Banzai Bowl isn't a restaurant so much as it is a statement of status: specifically, that if you patronize this corner spot on the Costa Mesa-Newport Beach border, you're most likely a surfer, a hippie, aspire to be either of those, or used to be one or the other until you became fabulously rich. It's the type of place where big waves loop on flat-screens, cashiers pulled from Billabong ads man the counter, the publication of choice isn't the Weekly but rather Bl!sss, hip-hop pounds on the soundtrack, and all present—workers, customers, even the delivery guy—bop their heads to feel the music.
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The only real grub on hand is açaí, the Brazilian fruit that was an Amazon-only staple for centuries until a group of Orange County surfers tasted it in 2000, brought some home and became the mighty Sambazon company. It's the latest miracle-fruit fad, showing up around the county as dietary supplements claiming regenerative wonders, as additives, but most often as smoothies, which is all Banzai Bowl sells. Sure, the menu is divided into two parts: smoothies and differently named bowls featuring any combination of fruits on hand with açaí. The bulk of the latter is charitably called a "blend," but is really mush, with açaí and other fruits thrown into a blender for a spin. Put it in a bowl, dress it up with other toppings, and it's still a smoothie—and it's not like the customer base cares. The place is slammed all day, and the owners just opened a second spot in Laguna Beach, with plans, no doubt, for more. If Wahoo's is fish tacos for the surf set, TK's does the same with burgers and Gringo Bandito its hot sauce, then Banzai Bowl is destined to do the same with açaí.
But do Banzai Bowl's offerings have any appeal for us non-beach bums? Damn straight. The açaí itself is tart and sweet, yet it allows the other ingredients to keep their profiles: crunchy, toasted granola; sticky honey; custard-esque banana slices; and the bold impact of strawberries. I especially enjoyed the stray fruits that didn't liquefy in the blender's unforgiving blades, coated with açaí and maintaining their essence. Any of the bowls constitutes a full meal but won't bloat your gut. For the coming summer, it's a better beach alternative to burgers or meat and stays chilled for a good hour after creation; for the winter, it provides comforting heft. Screw açaí's detoxifying virtues: Banzai Bowl mixes it well, and nothing is healthier than a happy palate.
This column appeared in print as "Açaí of Pleasure."