Monday, July 21, 2014

Plaza Inn - Disneyland

If you're in line for Star Tours or the Astro Orbitor and you suddenly feel hunger pangs creep in, it's because of Plaza Inn. The smell from the fried chicken it cooks permeates the entire area. And if you've tasted it before, you know it’s hands-down the best fried chicken not just in the park, but probably the City of Anaheim.

Plaza Inn, for the quick, cafeteria-style restaurant that it is, will serve its golden, inexplicably non-greasy chicken with mashed potatoes, loads of gravy, a heap of green beans, and a useless biscuit. It’s a monster of a meal. You don't just get one or two pieces of that chicken, you get three--a drumstick, a thigh, and a breast from the Dolly Parton of hens.

But you finish every bit, starting with that crunchy rendered skin, and leaving nothing but the bones. This is fried chicken that not only exceeds your expectations of theme park food but also the dish itself--a fried chicken that’s arguably better than the one that started Knott’s Berry Farm.

Plaza Inn
1313 Harbor Blvd.
Disneyland Park
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 781-3463

O'Neill's - Mission Viejo

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Flappy Jack's - Orange

I wish places like Flappy Jack's opened past 3 p.m. Its food is the kind I'd rather be eating for dinner. But it closes early because our custom of relegating the best stuff that American cuisine has to offer (bacon, eggs, pancakes and hash browns) to the daylight hours is so ingrained, breakfast-centric places like Flappy Jack's would be deserted if it tried. Proof? The place used to Spires, which is a diner just like Flappy Jack's is, but open at all hours.

The fact is, even though there's nothing in our body clocks that would go haywire if we ate a McMuffin for supper, it's just weird for most people.

And that's too bad, because Flappy Jack's--which has Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Elvis kitsch trifecta of statues in the middle of the restaurant--serves glorious breakfasts that would be great anytime of day or night. These are platters of egg-centered morning meals surrounded by satellites of more food on the side.

My spicy Polish sausage, over-hard eggs, and hash browns in crispy shaved ribbons (oh those hash browns!) came with a separate plate of pancakes I didn't even touch. There was corned beef hash that didn't taste like it was scooped out of a can, but chipped off from a Saint Patrick's feast. There were waffles with pineapple and drizzled with coconut syrup that would sing a sweet Don Ho melody even if it wasn't called the "Hawaiian Waffle". There was a Dutch pancake, fluffy, eggy, like a thicker version of a crepe wrapped around fruit as though a burrito.

The greatest dishes are the omelets--gigantic flotillas of eggs that deliver your chosen cargo of protein, vegetables and cheese inside a hull of fluffiness. Did you know that the French eat omelets for dinner?

Heck, even Ron Swanson eats breakfast for dinner.

Leslie Knope: “Why would anybody ever eat anything besides breakfast food?”

Ron Swanson: “People are idiots, Leslie.”

--Parks and Recreation

Flappy Jack's
2848 N Santiago Blvd.
Orange, CA 92867
(714) 283-2800

The North Left - Santa Ana

Thursday, July 10, 2014

French Market - Disneyland

Disneyland's New Orleans Square is as authentic to New Orleans as the Jungle Cruise is to Africa--which is to say, not very. But the red beans and rice I ate recently at the French Market couldn't have tasted more evocative of the balmy swamp city if Paul Prudhomme served it up himself.

I once read an article that said the people of Louisiana eat red beans and rice more than anything else, especially on Mondays. It's said that the dish is made with Sunday night dinner's leftovers--a low-simmered, one pot meal that required little effort but filled the gut for not much money.

So when I saw it on the menu at the French Market, it just had to be ordered. But I was still surprised how good it was.

The French Market, like most of Disneyland's busiest eateries, is a cafeteria where you line up with tray in hand and the food is slopped onto plates with little regard for presentation. But the red beans and rice was different. It was downright immaculate.

In the deep-bottomed plate, the red beans--spiced to a lip-numbing but pleasant hotness--was the base layer, with pieces andouille sausage mixed in. Then came a sprinkle of rice, a few beveled slices more andouille, and a cornbread muffin straddling the edge. It was one of the best meals I've had at Disneyland, and I've had the corndog.

And to wash it all down: an icy-cold, green-tinged mint juleps. Yes, real mint juleps aren't this green and should be made with bourbon, but it was still refreshing, recharging my batteries so that I could stand in line for that safari through fake Africa.

French Market
Disneyland Resort
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 781-3463

Pirozzi - Corona Del Mar

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Gourmet Burgers - Irvine

Contrary to what I previously thought, a good burger is not hard to find in a food court. I was recently floored by a thick behemoth of a burger I had at Aioli, which as you might have read earlier in this blog, is in a food court. So I was ready to accept that good burgers exist at other Irvine food courts, especially the one that boasts not only Franco’s Pasta Cucina but also The Chippy, two of the finest food court eateries in O.C.

But because Franco’s and The Chippy are there, I’ve been putting off trying Gourmet Burgers, because, well, like anyone, I’m a creature of habit, and Franco’s pasta dishes and The Chippy’s flawless deep fried cod are hard habits to break. Now that I’ve finally tried Gourmet Burgers, it confirms my earlier theory: you can find good burgers in food courts.

These are not thick-pattied burgers. The beef is actually as thin as In-N-Outs, but with twice the surface area that extends past the perimeter of the bun, and pleasantly un-uniform in shape. But like In-N-Out, it’s griddle-seared when you order, served hot, slathered in sauce, and in my case, stuffed with crispy onion straws that lent a nice texture.

Judge them not by the fact they use stock sesame-seeded buns. Also, do not underestimate their size; these are gut-busting burgers that are bigger than you anticipate. I peeled back the paper again and again, coming to the realization that there’s still a lot of burger left when I thought I should be done--this is the hamburger equivalent of Hermione’s bag in Harry Potter.

If it reminds me of any previous burgers I’ve had, it’s like the ones served by Yellow Basket. Yet it’s not an apt comparison because Gourmet Burgers uses what I'm pretty sure are hand-packed (Halal) patties instead of frozen discs. And with any burger, it’s how they treat the meat that makes all the difference--not whether it’s served in a food court.

Gourmet Burgers
2222 Michelson Dr Unit 208
Irvine, CA 92612
(949) 251-0786

The Big Catch Seafood - Long Beach

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Le Petite Sourie - Santa Ana

There's no fancier pastry than macarons, those much sought-after cookie sandwiches that usually cost more money than a thing of that size should ever cost.

Yeah, it's French. And yeah, it's, like, really fashionable right now, much more so than cupcakes, I think.

And the fact that it takes significantly more skill to make a macaron than a cupcake might justify the upcharge some of these places charge.

But me? I'm ambivalent about macarons. I'd much rather get, well...everything else. And there are much more than macarons at Le Petite Sourie, a French bakery in Santa Ana that seems to have appeared out of nowhere.

I tried the Black Forest cake, which is densely chocolatey where it should be, fluffy everywhere else. But then there's the meringues--the items that I think they're put on this green Earth to sell.

They're packaged in clear plastic bags, about a half dozen or so in each satchel, and they're wonderful. Shaped like small meteorites, kind of uneven, with rough craters here, smooth surfaces there, you bite into one and discover that the insides are filled with just a touch of filling. Strawberry jam hides underneath the pink ones. There's pistachio (I think) in the greens, and probably mango inside the yellows.

Most importantly, they got the right consistency throughout--a shatteringly crisp outer shell leading to a chewy center. Even better: they're cheaper than the macarons for the same amount of pleasure.

Le Petite Sourie
2801 MacArthur Blvd Ste A
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(714) 966-9969

Bosscat Kitchen - Newport Beach

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Matcha Love - Costa Mesa

After slurping Santoka's legendary but ultra-savory bowls of ramen at Mitsuwa's food court in Costa Mesa, you want something cold, something sweet.

Until recently, that meant one of two things: Some sort of boba drink at Sky Express or a box of mochi ice cream from the supermarket.

Now that Matcha Love has opened here, there's is a third and much preferable option—soft serve green tea ice cream in sweet, tannic swirls; but also a black sesame flavor that tastes like smoky peanut butter. Another tea flavor called hojicha is almost floral.

But then you eat them all of them together in the same sitting and attain Zen enlightenment in a waffle bowl.

Matcha Love
665 Paularino Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Summer Issue - Where To Buy Ice Cream

Friday, June 13, 2014

Flo's V8 Cafe - Disney's California Adventure

You're initially pulled in by the bright pink and blue neon, but you vow to come back again for the food because you discover that Flo's V8 Cafe is one of the most down-home and decent places to eat a throwback meal in all of Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom.

This is the kind of food your mom was being fed by her mom way back then, when do-wop was the bee's knees and Elvis was just being discovered.

Think mashed potatoes with a well dug out for the gravy. Turkey that's all white meat, sliced up in uniform shapes that can't possibly be natural, served with peas and carrots straight from a time before peas and carrots were considered the squarest of the square.

Yes, this is what TV dinners looked like when they were actually dinners people ate. And it's delicious.

The best dish at Flo's is probably the roast beef, draped in a thick gravy as brown as the Earth. Ideally, you want the sugary, smoky, sweet BBQ beans with it as side, and some roasted corn niblets that has actual char. Wash it all down with a Coke, which unfortunately comes in a standard Disney wax cup, not in a traditional curvy Coke glass as Norman Rockwell would paint it.

And for dessert, you decide you have to get this apple pie-thing baked with Cheddar cheese. It seems to have been resurrected from an old copy of Joy of Cooking or brought back to the future by Marty McFly.

Flo's V8 Cafe
1313 S Disneyland Dr
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 490-0233

Old Malaya Grill - Huntington Beach

Thursday, June 05, 2014

The Snooty Fox - Laguna Hills

Ah, the proper egg breakfast. It's probably a good thing that I don't have time most mornings to sit down and eat one. It is the kind of food more suited to a weekend afternoon, when I've already taken a shower and have some sort of activity lined up that doesn't entail sitting like a lump in front of a computer for 8 hours.

These are the kind of meals served at The Snooty Fox: lumberjack fuel, mounds of morning food that taste great going down but served in portions that aren't designed for sedentary lives.

Besides that, corned beef hash seems to taste way better when you don't have to go to work later. And what corned beef hash this is!

Is there such a thing as bad corned beef hash? This one is particularly great. Crisped on the edges like lace, pudding-like throughout, the dish, in my opinion, is better than bacon, sausage, or heck, corned beef itself--about the only canned meat product (other than Spam) that trumps anything fresh.

And here, they serve it under a perfectly cooked egg, and next to a nest of hash browns or the house "Those Potatoes" (which are hash browns with bits of onion and peppers in it) that are so crispy, it's almost like eating a Godzilla latke.

The Snooty Fox has been around forever. The name seems to come from a time when The Velvet Turtle and the like were on top of the food chain. The furniture looks like it's from your grandma's dining room, and the servers are, if I'm not mistaken, actual grannies.

The place is not unlike those Midwest diners where the regulars are harassed by politicians on campaign trail photo-ops to show they're men of the people. But the food is great, made with care and from scratch, and every plate is still garnished with a sprig of parsley and brought out seconds from the stove on which they're cooked.

They have this permanent special called the Spinach Delite, and it's indeed delightful, a 3-egg behemoth filled with spinach, mushrooms, bacon and gilded inside and out with cheese. The spinach is steamy, fresh, probably the best spinach I've had outside of a Chinese restaurant stir-fry, and perhaps even better than that.

The Snooty Fox
23028 Lake Forest Dr.
Laguna Hills, CA 92653
(949) 770-7761

Village Mediterranean Rim - San Clemente

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Corky's Bar-B-Q - Memphis, TN

I get it now. I get why people from the BBQ capitals of our country bemoan the state of BBQ in places other than their own. I didn't understand it at first, this BBQ snootiness. I figured that it was just the pride talking. I was even willing to bet that if you blind-folded and served them, say, ribs from our local Lucille's chain back at their home and didn't tell them where it was from, they'd like it just the same, they wouldn't be able to tell the difference. But after having the Memphis-style ribs at Corky's during a recent trip to The Mid-South, I now see the light.

The minute I sank my teeth into the first rib, I actually said, "Oh my God." These were ribs unlike any I've ever tasted in my life. It was covered in a dry rub, not glopped in sauce, a caking of spices that amounted to breading. I've had dry-rubbed ribs before. It's not new to me. But this was the first time the seasonings actually sang. It crackled and snapped in my mouth, as though it were made of Pop Rocks. And then there was the texture of the pork itself. On the outside, it was crunchy-crisp, something akin to fried pork skin. But underneath the meat was nearly liquid, an amalgam of melted fat and tender pink flesh--a surge of porky sweetness so thrilling it's orgasmic.

I realized then that I didn't just eat the best BBQ ribs of my entire existence; I also just ate one of the best pork dishes in the world, second only to Magic Wok's sisig.

Corky's ribs are already beloved by the people of Memphis. So this post will sound to them as though I just saw the Star Wars trilogy for the first time or figured out who this bloke Elvis** was. Incidentally, Memphis is primarily famous for two things: Elvis and BBQ.

But here's how serious they are down there about BBQ: there was a friggin' drive-thru at Corky's. Yes. The restaurant had a drive-thru--a drive-thru I'd be queuing up to, like, every single day if I lived there.

**Side story. Here's a recent conversation I had with a young co-worker who grew up in India.

So what are you doing Memorial Day Weekend?

I'm going to Memphis.

What's in Memphis?

BBQ and Graceland.

What's Graceland?

It's Elvis' house!

Who's Elvis?

Elvis Presley? The King of Rock and Roll? You don't know who Elvis is?

No. Does he still live there?

Corky's Bar-B-Q
5259 Poplar Ave
Memphis, TN 38119
(901) 685-9744

Fireside Tavern - Costa Mesa

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Carnation Cafe - Disneyland

I won’t deny that the lure of the Mickey Mouse pancake and/or waffle is great. When you’re at Disneyland during breakfast hours, these items are programmed into your cerebral cortex. I don’t know if it’s because of the artificial vanilla scent the candy shops pump into the air, or the fact that I know they exist, but I am not immune to their pull. Every time I’ve gotten to the park early enough, I’m at the Carnation Café ordering some Mickey waffles.

But the breakfast item I should’ve been ordering all along at Carnation are the Huevos Rancheros**. These, I discovered, are the greatest things to eat at Disneyland first thing in the morning. Disney has hit it out of the Park (get it?) with this, towards Santa Ana. In it poached eggs are smothered in a fire-roasted salsa with bits of corn and avocado, the whole thing served over a puddle of creamy black beans and lashed together with melted cheese. Beneath it and stuck upright in the middle are freshly fried corn tortilla disks that, if you eat it a certain way, makes it taste like a breakfast tostada.

It’s filling, of course, but not heavy. You leave feeling energized either by the carbs, the wholesomeness, or the fact that you just found something even better than any Mickey-shaped foodstuffs.

Carnation Cafe
Disneyland Resort
Anaheim, CA 92802
(714) 781-3463

El Amerikano - Fullerton

**UPDATE: As of Memorial Day 2014, Carnation Cafe stopped serving the Huevos Rancheros. If anyone knows where this dish has now migrated to in the Magic Kingdom, drop me a line.