I fell in love with the World Cup 16 years ago, the same day that it broke the heart of one of my best friends.
It was July 9, 1994. After weeks of hearing my friend Johan Vogel—photographer, environmental activist and Dutch as Dutch could be—ramble on about something called the World Cup, I decided to join him on a pilgrimage to watch his homeland, a “football”-loving country that had never claimed the sport’s holiest grail, take on Brazil, the land of Pele and three World Cup championships, in the single-elimination knockout stage.
But finding somewhere to watch the game in pre-Bourbon-Street-West downtown Fullerton proved difficult. Even the local British pub, the Olde Ship, didn’t pan out. Not a TV in the place.
We wound up in a Red Onion on Harbor Boulevard. There were maybe five people in the bar, and none of them was paying particular attention to myself and the guy dressed head-to-toe in bright orange—the color of the Royal House of Orange.
But we didn’t care: The match proved to be a classic, the Netherlands falling behind 2-0 early in the second period but knotting the score with two goals in 12 minutes. It was a nerve-wracking affair until the 81st minute, when Brazil’s Branco (née Cláudio Ibrahim Vaz Leal) scored on a long free kick. Brazil held off a furious late-match flurry and went on to win its fourth World Cup.
I felt exhilarated after my first exposure to the raw intensity of the world’s greatest sporting event. Johan? He sat alone in the middle of the bar, a 6-foot-tall block of orange sherbet, tears flowing down his usually stoic face.
The point of the story isn’t to show the depths of emotion that the World Cup elicits—that’s obvious from a look at the stands during any match. It’s that the experience came at a completely soulless, impersonal corporate restaurant. Even if you’re watching a World Cup match in an Applebee’s or a TGI Friday’s, as long as you have one die-hard native around, you’re going to have a great experience.
But, thankfully, in Orange County, we have dozens of bars and restaurants that either cater to expatriates of countries represented in this year’s final 32 teams or are drenched in the colors, flavors and aromas of their native lands. So, if you’re looking for a place to view the World Cup surrounded by fanatics, try the following joints.
The World Cup is in South Africa this year, meaning many first-round matches will start as early as 4:30 a.m. PST, with the latest of those games beginning at 11:30 a.m. The tournament kicks off Friday, with South Africa vs. Mexico at 7 a.m. and Uruguay vs. France at 11:30 a.m. For the full schedule, go to the official site: www.fifa.com/worldcup.
As host continent for the first time this year, Africa landed six teams in the World Cup, none of which is expected to seriously contend for the title (no African team has ever made the final two rounds).
But an ideal place for an authentic South African World Cup experience in Orange County is the African Hut (27601 Forbes Rd., Laguna Niguel, 949-582-9546), a global market that offers dry goods, jerky, sausage, and, most important, beer and wine from South Africa and neighboring nations.
As far as African restaurants with a World Cup flair, the African Hut’s manager, Lorelle Purkis, recommends Mozambique Restaurant (1740 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, 949-715-7100), a steakhouse with plenty of traditional African fare, including Durban curry, a South African staple.
Eight countries from the Western Hemisphere qualified for the 2010 World Cup: the United States, Mexico, Honduras, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina. And there is no better place in the county to be fully immersed in fútbol hysteria when any of those nations play than El Gaucho Meat Market (847 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, 714-776-6400).
It’s not that the international market—which opened in 2002 and specializes in meat, deli, wine, beer and other products from across Central and South America—is enormous. Its sit-down deli area probably comfortably seats 40, and with only three TVs, it’s not exactly a mega-sports bar. But you won’t find bigger soccer fans than the owners, who hail from Argentina and Uruguay.
“Really, if you want to enjoy the World Cup with a taste of how South America does it, this is the place to come,” says the Uruguayan co-owner, Carlos Patti. “We’re going to show all the big games, even if they start at 4:30 a.m.”
The market sells sandwiches and empanadas and offers several South American beers.
Next door to El Gaucho is Monty’s BBQ (821 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, 714-809-8533). For years, it was your typical sports bar/pizzeria. But a few months ago, it was purchased by a couple of Mexican nationals, and with five TVs already and plans to bring in a few more, co-owner Lalo Duran says it should be jumping for the World Cup.
Defending champion Brazil is one of the favorites to advance to the later rounds, and places to watch include Green Field Churrascaria (5305 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, 562-597-0906), The Agora Brazilian Steakhouse (1830 Main St., Irvine, 949-222-9910) and Amazon Churrascaria (1445 S. Lemon St., Fullerton, 714-447-1200).
If you’re looking for a taste of Argentina, try Regina’s Restaurant (11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, 714-638-9595), which plans on opening at 9 a.m. every day of the World Cup, but might open earlier if Argentina or Mexico is playing, according to manager Alias Niquias.
If your World Cup allegiance falls to one of the three Asian nations in this year’s event, don’t get too attached: Japan and South Korea are 300-1 to win the championship, while North Korea is 2,000-1. And finding a Korean or Japanese restaurant with a TV that’s open early enough to watch the games could be just as unlikely.
Newcomer Doori Korean Restaurant (1811 W. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, 714-525-0072), which debuted in January, opens at 6 a.m. every day; most dishes are less than $10 (including the beef bulgoki), and a nice wide-screen TV anchors the west wall. Employee Andrew Yang, whose dad owns the place, says, “We’ll absolutely have all but the earliest games on.”
While Doori isn’t fine dining, two other Korean places in the tony Amerige Heights Town Center fit that designation: Maru Kooski (901-M Starbuck St., Fullerton, 714-449-9599) and Koba Tofu Grill (1933 W. Malvern Ave., Fullerton, 714-879-5500; also 14730 Culver Dr., Irvine, 949-262-0261). Both open at 11 a.m., each has TVs, and with both Koreas and Japan each playing an 11:30 a.m. match in the first round, it’s a safe bet the games will be on.
As for the final Asian nation playing for the Cup, while sushi restaurants and Japanese steakhouses are ubiquitous in the county, few have TVs or are open early enough to catch even the later games. Benihana has locations in Anaheim (2100 E. Ball Rd., 714-774-4940) and Newport Beach (4250 Birch St., 949-955-0822), opens at 11:30 a.m. during the week and noon on weekends, and each location has two TVs in the bar area.
With 10 televisions strewn throughout its sprawling restaurant and an always-lively crowd, Chomp Sushi & Teppan Grill (181 W. Commonwealth, Fullerton, 714-738-3511) may be one of the best places in the county to watch any World Cup game. It opens at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday (at 10 a.m. for Sunday brunch) and has a killer $3 happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. during the week. Celebrate your favorite country’s win, or drown any soccer-related sorrows.
It’s no surprise that soccer-centric Europe exported more nations (13!) than any other continent to the World Cup.
With the United States drawing England in its first game (June 12, 11:30 a.m.), there will be few bars in Orange County not airing the ABC-televised game. But the Olde Ship Pub in Santa Ana (1120 W. 17th St., 714-550-7600) couldn’t be a more fitting spot.
“Oh, my gosh, we will be absolutely slammed,” says manager Lynne Waterson, whose restaurant offers eight TVs. “We show all the [European] Premiere and Champions league games on Saturday and always get a big crowd, and the World Cup should be even bigger.”
The pub will open as early as 4:30 a.m. for most matches, but remember: Alcohol can’t be served until 6 a.m.
Silky Sullivan’s (10201 Slater Ave., Fountain Valley, 714-963-2718) is an Irish pub that plans on carrying most of the later games, but if England or the U.S. is playing, it’s possible it will open early, so call ahead.
Another place for any British, Aussie or Kiwi match is the British & Dominion Social Club (12882 Valley View St., Garden Grove, 714-898-6733), which is opening its doors free for the England-vs.-U.S. match.
Though robbed of a World Cup appearance by non-calls in its final qualifying match, there’s plenty of reason for Irish natives to watch the World Cup: The country that snuck in under them is France. For a healthy contingent of Franco-football-haters, check out the nine TVs at the very Irish Harp Inn (130 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 949-646-8855).
Italy and Germany are World Cup powerhouses, and there are plenty of local restaurants offering World Cup coverage and authentic cuisine.
Two venerable Italian restaurants sit about three blocks from each other in West Anaheim: Sal’s Bit of Italy (918 S. Magnolia Ave., 714-826-3590) and Mama Cozza’s (2170 W. Ball Rd., 714-635-0063). Sal’s, which opened 40 years ago, is on the cozier side, but it has two TVs and will likely bring in a third for Italy’s games. Mamma Cozza’s is working on its 44th year, and the six TVs in its bar area will be glued to anything relating to Italy and the World Cup.
Those showing their allegiance to Germany (along with neighboring nations Slovakia and Slovenia) should consider the Old World German Restaurant (7561 Center Ave., Huntington Beach, 714-895-8020), which will open at 6 a.m. every World Cup morning; Gustav’s Jagerhaus (2525 E. Ball Rd., Anaheim, 714-520-9500); and a newer, more contemporary German-ish restaurant located in the Camp, Valhalla Table (2981 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-549-2960).
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Spain, which has dominated international soccer the past two years and is the prohibitive favorite to win this year’s World Cup, has two suitable places to enjoy tapas and football: Tapas Grill (4253 Martingale Way, Newport Beach, 949-756-8194) and Lizarran Tapas Restaurant (310 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, 714-879-9009).
And if Johan were still in town, I’d drag him to Danny K’s Billiards and Sports Bar (1096 N. Main St., Orange, 714-771-9706). The menu is mostly pub grub, but there isn’t a better sports bar in the county: It has five huge projection TVs and 42 40-inch flat-screens. Expect a huge crowd for Mexico and U.S. games—and it’s even landed a Dutch social club, which plans on meeting there for games involving the Netherlands and England.
This article appeared in print as "In Your Cups: At our local United Nations of bars and restaurants, every World Cup game can be a home game."