This list is designed so that you can have a cow. Steak is, of course, represented. There's also a burger in there, because, well, what better foodstuff has this creature from the subfamily Bovinae given to humanity? Without further ado, here are ten great ways to go on a beef bender in OC and Long Beach.
1. Cambodian Beef Jerky at Sophy's
Sophy's Cambodian beef jerky is one of those dishes that proves appearances can be deceiving. On first glance you'd think the things weren't edible. On touching it, you're sure it's not. These beef logs, twisted and gnarled like a tree branch recovered from a forest fire, looks grotesque and well, kind of gross. No color elements are added on the plate. No cilantro, no parsley, not even a cherry tomato. What you see is what you get: sooty black clubs that might as well be charcoal. But then you bite into it. A rush of flavors smacks you up royal. Your eyes widen. You taste kaffir lime, garlic, sugar, and other spices you'll try to identify but can't. You end up fighting to get at that last piece. And the texture is wonderful, if contradictory. How can it be that it's simulatenously tender, dry, moist, chewy, and crispy fried. You tear of another ragged piece and dunk it in a vinegar-sugar dipping sauce, stuff it in your mouth, and tell yourself, I'll never prejudge a plate of food on how it looks again.
2. Seven Courses of Beef at Thien An
You might think that seven courses of beef (that's bo 7 mon in Vietnamese) is probably six courses too many. And you'd be right if every course weren't so darn tasty and essential to the whole experience. Anyway, the bovine bender is a special occasion blowout that you'd be silly to have everyday (although with a price of around $15 per person, you technically could). It actually starts quite sanely with a salad, which counts as a course. Fine, it's one that includes beef and tripe (that's beef stomach lining), but it's a refreshing and crunchy salad just the same. Second course is DIY. The bo nuong vi are thin slices of beef cooked tableside atop a heated iron dome. Once you finish grilling them, you wrap them around wetted discs of rice paper with veggies for an impromptu burrito. After that, bo nuong mo chai, seasoned-ground-beef spheres encased in caul that self-baste into the juiciest meatballs you'll ever taste. Next, the bo nuong la lop, which are stubby meat stogies rolled inside lalot leaves--something that will remind you of a cross between grape leaf and nori. Then, bo cha dum, a steamed meat cake studded with peas, mushrooms and mercilessly aggressive whole peppercorns. You scoop it up with some shrimp crackers like it were dip. Finally, a gigantic bowl of soup with clear broth, rice, alphabet pasta, a few strands of rice noodles, cilantro and bits of beef closes the meal. There, that wasn't that overwhelmingly rich was it? Bet you can't say the same about the In-N-Out four-by-four.
3. Beef Koobideh at Hen House Grill
As the name suggests Hen House Grill specializes in chicken, roasted, stewed, ground up and grilled. Go there for those, but at least once, order their beef koobideh, a dish not actually listed on their menu marquee but pictured on a little-seen placard on the counter. Wholesome Choice, the giant Persian supermarket and food court located next door does the same exact meal for the same price ($9.99), but Hen House's is the one you want. In its meal, two tubes of spiced ground beef molded over a flat metal rod is grilled and unsheathed onto a voluminous amount of rice. 4. Churrasco at Agora Churrascaria
After you've had your fill of steakhouses and their boring slabs of meat, Agora will show you how steak should be done: impaled on metal swords, served by sash-wearing gauchos and offered as an all-you-can-eat. Except maybe the Argentineans, no one can match the Brazilians' love of beef. And in Orange County, no restaurant demonstrates the expression of that love better than Agora. This meat-a-palooza is a parade of protein only a brazen carnivore hopped up on cholesterol meds could embrace. It is a meat feast to end all meat feasts. On those sabers comes a never-ending steak procession, hunks of cow roasted over flames with nothing more than salt and respect. You'll call over the gaucho who carries the sanguine pleasures of rare sirloin more than once, asking him to carve off yet another slice. You'll pop those nuggets of filet mignon wrapped in bacon like popcorn. The restaurant also boasts an immaculate buffet line of sides. They do a mashed potato so smooth it could pass for crème fraîche. But who are you kidding? You're here for the meat, and you're going to have it, one bloody piece at a time.
5. Any Steak at Mastro's
Mastro's is a steakhouse in Costa Mesa that's famous for its steak. Only the sissies or those who realize they're in way over their heads order the chicken, and even that isn't cheap. Forget the salmon, forget the pork chop, forget everything else that doesn't go moo. Hunks of beef, bloody rare inside, crusted with black sooty char outside, is why you go to Mastro's. Sure, it'll cost an arm, a leg, and possibly, a spare kidney. Why worry now? Go for broke for the Australian wagyu ribeye that's served still attached to a bone as ridiculously large as the price is steep. It eats like a hundred dollar piece of steak should: effortless, sinew-free, every sanguine, tender piece you slice an affirmation that you're still alive and carnivorous. The sides? A la carte, of course. A few, like the lobster mashed potatoes will cost as much as a steak. But even a pauper should at least sacrifice a few hours' wage for the sugar snap peas. Expect a dimly lit room, excellent free bread, white tablecloths, hot towels, crumb scrapers, and a uniformed guy in the bathroom who expects to be tipped after he hands you a towel.
6. AYCE Korean BBQ at Surah Korean BBQ
Unlike regular buffets at which it's everyone for themselves, an AYCE meal at Surah requires a team effort. You could get the meats à la carte for $15 to $37 per plate, but basic math will tell you the all-you-can-eat is the better deal. If you are lightweights, you might do better settling for the less-demanding Korean-barbecue combos, each of which includes a set amount of meat for as little as $44.99; but most of those don't include prime cuts of beef, such as yangyum galbi, flaps of beef short ribs your scissors-wielding waiter will sever from a bone as large as a shoehorn and snip into little pieces. The dish is so coveted you're allowed only one serving per person, even when opting for the all-you-can-eat.
7. Grilled Beef Tongue at Gyutan Tsukasa
There's one rule to consuming gyutan: Eat it as soon as you can. The meat--cut to pieces no bigger or thicker than a matchbook and scored on both sides so they don't curl up during cooking--is at its optimum texture and flavor within the first five minutes. If you let it cool to room temperature, its high-fat content and latent qualities turn it into a rubbery sliver that'll inevitably remind you of where it came from. But if eaten hot, its concentrated beefiness rivals a marbled rib-eye, and its resiliency is closer to a properly cooked calamari steak than a filet mignon. This is beef at its most primal, seasoned with a little salt and white pepper--and not much else but the smoky imprint of imported Japanese coal. 8. Burger at Rider's Club
The Riders Club will remind you of the first TK Burger and joints just like it. It's tiny and modest not because it necessarily wants to be, but because it has to start somewhere. You walk into this roughly stuccoed, one-roomed hut and immediately see, smell and hear the burgers sputtering on a griddle. Your mouth waters at all that it promises. The place used to be a taquería and can fit snugly into one corner of a modern In-N-Out restaurant with space to spare, but everything about it--from the dead-simple layout of the kitchen to the tight cluster of beer taps next to the cashier to the hanging key for the outdoor restrooms--are reassuring reminders the place was conceived with a singular purpose in mind: to cook you a damn-fine burger. Distractions here are few. The menu is scribbled in chalk on a diminutive blackboard and not visible until you get to the front of the line. The most basic burger comes with onions either fresh or grilled, some pickles, a smear of house spread, and loose mixed greens also used for the club salad. But no one gets a burger without one or more of the extras, be it cheese, bacon, avocado, an egg fried to any degree of runniness, sautéed mushrooms or roasted pasilla peppers. American cheese isn't an option, but it isn't missed given the United Nations-worthy offerings of goat, blue, Havarti, Cheddar, Swiss and Muenster. They gild your meat, whether it's beef, chicken or not meat at all, if you opt for a quinoa patty or the grilled portobello. Ask for a slice of Swiss, as I did, and your still-hissing burger gets whisked onto a pie tin and slid into a salamander broiler for the cheese to melt and drape the sides, resembling slow-moving lava.
9. Beef Short Rib at Tavern on the Coast
Ex-Bouchon chef Bryan Podgorski executes every protein with the surgical precision you'd expect of a Thomas Keller alum. The best may be Podgorski's braised short rib, a hunk of beef that best exhibits the restraint and discipline Saint Thomas of Yountville demands of his chefs. Each corner on the meat cube is practically at a right angle to the others--the neatest short rib you'll ever seen. Most important, it's not overbraised or oversalted, with every beefy strand you peel off the block tasting pure and unobstructed.
10. Shawerma at Papa Hassan's
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The tightly swaddled cylinder will weigh as heavy as a shotput in your hand. But as you eat, peeling back the paper as your bites progress, you realize this shawerma operates on the same wavelength as an In-N-Out burger. Just as at In-N-Out, Papa Hassan's knows you need a healthy dose of garden-fresh veggies to answer the protein. The result is a very balanced wrap--as refreshing as it is filling. There's the shrill juiciness of tomato, the spicy-but-sweet hits of onion complementing the steady hum of beef in the background. You also taste hints of mint and tahini instead of Thousand Island, and when you're done, you'll lap up the leftover drippings from its wrapping as though you just finished a Double-Double. But the meat is better than a burger. It's positively steak-like. Though Papa Hassan's may shave the shawerma from a spinning cone of beef and lamb as you'll find elsewhere, the meat here chews as though it were cut directly from a piece of sirloin.