Taste History and Casual California Cuisine at Trevor’s At the Tracks in San Juan Capistrano

If you plan on trying Trevor’s At the Tracks, I suggest taking the Metrolink. It’s especially worth it if you go during the weekend, when the train fare is $10 for an all-day pass. And there really is no better way to arrive than on a train. This is because Trevor’s At the Tracks is located inside the San Juan Capistrano station.

Actually, I should rephrase: The restaurant is the San Juan Capistrano station. Or at least that’s what the building housed after it was erected in 1894. It closed in the ’60s, then reopened in the ’70s; the whole complex was completely refurbished in 1995. The renovation preserved the majestic dome and the Mission Revival architecture, but it repurposed the space to accommodate two restaurants. Until last year, the long-running Sarducci’s occupied the spot in which Trevor’s now sits.

When it opened in February, Trevor’s retained Sarducci’s courtyard and gurgling fountain. With at least a half-hour’s wait even after you secured a reservation, these outdoor seats are the most coveted. But I’d argue the best place to soak in the history is the long hallway that leads to the main dining room. Above you, ancient-looking rotary fans linked by a system of belts whip the air. Arched windows give a front-row view of the trains gliding in and out.

The food is prototypical Californian, middle-of-the-road fare with vaguely Asian influences and specific Mexican ones. There’s an ambiguously Vietnamese rice-paper spring roll with curried shrimp and plum sauce, but also a pretty good ceviche and made-to-order guacamole. Outside of Sunday brunch, Trevor’s operates with the same menu for lunch and dinner. A list of sandwiches runs the gamut between turkey and Reuben, but you can also have two kinds of burger and a variety of salads, some of them with kale.

And just when you thought no one except CPK was making Thai chicken pizza anymore, there it is. Technically, it’s a char-grilled flatbread, but let’s face it: It’s a pizza. Why else would there be a proper Margherita and a “Spicy Sicilian,” with pepperoni and a meatball? The latter, by the way, is the one you want. The heat of serrano peppers fulfills the “spicy” part of the equation, even if there’s nothing Sicilian about it. More important is that the toppings are baked onto a sturdy platform of dough. And it’s a decent crust, shaped into a rectangle and just thick enough to sink your teeth into.

There are also flashes of brilliance I didn’t expect to find. A cup of tomato-and-watermelon gazpacho dazzles with floating bits of cucumber and an ebullience that reaffirms your choice in the soup and life in general. And unless a blue box of Kraft is your benchmark, you should be impressed that the panko-crusted mac and cheese uses not just one, but three real cheeses. Among them: Gouda, Grana Padano and, most impressive, raclette, the melty ambrosia of the Swiss Alps that lends its signature ooey-gooeyness.

Trevor’s most popular dish, however, is the ahi poke nachos. I avoided it at first since it looked like something I’ve seen done to death a million times before. But I’m glad I finally tried it. It turned out to be the poster child of how this dish should always play out. Rather than being too cloying or too salty, the cubes of ahi were refreshing and light with a good hit of acidity. It was the perfect foil to the avalanche of wonton chips. Though it’s meant to be shared, I wouldn’t blame anyone who orders it as an entrée.

At this point, I should mention that some of the more substantial dishes are duds. The beer-can chicken with mashed potatoes and sautéed veggies tasted as though the meat was underseasoned, if it was seasoned at all. And a soggy half-rack of ribs served over a basket of fries wasn’t charred enough to mask that they were most likely boiled beforehand. At least the ribs cost only $16; the chicken retailed for almost twice that.

Still, it almost doesn’t matter what Trevor’s does or doesn’t do well. The restaurant and the whole Los Rios District next to it—the closest thing OC has to a living museum—show how life was lived before the advent of freeways and drive-thrus. Coming here on the train only completes the experience. You do, however, have to time your visit correctly with Metrolink’s sparse schedule. Otherwise, you might end up stranded and having to resort to the most modern mode of transportation we have: a very expensive Uber ride home.

Trevor’s At the Tracks, 26701 Verdugo St., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 493-9593; www.trevorsatthetracks.com. Open Tues.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-midnight; Sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Meal for two, $40-$70, food only. Full bar.

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