Tea and a Bit of Joe

Don't drink coffee myself—I'm a tea freak. Oolong, barley, hibiscus, green, black, caramel—if it involves boiling an herb or a bag and string, I'm gulping it. But this is coffee country, so in this list of tea joints, I've thrown in a couple places for some good joe.






“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. Arthur's serves realfood for realpeople—and if they have tea here, it's probably what the waitresses squeeze out of their wet aprons. 1281E.LaHabraBlvd.,LaHabra,(562)691-7793.¢

Bin Bin Konjac is the county's first outpost of a popular Taiwanese chain trying to market konjac, a fibrous root health-food freaks know better as glucomannan that has the enema powers of a Metamucil milkshake. But Bin Bin Konjac, which roughly translates as “Icy Konjac,” attracts Irvine's sizable Chinese community more for its refreshing confections of tea and boba than any intestinal-cleansing promise. Of the konjac with aloe smoothie, Bin Bin's menu gushes, “All the ladies out there do not miss this wonderful drink.” 5406WalnutAve.,Ste.C,Irvine,(949)651-6465.

The dim sum jockeys who patrol China Garden with their carts and filled plates want you to gorge immediately, but pace yourself: the visits will not cease, the goodness of the county's best dim sum will not end. Cha shu bao, filled with sweet red barbecued pork, perfectly foils the steaming cup of the sharp house oolong tea. So does the steamed chicken bun, a light, chewy thing filled with ground chicken meat, ginger and herbs. 14825JeffreyRd.,Irvine,(949)653-9988.$$

To get the full range of Vietnam's jolting coffees, pull up a table at the Anglo-named, French-themed Coffee Factory on the edge of Little Saigon. Sip slowly on the ca phé sua nong, which is as black as Larry Agran's heart (and just as shudder-inducing) or some ice-cold ca phé den da, complete with black tapioca pearls. Or, if you want, some tea or other. 15582BrookhurstSt.,Westminster,(714)418-0757.$

If the delicacies on the Persian menu are in unfamiliar combinations of letters strung together with hyphens, just leave it to the waiters. You will love it. And there's nothing more relaxing than a hot glass of caramel-colored tea strewn with mint leaves and sugar. 1998N.TustinAve.,Orange,(714)921-2773.$$$

Most of the people here are college students from the equidistant Orange Coast College, Santa Ana College and UC Irvine campuses, desperate for nightlife, attracted to Graffitea by its 2 a.m. last call and sleep-staving espressos. Teas are liquid defibrillators; the smoothies and snow bubble drinks are remarkably flavorful, from nutty almond and zesty lychee to hearty mango and strawberry. Though students won't get much homework done at Graffitea, they can relax knowing the smoothies will mitigate the summer school to come. 3030S.Bristol,CostaMesa,(714)436-5798.¢

The cult of gook soo at Hang A Ri Noodle House, a wood-paneled Korean restaurant in Garden Grove's Little Seoul district, might initially flummox your American palate—these buckwheat noodles are thin, slimy and pungent. But then you chopstick the noodles into your mouth—sluiced with chiles, paired with fiery kim chi, supported by a fine complementary anchovy soup—and the frustrations of the evening vanish. Wash everything down with some bracing barley tea. 9916GardenGroveBlvd.,GardenGrove,(714)537-0100.$

This 1885 restored Victorian is resplendent, and the menu—such as the hearty shepherd's pie or the meatloaf sandwich—matches the décor in depth and scope right along with the vanilla-infused Cameo tea. 335S.CSt.,Tustin,(714)731-4063.$

The best drink in Orange County is also the least advertised. Nuoc Mía Vien Tây in Garden Grove sells an ambrosial sugar cane juice renowned throughout the Vietnamese diaspora but little known outside. A deep sip reveals its greatness: frothy but smooth, the sugar cane's earthy sweetness is tempered by the citric candor of tangerine and kumquat. It's not a tea per se, but it is extraterrestrial. It is patient, it is kind—it's the I Corinthians 13 of the beverage world. 14370BrookhurstSt.,GardenGrove,(714)531-9801.¢

You start your day with breakfast, and even though the prices may be on the high side ($9 for pancakes with fruit?), what you get in return is freshness and quality—and good oolong tea. Dinner selections are limited, but they do offer a mix of intriguing vegetable dishes and steamy pot pies and stews for foggy nights. 2622SanMiguelDr.,NewportBeach,(949)644-0303.$$

The tea and scones here are quite delicious and genteel, just as the tea house is, according to the little story on its menu. And we quote, “A special place where guests could enjoy each other's company in a quiet, genteel setting. This would indeed be unique, relevant and healing in today's stress-filled society.” Good shepherd's pie too. 31731 Los Rios, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 443-3914; www.theteahouseonlosrios.com. $$

Order the “Old MacDonald,” a fresh vegetable fried rice dish. And get their creamy, orange Thai iced tea. 24501DelPrado,Ste.B,DanaPoint,(949)240-7944.$$

Funky coffee joint with hair-salon interior. Breakfast muffins and stuff to go with java and various prepackaged teas. Open late, late, late for those Chapman kids next door. They've got bands at night, too, and various desperate poets. 261 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 997-5610; www.theuglymug.com. $

View our complete dining guide at www.ocweekly.com/food.

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