Five Great Places to Eat While Biking the Santa Ana River Trail
Orange County is a surprisingly bike-friendly place, and the crown jewel of north OC has to be the Santa Ana River Trail, which goes from the ocean at the Huntington Beach/Newport Beach border to Prado Dam in Corona, completely separated from cars. (It will eventually, when Riverside County gets off the dime, continue further up the river, too.) Weekdays see a lot of commuters using the trail; weekends are a blur of Lycra-clad speed racers and recreational bicyclists whose pace is less Tour de France and more Tour de Better Homes and Gardens. Regardless of your bicycling prowess, here's a guide to five great places to replenish those energy reserves, just off the 32-mile path:
Cucina Alessá: This Italian gem does serve breakfast on weekends, but the real reason to go here is for the great homemade pasta like your nonna (or the Italian nonna you wish you'd had) used to make. Head up the trail in the morning, do a nice quick 60 miles on an out-and-back, and reward yourself with a seafood linguine or homemade lasagne with meatballs. If you're up for another few miles into downtown Huntington Beach, they've just opened a second location at Sixth and Main. 6700 West Coast Highway, Newport Beach. (949) 645-2148. From the south end of the Santa Ana River bike path, go a half mile south on the PCH bike path.
Pepito's: In a struggle between Pepito's and El Rincón Chilango, Pepito's won because it's about a hundred feet off the bike path and because they have an insanely good plate of chilaquiles and their coffee is the rich, fragrant café de la olla, with cinnamon. For lunch or dinner, try the enchiladas Oaxaca, with cheese and griddled Anaheim chiles, or if they have tacos al pastor on the trompo (the rotisserie spit), go for those instead. 840 The City Dr. South, Orange. (714) 663-9301. Exit the bike path at Garden Grove Blvd. and go west to the first light.
Jägerhaus: The décor is Haute Cuckoo Clock, but the breakfast is delicious. Try the Schwaben omelet, which is filled with spätzle (German dumplings) and ham, or a German pancake with apples or with lemon and sugar. Whatever you order, make sure you ask for some of the Schwaigers' homemade plum preserves to go on your toast. For lunches and dinners, besides being the obvious beer stop, there are hearty German feasts that will stick to your ribs, ja. 2525 Ball Rd., Anaheim. (714) 520-9500. Exit the bike path at Ball Rd. and go west, just past the 57 freeway.
Wholesome Choice food court: Yes, technically it's a grocery store, but it's a grocery store with an amazing array of food ready to eat and some tables in the front on which to eat them. The best things are at the Persian counter. Pick a lunch special with stew for $5 and upgrade to a flavored rice for $1.50 more. And for even more of a carb kick, ask for bread (free with a meal): it's the sangak flatbread from the adjacent made-to-order counter with butter, a packet of ground sumac berries, lemon and onion. 5755 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim. (714) 779-7000. Exit the bike path at Imperial Highway northbound (turn left from the wooden bridge if northbound on the bike path) and go north to the first light.
Señor Baja: This requires slightly more work than the others, since Señor Baja is about a mile uphill off the bike path, but the payoff for a little aerobic exercise is some of the best fish and shrimp tacos in Orange County. Also good are the seafood cocktails. Try and go easy on the chiles güeros, though, because a numb butt and spicy food are a bad, bad combination. 701 S. Weir Canyon Rd., Anaheim. (714) 974-8760. Exit the bike path at Weir Canyon and go south (uphill) to the Ralphs shopping center at Serrano.
Coco's: This isn't in the list, it isn't a recommendation and it isn't in OC, but if you absolutely have to eat at the inland end of the trail, about a mile up Green River Rd. you'll find Coco's, Taco Bell and Jack In The Box. Of the three, the best choice is probably Coco's, since the next restaurants are on Serfas Club at the 91, another traffic-laden three miles past that. 4714 Green River Rd., Corona. (951) 734-0981. From the north end of the bike path, turn right on Green River Rd. and continue about a mile.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.