Panoringan: Rodeo 39 Coverage (Part Two), Hot Chicken Concepts and Halloween Treats

Photo courtesy of Rodeo 39.

Mike Pham, Jasmin Gonzalez, and Andy Nguyen. the team behind Rodeo 39 Public Market.

Anne Marie Panoringan

Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for 8 years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly On the Line column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.

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My coverage of Rodeo 39 Public Market began earlier this month, as there are 20 eateries to taste and only so much time to visit and consume. Their official opening was over the weekend, with one food spot yet to open.

In my previous column, I previewed the half of the eateries, focusing mostly on those vendors offering sweet delights, seafood, and brews. Here are my thoughts on those tenants serving up savory.

Part Two: Rodeo 39, Savory Eats

ANNE MARIE PANORINGAN, Voice of OC

Orange Rosemary Latte from My First Kiss Coffee.

MFK Coffee: Featured front and center as you enter Rodeo, the team that bakes brews! Espresso beverages can be ordered hot or iced, so my first sip was a chilled orange rosemary latte. I enjoyed the herbal notes in this over the more popular rose latte. Coming soon to the selections is a refreshing, non-coffee drink featuring calamansi, a.k.a. Philippine lemon. It also happens to be a favorite of Gonzalez.

Beleaf Better Burgers: The vegan option in this public market, I debated between trying their meatless burger versus the chicken. Although they have both a Nashville hot, plus one with bacon and ranch, I wanted to see if a basic crispy “meat” would satiate me. It did. In fact, I didn’t miss meat at all. That being said, I purposely compared it to a real chicken sandwich from another vendor on the same visit. You’re going to have to read to the end for how they compared to Shootz.

Pasta Lab: A modern take on Italian fare, their pasta is made fresh daily. In fact, they ran out by dinnertime on a Tuesday. First, I tried the half tail lobster gnocchi. The juices from our shellfish soaked into the pasta, giving my lunch a rich umami flavor. A gooey order of ube (purple yam) mac and cheese was a colorful take on the standard. Their eats met expectations, but I hoped for more options. Perhaps after grand opening?

Phoholic: This noodle room is situated along the side patio. Sadly, it wasn’t ready in time for opening. However, Rodeo’s other broth-and-noodle specialist was prepared to pick up the slack. (See Nandomo by Hironori).

The Team Behind Rodeo 39

I went back a few more times to meet with the team responsible for curating the hall’s tenants. Chef Mike Pham’s talents are utilized by spending time behind the counter of multiple concepts, ensuring the consistency of quality food and beverage coming out of the kitchens and mentoring the newer businesses. Best known in food service for co-founding Afters Ice Cream, Andy Nguyen worked with Pham in the past, collaborating on brands in places such as the dining collective within Cravings Food Village at Chino Hills.

It was at Cravings where Nguyen worked alongside Jasmin Gonzalez, principal of JOY X. Her business focuses on the aethstetics, creating a multi-sensory experience that appeals across a range of demographics. Dan Almquist of Frontier Real Estate Investment approached Gonzalez about building a version of Cravings in Stanton.

Tawa Supermarket, 99 Ranch’s parent company, wasn’t interested. However, Almquist and Gonzalez wanted to pursue the experimental destination, and Gonzalez left her real estate management position at Tawa after Cravings opened, founding JOY X to take on a consulting role in the Rodeo 39 project. “I saw that Dan was so down for the underdog and something special, and (unlike many developers, wanted) to build something more meaningful to the community.”, stated Gonzalez. She admits to turning down projects with no soul, regardless of the money involved. The first time Gonzalez met with Almquist, she made a point of saying, “For cause, not for dollars.”

Steel Pan Pizza: There’s something about crispy corner slices that taste infinitely better than curved ones. I previously tried Steel Pan when they were based out of Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market, and am familiar with their comforting pepperoni cups in the Crispy ‘Roni. This time around, I ordered The Vegan, made with creamy cashew cheese. It complemented my cocktail from the bar, discussed further down. Not vegan-friendly? Do the Veggie, made with real cheese in addition to grilled broccolini, bell peppers, onions, and mushrooms. Bonus: they also bake fresh pretzels for Bearded Tang Brewing.

Primal Cuts: The neighborhood butcher is tucked away towards the back of this food hall, across from the communal sink restrooms. Those in the know can select an aged cut of beef from the case, and have it cooked to your desired doneness. Served with a choice of two sides, your picanha, New York, filet mignon, or ribeye is a steakhouse minus the stuffy pricing. Another option is Primal’s burgers, both featuring aged Angus beef and double-fried potatoes. When in doubt, made-to-order burgers or steak are a solid bet.

Rodeo Bar: A work in progress, they are currently crafting a trio of cocktails to start. More will be rolled out eventually, but I’m a fan of their dedicated seating area and hospitable service in the heart of this public market. Of the three, I sipped on a refreshing “Rhu Grit”, made with Ha’Penny rhubarb gin, fresh lime, muddled mint and simple syrup. Next time, I’ll go with “Fist Full of Peaches”, a blend of peach amaretto jam, Cardinal straight bourbon, Angostura bitters and Bearded Tang’s Peach Boulevard brew. Note: Proof of food purchase from a tenant is required to drink alcoholic beverages. Rodeo Bar offers a charcuterie board, or you can place an order for eats elsewhere.

R.T.E.: Ready-to-eat meat and veggies are grilled to order and assembled as part of a custom combo. Previously in Mission Viejo’s Union Market space, R.T.E. allows the diner to create their ideal meal, mixing and matching sauces, greens and grains. What makes them unique are their extensive list of sides, specifically a Panamanian fry bread called hojaldre and tostones, deep fried green plantains. Their straightforward eats appeal to people who are overwhelmed by Rodeo’s seemingly endless dining options.

Oi Asian Fusion: Having tried their tasty chicken longanisa at their Cravings location, I was familiar with the Asian fusion brand. This time around, I opted for their cashier’s recommendation of braised pork belly adobo. Simply served with soft boiled egg and green onion over white rice, an included thimble of hot sauce managed to balance out both fat and grain. While they do offer a few bun-based bites, a comforting bowl of rice, protein, egg and vegetable sounds good any time of day.

ANNE MARIE PANORINGAN, Voice of OC

Nandomo by Hironori’s squid ink and black garlic oil ramen, before broth is poured over.

Nandomo by Hironori: Enclosed in glass, this counter dining space has guests peering directly into the kitchen while steaming pots of pork broth await orders. Sure, they have rice bowls available, but the purist will request a signature white ramen. I was all in for the black ramen, enjoying the charcoal hue from squid ink and noir garlic oil. Savoring every umami spoonful, I questioned chef Fernando Valladares about the origins of his collaboration with Mario Rivas, whom he met at a previous food hall where they were neighbors. Their vision is to make ramen fun and exciting, while still keeping the integrity of traditional ramen, “We want to fusion different styles of broth that we feel can marry well with the flavors of ramen.” While Nandomo’s soft opening menu includes a short list of items, be on the lookout for next level slurps in the form of birria ramen. You heard it here.

Shootz: Described as Hawaiian-inspired food, they consistently have the busiest lines. As much as I wanted to try their cuisine, I worried my expectations would be too high. They weren’t. A hot kimchi buttered katsu chicken sando was everything I hoped it would be and more. Stuffing it with mac salad and grilling that bun on the flat top leveled it up. I’ll go back for their brûlée version of spam musubi (or maybe those taro beignets?), but they’ve got a lock on ono grindz– Hawaiian for ‘good food’. Shootz is my overall savory favorite, barely edging past Nandomo.

Hot Chicken Concepts Ignite in South OC and Beyond

The last major trend to descend upon Orange County was customizable poke bowls. Nowadays, bird is the word as Dave’s Hot Chicken announces franchise expansion into Orange County. Originating from a L.A. parking lot pop-up back in 2017, chef Dave Kopushyan created a menu revolving around Nashville-inspired, spice-leveled poultry and a handful of sides. The DHC team has partnered up with restaurateurs Mike DeSanti and Bret Crutchfield, bringing the concept to an area of OC typically glossed over by big names, designating San Clemente, Mission Viejo, and Lake Forest as future outlets. Crutchfield and DeSanti are no strangers to the industry, teaming with San Diego-based Board and Brew a decade ago to offer sandwiches and craft beers throughout the county.

Photo courtesy Dave's Hot Chicken

Chicken tenders and sliders from Dave’s Hot Chicken.

Per DeSanti, “Bret and I have always gravitated towards comfort food concepts, plus the simplicity of the operations and everything else the brand offered made them a no-brainer.” Look for the quick service chain’s expansion early next year.

While I’m on the subject of chicken, it made sense to check out existing spicy concepts that paved the way for places like Dave’s to enter the market. The early instigator of our roundup, Rojos Hot Chicken was originally founded by chef Roland Rubalcava as a pop-up concept. Currently sharing a space with Los Tacos Amigos in Anaheim, his take on heat is coined Mexican hot chicken. “There is so much more to good, hot chicken than just frying it and covering it with seasoning.”, according to Rubalcava. Blending tastes such as chipotle and oregano, he creates layers of flavor with grilled nopal (cactus) slices, creamy coleslaw and butter pickles on bolillo rolls.

In the city of Orange, there are a pair of poultry specialists to choose from. In Old Towne, Jaxon’s Chix Tenders is housed in the former Burger Parlor space. Chef Joseph Mahon continues to be the owner and operator, pivoting brands back in June. Frying up 3.5 ounce marinated portions for 48-hours, they can be paired with a baker’s dozen of scratch-made sauces; their signature Cajun one is a customer favorite. A deceivingly customizable menu, folks can select the spice level of both protein and sauce, as half of the dipping options are mild in comparison. A handful of cocktails on tap and speciality whiskey drinks will be part of the menu in coming months. We also learned that his Fullerton branch of Burger Parlor will convert to a Jaxon’s this week.

Across town, Hotties Nashville Hot Chicken can be found in the same plaza as The Village. Incorporating a twist on the trend, their cheeky catchphrase “thicc thighs saves lives” is a modern nod to Southern spicing, with six different levels of heat to choose from. Diners decide between pieces, sliders, and tenders, with every combo served alongside bread, pickles, and Cajun crinkle fries. Extra hungry appetites should check out their truffle mac and cheese, a savory treat the first time I stopped by.

Photo courtesy of Mora Film Co.

Spice-C chicken sandwich, located at The District in Tustin.

Found adjacent to AMC in The District at Tustin Legacy, SPICE-C serves up Halal chicken heat. Open since early July, they are a firm believer of beefing up sliders with layers of cheese, fries and comeback sauce. Fun fact: they also require anyone who orders the eye-watering, “Reaper” level of heat to sign a waiver. So far, 175 have signed their taste buds away.

Over by the airport, Irvine’s Cluck Kitchen serves high-quality, antibiotic and hormone-free birds to the masses. Partner Steve Kim makes a point of stating that they are much more than a Nashville hot chicken brand. I checked them out right before they launched in July, and can attest to the varying sandwiches, sides, and sauces. Cluck’s sweet & sour sauce is more balanced than sweet, and the spicy-que condiment supplies a smoky depth. My favorite fried side to nosh in between meaty bites was the sweet corn fritters. If you remember to ask, request some off-menu Nashville pickles to complement your meal.

Treats In Lieu of Tricks: A Handful of Halloween Delights

Since traditional trick or treating is strongly discouraged this year, it’s a good time to swing by some tantalizing sweet spots. From churros in a parking lot to freeway accessible Portuguese egg tarts, I’ve got you covered.

Photo courtesy of Mona Shah/moxxe pr

Upgraded Wisconsin frozen custard from Bruxie.

At the top of my list is the welcome return of Bruxie. Brea and Orange locations are the only ones operating at the moment, but the rest are soon to follow. In the meantime, I wanted to discuss an oft-overlooked item on B’s menu: the Wisconsin frozen custard. Its creamy, distinct flavor has always been a favorite of mine. New to the mix is an option to fold in additional flavors (think DQ Blizzard, but without the upside down flair). Cookie dough, Reese’s peanut butter cups, and Oreos elevate an already yummy experience. The OG Bruxie across from Chapman University will celebrate 10 years on November 8; Brea opened exactly one year later. Keep on top of their social media for celebratory updates.

Thursday through Sunday, loyal followers of Don Churros will find them at 1440 S. Anaheim

Blvd., a.k.a. the parking lot for Anaheim Marketplace. Serving two types of churros, the lesser known one is called a churro grueso. Named the Don Churro on their menu, it is akin to a sweetened, chewy sandwich roll. Desserts are fried to order, and the first time I sunk my teeth into a freshly made treat it evoked flashbacks of grandma plating toasted, buttered white bread with a sprinkling of sugar. This dessert in particular reminds me how powerful food is to one’s senses and memories.

On the same property as Tustin Sports Park sits a hidden gem known as Best of Friends Cafe. In addition to offering a slew of fresh sandwiches, their bakery selection is stocked with care. They even include a daily cookie with every meal. The tastiest dessert I’ve consumed thus far is an oversized brownie square. Super dense and fudgy, a slice fits perfectly inside their takeout boxes. There’s more than enough to share . . . . but you should keep it all for yourself.

Recently celebrating 35 years in business (10 at their Fullerton storefront), Patty’s Cakes has a range of cupcake flavors. Her iced-to-order tastes include 20 different vegan and another 20 gluten-free, meaning there is something for nearly everyone. Patty Gomez’s desserts are so well-liked, Disneyland’s Club 33 had an exclusive contract with her. According to co-owner Philip Gomez, they’ve thrived during COVID, “Before COVID-19 hit, we averaged 100 delivery orders each month. Now we average 350.” As a result, he launched a delivery fleet to meet the demand. Her seasonal taste is pumpkin, as in pumpkin chocolate chip with cream cheese mousse cupcake. For something more classic, reach for the very berry strawberry and snickerdoodle ones.

Photo courtesy of Paderia Bakehouse

Portuguese Egg Tarts from Paderia Bakehouse.

Last, but certainly not least, are the tastes at Paderia Bakehouse. I can’t even narrow it down to a single item, regularly frequenting their new Macarthur/Main spot in Irvine (their first location is in Fountain Valley). Pictured are Paderia’s popular Portuguese egg tarts. If your tart can make it home without being gobbled up, take a moment to shake some cinnamon spice on top for maximum goodness. You’ll want to check out their beverage selections as well. Paderia’s horchata is so popular, you’ll spot Amazon drivers dropping in on their breaks. But save room for super-sized sea salt chocolate chip cookies, or any of their cookies, really.

Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at [email protected].