Let’s face the facts: Anaheim will forever be known to most people as the home of Disneyland. But to dismiss it merely as the House of the Mouse is doing yourself - and your stomach - a huge injustice. First off, it’s a big city, home to 350,000 people, two professional sports teams, and countless thriving neighborhoods that have absolutely nothing to do with “The Happiest Place On Earth.” Secondly, there are incredible places to eat everywhere you look (and probably haven’t thought to look). From family-run Syrian ice cream shops to Argentinian deli counters to historic Japanese bakeries, if you leave Anaheim complaining about the food, you only have yourself and Mickey Mouse to blame.
Okayama Kobo is one of those places we’re almost thankful that we don’t live close to, because we’d eat there every day. Then we get sad, because all we want to do is eat there every day. The tiny Japanese bakery in downtown Anaheim has only been open since 2018, but it originated in Japan, where they’ve been baking tremendously savory breakfast pastries and desserts since 1986. We haven’t tried one thing here that we don’t like, but the spicy curry pan, croque monsieur, and any type of Japanini (their take on a French panini) all need to hit your table. They also make bread in-house with flour imported straight from Hokkaido that’s light, fluffy, and will easily last you a whole week.
Anaheim’s Little Arabia neighborhood has one of the largest collections of Middle Eastern restaurants on the West Coast, and you could frankly spend an entire weekend here trying all the excellent spots. But if you only have time for one, make it Forn Al Hara. This family-run Lebanese bakery specializes in manaeesh, a Levantine flatbread that comes topped with everything from sujuk (spicy sausage) and labneh and honey to cheese and eggs. You can argue with your friends and family all you want about which is the best, but frankly, it’s a fool’s errand. When the flatbread itself is as fluffy and perfectly baked as it is at Forn Al Hara, it doesn’t matter what’s on top of it - it’s going to taste incredible. Be sure to snag a knafeh (sweet, noodle-like pastry) for the drive home.
When you can’t take one more second of the mind-numbing chaos of Downtown Disney, round up the crew and head to the Anaheim Packing House. Located just ten minutes down the road from the parks, APH is a former citrus packing center built in 1919 that’s been transformed into a massive food hall and entertainment complex. With over 50 food vendors, bars, speakeasies, and live music events most nights of the week, it’s one of the only places in Anaheim where kids, teenagers, and adults can all find happiness. Some of our favorite spots include Adya for Indian street food and The Blind Rabbit for specialty cocktails.
Anaheim is located just up the road from Westminster’s tremendous Little Saigon neighborhood, home to some of the best Vietnamesse restaurants in the country. And while we certainly endorse a separate trip to Westminster when you’re in town, you don’t have to go far in Anaheim to get good Vietnamese food, either. Case in point - Thuyen Vien. The casual, vegetarian spot serves meatless versions of classic Vietnamese dishes like bo luc lac (shaking beef), cha gio (fried spring rolls), and giant bowls of fragrant pho - and everything is excellent. That said, it’s the spicy, lemongrass-filled bun bo hue that remains our favorite thing on the menu, and exactly what you need to be eating when the thermometer falls to a brisk 65 degrees.
Koftegi is a Turkish restaurant/bakery in Little Arabia, and at first glance, has a menu that looks fairly similar to others around the neighborhood. But skip the kabob wraps and meze (though they are tasty) and concentrate on the house specialties instead. Namely, the kofte (seasoned ground beef patties) and pide (Turkish bread boats). You can get the kofte in a wrap, casserole, or as a plate, but we prefer it stuffed with kashkaval cheese, a mild yellow cheese made from a mixture of sheep and cow’s milk. You can wrap pita around the kofte if you want, or just do what we do: Go at it with just a knife, fork, and reckless abandon. As far as the pide goes, you can’t go wrong with any topping, because at the end of the day, it’s all about the thin, perfectly crunchy crust.
From the outside, El Gaucho looks like a neighborhood convenience store, but on the inside, you’ll find a secret meat-filled wonderland serving tremendous Central and South American staples. There’s a full deli and market area where you can pick up ingredients for your at-home feast, but our move is to head to the counter off to the right instead. Here is where you’ll get some of the best empanadas in town (the chicken is a must), plus giant, well-made sandwiches - like the entrana (skirt steak) and the beef and ham-topped chivito - for less than $8. If you’re looking for a quick, affordable lunch in the area, head to El Gaucho.
Sure, your hotel’s continental breakfast is free, but it’s also two trays of watery eggs that haven’t felt heat since 6am. You deserve better, so head to K&A instead. The excellent order-at-the-counter breakfast spot inside The Good Food Hall in downtown Anaheim serves quick, healthy-ish American staples like omelettes and breakfast sandwiches in a serene environment where you can actually sip your coffee and collect your thoughts for the day. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, but if it’s your first time, definitely go for the chorizo burrito. Filled with crunchy potatoes, eggs, and cheese, you’ll be full for a while, but you didn’t have anything good planned for lunch anyway.
The thing about Le Mirage is that it’s actually an all-around great bakery filled with every type of pastry, cake, tart, and cookie you could want. The problem is, we always just end up getting the baklava and bouza ice cream. The baklava is our favorite in the neighborhood (a high distinction in Little Arabia), but it’s the bouza that you should be driving long distances to eat. The taffy-like Syrian ice cream is thick, gooey, and delicious, and modeled after the same ice cream the owner grew up eating in Damascus. It’s an incredibly special dessert and one that should be added immediately to your ice cream Rolodex.
Located on an industrial stretch of Southeast Anaheim, The Ranch is your one-stop shop for big-group dinners and mild debauchery in Anaheim. On one side of the massive complex is the restaurant, which is a typical upscale steakhouse with big plates of meat, well-made martinis, and long tables filled with coworkers in town for a convention. On the other side, however, is the saloon, where things get wild in a hurry. Expect competitive line dancing, live country music, and people in their 60s ripping shots because they still can.
Aleppo’s is a cornerstone of the Little Arabia neighborhood and our choice for dinner when we’re with a big group who wants a festive atmosphere. Located behind a hair salon (the entrance is on the backside of the strip mall), this family-run Syrian restaurant has a large menu full of kabobs, shawarma, as well as plenty of vegetarian options, but our go-to is lamb kabseh. It’s a massive platter of perfectly tender lamb braised with spices and other aromatics, sitting on a bed of rice. It’s one of our favorite lamb dishes in all of Southern California and is worth the drive alone. That said, definitely fill out your meal with some muhammara (red pepper and walnut dip), cheese borak (fried puff pastry), and a platter of their housemade kibbeh (ground meat in cracked wheat).
Smack in the middle of Little Arabia sits Cortina’s, a family-run Italian marketplace and restaurant that’s been in operation since 1963. The space itself is broken up into two different sections - the deli/market to the left and the pizzeria/restaurant to the right, but if you’re short on time, stick to the deli. That’s where you can get imported pasta, meats, and cheeses for home, on top of ordering fresh-made sandwiches from the deli. If you’re hungry, get the Cortina’s Special with capicola, mortadella, two types of salami, and all the fixings. If you’re really hungry, get the meatball sub.
Located just down the road from Knott’s Berry Farm, MFK is a modern, order-at-the-counter Filipino restaurant and your best bet for lunch on a stretch largely dominated by chains. The menu is small, with only a handful of different bowls and two “small bites,” but it still covers an impressive amount of ground. With minced crispy pork, fried egg, and lemon aioli, the sisig isn’t a traditional version by any means, but it is a tremendous one and needs to be ordered every time you come to MFK. From there, round out your meal with some pork lumpia, bistek tagalog (marinated beefsteak), and some “purple drank” (an horchata/ube combo beverage), and you’ve got yourself the best lunch in the neighborhood.
When we’re roaming around Little Arabia and need a quick, affordable lunch spot, you’ll find us at Sahara Falafel. The family-run, order-at-the-counter restaurant has been around since 1994, and has become a staple of the community for serving the kind of hearty shawarma and falafel wraps that’ll keep you full all day. It’s an impressive feat, considering that every sandwich is under $8.
Most big-group dinner spots in Anaheim are either dime-a-dozen steakhouse chains or weird hotel restaurants where Snow White shows up for a family photo right when you start eating. Ma’s Chinese Islamic is neither of those. Come to this family-run Halal restaurant in north Anaheim any day of the week and you’ll find large family gatherings, locals on lunch breaks, and every other person who passed by craving very good Chinese food. Ma’s menu is gigantic, with everything from kung pao chicken to dim sum, but we recommend focusing on the house specialty short ribs, any of the cold meats, and a massive plate of scallion bread.
If it’s after 9pm, the kids are in bed, and you’re wondering if there’s anything to do outside the parks for a little bit, head immediately to The Fifth. Located on top of the Grand Legacy Hotel, this lively rooftop bar is open until midnight during the week (1am on the weekends), and is where every vacationing parent and convention attendee goes to unwind and drink red wine until they’re cut off. In other words, it’s a great time. The Harbor Blvd. location offers great views of both parks, as well as an unobstructed vantage point of the nightly fireworks - an experience only heightened by the red wine you’re drinking. If you get hungry, there’s also a menu full of solid-enough bar bites like nachos, shrimp tacos, and loaded tots.
Have we made specific detours solely to eat the stuffed churros at Azules? Yes. Will we do it again? Also yes. This Mexican coffee/ice cream shop is located just north of downtown and serves excellent cafe de olla (get the iced version), helados, and ice cream cakes. That said, our move - and a great way to win over your coworkers at lunch hour - is to pick up a dozen stuffed churros and bring them back to the office. Filled with your choice of strawberry, crema, or cajeta (a gooey, caramel-like sauce), these slightly crunchy, perfectly-cinnamon churros will make even the worst bygones be bygones.