Leaving America II: Local Restaurants I Adore

In Southern California, you can find food from anywhere in the world. Now that I am leaving to live in Europe, I will miss the abundance of Asian and Latin American foods. Here are some of my local spots around my work and home.

El Habanero

When I lived in Santa Ana, I get obsessed with this hole-in-the-wall. We have some of the best Mexican food outside Mexico here, and this restaurant has a special place in my heart. Not only is the salsa bar here incredible, they make the biggest pupusas I’ve ever seen.  I usually order the mixto pupusa with tacos al pastor and a chile rilleno al a carte. Their namesake salsa is particularly alluring, but you can’t go wrong when eating at El Habanero.


One of my favorite bowls of pho in the world, the charbroiled meat phos at Photasia are heavenly. I always, always order the charbroiled chicken pho. It would not be complete without a Vietnamese iced coffee. They serve you fresh jalapenos with your usual Thai basil, cilantro, and bean sprouts, but there are pickled jalapenos on the table that I’m obsessed with. Also on the table are dried chilies in chili oil. I love the bitter spice this adds to the soup. The broth is savory, salty, and just perfect. Photasia has everything you want from a pho place and more.

Gudetama Curry House

There are curry houses all around Southern California, but Gudetama in Cypress is the closest to my house. This is my happy place. Chicken katsu curry at a very high spice level with extra pickled radishes and an iced coffee or a beer, there is nothing else you could ask for.


There are few Italian restaurants I adore more than Maggianos. I know, I know, it’s a chain. But I’ve been going to the location in Costa Mesa since before I could remember. The majority of my birthday dinners have been spent here. When they started giving away free entrees to take home with classic pasta dishes, the sheer amount of food they give you kept me coming back. I’ve tried just about everything on the menu, it’s always great.


A chain everybody loves. I will miss this place more than most as I got to leave Southern California. It truly is one of the tastiest burgers known to man. You have to know how to do it though. Grilled onions are a must. I absolutely love adding pepporcinis on my burger, what they simply call “chilies”. The secret sauce is also a fan favorite. Just don’t get your burger plain like a psychopath.

Specialty Coffee & Craft Beer

Drinks are amazing here. From breweries like Ballast Point, Stone, and countless others, to specialty coffee like Bodhi Leaf and Blue Bottle, if you are looking for a specialty beverage, you will be able to find it. The caliber of beer and coffee is tough to match elsewhere.


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