Photo by Johan VogelForget about Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine. If I'm going back to college, I'm going to Chapman University. I may not learn any more than I did on my first tour (and I'd spend a helluva lot more on tuition), but I'd certainly eat well.
While Chapman hasn't earned raves as the Harvard of OC, it does sit in Old Towne Orange, the quaint, historic neighborhood packed with funky, low-cost places to eat—perfect for the college crowd. Touring the Chapman area on foot, I'd argue that it's the best campus in SoCal—except maybe for UCLA—if culinary diversity is your bag. Here are my notes:
Papa Hassan's Café. Easily one of OC's best Lebanese places. Just a sand wedge over a liquor store from campus. Dinners are in the $10 range, but the barbecued lamb pita (called a shawirma) is an ungodly delicious bargain at $4.50. The almost-as-good falafel pita is $3.50. 421 N. Glassell St., (714) 633-3903.Dairy Treet. Across the street from campus, it's advertised as the oldest burger stand in OC (est. 1949). Got those (burgers, that is), but lots of smoothies and shakes, too. "Beware of Cat" sign in window. Poor student's special: 99-cent burger. 292 N. Glassell St., (714) 538-5904.The Golden Maize. Replaced Tony's Mexican Restaurant, which was there for 50 years. Serves South American, mostly Colombian eats. A bit pricy for college kids, but you can get two empañadas for $2.50 at lunch. We hear celebrity economist and university president Jim Doti likes to eat here. If you need to butter up the big guy, you know where to start. 264 N. Glassell St., (714) 532-5955.Ugly Mug Caffé. Funky coffee joint with hair-salon interior. Breakfast muffins and stuff to go with java. Open till 12:30 a.m. on weeknights, 1 a.m. on weekends. They've got bands at night, too. 261 N. Glassell St., (714) 997-5610.Buttercup Cottage. Honest-to-goodness British tea room, where you can sip the tea, eat the scones and wonder if Charles is going to marry Camilla without anyone thinking you're weird. 269 N. Glassell St., (714) 997-5895.Java Station.Coffee joint with '50s garage look. Got some food—bagel-and-sausage sandwiches, chili and soup in the winter. Bagels come from Western Bagel, which I'm told is a good thing. Students with ID get 50 percent off hot drinks. Woo! 201 N. Glassell St., (714) 289-9714.La Rustica. Above-average personal pizzas, calzones, and oven-baked and cold sandwiches at pretty good prices. Of course, it's Italian—the baked Italian salami and provolone sandwich could make the pope swear in praise. Good news, broke college stud: buy one sandwich and get a second for half-price with your ID. 161 N. Glassell St., (714) 516-1633.O'Hara's Pub. Irish bar with pool tables; dark, secluded booths; and $6 pitchers. Bar food, too: Polish sausage and egg-salad sandwiches and chili. Did we mention $6 pitchers? 150 N. Glassell St., (714) 532-9264.Felix Continental Café. One of OC's finest Cuban joints. Lunches run more than $5, but you'd be foolish to nix the chicken Embajador on the patio during a warm summer afternoon. This place is legendary, and it smells damn good, too. 36 Plaza Square, (714) 633-5842.Two's Company. Coffee in the morning, and sandwiches in the afternoon. Great patio, even better sandwiches. The BLT with avocado for $4.79 brought back many drunken college memories. 22 Plaza Square, (714) 771-7633.Watson Drugs and Soda Fountain.Oldest drugstore (and probably diner) in OC—100 years and running. Real diner atmosphere, with counter dining and lots of burgers. Tom Hanks used it for That Thing You Do! Only place I know of where you can fill a Prozac prescription, buy Preparation H, eat a pastrami melt and read The New York Times in one sitting (a popular pastime for Register desk editors). 116 E. Chapman Ave., (714) 633-1050.Byblos Café. Pretty Mediterranean place with high ceilings and fans. Bowl of famous lentil soup for $2.75 will soothe your socialist heart. 129 W. Chapman Ave., (714) 538-7180.Paul's Cocktails. No food in this bar, but it's got a patio for smoking and two pool tables. Opens at 6 a.m.—good to know during finals week. 207 W. Chapman Ave., don't bother calling.Omega Drive-In. The "Last Word in Fine Food" is cheap, cheap, cheap. Full breakfast—eggs, pancakes and bacon—for $2.19. Burger specials with fries and drink for $3.45. Steak dinner for $4.10. If cholesterol don't scare you, see you there. Scary food item: pastrami burrito unearths bad memories of Oki dog. Sadly, no Charlton Heston sightings. 319 W. Chapman Ave., (714) 532-2022.Mariscos Clemente. Sweet Baja-style Mexican seafood place; the students just love the two fish taco, beans and rice dinner for $3.99. Bottled Mexican beer makes it go down good. 121 N. Lemon, (714) 771-4760.
Last call. Too expensive: Renata's Café Italiano and Citrus City Grill (cool bar, though). Chain alert: Diedrich right next to Felix. But it's got those deadly Il Fornaio desserts. Beer alert: Old Towne Brewing Co. on West Chapman in the old railroad station. Could be cool, but real college beer drinkers will be found at O'Hara's. Did we mention $6 pitchers?