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 eight 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.
This is my favorite time of the year – and not because I can break out the sweaters in my wardrobe. We start to celebrate. We give thanks. We catch up with friends and, of course, family. Whether it’s to exchange presents or share stories about the past year, there are reasons to meet. It may be done over something holiday-themed and sweet or something savory such as tea and coffee.
If there’s one area that has curated a diverse collection of spots ideal for dessert or drinks to soothe you from the inside out, it’s Tustin. And while the Old Town neighborhood has stepped up its selection recently, there are definitely some establishments which claim Tustin as home that began building community with their storefronts many years prior. The city has become my refuge for alone time as well, with its many nooks to grab a seat and catch up on reading or simply people watch.
Whether you crave strawberry croissants, ube halo-halo, chocolate donuts or a morning bun, this quintet of businesses is geared toward the sugar lover in all of us. With the exception of Baked Dessert Bar, the following brands tend to close earlier based on availability, so I recommend them more as daytime destinations. It should also be noted that these crafters are situated in plazas with abundant parking, a variable that makes the difference between dropping in and wasting precious time driving in circles around a packed lot.
Rye Goods – Sourdough Date
Back in 2017, I got to know Sara Lezama, one-third of the team behind The Rye Truck, a Tustin-based precursor to the eventual brick-and-mortar Rye Goods that opened in Lido Marina Village at the start of 2021. Constant lines meant salty and saccharine delights would often sell out before closing. Earlier this month, Rye Goods debuted a sophomore effort tucked in an industrial area off Red Hill and Bell avenues.
While its flagship spot satisfied the needs of passersby, the Tustin outpost goes above and beyond to accommodate those interested in lingering, thanks to an impressive adjacent dining/living room outfitted with communal couches and potted fiddle leafs. The homey design even incorporates a friendly peek via a window into behind-the-scenes for curious folk like yours truly. According to Lezama, they are working with an additional 2,000 square feet of baking space and share the seating area with a fun tech agency.
Baked goods are made possible thanks to Wynona Ryeder, Rye Goods’ 18-year-old rye sourdough starter. For this holiday season, the operation is ramping up a bevy of new and familiar offerings including sesame studded challah on Fridays, ornate olive bread, cranberry walnut sourdough, plus sales of stollen bread (think upgraded version of fruitcake) for the first time. Home bakers can snag frozen cookie dough or create treats from scratch by requesting their own Wynona starter.
I spent a recent blustery morning marveling at the display case while processing all my options. Variety is grand except when I’m starving – then it just messes with my decision-making. Coffee cake and savory croissants kept my steaming vanilla latte in good company. If there was Wi-Fi I would’ve stayed longer to accomplish even more work.
Coming months will bring an expansion of the Rye Goods menu to accommodate vegan tastes, bring on additional savories such as empanadas and soups, plus the return of bagels. First-timers are advised to arrive earlier for the best selection, although you can’t go wrong with a classic croissant or sourdough round to bring back home. Bonus news: A Laguna branch is coming quite soon which will feature a wine bar.
Oliboli Donuts – Cake and Yeast Date
Who doesn’t want to meet for doughnuts? On the border of Old Town is a family-owned shop that I firmly believe produces some of the best yeast and cake doughnuts in the county. I was at Oliboli opening day in October 2018 ordering one of everything for my coworkers, knowing full well the creative capabilities of co-owner Brooke DesPrez from an interview I did with her years prior.
While the bulk of most doughnut parlors churn out an impressive array of styles and flavors, what Oliboli does is two-fold. First there’s a consistent list of classic tastes so something is always familiar when one visits. Then they methodically rotate among additional monthly selections based on what’s in season and any major celebrations. Forty-hour, yeast-leavened doughnuts are fried to order, making them more enticing when you hold a freshly made one in your hand – believe me, they are worth any wait. I prefer a denser doughnut and like ordering the cake varieties.
Current specials include a sweet potato casserole version incorporating torched marshmallows, candied pecans and spiced potatoes on a yeast round. There’s even a “Mom Mom’s” pecan pie dipped in maple glaze and topped with a literal chocolate pecan maple slice. All of Oliboli’s products are made preservative-free, making me feel a little guilt-free about indulging in a couple.
Cop a spot on the brick window ledges along Oliboli’s perimeter or walk toward the rear of the plaza for a few benches. Parking in this lot is also deceptively plentiful, as you can drive around back for additional spaces; it literally took me a year to realize it. Bonus: They pour a fine selection of espresso drinks. I typically lean toward offerings that include housemade syrups like a whiskey maple latte or fizzy rose petal refresher.
Cream Pan – Strawberry Croissant Date
In business in Old Town since 2002, Cream Pan benefits from owner Yoshinori Inada’s training in French-style baking from Japan. It’s the reason Orange County residents patiently line up for Cream Pan’s famous croissants teeming with strawberries and light custard. I tend to covet a clamshell container of mini-versions so there’s more to go around. By the time I reach the register, I also notice the small tray of snugly wrapped, triangle-shaped salmon onigiri snacks to include with my order. Did you know: They serve five kinds of bread (white, wheat, vegan, sesame and raisin) loaves sliced in both thick and thin widths.
Weekends are prime time for Cream Pan loyalists, as the queue extends along the side of the building by 9 a.m. The secret to frequenting this slice of bakery heaven is to carve out time during the week, avoiding traditional lunch hour. If you need additional sustenance, grab a patio table for katsu sandwiches and hearty curry rice platters before wrapping with a finale of strawberry goodness.
Baked Dessert Bar – Ube Date
Filipino desserts found their way into storefronts thanks to camera-pleasing, purple ube doughnuts during my tenure at OC Weekly. A dedicated brick-and-mortar in the vicinity wasn’t commonplace at the time. That is, until Abby Declaro’s Baked commited its first Orange County branch to The District at Tustin Legacy. Now the royal-hued yam is found in its cupcakes, brownies, soy pudding (a.k.a. taho) as well as mixed into the icy shake referred to as halo-halo. A mouthwatering trifecta of macarons, mochi doughnuts and milk tea drinks round out the menu.
The signature item from Baked Dessert Bar is its indulgent cakes in a multitude of flavors including salted caramel pumpkin, nutella, ube tres leches and mango float. Available by the slice, it would behoove someone to invest in a whole cake and bring it to a party, as I witnessed a woman picking one up for her husband as a birthday surprise (she mentioned they tried Baked weeks before and were impressed by the quality). Bonus: This dessert specialist accommodates keto, vegan and gluten-free lifestyles.
Now Open: Toast Kitchen and Bakery
Ready for business as of Nov. 15, Toast’s eclectic menu is a haven for brunch fans. I spotted the buildout in October of last year while headed to an appointment in The Village plaza. The reason I’m including chef John Park’s second location in my collection is due to his expertise with desserts. Make a special trip to Toast’s dessert case and thank me later. Opening day sweets I acquired included a salted chocolate chip cookie with pecans plus a homemade pop tart stuffed with flavors akin to a Fig Newton. Did I mention it’s also serving beer and wine?
Dessert isn’t limited to pastries, cookies or other chewy morsels. Many would agree that sipping a cup of something hot or savory (or both) qualifies as dessert. I’ve included a succinct round-up of favorites below.
The Lost Bean – Coffee Date with Music
Bodie Rasmussen’s The Lost Bean began fueling locals off Newport Avenue in Tustin back in 2005. He’s since expanded to an additional Tustin location inside Flight’s Mess Hall Market. Check out a signature La Paz, espresso-based and poured over brown sugar, it’s balanced out with whole milk; I order mine iced. If headed to the perpetually busy flagship, you’ll locate additional parking behind the plaza. Bonus: Rasmussen’s Lost Vine wine bar is connected to the original branch and offers live entertainment with food multiple nights a week.
Morning Lavender Cafe – Floral Date with Shopping
Primarily a storefront specializing in fashionable women’s wear, Morning Lavender does double duty as an ethereal tea and coffee bar, complete with selfie wall and lavender lattes adorned with pretty coffee sleeves. Owner Kim Le Pham brought her smart concept to El Camino Real in 2017. Afternoon tea time is in high demand as it’s only conducted on the weekends by way of reservation. In the past I’ve pre-ordered a couple of ornate tea boxes to go, found a dainty necklace that’s now a favorite and picked up a last-minute birthday present on my way to an appointment.
Hola Adios Coffeeshop – Breakfast Date with Patio
It may refer to itself as a coffee shop, but Hola Adios boasts kombucha, biscuits, quiche and a kid’s drink selection; it’s also looking to expand the menu further once kitchen logistics can be figured out. I’m slowly working my way through the menu, but have thoroughly enjoyed a “Carnitas Street” biscuit and hibiscus cranberry cold brew tea thus far. Cold brew on draft, drip coffee, tea lattes and the usual espresso suspects cover the breadth of its offerings. The unique space Ryan Jimenez’s concept took over in the Old Town neighborhood factors in a private patio, multiple points of entry and ample indoor seating. Open since August, Hola Adios (as well as Morning Lavender and White Sparrow) benefits from an abundance of free street parking and a reliable parking structure.
White Sparrow Coffee – Sidewalk Date with Pop-Ups
I wrote up Alex Tejeda’s coffee journey from aspiration to mobile cart to his very own space opening this past summer under the name White Sparrow. According to Tejeda, the best way to learn about updates and developments is via Instagram stories. That’s how I learned that the shop recently began selling seasonal dried bouquets from florist Mauve Roots in limited quantities. This weekend, he’s promoting another small business named Iron Lion Soap, a purveyor for all things clean. Note: Sparrow’s modest footprint means seating is primarily outdoors.
Kéan Coffee Artisan Roasters – Coffee Date with A Bit of History
A prime example of “if you know, you know,” Kéan Coffee came to be a year-and-a-half after Martin Diedrich severed his previous ties to Diedrich Coffee. Named after his son Kéan, Diedrich went back to his independent roots (opening Newport first, then Tustin in 2009), roasting single origin beans in-house and uniting the local community in the process. Of all the places frequented, I found this coffeehouse in particular possessed the most diverse client base in age. From seniors to students, it appeals to nearly everyone. A signature turmeric latte was my go-to drink for years. Hide in the small back patio if you’re avoiding noisy crowds.
Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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