17391 17th Street
Tustin, CA 92780
It was my second week off of work, and I was craving a good breakfast. I would also be meeting my sister, who lives in Yorba Linda, and since I reside in South OC, we decided to meet halfway, which puts us somewhere in the middle of OC. I searched my restaurant wishlist and found Friends Cafe in Tustin.
I had jotted this place down because it was one of the last restaurant reviews by Gustavo Arellano in the OC Weekly, and more importantly, he gave them glowing praise for their country fried steak, which is one of my favorite breakfast dishes, but it's very rare to find a good one. With Gustavo's recommendation, I had very high hopes for Friend's Cafe.
One of the things that I loved about Gustavo's restaurant reviews was that they were always little out of the way places, restaurants that do not have a PR person, and thus would not get all the restaurant bloggers, Instagrammers, and other food influencers to walk through the door looking for a free meal in exchange for being highlighted on their overinflated IG accounts. These are the kind of restaurants I love to write about, places that real people go to, and not just because the food looks so pretty.
Friends Cafe is located right across the street from El Torito on 17th Street, and in the same shopping center as a Dollar Tree, Marshalls, and a Dickey's BBQ. Opened since June of last year, this restaurant is way bigger than it appears from the outside. The dining room is almost cavernous, with a high ceiling, well-spaced tables, and comfy booths lining the walls of the restaurant. There's even a ten-seat bar so you can glimpse the inner workings of the kitchen. The decor is very modest, with a few pictures of California landmarks adorning the walls, and three large TV's which most customers ignored on this weekday morning.
For a restaurant that's only opened until 3pm, I was a little surprised that they had so many sandwiches, burgers, appetizers, and wraps available on their menu. We were here for breakfast, so we focused on their egg dishes, pancakes and french toast, benedicts, and other breakfast specialties. I knew what I'd be having, so let's see how the country fried steak would end up treating me.
Country Fried Steak and Eggs ($13.79) is one of the most photogenic of breakfast foods. The fried steak peeking out from underneath the blanket of gravy, and the pop of color from the sunny side up eggs is breathtaking to me. Hopefully, you share my view, or at this point, you just think I'm some crazed breakfast lunatic. Gustavo was right, this was a pretty strong contender for the best country fried steak in OC. The serving size of the steak was bigger than my outstretched hand, had a good crunchy layer of batter, and was tender underneath. The gravy was seasoned well and had a good thickness to it. I hate when gravy is too runny. The plate was rounded out with a giant heaping of hash browns, which I mixed with my eggs. A very solid, stick to your ribs first meal of the day.
My sister has been working very hard to maintain her new year's resolution, and I applaud her willpower as she had to endure watching me inhale my country fried steak, while she ate this Chilled Fresh Fruit ($6.95). The fruit selection on this day was blueberries, cantaloupe, and honeydew. The fruit was incredibly fresh, and she could not finish the whole thing, so she boxed it up to eat later at home.
Friends Cafe was a great little find, which I might have never heard of if it wasn't for Gustavo's review in the OC Weekly. I'll definitely miss his Hole In the Wall column, but I look forward to seeing what's next for him. As for the country fried steak at Friends Cafe, I'd have to say, like Gustavo, it was very good but not as good as the one I had at Paul's Coffee Shop in Fountain Valley eight years ago, but it was close. I also hear that they have some killer potato pancakes, which I'll have to try the next time I'm up this way for breakfast.
Out of five coffee mugs, (not only because I'm sure they sell lots of coffee here, but because the TV show Friends was for a large part set in a coffee shop), five being best to zero being worst, Friends Cafe gets 3 coffee mugs.
For more information about Friends Cafe, head to their website here: https://www.friendscafetustin.com/