There's a bit of a controversy brewing over two proposals vying for the food-concession contract at John Wayne Airport as it prepares to open its newest terminal next year. One, HMS Host International, has the current contract and proposes to change up the offerings to reflect more local faves--but among those choices are bombs such as Javier's, Pei Wei and California Pizza Kitchen. Another, Delaware North, focuses more on Food Network-based brands at the expense of local eateries (although Jerry's Wood-Fired Hot Dogs is an inspired, worthy choice).
The OC selections are truly lacking, even if you combine the best of the two. Keeping in mind that only restaurants with capital and investors can hope to muscle in on the airport concession biz, we offer five restaurants representing OC food trends that offer locals a taste of the county and show the rest of the world what we're culinarily made of. Miami International Airport has outposts of Versailles and La Carreta; LAX is getting a Homegirl Cafe. Our institutions need airport representation, también.
1. Wahoo's for Fish Tacos
This is the one good selection from the Delaware list, as well as probably the most natural selection. Wahoo's has millions to spend, is OC-based and sells a great fish taco, that sea-based migrant of the south that is now as Orange County as the Crystal Cathedral.
2. Kéan Coffee for a Cuppa Joe
Diedrich, of course, was Orange County's entry into the world of espressos until the empire crashed down. And Kéan Coffee is where Martin Diedrich landed ably and wonderfully afterward. There are only two of these, but given his heritage and Kéan's quality, surely some caffeine-fiend Newporter can clear out a couple of million from his Bentley as seed money for an airport outpost.
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3. Avila's El Ranchito for Mexican Food
Avila's is not the best Mexican food in Orange County, but it's a chain that spans la naranja, from the Mexi-centric crowds in SanTana to the margarita sippers in its Newport Beach spot, which shows the clan knows how to modify flavors for particular audiences. Plus, it's better than Javier's--then again, a tortilla found on the ground is better than Javier's.
4. Lee's Sandwiches for Bánh Mì
True, Lee's is not an OC chain, but no Vietnamese restaurant has done more to spread the gospel of bánh mì--and I more than trust this San Jose-based empire to properly represent us.
5. In-N-Out for Hamburgers
The biggest no-brainer since choosing UCLA over USC for grad school.