Le Cafe Is a Non-Smelly Deli
There's a genre of Orange County restaurants I like to call Smelly Delis, those restaurants in office or corporate parks open only on weekdays that have a monopoly on the breakfast and lunchtime scenes in the area, that care little about quality and a lot about gouging customers for everything from small burgers to overpriced bags of Fritos. The office drones who trudge there every noon have no other choice—it's a meal by diktat. A few rise above their lot—Rick's Atomic Café in Costa Mesa, Harry's Deli in Irvine—but most Smelly Delis couldn't reach any level of edibility if they even had such aspirations.
Le Café, though, appears to be one of them, a tiny spot in the South Coast Corporate Center, a bland group of towers next to the Costa Mesa Hilton whose most attractive feature is a 1970s-era fountain. A quick glance at the menu reveals the usual office-park offerings: wraps, burgers, sandwiches and espresso. Everyone is dressed for business, which is to say they snuck out of the office and need something—anything—to make them forget. One wall is ringed with chips, snacks, and even such over-the-counter drugs as aspirins and antihistamines.
But it's not until you actually order that you realize there is greatness in this deli. Egg dishes come from actual eggs instead of a carton and are topped with anything from feta to gooey cheese; wraps bulge like burritos, and breakfast burritos, heavy with runny eggs and crispy taters, even get pressed down, mission-style, to add a bit of char on the flour tortilla. A Roma panini is a seemingly simple creation of chicken, mushrooms and sundried tomatoes bound by cheese, but the interplay in those clichéd ingredients shows a care for detail: The grilled chicken is lean but still succulent; the sundried tomatoes are applied judiciously, their overpowering pop of umami always accentuating, never overshadowing the other flavors. There's even a daily-specials menu that changes weekly: maybe a taco plate as delicious as anything at a taquería, thanks to the Mexicans who run the kitchen, or chicken kebabs that are a nod to owner Kev Keshishian's heritage, juicy and served atop a fluffy mound of rice.
The only seeming problem for those of us who don't work in the South Coast Corporate Center is parking: You need to enter a structure, and you only have a 15-minute grace period. But I've been there multiple times, and Keshishian and his crew have never failed to finish an order within 10 minutes, if that. And if there's a slip-up? They validate. Great food, plus a way around evil meter maids? Le Café is more than an oasis; it's a miracle.
This column appeared in print as "The Non-Smelly Deli."
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