Are chain restaurants your worst nightmare? Are you more food truck than drive-thru? Rather starve than choke down a microwave burrito? You’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll find some outstanding options in a very specific part of town: Anaheim’s Center City.
A great place to start is the Anaheim Packing House, the renovated orange packing warehouse that’s now a vast foodie’s paradise. There are some sit-down places, but there are a whole bunch of countertop vendors who seem to have all brought their boutique food operations under one roof. It’s two floors of almost every ethnic food you could imagine with a bright atrium in the middle, communal tables, and outside decks on either side. Where to start, where to start.
Breakfast! In the lower level of the Packing House, the Crêpe Coop makes sweet crêpes and lets you create your own conical concoction. You might consider one of their signature ones, like the OG with strawberries, Nutella and whipped cream. Or the Fruity Pebbles, made with vanilla gelato, strawberries, mango and actual Fruity Pebbles (hence the name). My favorite is the Night Crêpe made with green tea gelato, blueberries, mangos and honey.
Also a terrific choice for breakfast, with sweet and savory crêpes, and their signature Dornut. Or maybe it’s a Cronut. At any rate, it’s a donuty thing made with croissant dough, then topped with cinnamon sugar or stuffed with different fillings. They also have outstanding omelets, paninis and salads.
Almost next door to Pandor you’ll find the Black Sheep grilled cheese sandwich bar. You can go old school with The Classic, or get crazy with goat cheese, caramelized onions, roasted tomatoes and arugula pesto. The Man has salami and smoked cheddar, and The Pork comes with swiss, porchetta, harissa garlic aioli and onion jam. It’s all good.
The Kroft is the brainchild of Matthew Tong and Stephen Le who created the popular SWSH Shabu Shabu, and they have another winner here. Their fresh, locally sourced menu includes rotisserie meats and prime rib along with house-made soups and hand-cut fries for their specialty poutines.
Chef Shachi Mehra presents a California take on classic Indian food with bold flavors and spices. There are kebabs and curries, from mild to spicy, pavs, Bombay’s version of the sloppy joe, and kaathi rolls, griddled wraps served with chutney. Their naan bread is a must, and the goat cheese naan is a meal in itself.
If you’ve forgotten what real pizza tastes like, try Ecco’s Naples-style, wood-fired, thin crust classics. Even a basic Margherita pizza is outstanding with crushed San Marzano tomatoes, fresh mozzarella (not that bagged, shredded stuff), fresh basil and olive oil. Don’t worry, they’ve got plenty of meaty options for you carnivores, too.
Georgia’s is the real deal. Barbecue pulled pork, fried catfish, hush puppies and fried chicken. True Southern comfort soul food. And if you have any room left, gotta have the sweet potato pie.
The Iron Press
Waffle sandwiches. Craft beer on tap. Done and done. Is there anything that isn’t better on a waffle? No. Clearly no. Fried chicken? Burger? Fried egg? Prosciutto and gruyere? The list goes on.
Steam kettles aren’t some trendy, hipster, steampunk idea for cooking, it’s based on the famed Las Vegas’s Oyster Bar and its New Orleans inspired Southern cuisine. It’s a smart way to cook food quick and evenly without overcooking. Try the Kettlebar pan roast with snow crab, shrimp, lobster and chicken. Gumbo with Andouille sausage, shrimp and chicken. But you can’t go wrong with a classic shrimp po’boy either.
If your only idea of ramen is the cheap stuff that got you through college, you have to try authentic Japanese ramen from Master Shigetoshi Nakamura. The signature Citrus Ramen has a chicken broth base and tangy kick. The Tonkotsu Shoyu Ramen with Pork Chashu might be their most popular, and they have a nice variety of sushi rolls as well.
A traditional hot pot restaurant with a modern twist serves garden fresh local veggies—in actual garden pails. Choose a broth, pick your proteins, and pick a sauce or two. In addition to chicken, salmon, shrimp, and scallops they have three kinds of beef: New York Steak, Rib Eye, and melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu.
The Blind Rabbit
And when you leave the Rolling Boil, look to your right and you’ll see a wall of Japanese beer kegs. There’s a secret door to the Blind Rabbit speakeasy here, with exquisite craft cocktails served in an intimate, period-decorated micro bar. For foodies, there’s a short but impressive menu featuring duck confit mac and cheese, wild mushroom chorizo dip and deep fried banana bread.
Urbana Fish Market & Mexican Eatery
With its Day of the Dead décor and authentic Michoacán cuisine, Urbana is a must-see. They specialize in street tacos and ceviche with bold takes on seafood and guisados (slow-cooked meats). The hand-made flour and corn tortillas are a bonus. They also have a nice selection of tequilas and mescals and mix up some spicy cocktails.
Upstairs near the atrium, look for the long line of people and you will have discovered Popbar. Started in New York City’s hip West Village, these addictive little gelato on a stick treats are a big hit on the West Coast too. They use real fruit and natural ingredients in creating exciting flavors and unusual combinations. Flavors include green tea, peanut butter, pistachio and coconut, and you can have them dipped and rolled in chocolate, sprinkles and nuts.
Hans’ Homemade Ice Cream
Hans’ ice cream is made fresh, in the original Santa Ana location, using only the richest cream from local dairies. In addition to classic favorites, like Butter Pecan and Cookies & Cream, the Hans’ team is constantly inventing new flavors, like Coffee OREO® and Nutella® Krunch. Try them in a shake or sundae or just on a good old-fashioned cone.
That’s a lot of ground to cover—and food to feast on—and that’s all just in the Packing House. Just across Farmers Park from there you’ll find Umami Burger in the historic Packard Building.
A true gourmet burger with lots of interesting toppings like truffled aioli, miso mustard and bacon lardons, but their real secret is how they prepare their beef. They call the flavor Umami, borrowed from the Japanese, and it’s savory, meaty and described as “the fifth taste.” Using carefully selected and single-source beef, it’s coarse ground, seasoned, then cooked on a cast iron griddle. Sounds simple enough, but you have to taste one. And don’t forget to try the maple bacon sweet potato fries.
Further on, just around the corner, is the Center Street Promenade and the Center Street collection. A couple more places that need to be mentioned are Pour Vida and Healthy Junk.
Pour Vida Latin Flavor
This is Jimmy Martinez’s first brick-and-mortar restaurant and it focuses on his Puerto Rican and Mexican heritage. They make their tortillas in-house (including squid ink ones for their seafood options) and deliver handcrafted tacos to your table with unique and unexpected flavors. There’s pineapple skirt steak, mango pork, tempura oyster and lobster. Everything’s made in house including their salads, fresh-pressed juices, cocktails and sangria.
Now something for the vegans. Healthy Junk brings you all your favorite comfort foods guilt-free with meatless burgers, pizza, wings, and fish ‘n’ chips—even a Philly “Chez Stake.” The bar serves vegan beers, organic wines and their juice bar is top notch with fresh-squeezed juices and smoothies, and the open-air “Good Food Court” is inviting and comfortable.
Foodies rejoice! And the next time your significant other says nothing sounds good for dinner, just get in the car and start driving toward Anaheim’s Center City. Then just follow your nose.