Photo by Jack GouldLa Habra has been evolving into the discount capital of OC. A Wal-Mart will open soon on Beach Boulevard, joining the Target and the 24-hour Super Kmart to form the Holy Trinity of massive discount shopping (or Holy Quartet, if you count the Pic-N-Save on Harbor Boulevard). There's a 96-cent store in town, which is just a block away from a 97-cent store, which isn't too far away from a shop where you can pick up a discount casket. But La Habra isn't just about bargains—it's also about warm, glazed doughnuts. The Krispy Kreme chain opened its first California shop in La Habra two years ago. Lines of allegedly sane people hungry for their fried-sugar fix wrapped several times around the building, and the national media showed up to file stories about the Krispy Kreme phenomenon. Still, as sleepy as La Habra may seem, it can still surprise. The La Habra Boxing Club has become a respected training camp for blossoming pugilists (Julio Gonzalez trained here for his July bout with Roy Jones Jr.). Artist Mark Kostabi, who did the covers for Guns N' Roses' Use Your Illusionalbums and once got punched out by Morton Downey Jr., went to La Habra High School. And La Habra has not one but two Starbucks—proof that the town has evolved into a fully cultured community.
RETAIL MADNESS LA HABRA
Paul's TV & Video. Owner Paul Goldenberg, a big-money contributor to the Democratic Party, has become the unofficial ambassador of La Habra with his TV, radio and billboard ads all over SoCal trumpeting him as the "King of Big Screen." His shop is small—half of the floor space seems taken up by sales desks, and the clerks who sit at them utter the phrase "We have financing available!" so often they may as well make it their middle name. The TVs are big and expensive; more interesting are the glossy color photos of Paul peppered around the room in which he's cuddling up to various celebs: Paul with Sharon Stone! Paul with Whitney Houston! Paul with Hillary Clinton, who has a look in her eyes that screams, "Don't touch me!" 500 N. Harbor Blvd., (714) 529-2314 or (562) 697-6751. Fairfield Folk Art Country Store. One of those folksy, artsy garden places you'd expect to find on a country road in New England, or at least Laguna Canyon. This store's full of wooden garden signs, wind chimes, candles, Mexican folk art (an entire room's worth), antiques, rocking chairs, tables, washtubs, metal Pepsi tables, blankets, and birdhouses, birdhouses, birdhouses. 310 E. Whittier Blvd., (562) 694-5901; www.fairfieldfolkart.com.
HISTORIC LA HABRA
Nixon Law Office Marker. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time when Richard Nixon's former La Habra law office, which he occupied for two years in the late '30s, was declared a state historical landmark in 1969, complete with a garish bronze plaque. That was pre-Watergate, of course, and the marker has been considered something of a joke ever since, a desperate grab by La Habra officials to have something—anything—of significance in their town. Several years ago, the local politicos seemed to give in, and the office was razed to make room for a spiffy community center. But the marker lives on—in the middle of the parking lot. Northwest corner of Euclid Street and La Habra Boulevard.La Habra 300 Bowl. On July 1, 1982, Glenn Allison bowled a perfect 900 game at this Whittier Boulevard alley—that's 36 straight strikes. However, the evil American Bowling Congress (ABC), which regulates these kinds of things, refused to recognize this feat, claiming there had been too much wax on the lanes. "Horsepuckey!" cried all good, decent La Habrans. Still, the ABC's rule was law. No matter—Allison became a hero and briefly put the name of La Habra on the lips of bowlers everywhere. Sports Illustrated even wrote about his accomplishment. For years afterward, the alley's sign trumpeted proudly that it was HOME OF THE 900 SERIES, and nearly two decades later, Allison is still very much a fabulous celeb inside the alley. He recently hosted a bowling clinic here, and his name was on the marquee. 370 E. Whittier Blvd., (562) 691-6721.
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FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY LA HABRA
Pelican Theater. Concerned city moralists tried to stop the Pelican from opening a few years ago. Why? Because they've got girls with large, buxom breasts who dance around inside and give horny North County men (and horny North County lesbians) oodles of perfectly wholesome masturbation material. What's wrong with that? 1001 Imperial Hwy., (714) 447-3222.La Habra Children's Museum.Dedicated in 1977, this is likely the other thing (along with Paul's TV & Video) non-La Habrans know La Habra for. It's a great little place, filled with cool stuff like hands-on science exhibits, a dinosaur-fossil dig, a carousel, a model-train village, a live bee observatory, and a nature walk with stuffed grizzly bears and assorted other wildlife. PETA members, keep your eyes closed. 301 S. Euclid St., (562) 905-9793.
EATEN BY THE MONSTER OF LA HABRA
Ricardo's El Ranchito. This is La Habra's best Mexican restaurant. Go here for three reasons (though you'll probably come up with more): to watch the tortilla makers do their thing inside a glass booth (tip nicely); to mack out on the light, flaky flour tortilla chips they give you to nibble on while you wait for your meal; and to feast on the superb camerones rancheros, a droolingly wonderful dish of shrimp cooked up in a sauce with peppers, onions and tomatoes. I lived in La Habra for 19 years, and the fact that I now reside miles away from Ricardo's almost makes me miss the place. Almost. 1351 S. Beach Blvd., (562) 943-6020.Gordo Mellony's New York Burger. Gordo Mellony's has normal burgers, cheeseburgers, chili cheeseburgers and bacon cheeseburgers. Then there are the "special" burgers—stacks of meat so gravity-defying that eating one would make for a good stunt on Fear Factor. Their King Kong Suicide comes with three kinds of cheese and four patties and rises to a height of 12 inches, held vertically aloft by a skewer (for a quicker snack, try the Empire State, which tops off at about half that size). They also have chicken sandwiches, hot dogs and real New Yawk pastrami, but, really, what's the point when the burgers tower over everything else? 430 W. Whittier Blvd., (562) 694-4456Krispy Kreme. La Habra's famous Krispy Kreme outlet—not as impressive now that the things are becoming as ubiquitous as Starbucks. Lots of people swear by 'em; I don't get what the big deal is. 1801 W. Imperial Hwy., (562) 690-2650.Cat & Custard Cup. La Habra's toniest (read: priciest) restaurant—nothing on the dinner menu is less than $16.50. We can't actually afford to eat here, but it's been around for years, and people are always raving about it, so it must be good. Fancy-prepared American food in an English-pub setting (though it's quite a bit larger than a real English pub). Hate vegans? Take them here and piss them off with the selection of steak, duck, seafood, pork, lamb and deer, as well as a nice variety of appetizers. 800 E. Whittier Blvd., (562) 694-3812 or (714) 992-6496.Arthur's Coffee Shop. "Best Breakfast in Town," proclaims the sign out front, and they probably don't hear too many arguments. While the food's good, the atmosphere is even better, like scenes from an unwritten Tom Waits song. Waitresses sport "OKIE SPOKEN HERE" T-shirts as they take orders from Korean War vets who have axle-grease stains on their well-worn Dickies. Blue-collar couples make camp at a corner table and complain about high taxes and the idiot politician of the moment. And everywhere you look, there's finely polished, simulated-wood-grain paneling plastering the walls, a hallmark of truck-stop chic. Arthur's serves real food for real people. 1281 E. La Habra Blvd., (562) 691-7793.Chicken Box. Greasy, greasy, greasy bird (as well as ribs, pork and shrimp). And that's why everybody loves it. 330 E. Whittier Blvd., (562) 691-1701 or (714) 525-1345.Apropos Coffee House. Could it be? A funky little indie coffee house with comfy old living-room chairs, tons of used books to peruse, and original paintings by local artists plastered on the walls, which are done up in earth tones in the style of the Library in Long Beach or the Gypsy Dens? In La Habra?Yep-freakin'-yep! Too bad it's stuck in a sad, dusty strip mall that 20 years ago was a bustling hub of activity, anchored by a Ralphs and a Toy City. But still, if you find yourself in North County and in need of a good espresso/cappuccino/latte fix, a bagel, a scone, or just a place to pretend you're not actually in La Habra, then go to Apropos. Bring headphones, though—they really like the Wave here. 2009 W. La Harba Blvd., (562) 697-3161.