Regional chains continue to open in Orange County, drawn by our weather and bucks and Instagram-ready foodies. Some (Raising Cane's, the Habit) have proven better than others (Can someone tell JimBoy's Tacos that, while its Parmesan-crusted hard tacos work, they aren't impressive to a county where taqueros create taco shells out of melted cheese?). But one of the more curious entries is Ike's Place, a sandwich shop that started in San Francisco's Castro District and is to Northern California what Sessions is to OC: local sammies done good.
Ike's is overwhelming by design, with hundreds of sandwiches available throughout the chain, each named after a celebrity, an employee, a concept—seemingly anything. And all over the store is a cartoon face of its owner, Ike Shehadeh, a son of Palestinian immigrants (hence, the halal chicken the chain uses) who went from being nearly homeless to opening his shop (the original was so popular that Shehadeh was evicted—no, seriously). It's a heartwarming story, but this is Orange County, where goodwill and food get tossed out like yesterday's unused tortillas. Can Ike's make it, or will it become another Dickey's Barbecue Pit?
Thankfully, Ike's sandwiches have already caught on in a county tired of Subway and Togo's. Crowds are inevitable at its three local locations (although nowhere near the hours-long waits of Ike's original stand), yet the orders come quick—and with a caramel-green apple lollipop for dessert. The base for everything is Dutch Crunch bread, a sugary loaf known in the Bay Area and nowhere else. It's simultaneously dense yet fluffy, and it doesn't disintegrate under the torrents of "dirty sauce" (basically garlic aioli and magic) you should request on your order. What to order? You can blindly poke at the wall and find five sandwiches that'll suit your needs. I'm currently digging the GM (a Fountain Valley exclusive in which teriyaki chicken meshes nicely with Havarti) and the John Wayne (steak, American cheese, and the dirty sauce, all heft and prickliness like the Duke himself). Finally, a reason to praise San Francisco besides Emperor Norton.
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Ike's Place, 18529 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 375-0880; also at 4221 Macarthur Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 783-3390; and 2487 Park Ave., Tustin, (949) 783-5391; ilikeikesplace.com.