God bless the entrepreneurial wile of immigrants, those hardy souls who repurposed cookie-cutter strip malls, shopping plazas and office parks into vibrant centers of commerce, transforming us from a staid, Stepford wasteland into a wonderful community. Perhaps the greatest testament to their ingenuity is Mission Ranch Market in Mission Viejo, which may be the unlikeliest supermarket in the world.
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It's in one of those two-story office plazas with slatted wooden walls painted baby blue and white, the type of place that suggests dentist offices, tax preparers and middle-aged secretaries who drive Camrys and take power walks on their lunch breaks. But in this setting, Mission Ranch has carved out an emporium on the first floor, a slow march that has seen it absorb former offices and turn them into a full-fledged Persian grocer with a bizarre layout: whereas a typical market is in the shape of a square, this one is a long, narrow rectangle, new wings created by tearing down the drywall that once separated suites to add a butcher, a baker, a nuts section and all the other produce Persians may require. It's almost as long as a football field by this point, yet it's never wider than 60 feet, if that, and it's not even finished: The cheap carpet of a previous tenant still serves as the floor for the last quarter of the store.
Persians in Mission Viejo? Yep—next to Irvine and Beverly Hills, the town Phillip Morris built has become a mecca, their restaurants, grocers and sweets shops finally adding ethnicity to the city. And Mission Ranch is the anchor, baking fresh, wonderful sangak and other breads; keeping a deli in which everything from sholeh zard to mast-o-musir and other great dips get whipped up daily; piping Farsi-language music to keep people entertained as they decide on which Sadaf spice to purchase. The long stroll through the store will make you hungry, so at the end is a buffet that matches the one at Wholesome Choice polo for polo, kebab for kebab, and even bests it in some instances. Take the tahchin, which looks like cornbread but is saffron rice whipped with egg yolks and yogurt, shaped into a cake, with a chicken middle and burnt rice on top, topped with tart barberries, as fluffy as a quiche and as filling as a pilaf. You can get a brick of the stuff for about eight bucks, enough to serve as four lunches; add a container of shirazi salad (essentially pico de gallo with olive oil) to make the already-moist tahchin even more sumptuous. "Mission Viejo" and "sumptuous"? Who'da thunk it?!
This column ran in print as "The Best Little Persian Market In OC."