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May 30, 2001 01:58 AM

Good food stores in Orange County

  • j

First of all, I used to live in Orange County, so I do know that it's not LA, but I'm not sure how great an area "Los Angeles Area" actually covers, so I didn't know whether to post this under general "California" or "LA."

Assuming I haven't made an unforgivable faux pas, I'm wondering what the state of good markets is in the Laguna Niguel area -- that is, produce/butcher/seafood markets? I'm thinking of moving down there, but I'm really spoiled where I am now (Bay Area) and I just want to know what to expect. Suggestions about good restaurants would be appreciated too, but I could live without restaurants before I could live without decent markets.

PS I do remember how it is in the area -- I'd be prepared to drive a ways but would prefer something within, say, 15 - 20 miles.

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  1. d
    David "Zeb" Cook

    Like another poster, I haven't been in OC for a little while, but El Toro Meats on El Toro was by far one of the best butchers I've dealt with. Friendly, helpful and a great selection. For vegetables, I'd suggest Saturday down at the Irvine Farmer's Market. It was in the parking lot across from UC Irvine. Started around 10. A big selection of produce and fruit, most all organic. (Plus the Steelhead Brewery right there was a good stop afterwards).

    David "Zeb" Cook

    1. c
      Chris Vallejo

      Would Bristol Farms be OK? I know there are several in Orange County (Newport Beach).

      Are you *sure* you want to leave the Bay Area? I spent 9 months there in 1999 and spent most of the time bemoaning the lack of decent bread.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Chris Vallejo
        Chris Vallejo


        By "there" in my first message, I meant I spent 9 months in SoCal during 1999 and couldn't wait to get back up to the Bay Area.

        1. re: Chris Vallejo

          Jonathan Gold posted this in la.eats about the perception of bread superiority in the Bay Area:

          "Of course, when the San Francisco Chronicle
          food section did a sourdough taste-off a
          couple of years ago, the winner was . . .
          La Brea Bakery. When they repeated the
          tasting, La Brea Bakery won again."

          Just one more thing about the bay area that is overrated.

          1. re: jonas
            Christine Vallejo

            I'm sure LaBrea Bakery has wonderful bread; this wasn't available to those of us residing in the "Inland Empire". You are fortunate to be able to purchase LaBrea breads at your local grocery store.

            I'm talking about being able to go to any grocery store and being able to find decent bread for every meal. The stores I frequent have Acme (Berkeley), Artisan (Sonoma), Sciambra-Passini (Napa) - just to name a few - all delivered fresh each morning.

            1. re: Christine Vallejo

              The "Inland Empire" isn't exactly OC or LA, though.

              That would be San Bernardino/Riverside counties. Thanks for the clarification.

              1. re: jonas
                Christine Vallejo

                I lived in San Bernardino County and worked in Riverside County. The people with whom I worked raved about the local bagels which, in essence, were all but doughnuts. One could easily bite into the entire bagel and encounter a pastry-like interior. Supposedly, these were NY Bagels and were the best the area had to offer.

                1. re: Christine Vallejo
                  David "Zeb" Cook

                  If you're worried about that, there's a very good Jewish deli in South County in Laguna Hills just off the 5 back behind the city hall. Always had good bagels. Can't remember the name right now, but I believe it was run by a Russian family. It was the place to go for sandwiches and meats. They had the best pastrami!

                  David "Zeb" Cook

                  1. re: David "Zeb" Cook
                    Christine Vallejo

                    Was first introduced to bagels (water) & lox at Nate's Deli in Palm Springs which, as I recently learned, is closed.

                    However, a new Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop is opening in Riverside, CA, today - on the eve of Krispy Kreme's second 2/1 stock split.

                    Not too soothed by this news.

              2. re: Christine Vallejo
                Melanie Wong

                La Brea's frozen line is baked in-store and sold in a few places in Northern Calif. That's my only experience with the line and it is very good. Seems moister to me.

                I agree with you that one of the wonders of living up here, and perhaps it is the same in Orange County, is the wide distribution of excellent food stuffs, the range of choices, and how high the average quality level is. Even Safeway stocks 6 kinds of fresh mushrooms. The convenience store around the corner from me in SF has Acme Bread delivered each morning. Cold beer, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and great baguettes are its most popular items. Maybe Janet can find a similarly stocked 7-11.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  You will be hard pressed to find a 7-11 or any convenience store for that matter (God forbid a South Orange Couty-ite should need beer or condoms at the ungodly hour of 11 PM!).

                  Most likely all that will be available grocery-wise will be Bristol Farms, Trader Joe’s and Pavilions. Ferret out a great produce market and thank your lucky stars if you find one.

                  Although South Orange County is slim pickings for diversity, your best bet will be to brush up on your Mexican cooking and scour the Mercados for ingredients.

                  Good luck, Janet.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong
                    Christine Vallejo

                    I've been to only one Bristol Farms and was very impressed, to the point that I worried that if I were to live near a Bristol Farms, all of my extra $$ would be invested there.

                    LaBrea's frozen bread line, then, is similar to what Grace Family offers...prepared to a certain point and then shipped to grocery stores to be finished in-house.

                    1. re: Christine Vallejo
                      torta basilica

                      Of course, Bristol Farms, but I like Gelson's (NB, Irvine & RSM I think) produce better. Bristol Farms in coth CdM shopping center & Atrium Court Fashion Island.

                      Vons Pavilions actually has some of the better wines/prices. Fo a huge selection, High Times in CM

                      I love Growers Direct Market on 17th & Newport Blvd in CM for selection & incredible prices

                      Irvine has great Asian - 2 99 Ranch Markets, a middle-eastern market on Irvine Blvd. in Heritage Shopping Center.

                      Tustin has a nice little Meditteranean store on 4th (?) Street. Used to be a great Italian deli there off of Newport Blvd. too, but I don't know if it's there anymore.

                      Old World (Gothard in HB) has several delis/store for pretty wide selection of German / middle European food. CM has a German Home Bakery, which IMHO, bakes awful German breads & pastries - nothing like what you get in Germany, but it is fun to make Gingerbread Houses there before Christmas. Globe Deli on Harbor in CM has limited German items.

                      Pascal's Epicure on Bristol in NB has small, but tasty (& expensive) selection of French deli items.

                      And, always Cost Plus World Markets all over for a huge International selection of packaged food goods.

          2. Yes, the markets in the Bay Area would spoil anyone. You realize, of course, that by moving to OC, you are moving to the suburbs and that life is very different for those of us living in the land of six-lane avenues and carwashes on each corner. Still, you should be able to find food here. I have.

            There's a Bristol Farms in Newport Beach which is worth seeking not only because it has fresh bread and incredible cheeses, but also because there's a Peet's Coffee in the same shopping center. (By the way, NB also used to have a Graffeo's, but it closed down and has not reopened. There is one in Beverly Hills, though, which -- if you drink coffee -- you should bear in mind any time you make it into LA.) You could also go to the Wild Oats in Irvine, which (like BF) has a great selection of cheeses, breads, and fresh produce. They have other things, but that's mostly what I buy. The county also has a couple of Whole Foods markets, and they will be relatively convenient to you.

            For seafood, Santa Monica Seafood has a couple of different locations here, and they're all excellent. There are a gaggle of Trader Joe's locations. They are starting to seem as ubiquitous as Starbuck's, and the quality just as variable. I recently stumbled into a new one in Irvine and it was like a 7-11 of gourmet food products.

            Laguna Beach has a farmer's market on Saturdays, and it is well worth attending. A couple of my favorite cheese guys come from the Inland Empire (Claremont and Hemet) to monger, and I'm grateful that they do.

            As other people have posted to you, La Brea Bakery is now distributing its bread in a manner similar to Acme, and you can find it in many markets and restaurants these days. Here's a stunner, in fact: Downtown Disney now has its own LBB. It's more expensive than the original location, the various varieties are not all represented, but it's still a treat to sit in the middle of Anaheim and have a grilled cheese sandwich on LBB fresh bread. (It is a small world: Boudin's is now a chain, and little Boudin'ses have popped up all over OC. You'll find one close to you in the Irvine Spectrum.)

            Ethnic foodstuffs can be had with ease if you venture a little north, to Santa Ana, Anaheim, Westminster, Costa Mesa, and Long Beach. You might also seek out Zov's restaurant and deli counter in Tustin to try their bread. Many people here really like it. Also, once a week or so (because of the drive), you might want to make a trip to Los Alamitos and go to Al Dente, a really incredible Italian gourmet market that by some fluke settled in OC. Wait until you see their bread selection. I have also never seen a happier roomful of people than the clientele and employees here. I've decided that as soon as I finish typing this, I'm going there.

            Many people bemoan this trend of everything becoming chains and spreading long and wide throughout the world. But having lived in the suburbs most of my life, it's a saving grace. You will probably find that most of the things you like you will be able to find in sufficient quantity and with remarkable ease. All it takes is a a curious mind, an agile spirit and a healthy appetite. It might not taste exactly the way you remember, and Laguna Niguel is certainly not the Mission District, but, as they say at the end of "The Wild Bunch," it ain't like it used to be, but it'll do.

            Good luck!