OC Food Issue 2014: Wrap-tastic!
Model: Olivia Houston | Photography Assistant: Genevieve Davis
Photographer: Riley Kern | Design: Dustin Ames
So we sat at Weekly World Headquarters, trying to figure out what the theme for this year's food issue should be: Mexican food? We kind of did that years ago. Sandwiches? Meh. Salads? Weak salsa.
"What about wraps?" someone asked.
"Wraps are lame," the Mexican in Chief shot back. "Just an excuse for gabachos to not say 'burrito.'"
"A burrito is a wrap," someone else said.
"So is an egg roll."
"And a crepe."
"Is Camel running this week?"
The jefe was sold.
Turns out many of OC's favorite foods, from burritos to dosas to spring rolls and beyond, are technically wraps, even if no one calls them by that lame name. So behold our compendium of our favorite wrapped foods in OC. We'll spare you the chaos that was giving this list a title, which started off with "Wrapper's Delight" and "The Wrap-ture!" and went downhill from there . . .
SPICY PORK BURRITO WITH EVERYTHING
The little pink house in Long Beach has been open for less than a year, but it already serves some of the best Korean-flavored food in the city. The reason the spicy pork burrito with everything made it in this issue isn't because it has the best daeji bulgogi, but rather because of how effortlessly everything is fused. With egg and avocado inside an almost-perfect flour tortilla, the burrito threatens to burst yet never does. Everything else is on point: the pork is nice and meaty; the rice perfectly cooked. You even get a free cookie at the end. Now if only parking were just a little bit easier. . . . 4712 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 433-1158; www.seoulmatelbc.com.
BANH CUON TOM
at CAPITAL SEAFOOD
Dim sum brunches don't always need to feature dozens of dumplings in steamers—you can get something a little more filling, too, such as the banh cuon tom at Capital Seafood in Irvine. Order the banh cuon, and you'll get an oblong plate piled high with rolled sheets of rice noodles, inside which a handful of shrimp lay. Yes, it does look as though it's drenched in soy sauce, but worry not: the sauce that covers banh cuon is sweet, much less salty than its Kikkoman cousin. You'll also get a chopstick workout because it's kind of slippery, but once you make a successful transfer from plate to plate, you're in for simple, shrimpy goodness. 2700 Alton Pkwy., Irvine, (949) 252-8188; irvine.capital-seafood.com.
SALMON POKE BURRITO
at BEAR FLAG
Think tortillas are too hefty to be a proper poke delivery vessel? Well, you're wrong. Bear Flag's burrito is the perfect combination of raw fish, rich sauce, vegies and rice, all enveloped in a respectable cocoon. The sauce is rich enough and the fish tasty enough to lend flavor to the tortilla. Plus, unlike many burritos, the tube doesn't leave you feeling full—instead, you almost feel healthy. 7972 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 715-8899; www.bearflagfishco.com.
at ALTA COFFEE
The scrambled eggs are delightfully fluffy; the bacon, strong and plentiful; the potatoes, pillowy soft without being mushy. But the best part of Alta's Surfer's Burrito is the size: You won't be bagging up any leftovers. You can finish the burrito in one sitting, and you will feel pretty good after you're done. Heck, you could probably go surfing afterward. 506 31st St., Newport Beach, (949) 675-0233; www.altacoffeeshop.com.
Trendwise, crepes are kind of over, long surpassed by cronuts, milky buns and dozens of other en vogue desserts. But that doesn't mean they still can't be kind of cool sometimes. Take the dessert crepes at Munchies!: decadent, crispy and wrapped around your choice of froyo-esque toppings. Ice cream? Go for it. Cheesecake? By the slice. Mochi, diced fruit . . . whatever else you might want. Oh, and you can get green tea crepes, too. 10130 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 534-7286.
DAILY SPECIAL HAND ROLL
at KAISEN KAITEN
In the world of sushi, hand rolls are not only the most economical way to get full, but also one of the funnest things to eat. And as one of the cheaper things on the menu, you get three or four perfect bites of fish and seaweed (and other miscellany). There are no better hand rolls than the ones at Kaisen Kaiten, Orange County's best rotating sushi restaurant. Each day, there's a different hand roll on special, and the kitchen doesn't skimp. You can get soft shell crab, eel, even lobster-filled rolls for less than $2. The conveyor belt is nice and all, but when you can basically eat a lobster tail's worth of sushi for around $10, why would you eat anything else? 3855 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 444-2161.
DDUK BO SSAM
at SHIK DO RAK
Most people go to all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue places to shovel meat in their faces—and there's nothing wrong with that. But next time you go to Shik Do Rak, try this: Take a sheet of the cool rice paper or sliced radish and lay it on your plate. Dollop some of the potato salad on top. Then add some of the bean sprouts or other ban chan. Finally, pile on your meat. Roll it, dip it in some sesame oil, then eat. After you swallow, try a spoonful of the egg soup. Isn't that better? Isn't the contrast in textures nice? The temperature differences? Isn't that the way you want to eat your Korean barbecue? 14805 Jeffrey Rd., Ste. H, Irvine, (949) 653-7668; also at 9691 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 534-7668.
Oh, the humble dosa, an Indian crepe made of rice and lentils. Alone, it is filing, hearty and simple, but when paired with chutneys or as a part of a larger meal, it truly shines. Take the mini-dosas you get as part of Vishnu's all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. They're tender and smaller than you'd expect, but they cut through the richness of the sauces and curries as though Japanese steel and, along with the naan, pace the meal with perfect little bites. Now, if only Vishnu were open for dinner. . . . 17945 Sky Park Circle, Irvine, (949) 752-0358.
at LOLA GASPAR
Bacon-wrapped, blue cheese-stuffed dates are a cliché now, one that was never truly impressive. So leave it to the chavos at Lola Gaspar in downtown SanTana to not only revive the appetizer, but also show the promise of it. The dates are fat, meaty Medjools oozing barely melted, beautifully strong cheese. Then comes the bacon: Most places feature bacon-wrapped dates with the pork so charred that each bite unleashes shards of ash, but Lola Gaspar uses thick, juicy straps of bacon cooked so that only the outside crisps up, while the inside is as tender as carnitas. Best of all? You get five per order—chingones! 211 W. Second St., Santa Ana, (714) 972-1172; www.lolagaspar.com.
We said it best in our Best Of issue in 2012, when we named this the best sandwich in OC: "Kareem's is one of the oldest Middle Eastern restaurants in Anaheim's Little Arabia, and it's legendary for its falafels: emerald-green and poofy on the inside, dark-brown and crunchy on the outside. But while a falafel plate is fine, the better option is the pita sandwich, with the falafels lined up in a row, accentuated by the sharpness of tahini sauce, freshened by the red onions and fresh tomatoes within, all kept orderly by warmed bread. It might not seem like much and is pretty straightforward, but wash it down with a Vimto, and Anaheim returns to its rightful spot as the Happiest Place On Earth." 1208 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 778-6829.
POLISH SAUSAGE BREAKFAST BURRITO
at ATHENIAN BURGERS #3
We've been raving about the breakfast burritos here for nearly a decade, and this Buena Park dive is finally getting national recognition. In ESPN's Burrito Bracket, which seeks to identify the best burrito in the United States via a combination of data-mining and experts such as our resident Mexican, Athenian Burgers #3 was placed in the Group of Death, alongside Hall of Famers Al and Bea's, La Azteca Tortilleria, and Manny's El Tepeyac. But rather than fold in the face of Mariana Trench-style pressure, critic Anna Maria Barry Jester gave it 94 out of a possible 100 points, losing out on the crown by just two points. "My only complaint," Barry Jester wrote, "was that I couldn't put the burrito down." 8511 La Palma Ave., Buena Park, (714) 523-9999.
at SAMURAI BURRITO
Behold the future of sushi: It isn't some close-to-retired master who molds raw fish and rice into precious things of beauty, but a 20-ish member of the selfie set in a Subway-like assembly line, assisted by a machine that spits out rice-and-nori sheets as though it were a fax machine. But what Samurai Burrito sells isn't really sushi—or a burrito. Sushi ingredients are used, and you chomp on the cylinders as though they were bean-and-cheese concoctions from Del Taco, but these are different beasts entirely. The best is the Kamikazu, a seared albacore roll that has avocado, cucumber and onions, the whole thing refreshing and cheap—two adjectives you wouldn't normally attribute to burritos or sushi, in that order. 18932 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 962-1370.
at KIM HUONG
Going to a potluck party but have nothing to bring? Be a hero. Stop at Kim Huong in Tustin and order all the cha gios there. Actually, don't be dick: Call a day ahead so that the staff can fry up a tray's worth of tightly wound, deep-fried, little stogies filled with pork, carrots and other crisp-tender veggies that may or may not be jicama. Even if you're there for a quick lunch, get two as a side dish to the bun rieu—the second best thing they make. You'll thank yourself—that is, provided the dick in front of you doesn't buy up the entire supply because he didn't call ahead. 17311 Mcfadden Ave., Ste. B, Tustin, (714) 838-6651.
NEM NUONG CUON
The nem nuong rolls at Brodard are the reason for the line. It's a spring roll to end all spring rolls, in which a wetted rice paper is wrapped around lettuce, a slender piece of deep-fried egg-roll skin, cucumber and nem nuong, a ruddy concoction made of pork or shrimp that isn't quite a sausage and not really SPAM, but a combo of the two. The rolls are legendary, but the real reason Brodard is the undisputed king of nem nuoung is because of the dip you dunk the rolls into—a mysterious sauce that's the most guarded secret recipe in all of Little Saigon. For sure there's garlic, a little chile paste, maybe sugar. Black magic and sorcery? Most definitely. 9892 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 530-1744; www.brodard.net.
at 301 CAFE
This is a Cal-Mex classic on the levels of Mexi-Casa and the Little Onion, one that stopped caring about changing restaurant tastes around 1975. Consider 301 Cafe's wet burrito, a mass of beef con chile colorado, with the ever-present melted yellow cheese, canned red salsa on top, and puréed guacamole—it's something out of a Sunset magazine from the Nixon administration. And yet it all works. 301 W. Santa Fe Ave., Placentia, (714) 996-8001.
at 101 NOODLE EXPRESS
The beef roll at 101 Noodle Express is a superlative version of the delicacy that wasn't in short supply in Irvine; in the same plaza where 101 stands, you can sample beef rolls from at least two other restaurants. The executions are similar: A pliant homemade doughy pancake not unlike a tortilla is given a crisping on an oiled griddle, then rolled to bundle thin-shaved slices of ruddy anise-inflected beef, jellied tendon, chopped cilantro and swipes of hoisin sauce. The ones here are dead ringers for Alberto's carne asada burritos, but sliced on the bias as though a jelly roll and meant to be shared . . . or not. There's no rule that says you can't eat them by your lonesome. 5408 Walnut Ave., Irvine, (626) 789-4193.
at ZANKOU CHICKEN
Even all these years later, Zankou Chicken's only OC outpost is in Little Arabia. If you've never been, start with the chicken tarna—a generous helping of diced, seasoned chicken, tomatoes and smear of that garlic sauce, all wrapped within a toasted pita. 2424 W. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 229-2060; www.zankouchicken.com.
The galaxy of -berto's in Orange County is well-known, and Alberta's in Tustin belongs to that family, with a blond chick in favor of the customary fat Mexican in a sombrero. What you should get at Alberta's isn't the carne asada burrito—whose meat is chopped so fine it's almost ground beef—but the fish version. While other -berto's are content to serve anemic scraps that are more batter than meat, Alberta's stuffs flavorful, big nuggets of crispy-fried white fish into a giant tortilla that can be used to tuck you in at night. 765 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 838-8226.
at EL TORO BRAVO
You might be dumbfounded when you order taquitos at El Toro Bravo and your counterman asks you what kind of meat you want. "What?" you'll ask. "I can choose?" Yes. All the glorious meats in the chafing tray you previously thought was just for stuffing the tacos and burritos are also possibilities for filling taquitos, including al pastor, rotisserie chicken and carne asada. Whatever you point at, he'll chop it into bits with a cleaver, mix it with cheese, and then roll it up fresh inside corn tortillas, fastening each one with a toothpick. Then, plop, plop, plop it goes into the deep fryer; what you get five minutes later will be the crunchiest, freshest, most bursting-with-meat taquitos you've ever had. 1450 El Camino Real, Ste. B, Tustin, (714) 665-1400; also at 739 W. 19th St., Ste. G, Costa Mesa, (949) 631-4464.
at PAPA HASSAN'S
The closely swaddled cylinder Papa Hassan's calls shawerma is as heavy as a shot put. Bundled by an interlocking series of pita bread, it's pregnant with shaved steak and fistfuls of garden-fresh veggies. Everything you need is here: the shrill juiciness of tomato, the spicy-but-sweet hits of onion. And throughout it all is the steady hum of beef stripped from a giant, spinning cone. 882 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 533-7338.
at NATE'S KORNER
If Athenian Burgers #3 is the undisputed breakfast-burrito champ of OC, Nate's is most likely No. 2. Inside their hand-holdable blunt object is short-order cooked hash brown potatoes so soft and fluffy it melts and melds into the grated cheese. They cut the bacon into pieces so that when you bite into it, you're not dragging a whole strip out and leaving the rest pork-less. But the eggs, oh the eggs! It's left runny and tucked inside the last outer layers of the tortilla fold so that when the yolk bleeds out, it's to function as sauce, balm, liquid gold. 3960 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 545-5772.
at FLAPPY JACK'S
Most diners at Flappy Jack's are there for the enormous breakfast combos or for the gargantuan portion of French toast. Most diners at Flappy Jack's had probably never heard of Swedish pancakes until they saw them on the menu, and that's a shame. They are ethereally light crêpes, folded over on themselves, then topped very simply with butter (in this case, lingonberry butter) and lingonberry jam. Swedish pancakes are a great counterpoint to the groaning cornucopia that will be the rest of your party's table, and though they're not officially wrapped around anything, they still count. 2848 N. Santiago Blvd., Orange, (714) 283-2800; flappyjacks.com.
at CAFÉ CALACAS
The Chicano curio shop-turned-breakfast-and-lunch stop across from the federal building in downtown SanTana, Café Calacas always has a line at lunchtime. Why? It must be the veggie-tariana wrap, featuring various roasted vegetables stuffed into a huge tortilla. It doesn't sound like much, but what sells this wrap is not the ingredients, good quality though they are; no, it's the addictive lime-cilantro sauce with which the vegetables have been slathered. Make sure to order one of the incredible aguas frescas to go with it. 324 W. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 662-2002; cafecalacas.com.
at LA CASA GARCIA
This Tex-Mex standard is most famous for owner Frank Garcia's legendary complimentary Thanksgiving lunches in the parking lot of the Honda Center. But for more than 40 years, loyal customers have come to La Casa Garcia for the massive burritos—not just the regular burritos, not even the 5-pounder that you get for free if you eat it, but the King Burrito: 10 pounds of cheese, flour tortilla, beans and your choice of meat. Hey, if the little girl on our cover can finish it, so can you! 531 W. Chapman Ave., Anaheim, (714) 740-1108; www.lacasagarcia.com.
at ROMA D'ITALIA
Roma d'Italia may have the European boot's name in its title, but the pepperoni bread that will be on half the tables as you walk into either location has more in common with the West Virginia snack known as a pepperoni roll than anything you'll find in Naples. It's essentially a stromboli, pizza dough stuffed with cheese and pepperoni, brushed with garlic butter, then baked until golden brown. No sausage sandwich ever disappeared so quickly from a plate. If you're eating with vegetarians, you can omit the pepperoni and order it plain or with spinach. 611 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 544-0273; also at 424 S. Main St., Orange; (714) 289-7662; romaditalia.com.
CANNELLONI DI CARNE
at RENATA'S CAFÉ ITALIANO
Though it is the forgotten Italian stepchild of the Orange Circle, Renata's Café Italiano is worth seeking out for its Roman specialities. Sprinkled throughout the menu are the best of its kind, and that goes double for the cannelloni di carne: a thin crespella wrapped around a soft filling of meat, then put into a baking dish, covered with creamy besciamella and baked. Diet food this is definitely not, but it's the best wrap in the Orange Circle by far. 227 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 771-4740; renatascafe.com.
at ADONIS MEDITERRANEAN GRILL
Though the owner of Adonis Mediterranean Grill is Canadian, the "donair" on the menu is a wrap in a category of its own: part donair, part shawarma, part California burrito. To watch him make it is to see art in action, with layers of vegetation carefully plotted on a pita bread spread with toum, the addictive garlic spread that goes with all Middle Eastern grilled chicken. The pita is then topped with carefully spiced meat from the spit, stuffed full to groaning with French fries, and double-wrapped so you can walk down to Main Beach without it disgorging its contents all over the paper bag it comes in. Fuel for surfing or beach volleyball? Absolutely . . . for DAYS. 202 Park Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 715-4581.
GREEN TOMATILLO CREPE
at ANEPALCO'S CAFÉ
Anepalco's Café has been a beloved brunch stop on Main Street for years. More recently, the owner started serving dinner at the newer, larger Chapman Avenue location, but brunch is still available and still excellent. Nearly everyone starts with the chilaquiles, but eventually the lure of the rest of the menu overcomes chilaquilic inertia. As with the mighty bolillo, which evolved from French baguette, the green tomatillo crepes at Anepalco's are France via Mexico City, delicate wheat whisps treated as thought they're to be enchiladas, stuffed with tender pork and crunchy chicharrón, then topped with crumbled queso fresco and radish, cilantro and avocado. French ideas, Mexican ingredients. What else do you expect from a Francophile chilango? 415 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 771-2333; also at 3737 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 456-9642; anepalcoscafe.com.
at POTZOL DEN CANO
Santa Ana's marquee Querétaro-style restaurant, may specialize in and be named for pozole, the hominy soup beloved of Mexican weekend breakfasts, but the best item on Potzol Den Cano's entire menu is a dish of homemade tortillas dipped in bean sauce, rolled around chicken, then topped with more sauce, queso fresco, crema and crumbles of spicy chorizo. The portions are huge—three large tortillas—but we've never seen anyone not finish it. You wanna be the first? 1003 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 664-0558.
BÒ NUONG LÁ LOT
at LAM VAN
The Vietnamese do a lot of wrapping. Go to any of the dozen or so restaurants specializing in nem nuong, fresh pork rolls. Go to any sandwich place, and you'll see trays of shrimp-studded goi cuon next to the register. Order whole roasted fish, and you'll get a pho bowl of hot water and a plate of wraps to soak and make little fish burritos. But it isn't just bánh tráng (rice paper) that is used to wrap food. Grilled beef is enveloped within spicy, herbal leaves distantly related to pepper; the package is grilled until the leaves are slightly crisped around the edges, then dunked in dipping sauce and consumed with gusto. While bò 7 món (seven courses of beef) restaurants make it at your table, you can buy the assembled dish on skewers (and the sauce) at Lam Van for less money and grill it at home. 8888 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 799-5358.
SANGAK WRAPPED AROUND RICE
at WHOLESOME CHOICE
The best poor-man's meal in OC is, conversely, one of the most decadent. Go to Wholesome Choice and order one of the polos, the rice pilafs that represent Persian food at its best. Afterward, stand in line to get fresh sangak, the Persian flatbread studded with sesame seeds and char that Jesus name-dropped in the Sermon On the Mount (okay, maybe he didn't, but he totally missed out). Sit at one of the tables outside, then rip and wrap, rip and wrap, until you're full. Repeat for the next three days (for breakfast, lunch and dinner), and you still won't be done. Hey, Jesus, make sure you name-drop sangak during your next sermon, m'kay? 18040 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 551-4111; www.wholesomechoice.com.
at DEL TACO
Yes, Del Taco is a chain. But this simple burrito—not something mucked up with guac or beef or sour cream, just beans, melted yellow cheese, and red or green sauce—is as brilliantly Mexican as Zapata. Plus, a bean-and-cheese is living, yummy history, as they were the original burritos: just a flour tortilla, beans redolent of the refried tang, the creaminess of the cheese . . . and that's it. The sauce? Nothing more than a slight pique of the senses. Meat? Nah. Tortilla? Just the vessel for something filling, something comforting. Muchos locations, www.deltaco.com.
at KÉCH CAFÉ
Orange County's phenomenon of outstanding food in gas stations continues with Kéch Café, a Subway-style sandwich counter in the Circle K at Brookhurst and Talbert streets just off the 405 freeway. While the "niçoise" wrap isn't on the menu, you assemble it from tuna salad, olive tapenade, tomatoes, peppers and whatever else strikes your fancy. It's a huge, wonderful sandwich made by the one of the nicest guys in OC, and it comes with two generous sides for the princely sum of $6.49. How can you possibly drive past? 17966 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 968-1122; kechcafe.com.
18932 Brookhurst St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
227 E. Chapman Ave.
Orange, CA 92866
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