We're sometimes accused of being too North County-centric around here. We can't help it; even leaving aside the snark about Laguna Engabachada, the fact is the population's up here in the 714, and choice in restaurants tends to follow the population.
Coffee, however, is a different story. There's good coffee all over this county. This is a list of 10–I could have easily listed 30 places far, far better than Fourbucks or the Coffee Leaf and Tea Bean. Read on!
10. The Neighborhood Cup
The coffee's good at Neighborhood Cup, but it's the atmosphere that's the big draw. Neighborhood Cup is the closest thing Aliso Viejo has to a downtown, a community center where people come to hang out. People come to chat, there are car shows on occasion, and it offers the world's most immense serving of bread pudding to go with the coffee, too. 1 Journey, Aliso Viejo, (949) 716-5100; theneighborhoodcup.com.
9. Caffe Lucca
Everyone in Old Town Orange knows about the gelato at Caffe Lucca–Courtney Perkes at The Orange County Register just wrote a great review of the place last week, just five years after we did–but its draw to me is the espresso with those addictive orange-chocolate madeleines. If you've got to have the ice cream, though, get it as an affogato–drowned in espresso. 106 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 289-1255; cafelucca.com.
8. Revo Cycles and Espresso
What's more fun than a shop full of tempting bicycles and aftermarket parts? A shop full of tempting bicycles and aftermarket parts and caffeinated customers, of course! I got delivered here a couple of years ago by a SAG van on the MS Bay-to-Bay Tour from Irvine to San Diego and was hooked. 34155 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 496-1955; revocycles.com.
Do one thing, and do it well: the unofficial motto of the place that keeps the staff at St. Joseph's, CHOC and OCTA running. Good drip coffee, good espresso, and one of the only servings of hot cereal that's worth paying for. We'll ignore the extraneous exclamation point in the name. . . .
424 S. Main St., Orange, (714)-978-1992; kaffainc.com.
6. Café Calacas
Mexicans love café de olla, a brewed coffee with spices, sugar and milk in it; I love it, too. Calacas, the Mexican cultural store on la Cuatro in downtown Santa Ana, opened a little café next door that serves great café de olla. Get the biónico to eat with your coffee. 324 W. Fourth St., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 662-2002; cafecalacas.com.
5. Jean-Paul's Goodies
Cantankerous is perhaps the best way to describe Jean-Paul. He's not evil, but he's had his share of truly asinine interactions with people in his Laguna Beach coffeeshop, and he's not afraid to express his opinion. The café, incidentally, is 100 percent French. You get café au lait or café-crème, or straight espresso. Ask for a latte, and you'll be directed to Starbucks. Ask for some half-caf soy whatever crap, and he'll tell you he made something like that first thing in the morning when he went to the toilet. DO ask for a pain au chocolat or a tartine (baguette with half-salted butter and jam). 656 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-7832.
4. Lost Bean
It's hard to describe the Lost Bean without using the word “comfy.” The parking is awful, the lines can be a little long sometimes, and the building is Hansel and Gretel Acid Trip, but the coffee is very good, the service is hugely friendly, and the food is good, too. You can sit inside or out, and because it's insulated from the noise of Newport Avenue, it's a good option to go out into the breeze. 13011 Newport Blvd., Ste. 104, Tustin, (714) 544-2584; thelostbean.com.
3. Gala Bakery
We cannot have a discussion about coffee in OC without talking about Vietnamese iced coffee, the lifeblood of Little Saigon and all who've ever passed through her cafés. Gala Bakery isn't a coffeeshop–it's a bánh mì shop, really–but its ca phe sua da is wonderful (though premade). If you're hungry, ask for banh su (cream puffs) or the excellent pa te so (pâté chaud). 14570 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 775-7327.
2. Kéan Coffee
Martin Diedrich's premise on coffee was shocking: darker roasts are not necessarily better roasts. Open a bag of his coffee beans and you'll think the bag is playing tricks on you; they're not jet-black as with the garbage from Peet's or Starbucks. You can actually taste the coffee as you sit in the comfortable chairs (fighting the bicyclists stopping by on the Back Bay Loop). The pastries are from Blackmarket, which is a big upgrade from most shops' sweets. 2043 Westcliff Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 642-5326; also at 13681 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 838-5326; keancoffee.com.
1. Portola Coffee Lab
Our choice for No. 1 coffeeshop this year, and the winner of the recent coffee battle with Kéan, Portola's the home of third-wave, Intelligentsia-without-the-hipster-attitude coffee in OC. Slowly poured through a Hario funnel, slammed through a space-age Trifecta, or boiled in a steampunk siphon? You'll actually notice the difference and–the horror!–begin to develop a preference, which is exactly what they want. Am I allowed to admit that I sneak in the Danishes from Christopher Garren's next door, though? 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 284-0596; portolacoffeelab.com.