Anyone who has spent any time in Orange County food circles has crossed paths with Dave Mau, whether at pop-up restaurants, grilling 'cue for some celebrity or other, or getting drunk off his potent drinks at his every-other-Wednesday Dinner with Dave shindigs at Memphis at the Santora. You can find me sloshed there at almost every Dinner with Dave, and I think it was at the last one I was at, drunk off a Hurricane and Blue Hawaii, that Mau asked if he could pen a column featuring his observations.
HELL YA! So behold the initial "Diatribe with Dave," and look for it every other Wednesday morning; it'll be your cue to go to Memphis at the Santora that night and yell at Dave for his insights. For the inaugural column, Dave takes on the Orange Circle--enjoy, and see you tonight! Take it, Dave!
My grandmother was from San Francisco and I remember the first time I said, "Hey Grandma, I'm going to Frisco!"
The stare she gave me made the dead look in a great white's eyes appear lively. Truly a cobra gaze of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi proportions that almost froze me in mid-sentence.
"It's called 'The City,' you horse's ass!" she hissed.
Apparently, some people feel the same way about calling the Plaza "the Circle," but either is fine by me. The alchemy there is unmistakable and a park by any other name should be as round. I get the provincialism of a few of the locals and how they feel about it positively exploding, despite the lackluster economy of the past few years. It's become quite the place to be, and justifiably so.
I've been hanging out there longer than some, perhaps shorter than most, and I do have plenty of fond memories. The art department on That Thing You Do gluing leaves on the bare limbs of trees was priceless. I remember a sleepy lunch at the now defunct El Cocinero (presently Tokyo Cafe) when the No Doubt kids rolled by on the sidewalk pushing a grocery cart full of instruments while shooting the liner pics for Tragic Kingdom. And I'm there every year, slinging pulled pork sandwiches to the masses for Street Fair.
I knew the-times-they-were-a-changin' when, one day while relaxing with a coffee, I saw someone who just didn't seem to fit. Maybe it was the car, maybe it was the purse, maybe it was the once well-intentioned plastic surgery gone horribly awry? Now, it's none of my business if someone wants to go out in public looking like that, and who am I to judge anyway. It's a free country, right?
She crossed the line when she turned her nose up at Felix Continental Cafe. "We're not eating THERE..." she said all crappy and Mrs. Olsen from Little House On The Prairie-ish.
Lemme get on my soapbox here. (...ahem...) HEAR YE, HEAR YE!! Plate for plate, dollar for dollar and meal for meal, Felix is flat out the best joint on the Circle...um, Plaza. Now, they don't have cave-aged cheese on their burgers or caramelized anything on their menu, and they might turn tables a bit fast (that's 'cuz their price point is so fair) but if I want to experience a good meal at a decent price with no extraneous crap, that's the joint. Period. The addictiveness of their black beans and rice make them more like crack beans and rice while their boliche (Cuban pot roast) is spot on.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Now, there are plenty of other good shops as well. Oh, Gabby's, how I love thee. Your interior is like a Mexi-womb and I just wanna crawl in there and sleep using a pack of warm tortillas as a pillow. Curse you Zito's: you make a mean pie. Francolii, we haven't crossed paths yet, but, soon enough my friend, soon enough (I've heard good things). Filling Station? Breakfast winner hands down. Lucca is great for coffee and a snack--wifey's nuts about the wifi and large work table in back ("and iced coffee and gelato!!!" says she). I hate-hate-hate chains but that Ruby's setup at the old train station is one of the best things to happen to the area in years. Plus, it's independently owned. Taco Adobe: way to step up. And the Wahoo's guys scored a knockout with both the public and preservationists for their spot on restoration of the Vineland Hotel, now a new location.
The rebirth there has been miraculous. And I should know. I was part of fighting the blue hairs when I helped open a shop there many years ago and now the old guard has seemed to come around. And all are, of course, welcome. The more the merrier I say! But remember, unless you are eighty-one years old or older, the Plaza has been around longer than you and I combined.
So pay your due respect and realize you are there for it as opposed to it being there for you. Enjoy, relax, and submit. The magic both embraces and transcends all the earthly obviousness of OC. And, unlike Fashion Island, it's gonna be there long after we are all gone.