Photo by Heather XBy Nadia Afghani, Gustavo Arellano, Matt Coker, Theo Douglas, Steve Lowery, R. Scott Moxley, Rebecca Schoenkopf, Will Swaim and Chris Ziegler
There was a time when Asian food referred to two kinds of cuisine: Chinese food and Chinese takeout. Now Chinese has been joined by Thai, Japanese, Indian, Vietnamese, Persian, Filipino and about 15 regional Chinese culinary traditions: Hainanese, Sichuan, Shanghainese, Taiwanese, Cantonese, even Chinese Islamic. Asian food encompasses fast food to epic dim sum to haute cuisine and everything in between; from teriyaki with Tapatío to kung pao pasta. It's all good and it's all Asian. Here in a county where people call themselves all of the above, plus Cambodian, Laotian and a Chinese Brazilian taco king, we decided to talk to a bunch of Asians—and Chuck DeVore—about their favorite Asian restaurants. And not just restaurants serving the food of their homeland, but Asian food they simply love. We asked, they answered, you read.
Sa Do at Koji's ShabuShabu
Photo by James Bunoan
When the owners of Westminster-based network Saigon TV pulled VAX(VietnameseAmericanXposure), a CaliforniaGold-style show, off the air last fall for showing a clipof a video of a picture of Ho Chi Minh, Sa Dao could've understandably quit—and he did. As associate executive producer for VAX, Dao had spent a good year of intensive meetings and scripting getting the show on the air. So after Saigon TV's "slap in the face," as Dao puts it, he and the rest of the VAXgang moved on and found another network, where they expect to air nationwide no later than spring of next year. ETHNICEAT(VIETNAMESE):"When I want straight-up Vietnamese food, grandma's country cooking, I visit QuanHy," says Dao. "Quan Hy serves country-style Vietnamese—a lot more flavor and eccentricity than food like pho. With the country stuff, you taste a lot of different things. They sell a lot of mixed bowls—one is like a seafood medley, an assortment of pork and beef and shrimp and fish and vegetables. It's phenomenal." 9727BolsaAve.,Westminster,(714)775-7179;also10212WestminsterAve.,GardenGrove,(714)636-1652.AMAZINGASIAN:Dao loves Japanese food, but especially shabu shabu, the DIY dinner involving raw meat slices, boiling water and swishing. "I'll go to CaliforniaShabu-Shabuif I only want shabu shabu," he says. 18908BrookhurstSt.,FountainValley,(714)963-8844."But Koji'sShabuShabuat the Block has everything—teppan, sushi, shabu shabu and other dishes. My favorite appetizer is the Angus beef crepes—Angus beef sliced thin, precooked and wrapped around asparagus and onions and a type of honey sauce that's just unspeakably good." 20CityBlvd.,Orange,(714)769-0200;www.kojisjapan.com.
Nguyen, former barista at Orange's superb Kaffa, writes from North Carolina, where she is negotiating to purchase a gelato machine in anticipation of her new job: manager of Café Lucca in Old Towne Orange, opening this fall. ETHNICEAT(VIETNAMESE):"The vegetarian AuLachas a lot of good energy," Nguyen writes. "I love their 'pork' vermicelli bowl and the egg rolls. They're very crispy and sweet. You wrap them in lettuce and dunk them in their fake fish sauce. One of the chefs there has taken a four-year vow of silence but makes me great stews." 16563BrookhurstSt.,FountainValley,(714)418-0658;www.aulac.com.AMAZINGASIAN:Nguyen is vegetarian, yet her favorite Asian restaurant is LightTownHouse, a Korean BBQ. "This is where I've found the best mushroom tofu stew," says Nguyen. "It's not that spicy but has enough chile to make you sweat. You can ask for as many mushrooms as you want." She also loves their choices of panchan (the side dishes integral to all Korean meals) but usually eats just one. "Most of the ones that they give out have some meat—even the kimchi usually has oyster sauce," says Nguyen. "But I like one vegetable—it's kind of like a cucumber but isn't. They're spicier and sweeter and served chilled." 8902GardenGroveBlvd.,GardenGrove,(714)638-5757.
Photo by Heather X
The daughter of a U.S. Foreign Service official, Vo says she "grew up all over the place," moving every two years with stays in such high-profile locales as New Delhi, Tokyo, Brussels and, um, San Bernardino—next to Paris, California, where she attended high school. She did her undergrad and graduate work at UC San Diego and her post-doc work at UC Berkeley. Today, she's associate professor of Asian American Studies at UC Irvine. We talked to her by phone at her UCI office. You'reVietnamesebybirthandraisednearAmericanembassiesaroundtheworld.WheredoyougoforAsianfoodhere?I'm looking for the names right now. Youkeepnotes?I keep business cards. I'm a foodie. Iguess.Do I have to pick just one restaurant? Because there's so many . . . I'd start with this one in Little Saigon. It's called Brodard.The BBQ pork rolls are very good. They come with a special sauce that's just really unusual. What'sinthesauce?That's what makes it special: no one can tell. Seems like it has pork. It's warm and kind of sweet . . . I can't really even begin to explain it. But I've had regular out-of-town visitors who insist I take them there for the rolls; they're addictive. It's definitely a local hangout since no one ever imagines going to the back of a mini-mall. It'sbehindamini-mall?
Photo by Tenaya Hills
Well, basically behind a 99 Cent Store. Then there's DaLatBistro.AlsoVietnamese?Also Vietnamese. It's warmer than Brodard. Warmerambiance?Yeah, warm and casual. It's got a homey, rustic interior—like a village setting. I like the seven-course fish or beef meals, although they have more generic Vietnamese dishes for novice eaters too. Sevencoursesofeach?Howdotheymanagethat?I think the grilled courses count as three! Sowhataretheotherfour?There's a salad, soup, vegetables . . . You can wrap the grilled fish or beef in rice paper, noodles and mixed greens. Really good. I like LeJardin,too, in Fountain Valley. Have you been there? No,Ihavekids.I'mprettymuchlimitedtotakeoutpizza.It's very French. YoulikeFrench?You mean the people, the language or the food? Veryfunny.I had some high school and college French, and I don't remember much of it. But the food is . . . well, I've brought in big groups and had set meals for everyone, and everything was great. I remember once we took a visiting colleague there. We started with a leg of lamb appetizer. It was little but great, a bone-in leg of lamb. And after the salad we had a lobster with beautiful fried onions—it's the little things I remember—and then a pear dish in syrup for dessert. It's more French than Vietnamese; they're very separate cuisines here; they don't do a lot of fusion. Do I have room for one more?
Photo by Chris Ziegler
Sure!RedPearlKitchenin Huntington Beach. I went there right after they opened and it wasn't all that great. But I returned after they hired a new Vietnamese American chef . . . It's Asian-influenced, not just Asian. Whatdoyoulikebestthere?What don't I like? Everything is just excellent. I think the chef graduated from one of the local community college culinary programs. OrangeCoastCollege,maybe?Yeah, I think OCC. She's amazing. She's probably in her late twenties and the head chef at this fantastic restaurant. It's a bit pricey, but worth it. Brodard,9892WestminsterAve.,GardenGrove,(714)530-1744;DaLatBistro,16525BrookhurstSt.,FountainValley,(714)839-8338;LeJardin,17431BrookhurstSt.,FountainValley,(714)593-8511;RedPearlKitchen,412WalnutAve.,HuntingtonBeach,(714)969-0224.
Orange County has a small-but-lively food-blog scene, from the stately ruminations of Weeklycontributor Professor Salt (professorsalt.blogspot.com) to Elmo Monster's search for the perfect tortilla chip (monstermunching.blogspot) and the exclamation-heavy posts of Mealcentric (mealcentric.blogspot.com). But we find ourselves returning to the writings of Diamond Dog (eatoc.blogspot.com), not only for his stellar writing but also for the photo on his home page featuring a Rottweiler about to lunge at his padded arm. That cute pup is Vasko, and Diamond is part of a team that trains the Rottweiler in the art of Schutzhund,a Germanic dog sport that rates pooches on tracking, obedience, protection, retrieving and temperament testing. But Diamond does more than prepare Vasko for the canine gold. "Vasko is a registered pet therapy dog, and we enjoy volunteering our time to work with children and the elderly," says Diamond. Yeah, but can Vasko eat poop without throwing up? ETHNICEAT(CHINESE):"After people tell me about their Chinese food experiences, I usually try to get them to go to SeafoodCove," says Diamond. "When you walk in, you may think it's a pet store, as all the random sea critters are alive in tanks." He recommends the salt and pepper crab, steamed stripped bass in black bean sauce and the fried live freshwater prawns—"hopefully, you'll get the female ones fat with tons of roe." The service isn't too attentive, he says, "but you know what they say about Chinese restaurants: if the service is good, the food usually isn't." 8547WestminsterAve.,GardenGrove,(714)895-7964.AMAZINGASIAN:It's not weird for Diamond Dog and his pals to spend three to four hours at Uoko, and it's all because of Tomo: "Sit in Tomo's section. He's the young Japanese surfer on the far right of the sushi bar. He likes to tell eaters about the different tastes and preparations of various sushi items. Ask for what he recommends for that night or look at the special board." 23600RockfieldBlvd.,LakeForest,(949)837-7231.
Jason Lacsamana is the youth program director for the Orange County Asian Pacific Islander Community Alliance (OCAPICA), a longtime activist in Asian-American affairs and all-around great guy. But we only had one question for him when he took five minutes from his hectic week to talk: Why is nearly every Filipino restaurant in Orange County turo-turo("point-point" in Tagalog, meaning buffet)? Lacsamana laughed, then sighed. "I've been to Filipino restaurants in Chicago and New York where I'm the only Filipino," says Lacsamana. "They're sit-down places that cater to a more multi-ethnic audience. I'd love to see it here." But due to exorbitant rents in Orange County, Lacsamana says, "it's easier to maintain a turo-turo joint. Also, you have a lot of the clientele on the go—working-class people who can only stop in for lunch." Lacsamana is working on a proposal for OCAPICA youth programs, but here's hoping someone gives him the cash to open a serious Filipino eatery. ETHNICEAT(FILIPINO):Lacsamana was a big fan of Tustin's dearly departed Mangga Grill; he now haunts Handaan. Besides the traditional sides of vinegar-spiked rice and pansit bihon (tiny, tasty noodles cooked with cabbage, celery, carrots and baby shrimp), Lacsamana enjoys the chicken adobo, a garlic-marinated cut of the bird. For dessert, he picks up a couple of turons—banana fritters. 9777ChapmanAve.,GardenGrove,(714)636-8431.AMAZINGASIAN:Lacsamana's favorite food right now is Cuban and Brazilian, but he also likes BangkokBBQ. "The service is friendly and affordable," he says. "I get the tom kha gai soup—I like the coconut flavor to it. I order it with some pad thai and the chicken satays—they're always juicy and huge." 12541HarborBlvd.,GardenGrove,(714)534-4490.
Photo by Heather X
Nineteen years ago, Aimee Buck shuttered her bookstore to help friend Glenn Tanaka run Irvine's Tanaka Farms for a couple of months. She's still there. "I quickly discovered I didn't like sitting in the office," says Buck, whose Japanese parents owned farms in Fresno and Torrance. Nowadays, Buck helps coordinate Tanaka Farms' business side, but county kids probably better know her as the friendly lady who helps out on the company's beloved strawberry, watermelon and pumpkin tours (starting Oct. 1.) "Farming is becoming obsolete, and there's not that many open places anywhere," Buck says. "It's sad in a way, but I'm glad we can do it. We want kids to know how it really is. And they have such fun." And when the kids prove too rambunctious or the sun too sweltering, Buck likes to hike up Tanaka Farms' highest hill. "From there, you can see Fashion Island," she says. "It's simply breathtaking." ETHNICEAT(JAPANESE):"I'm biased because my cousin owns it, but I like SanKai," says Buck, laughing. "It's a hole-in-the-wall. The fish is fresh in the sushi and the beef teriyaki is really tasteful." 3940S.BristolSt.,Ste.112,SantaAna,(714)241-7115.Buck also likes the venerable Taiko: "The atmosphere and the people are really friendly even though the wait is so long. The shrimp tempura is especially good, especially with the dunking sauce." 14775JeffreyRd.,Ste.K,Irvine,(949)559-7190.AMAZINGASIAN:"We've [the Tanaka Farms folks] gone out to eat almost every Wednesday for six years and we go to different places, but we end up at Soup Plantation," Buck confesses, laughing again. "But I also like ChinaOlive. It's a good buffet that has a variety of everything from seafood to chicken and beef. I like the orange chicken, and they also have this mixture of chow mein with baby octopus, snow peas, onions and carrots." 3420S.BristolSt.,SantaAna,(714)957-2688.
The history and future of Little Saigon's fierce newspaper wars flow in the fingertips of Anh Do. A longtime columnist for TheOrangeCountyRegister, Anh's father is Yen Do, founder of NguoiViet, the largest Vietnamese-language newspaper outside Vietnam. Anh is in charge of the paper's bilingual weekly insert, NguoiViet2, which is geared specifically toward younger Vietnamese-Americans. "I don't like words like 'bridge,' but we want to focus on Vietnamese people in the 1.5 and second generation," says Do. "Because there's not much available in English, we've been able to generate a following and inspire other publications to start English-language sections." ETHNICEAT(VIETNAMESE):The diminutive Do likes almost all the restaurants in Little Saigon "because I'm basically a pig." But she returns to GrandGarden, especially when they decorate the main dining room with stunning flower arrangements. "They combine blooms and good eats," says Do. "You have visual beauty while you're eating. It refreshes you. I like the shrimp grilled on sugar cane wrapped in rice paper and vermicelli and salad. They have just the right blend of herbs, and they marinate it well. They also have a way with lobster and herbs that lingers in your mouth." 8894BolsaAve.,Westminster,(714)893-1200;www.grandgarden.com.AMAZINGASIAN:Do feels a "calming effect" at Tommy'sSushi"because it's so enclosed and dimly lit." She's visited Tommy's for about a decade. "Most people who go there are regulars. I get the Business People lunch special—large-size bento box with a bit of everything. Gyoza, broccoli, teriyaki, California roll and sesame chicken." Do also gnaws on Tommy's fried chicken cutlet: "I'm a fried-chicken addict. The best things in life are fried." 1051E.MainSt.,Tustin,(714)544-5241;www.tommysushi.com.
Photo by James Bunoan
It's amazing we even caught this cat. Besides opening up new fish taco eateries in Austin, Texas, and Waikiki, and filling charity galas for artist Wyland (benefiting the Ocean Institute in Dana Point), baseball Hall of Famer Rod Carew's golf tournament (benefiting the Pediatric Cancer Research Foundation), NFL quarterback Carson Palmer's golf tourney (benefiting the Hillview Acres Children's Home for abused and homeless kids) and various clean-ocean organizations, Lam was nearly out the door for Big Bear, where he's rolling out his new dune buggy for a sort of rich guy's Tour de Forest. Fortunately, before he could cut us off , we managed to blurt out that we wanted to talk Asian food. Suddenly, Wing's whole world stopped. ETHNICEAT(CHINESEWILLDOBECAUSECHINESE-BRAZILIANWOULDBETOODAMNHARD):"I hate to be biased, but I always go back to my parents' restaurant, one of the oldest in Orange County: the ShanghaiPineGardenson Balboa Island. The three flavors rice soup is excellent. And the sautéed sliced chicken breast—I like to make my own, screw around with it." He explained that he knows the staff and menu so well that he mixes and matches entrées and sauces to come up with his own creations; thus you might find him asking for a kung pao chicken and pea pod combo. "It's like ordering salad with dressing on the side." 300MarineAve.,NewportBeach,(949)673-3802.AMAZINGASIAN:Lam actually had to get back to us on his Little Saigon find, for while he knew how to get there, he could not remember the exact name, address or even the dishes that make him salivate. Yep, one of thoseplaces, so it must be damn fine. "My favorite, favorite food right now is Vietnamese. It is so fresh and so clean and soooooflavorful. This place in Little Saigon on Bolsa I like has most of the things any other Chinese restaurant has. But . . . it's like their sautéed spinach: You know how places will have it and it's wilted and smells good but doesn't always taste good? Well, there they have it, too, and they add this funky fish sauce to it and it's great. You can't get it unless you see someone else order it. There are garlic chunks all over it. The flavor is intense. It kicks ass. And very few other restaurants carry it. The rare beef salad is also out of control. It's like a seared filet mignon with cilantro and peanuts. Just order those two dishes right there." Thankfully, he looked up his last credit-card statement to reveal the joint's name: ThanhMy. 9553BolsaAve.,Westminster,(714)531-9540.
Seems like the only time you hear a Muslim name in the news, it's linked to something bad, but Asma Ahmad is turning all that around. Like many Muslims, she grew tired of the redundant clichéd stereotypes of Muslims (Beards! Bombs! Burkhas!) in print and broadcast media. Unlike many Muslims, this frustration drove Ahmad to create InFocus, the county's only Muslim-themed English-language newspaper. Staffed by Muslims and non-Muslims, InFocusdevotes articles to topics that range from the Iraq War to school fund-raisers and reviews of homegrown artists. Its distribution reaches nearly every mosque and Arab/Desi ethnic grocery store in the greater Orange County area. ETHNICEAT(PAKISTANI):What's more fitting for the Muslim editor (Ahmad) of a Muslim newspaper (In Focus) to enjoy eating than Muslim food (halal) from a Muslim restaurant named Bismillah(which translates into "In the Name of God")? Nothing! "Bismillah would have to be my favorite Pakistani restaurant," says Ahmad. "Their chicken tikka masala is really good. And they don't play loud music, which could be really annoying at times." 7901-DKnottAve.,BuenaPark,(714)827-8201.AMAZINGASIAN:"I didn't know much about Thai food until I got married. My husband grew up in Thailand, and his family introduced me to it in Thailand. The food at WinThaiis light, fresh, and they even have som tam—raw papaya salad, which is something I crave a lot ever since I tried it in Thailand. The other great thing is that Win Thai is halal—so the meat preparation follows the Muslim dietary requirements, which means that I can have anything I want on the menu, as opposed to just the vegetarian dishes!" 1151N.EuclidSt.,Ste.D-E,Anaheim,(714)778-0940.
Photo by Jeanne Rice
Sadeghi's parents—professors both—immigrated from Iran, a country chock-a-block with fine cuisine. Now he's on a rice-free diet, which puts him at odds with the snow-white drifts of the stuff that blanket a traditional Iranian plate: "A lot of it is rice-based, which I don't do," he says. "I've gone vegetarian. But I think the flavor is very good. It doesn't have the intensity of Indian food." ETHNICEAT(PERSIAN):Sadeghi makes his peace with his father's table and eats his vegetables at Daryain Orange (the name means "the ocean"). "They're traditional menus," he says. "It's got a lot of depth. You're looking at a lot of vegetable base, which is good. It's very healthy." 1998N.TustinAve.,Orange,(714)921-2773.
Photo by Amy Theilig
AMAZINGASIAN:Sadeghi's favorite non-native Asian restaurant also hews closely to his dietary regime: Zipangu. He's in there so often that he scarcely has to open his mouth to order—just to eat. He walks in, maybe asks what's good, and the chef gets busy. "He does a special fish dish for me, which is no oil. It's quick and it's fresh, anything from a sea bass to a salmon. He grills it—it's never fried—and uses different sauces," Sadeghi raves. "I just ask for my special, and whatever fresh fish he has that day is what he makes. I get the salad and miso soup—get my Omega 3, you know. It feels great. And then my side dish is always a big dish of that pickled ginger." 2930BristolSt.,CostaMesa,(714)545-2800;www.zipanguoc.com.
We hate Chuck DeVore because he doesn't see anything wrong with creating a bill that would allow residents in the El Morro Mobile Homes in Crystal Cove to stay after he accepted more than $74,000 in political donations from them. We respect Chuck DeVore, though, because he's the most accessible of our Assembly, state Senate or congressional delegates and usually answers e-mails within the day. And we love Chuck DeVore because he's a best-selling author . . . in Taiwan?! Allow Chuck to explain: "In 1999, I co-authored ChinaAttacks, a techno-thriller that was published in 2000, then translated into Chinese in 2001. Since I am not a credentialed China expert, I figured no one would be interested in a nonfiction book by me about this topic. On the other hand, a fact-based, action-packed novel might be read by many for enjoyment, some of whom might actually revise their opinions about China's intentions and capabilities." ChinaAttacksproved so popular that DeVore toured Taiwan in 2001—where Chinese officials called him an "imperial dog." ETHNICEAT(CHINESE):"The only Chinese restaurant we consistently frequent is Chinatown. My wife loves their aromatic shrimp—'aromatic' as in garlic, and it's a good thing I love both her and garlic, or else that dish would be a bit too much! I generally gravitate towards Mongolian beef or kung pao beef, either of which is always fresh and savory. And, as if all this isn't enough, we've even seen Commie Girl there once or twice." 4139CampusDr.,Irvine,(949)856-2211.AMAZINGASIAN:Koki'sTeppanandSushi: "Koki's is an inexpensive version of Benihana's. My two daughters love the place. With the chefs' knife play, the culinary acrobatics, and the ever-popular flaming onion volcano, what's there not to like? I usually order the steak and shrimp combo with fried rice. We can usually feed the entire family of four for about $50." 3957IrvineBlvd.,Irvine,(714)508-1668;also1061E.MainSt.,Tustin,(714)505-6738.
Choi is a teacher by trade, but now the county is looking to the Irvine council member for salvation. Choi also sits on the board of directors for the Great Park and is, along with fellow Irvine Council Member Christina Shea, one of the two voices not controlled by longtime Irvine political force Larry Agran. Catch Choi at the Great Park meetings—he's the one arguing against sweetheart contracts and exorbitant government pork as Agran and his allies turn the Great Park into the Irvine Spectrum II. ETHNICEAT(KOREAN):KoreaHouseBBQ: "I like this restaurant because you can either grill your own meat at your table—marinated beef, chicken or pork—for a unique experience of pleasure and taste or have it prepared in the kitchen. The restaurant is relatively new with one year three months old operation history, during which time its popularity has spread to non-Koreans as well." 5305UniversityDr.,Irvine,(949)552-9998.AMAZINGASIAN:AgoraChurrascariais an all-you-can-eat Brazilian BBQ restaurant, says Choi, but the owners are Korean: "I just went there for the first time a couple weeks back. The taste was so superb, I had to try all of the courses coming my way, which was I don't even know how many kinds of meat. The result? I was full."1830MainSt.,Irvine,(949)222-9910;www.agorachurrascaria.com.
Everyone should have a buddy whose goal in life is to spread goodwill amongst mankind and ignite random acts of kindness around their community. But if you don't, give Sukh Chugh a holler and in about five minutes he'll be that friend for you (but don't call him after 9:30 p.m.—that's his silent-meditation time). He's the founder and president of Be the Cause, a volunteer group that holds an annual Walk for Hope to raise money for various charities. Be the Cause also plans something called Compassion Cells. "Our Compassion Cells are in response to terrorist cells," says Chugh. "We believe that if a group of people can get together to plan and execute something as horrific as the 9/11 tragedy, then a group of people can likewise get together and plan something that promotes kindness and unity." ETHNICEAT(INDIAN):Chugh is originally from Canada, where his mother raised him on homemade chutneys and biryani. In Orange County, miles away from his ummi's kitchen, Chugh turns to the nice aunties and uncles at IndiaSweetsandSpices. He likes the buffet: "Always fresh, spicy and cheap!" 14441NewportAve.,Tustin,(714)731-2910.AMAZINGASIAN:When Chugh's in need of fuel to quench his ancient soul, he passes by AuLacVegetarianRestaurant, where he can get the finest Chinese and Vietnamese vegetarian and raw food. "It's the coolest place," says Chugh. "The cook has taken a vow of silence. He might walk around and greet people, but he still never says a word." 16563BrookhurstSt.,FountainValley,(714)418-0658;.
Photo by Matt Otto
You may not know her name, but you'd recognize the face anywhere. She's the face of strong Muslim women in Orange County; she's CAIR's talking head; she's that hijab-bedecked gal always interviewed on the evening news about Muslim stuff. She's Sabiha Khan, and she's putting aside politics to talk food. But this typically eloquent public speaker struggled to describe the savory tastes of her favorite restaurants without pausing to drool. ETHNICEAT(PAKISTANI):"My favorite Pakistani place to eat is TheVillagein Anaheim," Khan explains. "I really like their chicken masala. They make it fresh to order." And during those long days defending civil liberties, Sabiha and the rest of the CAIR turn to the Village Restaurant for a quick biryani (rice dish) pick-me-up. 1671W.KatellaAve.,Anaheim,(714)635-7770.AMAZINGASIAN:"I LOVE LOTUS!" It's hard to believe how many times those three little words could be said in a single phone conversation, but when Khan gets adamant about her love for food, don't even try to get a word in edgewise, especially about LotusChineseEatery, one of the county's two Chinese Islamic restaurants. In addition to having the "best Chinese food [she's] ever tasted," Lotus also has the unique quality of serving halal dishes. "Lotus meets my [Islamically] required dietary restrictions. And there are no worries of pork products." 16883BeachBlvd.,HuntingtonBeach,(714)848-4940.
If there's a historic Vietnamese art show occurring somewhere in Southern California, Ysa Le is there. A pharmacist at St. Joseph Home Care Pharmacy in Orange, Le is also the board president of the Vietnamese American Arts and Letters Association (VAALA). Through this organization, Vietnamese-American artists have produced such groundbreaking exhibits as 2002's F.O.B.:AMulti-ArtShowand the biannual Vietnamese International Film Festival. And when she's taking a break, Le hosts Vong Chan Troi Van Hoc Nghe Thuat(The Art Horizon), a weekly arts program on KALI-FM 106.3. ETHNICEAT(VIETNAMESE):Like almost all of Little Saigon, Le raves about Brodard's BBQ pork rolls. "The nem nuong Nha Trang is a specialty appetizer from Nha Trang, a Vietnamese city famous for its white beaches," she explains. "The sauce to this nem nuong does the trick—other Vietnamese restaurants may have the same nem nuong, but the Brodard's sauce sets it apart. And the surprise comes when you take the first bite and find out there's a crunchy egg roll inside the nem nuong. Yummy!" 9225BolsaAve.,Ste.F-3,Westminster,(714)901-3723.AMAZINGASIAN:Like chicken gizzards? Le does, especially the way they prepare them at the Korean restaurant JangToh: "They serve it sizzling hot on a metal plate. I eat the chicken gizzards with some kimchi, cucumber and steamed rice. A couple of OB beers will add the fun—and you supposedly can't get drunk with OB." 9872GardenGroveBlvd.,GardenGrove,(714)530-5756.
Twenty-five years after his parents left China and 20 after they moved to California, Sichuan scion Ned—the son of the proprietors of Huntington's Great Wok Chinese—is about to back-flip into the family business. He loves his mom's home cooking ("Put the stir-fry on really high heat, so you're on top of the fire—flames everywhere!") but he's planning to tone down the intensity a little for the mass market. His East Winds Asian Cuisine—opening at Edinger and Goldenwest in HB this fall—is sometimes so fusion it's almost sci-fi: he's got kung pao pasta, nachos with shiitake mushrooms, duck pizza, even a promising sake martini monster that Ned calls (naturally) a "sake-tini." Mom and Dad must be so proud, if slightly confused. "That's why I have the courage to do this," the first-time restaurateur says. "I know that if I don't know something, they'll back me up." ETHNICEAT(CHINESE):"Seafood Covein Westminster—I go there weekly. You get traditional food, but it's very Americanized, so nobody will be scared to eat it. The best of both worlds! My favorite thing is the kung pao squid, if that doesn't sound too weird: white squid, stir-fried with kung pao sauce, little onions, green peppers . . . you probably wouldn't find that at P.F. Chang's!" 8547WestminsterAve.,GardenGrove,(714)895-7964.AMAZINGASIAN:"I love sushi, and CaliforniaBeachSushiin Newport Beach is just awesome. The atmosphere is crazy—all the sushi chefs will play a song and dance to it, and girls can, like, go on the bar, pull their bras down and get sticker-tattoos from the chefs. Most girls are pretty shy. But if you get a few not-shy girls . . ." 3355ViaLido,Ste.H,NewportBeach,(949)675-0575.
First of all, we refuse to believe Osajima eats anything, given that in the months and weeks and days before last April's film festival, any time you dropped into her office unannounced, there she was: nose to the grindstone, barking into the phone, whipping minions into shape—with nary a Subway wrapper, Big Gulp or empty Dominos box in sight. But when the talk turned small, Osajima did mention "friends" and "going out to eat" and "have you ever eaten at . . .?"—clues that would lead you to believe she possessed some semblance of a life beyond her messy perch across from the private jet hangars at John Wayne Airport. ETHNICEAT(JAPANESE):242CaféFusionSushi. "Chef Miki Izumisawa employs a palette of some traditional and some surprising ingredients to create specialty dishes with such fanciful names as Sexy Hand Roll and Enjoy Shitake Feeling. Forget their standard spicy tuna rolls and take advantage of this rare window of opportunity to sample the talents of a true artist." 242N.CoastHwy.,LagunaBeach,(949)494-2444;www.fusionart.us.ETHNICEAT:THESEQUEL:SushiWave. "This is our traditional hang. Good, reasonably priced, with some yummy specialties like lobster hand roll and special California roll, which is a California roll smothered in baked scallops. Yum. You'll see NBFF staff members in there with some regularity, as well as those we've converted and those who converted us." 2075NewportBlvd.,#108,CostaMesa,(949)722-8736;www.sushi-wave.com.AMAZINGASIAN:"Hmmm . . . non-Japanese . . . I had a really yummy okra dish at RoyalKhyberlast night. Does Indian count as Asian? It should, you know. Their dishes are aromatic and tasty to boot. You have to ask for spicy, though, and they will oblige." 1621W.SunflowerAve.,SantaAna,(714)436-1010;www.royalkhyber.com.
We love to hate Deputy District Attorney Susan Kang Schroeder, and—since we'rea force for good,and she'sa force for evil—she loves to hate us right back. We're like nemesiseses and stuff. But she's so cutewhen she hates us—wrinkling up her nose like she smells something bad, making vomiting noises like she needs to vomit, and then treating us to dinner (and a nice gossip) anyway. If there's one thing Susan and her husband Mike (local Republican fixer extraordinaire) are good for (aside from hammering people into the ground with one swing of their meaty fists), it's taking us to dinner (and a nice gossip). They're gourmands with heavy wallets, and they're a-OK with us. Go ahead! Be evil! We don't mind! ETHNICEAT(KOREAN):"Seoul Oakhas uncharacteristically great service for an Asian restaurant and clean-tasting food that tastes like my mom's cooking. You cook your own meat on a griddle in the middle of your table. I recommend the spicy pork and the ribs (gal-bi). Really fast service: Koreans expect to have food on the table within two minutes of arriving. And Koreans don't eat sweets generally, so the 'dessert' is a sweet, cinnamon drink with floating pine nuts to rinse the garlic away from your breath." 8295GardenGroveBlvd.,GardenGrove,(714)530-5388.AMAZINGASIAN:Schroeder says crime takes a break at PhoHienVuong, supposedly the county's first place to sell the aromatic Vietnamese beef noodle soup. "Cops, crooks, D.A.s, judges, interpreters, court staff, reporters all hang out and eat $4 noodles here," says Schroeder. "They also give you a plate of uncooked bean sprouts, cilantro and basil. I recommend the #11 pho: well-done brisket soup with lots of Sriracha sauce. Many of my friends order the #16, which has the chicken. I see OrangeCountyRegisterreporter Martin Wisckol here almost every time I go, confirming my paranoid delusion that Martin is stalking me." 2525W.17thSt.,Ste.H,SantaAna,(714)554-2696.AMAZINGASIAN:THERETRIAL:Can't decide on Chinese food or sushi? Schroeder recommends you plop yourself at ChinaPalaceRestaurantand get both. "You will never get a bad meal there," claims Schroeder. "The owner, Jack Mau, is often there to greet you and give you advice about life, politics and child rearing—we call him Chairman Mau. You should definitely order the Peking duck there . . . and unlike most places, you don't have to order ahead. They put the crispy rich duck in a thin tortilla-like wrapper with sliced scallions. On the sushi side, get the 'yum yum' roll that has crab and shrimp tempura. Mike and I go there every Sunday night because it's also the local GOP hangout. On any given night, you will see Tom Fuentes, Scott and Wendy Baugh, Dick and Linda Ackerman, Dana and Rhonda Rohrabacher and the pips." And Satan too! 2800W.CoastHwy.,NewportBeach,(949)631-8088.
Muna Afghani has really made a name for herself in Orange County—and not because she's the older sister of a bottom-dwelling cub scribe at this commie rag. Nope, Muna Afghani deserves all the props in the world because she tests the food that Paris Hilton eats while she washes her car; because she makes sure that the jalapeño cheeseburger is at the exact temperature it takes prenatal babies to complain to their mothers; because she works hard to guarantee that her burgers are so tasty you'd want to pay the $6 it's worth instead of the low, low price of $3.95; andbecause she's the older sister of a bottom-dwelling cub scribe at this commie rag. ETHNICEAT(AFGHANI,BUT...):While Muna Afghani's last name is Afghani and she has a grandfather from Afghanistan, she knows nothing about Afghan food or culture. Taking that technicality into consideration, we'll allow Muna to pick Taalas her favorite ethnic restaurant. "It's the best Indian restaurant this side of Artesia," she says. "The chicken tikka isn't too dry and the bel puri, a type of bread, is really sweet and crispy." 2720NutwoodAve.,Fullerton,(714)871-7846;www.taalrestaurant.net.AMAZINGASIAN:Even though her heart and her stomach are eternally the property of Carl Karcher, Afghani is secretly hot for HotWokin Fullerton. "Everything is greasy and fried and sweet and super-cheap," she says. But what about the food conditions? Is everything up to the health code? All Afghani would say is that when she comes here, she takes off her Quality Assurance hat. 1111S.LemonSt.,Fullerton,(714)525-3333.
Wasa's Spicy Tuna Tartar
Photo by Heather X
We wanted to talk to Osamu Nishitani, the Asian guitarist for local rockeros Enjambre, and congratulate him on the band's inclusion on BrilliantMisfits, iTunes' most recent compilation. They're the only Latin alternative band spotlighted on the album, which also features Elliott Smith, the Dears and Bloc Party. But it turned out Nishitani was on a flight to Japan and wasn't available for comment, so we got the next best thing—Enjambre manager Javier Castellanos of JC Fandango fame—and asked him the question that most folks ask when they find out an Asian guy is in a Latin alternative band: Don't people think that's weird? "Probably, but they don't mention it," Castellanos laughs. "No one has really said anything—I'm assuming most people want to be polite." He did share a recent anecdote, though: at an Enjambre concert in Atlanta, Nishitani's guitar groaned and blipped so ferociously the crowd chanted "Chino! Chino!" ("Chinese! Chinese!") in appreciation, caring not that their axe god is Japanese. ETHNICEAT(MEXICAN,BUTCASTELLANOSISANHONORARYJAPANESEFORTHEPURPOSESOFTHISBLURB):"I go to a bunch of sushi places, but my favorite is Matsunoya," says Castellanos. "The Matsunoya special is one of the best rolls I've ever had. It's a big salmon roll with cucumbers and a special sauce—I don't know what's in it and I'm sure they don't want you to know, but I swear I taste mayonnaise." 1307S.HarborBlvd.,Fullerton,(714)447-1612.Castellanos also digs Wasaand its seared yellowtail with jalapeno because he likes "being Mexican and having my spices." 13124JamboreeRd.,Irvine,(714)665-3338;also1346BisonAve.,NewportBeach,(949)760-1511.
Wasa's Banana Spring Roll
with ice cream
Photo by Heather X
AMAZINGASIAN:"I liked ThaiNakornin Buena Park, but they tore that one down and moved to Garden Grove," says Castellanos. "Haven't been to the new place, but I'm sure it's great." 12532GardenGroveBlvd.,GardenGrove,(714)537-5011.Castellanos is now taking up residence at BangkokFourin South Coast Plaza. "The dumplings have shrimp inside and I'm not sure what else, but they taste so good. The coconut shrimp with the spicy sweet and sour sauce are also good. With those two appetizers, I'm satisfied." 3333BearSt.,Ste.320,CostaMesa,(714)540-7661.
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When we last left intrepid gal-about-town Nat Savage, she was just about to head in for a five-month stint at the Victorville Federal Women's Clink—some unpleasantness about a marriage scam for the Chinese mafia—but anyway the system beat the bad out of her and she's back on the (state-supervised) streets. So! Didyougetatattoo,Nat?Ooh, yeah, Olde English and everything. Andhowwasthechow,Nat?Fucking awful! One time, they served us rotten turkey—bluish around the edges and it smelled funny—and, of course, no one ate it. Great,great,andwhataresomeniceplacestotakeaparoleofficerforlunch?Justincase,youknow...ETHNICEAT(VIETNAMESE):"Thanh serves broken rice dishes—that's regular steamed rice, but the grains have been broken. It came from Vietnamese farmers—the poor folk who never wasted anything. Broken rice was totally bottom rung, but instead of throwing it out, they eat it—it's a tasty breakfast item. Comes with egg and pork quiches, BBQ pork, BBQ chicken, whatever, and you can get a fried egg on top. That's their specialty." 9872BolsaAve.,Westminster,(714)531-3888;alsoat15315CulverDr.,Ste.140,Irvine,(949)559-7788.AMAZINGASIAN:"Angotei in Costa Mesa is totally small and claustrophobic, but I'm really picky with Japanese food and they've cleared all the red tape as far as being authentic. There's lots of off-the-menu shit: conch, tuna cheeks, abalone—you know their shit's good when they got abalone. I think they have hands down the best soft-shell crab rolls—best ones I've ever tasted." 675PaularinoAve.,CostaMesa,(714)557-2696.
UCI professor of ethnomusicology Robert Garfias, 72, is stone-cold Mexican: "Mexican both sides, as far back as you can go," he says. "And I don't know any good Mexican restaurants." What he does know is the world's music—everything from authentic gypsy violin to fwanso flute to Burmese gong music to gagaku: the music of the Japanese imperial court. Garfias is considered America's leading authority on gagaku, and in recognition the Japanese government earlier this year bestowed him with its highest honor for foreign citizens: the Order of the Rising Sun, and a personal introduction to the emperor of Japan. ETHNICEAT(NOTMEXICAN,BUTJAPANESE):Garfias says good Japanese rice is all but impossible to make here. "You can't get the rice cooked right here," he laughs. "[The weather] is too dry in Southern California. I sound like one of those freaks, but it's true." But Garfias singles out HanaNoKiin Costa Mesa (the name means "tree flower," he says), for its easygoing style of ordering. "It's omakase," he says. "They have a couple of plates prepared, but mainly you just eat what the chef prepares." This is the realm of freshly grated wasabi that melts in your soy sauce; of pickled ginger—drab because it's not dyed a fake orange-pink—that takes over your taste buds. 891BakerSt.,CostaMesa,(714)557-8715.AMAZINGASIAN:Garfias is closest to the Japanese culture and cuisines, but he's equally rhapsodic about Cantonese—the Chinese food of the Greatest Generation and what Garfias remembers so fondly from growing up in San Francisco's Mission District. "That's why I say SamWoo'sin Irvine is so great, because it's got the old Cantonese. That is the flavor of old San Francisco," he says. "[My son] Nicholas likes the Hong Kong-style crab there. They deep-fry it, but it's got a really good crust on it. You end up almost sucking on it, the crust." 15333CulverDr.,#720,Irvine,(949)262-0688.
Cai Zi Min came to the United States in 1998 from China, where he won numerous national titles. His expertise at the OC Badminton Club has helped develop it into the pre-eminent training spot for American badminton athletes. How pre-eminent? Consider that when the sport's world championships take place Aug. 15-21 at the Arrowhead Pond, the U.S. team of 15 will feature 12 OCBC members. "That's pretty good, huh?" says Min with a giggle. If your only knowledge of Min's game is some lame backyard exercise consisting of a lunge, whiff and off-color comment about shuttlecocks, you should really check out badminton played at the highest level. Rallies can last a long time, as can matches, and quickness and stamina are at a premium. Because a top player will play multiple matches a day in tournament play—"You can play six, eight, nine a day between singles, doubles and mixed doubles," Min says—badminton players are that lucky breed who can eat just about anything they want. "So do they have any specialized diet?" we asked. "Diet?" Min said, incredulous. "No. Oh, no. Badminton players never need to diet." ETHNICEAT(CHINESE):Min likes Westminster's SeaportSeafoodfor its variety of fresh fish and meat. And for someone who needs to ingest a lot of fuel, Seaport is great with a big menu, big tanks and big portions. 14550BrookhurstSt.,Westminster,(714)775-8194.AMAZINGASIAN:It figures that someone who has to look after their body would look into Vietnamese food, which, with its focus on fresh vegetables and grilled meat, is a perfect cuisine for those who make their living by the sweat of their brow. Min's favorite is Pho99in Orange, with its requisite assortment of soup, rice dishes, meat and veggies, "especially the cucumber. Very good." 1628E.LincolnAve.,Orange,(714)685-9571.
Pollard grew up in Downey, where kids gravitate toward cars like flowers incline themselves toward the sun. He studied architecture at Cerritos College and then graduated from the Art Center College of Design, a school famous for its car designers. "There weren't many California car studios back then," he says, but he landed his first gig with one of the earliest, Honda in 1979. California was perfect for the car business, he says, especially for the Japanese car business: "This is the first spot when they get off the boat in the U.S.," he says. Then, too, California "is a microcosm of the U.S. In two weeks, you can test for almost everything"—high elevation in Yosemite, inclines in San Francisco, low elevations in Death Valley, heat in the Mojave. "Two weeks in California would tell you whether you're going to sell any cars." Pollard has since moved to Mazda, and in his time with Japanese automakers, he's been to Japan, well, "too many times. I lost count after 30. Doyougoeveryyear?It varies. Some years I'll go five times, then I'll go a few years without going once. AreyouanaficionadoofJapanesefood?I pretty much like everything, but . . . When I'm in Japan, I stay in Hiroshima—that's the company's home campus—and my favorite restaurant there is actually an Indian place. Indian?I really like curry. ButnotJapanese?I like Japanese. I mean, it's fine. One of my first experiences in a Japanese restaurant was up in the South Bay with a bunch of Japanese executives. They brought this lobster to the table, hanging by its tail, and started cutting off slices of raw meat. And you know how it is with Japanese executives: anything they put down, I just ate it. So I'm eating this lobster, and all of a sudden nobody's talking, nobody's saying anything, and I realize the lobster's still alive . . . Alive?The whole time we were slicing it up. And now it's trying to get away. Its mandibles are working hard, and there's water bubbling out of its mouth. I guess that's pretty gross, huh? That'dbememorable.In Japan, they have all these country restaurants, and a few of them serve sparrow. Alive?No, barbecued—they pluck it, but then they just barbecue the whole thing, from beak to little feet. Isitgood?No. It's nasty. But I guess every culture has its own gross stuff. What dotheJapanesedislikeaboutourfood?Blue cheese. They say, "Moldy cheese? You're eating moldy cheese." They think it's just disgusting. IblametheFrench.You know, 10 years ago, Japanese food was really hot in OC. And I think it's really an indicator of how cosmopolitan this place has become that there's a lot more out there now. You know, with raw fish, I'm just a little more concerned now about food safety, about mercury content. So for me, Japanese has taken a back seat to Indian, Persian, Korean . . . What'syourfavorite?FerdussiTasteofPersiashould get a plug here. They have a really good buffet lunch with yogurt and cucumber—very light. I don't know if you're supposed to, but I like that over rice. I think I've become a closet vegetarian. 3605S.Bristol,Ste.D,SantaAna,(714)545-9096.