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Here’s How To Plan the Perfect ‘Eat-cation’ in Costa Mesa, California

For most foodies like me, travelling consists of an itinerary that’s dictated by what I want to eat at that particular destination. Call it an “eatcation,” if you will. And for this eatcation, my appetite leads me to Costa Mesa, California.

The charming Orange County city is a host to a wide variety of restaurants that cater to all types of cravings and palates. Whatever cuisine you’re in the mood for, Costa Mesa has you covered. Trust, because I have my personal favorites in the city that always satisfy. And since we’re all friends here, I’ll share them with you on my eatcation through Costa Mesa.

First stop on this eatcation is a hearty breakfast at Paragon Café, where they’re serving up creative takes on the most important meal of the day. If I’m yearning for something sweet, I go with the wild Strawberry Flambé French Toast — the combo of sweet and tart jolts my senses in the most delicious way possible. Now if I’m feeling savory, for sure I’m crushing a Chicken Katsu Breakfast Sandwich. Gratuitous yolk pops are always a crowd pleaser, however, this sandwich also has ideal crunch and stimulating spice locked in.

Next, it’s time for a comforting bowl of udon at Marugame Udon. Nothing beats their Curry Nikutama, featuring a rich curry sauce that has a deep flavor that clings to every last of your tastebuds. Pair that up with some perfectly crisp tempura from their wide selection of tempura choices and you’ve got lunchtime tamed.

The last, but certainly not least, is dinner at 2145, where the food is so good that I wish I’d be eating there 24/7. Do try the insanely delicious and unique duck carnitas pizza, where a house made chili oil crowns this savory achievement. The duck carnitas are fork-tender, to the point of unforgettable, so for sure it’ll be on your mind the next time you think about pizza. Besides that perfect pie, a robust bowl of Elote Rigatoni will have you obsessing over your next visit to Costa Mesa.

Created in partnership with Travel Costa Mesa.

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Adventures Culture Restaurants

6 Unique Calamari Dishes That Prove Monterey Is The World’s Squid Capital

When you think of the seaside town of Monterey, California, the first things to come to mind are likely the internationally renowned Aquarium, or the famous Cannery Row where sardines were once king.

The sardine industry is a spectre of the past, as there’s only one business left in operation that processes the fish. One seafood you can find across menus pretty much everywhere in town, however, is calamari. It’s local, abundant, and affordable enough that many restaurants tout themselves on their ability to cook the tentacled mollusk.

Photo: Nickola_Che // Shutterstock

How did calamari get this level of reputation in Monterey? According to Jim Covel, a former Monterey Bay Aquarium Guest Experience Training director (and current volunteer/historian), squid have always been something that was a core fishing product for the bay.

“The first commercial fishers in [Monterey Bay] were the Chinese,” Covel explained, noting that they had set up shop as early as the 1850s. As more people (and competition) arrived, the Chinese village eventually turned to fishing squid late at night. It wasn’t just for the shellfish, however: By salting and drying the squid out then shipping it back to China, consumers there could avoid a heavy salt tax by using the crystals affixed to the squid.

Sicilian fishers also came to the area, but early on, “squid was treated more as bait than a dish,” according to Covel. The taste for squid was there though, as it is also common in Mediterranean cooking, and by the 1920s, a “lively squid industry” began to take shape, something the city could rely on even if sardines (and eventually, abalone) were more popular and valued catches at the time.

Photo: Mironov Vladimir // Shutterstock

This mainstay of calamari Covel mentioned enabled the city to thrive even when its biggest industries took a hit. The sardine canning industry was a bust by the 1950s, and after that, abalone, once cheap and abundant, also nearly reached the brink of extinction.

As a way to get people to eat more squid, many restaurants that once sold abalone began prepping calamari in the same way the more valued counterpart would have been cooked. Often times, this meant pounded out flat, breaded, and fried, although several other techniques were used as well.

It led to Calamari festivals in the 1970s that drew the attention of papers like the New York Times, who called it “a relatively inexpensive testimonial” to squid. Monterey was convincing people that calamari could be a useful and tasty alternative, and that shaped the industry into its modern view.

That history has helped create a unique breeding ground of creativity when it comes to calamari. Today, as Covel told Foodbeast, you can still get squid straight from the boat or fish markets for a relatively inexpensive price. Combine that with the unique history of groups that have migrated to the bay, and you get a community that’s naturally churning out globally inspired calamari creations.

Below are just some of the one-of-a-kind offerings Monterey’s calamari scene has to offer, but there’s plenty more to go around as well.

Calamari Street Tacos – Abalonetti’s

For many years, the kingpins of Monterey’s calamari empire have been Abalonetti’s. They pride themselves on hand cleaning the fresh squid daily, which is a tough chore that most squid get sent abroad for. On top of that, you can find a host of unique calamari dishes, of which the street tacos are one of their more recent additions.

Buffalo calamari, calamari Caesar salad, and Sicilian-style calamari sauteed in white wine are just a few of the other possible ways to enjoy squid here.

Squiddle and Eggs – LouLou’s Griddle in the Middle

There’s not a lot of breakfast specialists in Monterey, but those that are around definitely have some form of calamari steak and eggs on the menu. LouLou’s is one of the most celebrated and legendary local spots to offer squid for breakfast, breading and frying a massive calamari steak before serving it up with salsa, toast, and eggs. Those who question the concept of seafood for breakfast will definitely be convinced by any Monterey spot offering this up.

Calamari Steak Sandwich – Woody’s at the Airport

Again, while not too common elsewhere, a lot of lunch spots around Monterey will have a calamari steak sandwich on the menu. The one at Woody’s is a classic variation done simply yet executed brilliantly. Cracker crumb breaded squid is fried and served on bread with lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce. Fast food chains, take notes.

Whole Grilled Calamari and Bento – Sapporo

To my knowledge, this tourist hotspot right before the tunnel to Cannery Row is not related to the massive Japanese brewery (although Sapporo is for sale there). They do incorporate a lot of seafood twists into their menu, however, especially with calamari. There’s a few different preparation styles up for offer, the most eye catching of which is their grilled whole squid, Poppo Yaki.

You can also catch calamari steak slung up hibachi style on a grill, and fried calamari rings are a core piece of each bento box you can order at Sapporo.

Abalone Style Calamari Steak – Sandbar & Grill

The two local hotspots for calamari in Monterey are Abalonetti’s and Sandbar, and the latter of these specializes in “abalone style.” It goes back to presenting squid as that low-cost alternative to abalone, so it gets breaded and fried in the same way. Get it straight with a side of lemon, or coated in generous spoonfuls of picatta sauce for a vibrant and refreshing seafood meal.

Calamari Parm – Monterey Fish House

Also available at Abalonetti’s as the “Marty Special,” this might be the ultimate form of calamari you can find that’s uniquely Monterey. It’s actually a double parm dish, as you get both fried calamari and eggplant stacked on top of each other. The entire thing is then smothered with tomato sauce and cheese, with sides of pasta and veggies rounding out the epic squid feast.


All of the above dishes prove that squid can be a versatile and low-cost seafood alternative. Over the last 150 plus years, the communities that have come to Monterey Bay have transformed it into unique dishes. The creativity chefs find with calamari here is boundless, manifesting into local favorites and staples you’d be hard pressed to find elsewhere.

With all of that in mind, it is definitely fitting to call Monterey the “Calamari Capital,” since what’s being done with squid here is truly one of a kind.

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Adventures Cravings Culture Pop-Ups

Some Of The Best Filipino Food In LA Is From This Underground Pop-Up

Just when I thought that I, a Filipino, considered myself to be well familiar with all that my culture’s cuisine had to offer, I was introduced to Lord Maynard Llera, who pleasantly extended my Filipino food horizons past lumpia Shanghai, adobo, and sinigang.

Pancit habhab? Inihaw na sugpo sa aligue? Lucenachon? Such dishes seemed foreign to me, which I at first admitted sheepishly. And having to search through Los Angeles to familiarize myself with these region-specific dishes would likely have been a needle meets haystack scenario. But I thought to myself that swallowing my pride and hubris would go well with all that Chef Llera was about to cook up.

So here I was enjoying such delicacies, which Llera identifies as Southern Tagalog cuisine, all in one meal. The coolest part is that it all came with the if-you-know-you-know type vibe of an underground pop-up.

Llord Maynard Llera

I had to do some digging as to what exactly Southern Taglog cuisine was, which includes a love affair with deep-fried, smoked, and grilled meats and recipes that focus on simple, straight-forward cooking.

Llera, who is the former culinary director at the The Hwood Group, an LA-based hospitality and lifestyle company responsible for a number of upscale nightlife and restaurant venues in the city, cut his teeth in fine dining, boasting a pedigree that translates to the technique-driven cooking that’s indicative of his underground pop-up, Kuya Lord. All of which is done at his home in La Cañada Flintridge, a tranquil, hillside suburb in Los Angeles.

Chef Llera is joyful in putting me on to his offerings, whether they be flavorful stir-fry noodles from the Lucban municipality in the Quezon Province or terrifically crisp, slow roasted pork belly done in the style of Lucena, his hometown. Grilled Hiramasa collar, a Yellowtail Kingfish, is smoky and robust. Java rice, a vibrant hue of 9am sunshine, is rich with garlic and annatto flavors. By the end of the meal, I’m pretty sure my face turned into the mind-blown emoji.

Kuya Lord’s menu is often rotating, a testament to the prowess of Chef Llera, and gives much reason to keep coming back for rare Filipino delights done his way. Make sure to follow the pop-up on Instagram to get the most up-to-date info on menu offerings and availability.

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Adventures Pop-Ups

‘Estrano’ Is A Los Angeles ‘Street Pasta’ Pop-Up That’s Deliciously Chaotic In All The Best Ways

“Arroz Con Pollo” Cavatelli
Hibiscus Biang Biang
Brocolli Beef Ravioli
Carbonara Tsukemen Ramen
Grilled Beef Tongue “Loco Moco”
Foie Gras Thai Iced Tea Gelato
Coconut Tomatillo Sorbet

What. The. Fuck. On paper alone the concepts that I was reading off on ‘Estrano’s’ latest pop-up menu had my head spinning. Was this actually real? How? Why? But most importantly, where and when?

The answers to such pressing questions I found in a nondescript alleyway on the outskirts of Los Angeles’ Chinatown waiting in line alongside folks chattering away about what they were about to order, all while a tumultuous soundtrack of Pig Destroyer, Wormrot, Los Master Plus, and Barbara Streisand marauded the airspace. The perfect setting for the aforementioned menu that ‘Estrano’ had ready for the people. I was worked up. So was my appetite.

Helmed by Diego Argoti, a chef with an impressive pedigree working in the lauded kitchens of Los Angeles’ elite Bavel, Bestia, and Chi Spacca, ‘Estrano’ — which aptly translates from Spanish to ‘strange’ — is a pop-up concept that’s here to wreck every expectation you have of what any regular dining experience is. The atmosphere alone that it generates is a precursor to the deliciously chaotic event your meal will be.

Touted as “street pasta” on Estrano’s Instagram profile, this moniker is an understatement to the frenetic adventure diners can experience through site, smell, taste, and feel. The energy is that of an F5 tornado filled with the sharpest kitchen knives. Fun stuff, really. And you feel it in the food itself, where expertly handmade pasta and thoughtfully crafted flavor profiles borne from the depths of an endless well of freaky meet and wake you up like wet towel to bare flesh.

Oh and at a $12 price point per dish, it’s easy to forget you’re eating white table cloth quality and execution.

Hats off to Chef Argoti, who’s put together an unforgettable experience with ‘Estrano’ and flips a stout middle finger at all culinary boundaries and norms.

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Adventures Science Technology

Scientists Turn Plastic Waste Into Vanilla Flavoring

Plastic plays a considerable role in our everyday lives. From the beverages we drink, to our packaged foods, plastic is used in every way imaginable. The upside is simple, it makes life easier. The downside is that its pervasiveness also has a tendency to impact our environment negatively.

Plastic waste pollutes from pavements to the Pacific. Humankind is often impulsive with innovation. In other words, things are created faster than ways to manage them. A fun fact is that there’s been more plastic manufactured within the first 10 years of this century than the whole of our previous one. Now we produce and throw away over 380 million tons of plastic each year.

That sounds bleak. But it’s not all plastic doom and gloom. There have been and will continue to be countless approaches to reducing plastic waste. Popular approaches include community clean ups, recycling of used-products, reusing products and “upcycling”. These are simple methods everyone can make a part of their daily habits. Yet while those methods tend to imply a necessary mindset shift, science has found another approach altogether. 

Scientists from the University of Edinburgh have discovered a way to upcycle plastic waste into vanilla flavoring. This is not a joke. Vanillin is a popular chemical used in the food industry and is often referred to as “imitation vanilla”. In 2018, global demand for the chemical exceeded 37,000 tons. That’s more than the demand for natural vanilla beans. One huge red flag is that 85% of vanillin is synthesized from fossil fuel chemicals. So clearly it isn’t the most eco-friendly of flavors. 

The research was published in the scientific journal Green Chemistry and uses engineered E. coli bacteria to convert TA (terephthalic acid) to vanillin.  Terephthalic acid and vanillin’s chemical compositions are very comparable and the engineered bacteria only needs to make a few changes to the hydrogens and oxygens that are bonded to the same carbon foundation.

Creating the same conditions for brewing beer, scientists heated a microbial broth to 98.6 fahrenheit for 24 hours. This effectively converted 79% of the TA to vanillin. According to Joanna Sadler, of University of Edinburgh, “This is the first use of a biological system to upcycle plastic waste into a valuable industry chemical and it has very exciting implications for the circular economy.”

It will be exciting to watch how this develops. Who knows, in the future maybe ice cream, yogurt, pastries and many more will be produced from plastic waste. The next steps for the University of Edinburgh research group is to continue modifying the bacteria to improve conversion. My hope is that efforts such as these will inspire more intelligent approaches to global issues.

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Adventures Cravings Culture Restaurants Video

Getting Familiar With Delicious Palestinian Stuffed Chicken

When grandma cooks, twenty times out of ten it’s fire. Doesn’t matter who’s grandma it is or where grandma came from, a recipe coming straight from her is unequivocally a banger. A meal from grandma means a meal cooked with love and care, one that comforts as much as it satisfies.

So when Foodbeast Marc Kharrat came upon a Palestinian dish that literally translates to ‘grandma’s stuffed chicken’, we all knew it’s automatically a must have.

Jerusalem Chicken, a Palestinian restaurant in Los Angeles, California, serves up delicacies such as the tangy and tantalizing Musakhan and flavorful cauliflower fritters called Mshat. But the scene stealer at this local gem was the Siti’s Stuffed Chicken. ‘Sitti’ in Arabic means ‘grandma’, which is only fitting, being that the stuffed chicken is a treasured family recipe passed down from the owner’s grandma herself.

“The dish is a labor of love. generously stuffing each cornish hen by hand. The stuffing mixture is made of rice, mushrooms and beef, which is stuffed carefully under the skin,” gushed Marc after experiencing the dish itself.

With such high praise and the backing of grandma’s love, it’s no wonder that Jerusalem Chicken is putting on for Palestinian food in all the delectable ways.

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Adventures Culture

New Netflix Docu-Series “High On The Hog” Highlights America’s Soulful Food History

The roots of America’s culinary history run deep. Our cuisine is a melting pot of flavors which originate from a broad array of international cultures. Cultures that each have their own stories, struggles and triumphs. Despite our domestic hodgepodge, American food is often reduced to burgers and fries, both of which are incredible, yet neither of which paint the full picture of our culinary history. And though said burgers and fries are definitely a beloved pastime for Americans, in truth they were adopted from Germany and Belgium.

So what is American Cuisine? I’d argue that Soul Food is the true original American Cuisine, which was created by Black slaves. Having been forced to live in a foreign place, they adapted and persevered by combining the flavors from their motherland with the resourcefulness of their circumstances. Tasked with cooking for the household, their culinary magic inevitably cast a spell on the palates of their captors. Black slaves that tended to the house also watched over the slaveowners children. That is how Soul Food became a staple in generations that followed.

The history of Soul Food and its influence has never truly been extensively explored… until now. High On The Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America is a new Netflix docu-series adapted from food historian Jessica B. Harris’ book of the same name. In the new series, viewers accompany food writer Stephen Satterfield on a journey through the Soul of American cuisine. Interviewing chefs, historians and activists that celebrate the courage, artistry, and resourcefulness of African Americans, High On The Hog intends to not only awaken your senses, but also provide context, connection and culture.

From Africa to the deep south and through the lens of our experience right onto your plate, High On The Hog is an absolute must-watch. Knowing the origins of the foods we eat not only allows us to appreciate the food more, but also connect with its culture in an authentic way. 

Directed by Academy Award winner Roger Ross Williams and dubbed part-culinary show part-travelogue, High On The Hog is now available to stream on Netflix.

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Adventures Restaurants

Petition Underway To Create America’s Next Official Great Food Neighborhood

Photo from Forn Alhara by Peter Pham.

Some of the country’s greatest food neighborhoods include San Francisco’s Chinatown, New Orleans’ French Quarter, and San Diego’s Little Italy. Regardless of where they are, these areas are steeped in rich food history and have a history of being the local food life force.

Many of these places have official designations that help make them more pronounced and elevate them into a destination. Little Arabia, in Anaheim, California, is currently lobbying to receive that mark and recognition, hoping to get established as that next great food neighborhood everybody should visit.

Photo from Sahara Falafel by Peter Pham

Little Arabia is the center of Arab-American culture in Orange County, and home to a plethora of varying types of restaurants. From bakeries like Victory Sweets to falafel mainstays like Sahara Falafel, you’ll find a little bit of everything in this neighborhood.

These are restaurants that have been around for decades, and the neighborhood itself has been established by locals and tourists from nearby Disneyland alike. However, the city of Anaheim has yet to give Little Arabia that official designation of “neighborhood.”

This really has been an ongoing battle for years, as city council members have pledged to give Little Arabia its due as far back as 2016. However, pressure to make good on those promises has ramped up as the coronavirus pandemic has hit many restaurants in the area hard.

Photo from Victory Sweets by Peter Pham

While business grants and reliefs have helped, many local restaurant owners feel that getting the official designation will help to promote the area, getting more people to come order their food and in turn revitalizing the economy.

As a result, they’ve turned to an online petition that asks the Anaheim City Council to officially adopt a resolution that recognizes the neighborhood.

Photo from Sahara Falafel by Peter Pham

“Now more than ever, it is vital to support our local business community,” the petition reads. “Businesses in Anaheim have felt the impacts of the covid-19 pandemic and government-ordered shutdowns. Promoting this economic district will aid in Anaheim’s economic recovery.”

Those interested in supporting the effort, and helping to make the country’s next great food neighborhood official, can sign the petition at this link.