Photo by Joy BastI first realized that the Baja Fresh in Costa Mesa was special a couple of months ago, in those waning weeks of summer. I had just walked in for a late-afternoon lunch when I saw her: athletic body, bit of a tan and soft golden hair. Standing in line behind her gave me ample opportunity to admire the jeans hanging loosely about her hips and the little tattoo only partially visible in the small of her back.

She was also standing fairly close to a guy—known from here on as "the tense boyfriend." As he stood in front of the cashier and she leaned sideways against the counter, then looked over the giant menu arrayed before them, ordered their food, slowly answered the cashier's questions, looked again over the giant menu and answered a few more questions, I realized that I was staring at her spaghetti-strap baby-doll top and the belly-button ring jutting out from her exposed midriff.

As she and the tense boyfriend finished and found a table to wait for their to-go order, I concentrated on ordering my own food: the burrito Mexicano with chicken instead of steak, black beans instead of pinto beans, and mild instead of hot salsa. It's what I always get when I'm there, so I can pretty much recite the order when I'm asleep.

My order was also to go, and I ended up sitting a few tables away from the tense boyfriend and his insanely gorgeous girlfriend while waiting. The back of the black metal stool dug into my back like some kind of chiropractic posture brace, but I didn't really notice because I was still glancing at the girl as discreetly as possible—knowing it was wrong and dangerous and liable to get me in a lot of trouble, but she was sooooooo hot I couldn't help it.

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Finally the counter guy called their names. While they filled those little plastic cups with salsa at the salsa bar, the counter guy called my name. They ended up leaving just ahead of me, presenting me once again with an unparalleled view of that mysterious tattoo on her back. I was spending way too much time watching that little tattoo, and I knew it.

As we walked out the door, I heard an angry voice. There was no doubt in my mind who it belonged to.

"You gotta problem, man?" her now more-than-tense boyfriend yelled.

I looked up, dreading the moment when my eyes would rise to meet his cold, furious glare and there wouldn't be a damn thing I could do about it. But instead of seeing his face, I saw he was yelling at some older guy at one of the outside tables.

"I don't have any problem," the older guy said with a kind of nervous bemusement.

"The fuck you don't," the boyfriend retorted. "I don't like how you've been looking at my girlfriend. You need to apologize to her right now."

I have no idea if that older guy ever apologized. I don't know because I just put my head down again and got the hell out of there.

That's when it hit me: this Baja Fresh is more than an outpost of a corporate fast-food chain serving healthy Mexican food at more than 100 locations nationwide that thinks the words "fast" and "food" when conjoined are demeaning so they call themselves "quick service." This Baja Fresh is a gathering spot for the gorgeous—a magical place where anyone at virtually any time could see astonishingly good-looking people.

Seriously, just about every time I visit this place, I have to avert my eyes from some beautiful woman. I've seen redheads still in their revealing workout clothes from their visit to the gym, stunning brunettes in tight jeans, and pretty blondes in sweet sundresses. I have seen men every bit their equal.

A friend of mine didn't believe me, so we went there for lunch. It took him a mere three minutes to admit I was right. In fact, I can recall only one time when I didn't drool over women whilst drooling over my lunch. I was eating there with three friends, and we saw no babes; the afternoon degenerated to the point where we rated every woman under 50 who came in.

Yeah, we're scum. But I know we weren't alone.

Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, located at 171 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, is open daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (949) 722-2994. Lunch for two, $12, food only. AmEx, MC and Visa accepted.

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