Laguna Hills!—is also historic: Chef Dee Nguyen was OC's first Vietnamese cook to gain acclaim for something other than his native cuisine, offering breakfast and brunch that jumped from the Mekong to Paris to Mexico to Hawaii and Route 66 diners. He was also on the pop-up restaurant trend years before everyone else—#respect. 24291 Avenida De La Carlota, Laguna Hills, (949) 587-9418; breakofdawnrestaurant.com.
Brodard. The Dang family didn't introduce nem nuong cuon to Orange County, but it did popularize the pork spring rolls to the extent that Brodard is one of the most famous Vietnamese restaurants in the United States. People take the spring rolls across the country in suitcases, so delicious they are! An upcoming move to Fountain Valley will reduce the wait from about an hour to 30 minutes—and it'll still be worth it. 9892 Westminster Ave., Ste. R, Garden Grove, (714) 530-1744; brodard.net.Next Page
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