The chalkboard menu at Newport Beach Corner Cafe said the sandwiches were strictly a DIY affair. There were no specials to save me—I had to pick the ingredients myself. And so I froze.
"Are you ready to order?" the kind cashier asked at least three times as I stood silently, mind lost in exponential possibilities. Bread, tortilla or wrap? Bowl? Cheese? Further distracting me was a case of pastries and rows of bagels. Behind me was a full liquor store, including a special cooler stocked with Jarritos and Original New York Seltzer. West Newport's usual collection of surf bums from the nearby Frog House, retirees and barefoot tourists ambled in and out.
"So . . . I could pick any combo of things?" I finally sputtered. Hey, no one's ever accused me of being smart.
But the café staff were young and kind. "Yep!" another girl chirped. So I began constructing. Sourdough and . . . jalapeños and . . . shredded jack-Cheddar cheese and . . . Sriracha mayo. I was going to ask for carne asada, then decided to look at the laminated menu. "Al pastor?" I asked.
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"Wow, you ordered like a torta!" the guy said with a knowing laugh.
The results were simple but perfect. The al pastor, though cubed instead of shaved from a spit, impressed like it was from a SanTana lonchera. The sourdough's crunch worked like a good bolillo. And while I initially hesitated to order the Sriracha mayo, it worked as a crema. A house red salsa didn't impress, but the sandwich was so good that I totally forgot I had ordered it until one last sandwich edge remained.
Newport Beach Corner Cafe has become a personal favorite. The menu is mostly Mexican, but translated to Newps: burrito bowls, fat quesadillas, wraps and tacos—all delicious anywhere else in OC, but downright transcendent in this slice of sun-splashed heaven. The kitchen makes its own pasta salads, as well as a killer gluten-free banana bread. It's a perfect place to load up on grub before hitting South Huntington or driving onto the Balboa Peninsula. If only every coastal liquor store-cum-deli was like this!
Newport Beach Corner Cafe, 6710 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 548-7025.