Irvine is blessed in many ways—great schools, an abundance of parkland, no more Larry Agran as mayor. But something the town of a thousand beiges doesn’t get enough credit for is the evolution of its food scene—perhaps the most improved of any city in my 15 years as this infernal rag’s food critic. When I started, there were a couple of Persian and Taiwanese delis and the late, great Britta’s, with little else to write about. Now, Irvine is Diamond Jamboree and TRADE, Wholesome Choice and Indian restaurants, Filipino markets and awesome burgers—and more restaurants are on the way.
Nowhere is this rise better documented than in the many shopping-plaza restaurants designed specifically to feed office drones on the go. Even a decade ago, most of the entries in this genre were sad, smelly delis with 100 different sandwiches, none of them edible. But now most are like Mediterrania Grill. The only menu is the bright marquee above the cash register. There are no seats inside because you’re expected to go back to your cubicle or sit outside in the communal seating. The parking lot is packed. Orders are fast and affordable. And the food? Delicious.
Even though Mediterrania tries to mainstream itself as much as possible—the good falafels get labeled as “falafel bites,” even though they’re regularly sized; shawerma gets shoved into a bowl; and there’s even a burger—there is the foundation of a great Middle Eastern restaurant beneath all the spiel. The tabouli is bright and light; the kebabs and shawermas, as luscious as anything you can find in Little Arabia. It even has toum, the infamous garlic spread that can dissolve a cinderblock. Though pared down here for Irvine tastes, the condiment is still delicious and should go on everything—even the salads.
I wonder about what Mediterrania’s chefs could do if they had a full restaurant and could offer a larger menu, which is something I usually don’t think about when eating at a place frequented by office drones. But such has been the evolution of Irvine’s dining scene. Kudos to ustedes—now, get yourself a Mexican restaurant worthy of the late, great Taléo.
Mediterrania Grill, 17925 MacArthur Blvd., Ste. 25, Irvine, (949) 553-0811; mediterraniagrill.com.