Golden Bowl: Remembrance of Teriyakis Past
Just had this conversation in the office: The new generation of Weeklings couldn't understand what the big fuss is regarding the expansion of Dunkin' Donuts into California, especially among East Coast expats. "It sucks!" I kept yelling from my office as I worked on a story. Then Patty, our No. 3 editor, came out to try to explain the phenomenon before it finally hit me.
"It's just like MOS 2," I shouted, referring to the legendary Mexican teriyaki-bowl chain with outposts in Anaheim and SanTana. "I've been eating it since high school. Is it the best food in Orange County? Not even close. Is it the greatest restaurant in Orange County? Absolutely."
The kids finally understood what we were saying. Nostalgia elevates humdrum meals to a level on par with the Ritz, makes otherwise-discerning palates seek random, vile combinations that seem to contradict their otherwise-sane thoughts (ask me about my Texas tradition of eating Zingers and drinking Big Red whenever I'm just outside Amarillo). It's why I continue to search for the best teriyaki bowls in the land, long after serious food critics gave up on them. And it's what leads me to Golden Bowl whenever I'm in Buena Park and am tired of Korean barbecue or Portillo's.
The restaurant is only a couple of years old, holding down a newish streetside complex across La Palma Avenue from the Buena Park Mall, built in one of the city's endless redevelopment projects. Come lunchtime, the line goes out the door with blue- and white-collar workers looking for cheap, pleasing food, usually sticking to the bowls but sometimes veering into the excellent hamburgers. It's not completely Mexicanized—while horchata is on tap, the default hot sauce remains Sriracha—but the majority of eaters are Latino. To appeal to them, Golden Bowl even offers a teriyaki burrito, and while I'm as big a proponent of fusion Mexican food as anyone, don't order it: The rice and meat work, but the owners strangely decided to place a slice of Kraft cheese inside—why? Mucks up all the flavors.
Is Golden Bowl worth a drive up from San Clemente? Probably not for most—but those of ustedes who grew up on teriyaki bowls will drive up without hesitation, just like others will trek to Barstow, which Dunkin' Donuts has inexplicably chosen as its first California outpost (was Yermo too classy?). Golden Bowl offers us a blanket of comfort, heavy on the sauce—and sometimes, that's all one needs in this modern world. Just stay away from the burritos.
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