27741 Crown Valley Parkway
Mission Viejo, CA 92691
Islands holds a very special place in my food history. It is one of the restaurants that helped me bridge the gap between the food I used to eat as a kid and the food that I now eat as an adult. As a kid of course you love McDonald's, and think that it is the best hamburger in the world. Islands opened up in Orange County in the mid eighties, when my taste buds were opening up to more adult food. Islands helped me to understand that there are way better burgers out there than just fast food cheeseburgers.
Now that I am of an adult age, (even though I still feel and act like a kid sometimes), I still visit Islands probably four to eight times a year. This might not seem like a lot, but writing this blog it is hard for us to hit a restaurant more than once. We usually save Islands for nights where we do not want to go too far from home, and want a good burger in a relaxed atmosphere. I say relaxed because the tropical island/surfer theme always brings me down to a tranquil place after a hard days work.
Islands started in West Los Angeles in 1982. Now in their thirty-first year in business they have over 50 locations spread out between four western states. The restaurant is still privately held, and every time we are here, they are pretty busy. Gone are the flowered shirts that the young staff used to wear, but the TVs showing skiing, surfing and other extreme sports still lives on. Though Islands started with a very basic menu of burgers back in the 80's, they have now expended their menu a bit to include salads, tacos, sandwiches, and some new burgers. It is one of these new burgers that brings us here today, as Islands invited us to come in and try their latest creation the Nalu Nalu Burger.
Of course right after we sat down, I knew we would not be starting with the Nalu Nalu Burger right away, because there were Cheddar Fries to eat. This trip to Islands we got crazy by adding bacon to the top of the mound of fries, cheddar cheese, and scallions. This appetizer always tastes great, but with the added bacon it went up in the flavor quotient. They are always very generous with the cheese here, the fries stayed crisp, and the ranch dressing went very well with this. A great appetizer for sharing, we made very quick work of these cheddar fries.
Katie did not feel like having a burger, so she decided to have the Island Fish Tacos. These tacos are offered in pairs or as a trio. They were stuffed with fried fish, cilantro, cabbage, a chipotle white sauce, and tomatoes. Katie called these tacos, "solid". The fish was flaky, the tortilla was sturdy and the chipotle white sauce added a good amount of flavor. Almost overshadowing the tacos in Katie's opinion were the Ranchero Beans that came with these tacos. She loved the taste of these beans, and thought they were spiced very well, with a little kick to them.
Now the real reason that we came to Islands, the Nalu Nalu Burger. I would describe this burger as a Philly cheese steak in burger form. This large burger of course started with the great Islands patty, then was topped with a garlic aioli, provolone cheese, sauteed onion, mixed peppers, lettuce and spicy pepper rings. All items that I love on cheese steaks. This burger has just been added to the Islands menu for a limited time, but it is already an employee and customer favorite. I am always partial to their Big Wave with Cheese and Bacon, but even I would have a hard time passing this up on future visits. The burger was messy, but in a real good way. The bun did an admirable job keeping all of these contents together, while being very fresh. Even though I had my fair share of fries with our appetizer, I still got the endless Island Fries that come with every burger and sandwich. These fries are cut fresh everyday, and as a bonus they have zero grams of trans fat. So eating these are actually good for you, almost.
We very rarely get dessert when we come to Islands, because we are always full by this point of the meal. This time though we made the sacrifice to have the Chocolate Lava Sundae. This sundae's base is made up of a rich, chocolate brownie, then topped with ice cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry. The thing that set this brownie sundae apart from others, was that they put plenty of ice cream on this one. There was no need for Katie and I to fight over the ice cream, because there was enough on here for both of us.
Our experience at Islands could not have been better. The Nalu Nalu Burger really lived up to its billing, but again, be advised that this burger is only available for a limited time. So get going to Islands to experience one for yourself. Our service was first rate on this visit. Our waitress, Erica was really on top of her game this afternoon. She created a good pace to our meal, anticipated our needs, and made our lunch very enjoyable. In fact, everyone we encountered on this visit really made us feel welcome, from the hostess's to the manager, Steve. It is for these reasons that we always find ourselves coming back to Islands from time to time. We would also like to thank the fantastic Maggie Holmes for letting us know about the Nalu Nalu Burger, and for arranging for us to try it. Thanks for everything Maggie.
If you would like to find your nearest Islands restaurant, go to their web site, which is right here: http://www.islandsrestaurants.com/