Tucked into a hidden crag along a scenic stretch of Orange County’s coastline, The Beachcomber Cafe occupies a repurposed beach cottage in Crystal Cove State Park. You’d never see it from Pacific Coast Highway, which ferries harried drivers on the bluffs above this restaurant. If you happened to know about the sketchy staircase leading down from behind the Shake Shack, you might make your way down to the sand, and this ridiculously crowded beachfront restaurant. How the hell did all these people find out about this place, anyway?
This view from the patio is the payoff. That, and the chance to maintain a good buzz through the afternoon into a rosy sunset. On this day, we started with a disappointing calamari appetizer: flaccidly fried, unseasoned greasy squid bits that the house-made tartar sauce and cilantro aioli couldn’t save. Famished after a 30 minute wait for a table, we devoured them anyway, like makos in a chum slick.
Salad with a view. Many Orange County “ladies who lunch” keep this spot hopping, but that view keeps tables from turning quickly.
Beachcomber Burger. Great bun and a free form, hand-patted, beef burger cooked to a true medium rare. I really liked the Asian influenced apple & nappa cabbage slaw, flecked with black sesame seeds. The paper cup keeps the presentation from getting too uppity.
Shrimp po boy, with a cornmeal battered shrimp. Not remotely close to the quality of the late Uglesich’s in New Orleans, but I liked it all the same. Note the chipotle Tabasco sauce on hand.
The rule for restaurants that tout fantastic vistas is: the better the view, the worse the food. I haven’t had enough of the food at The Beachcomber to gauge the extent of that notion, but our sandwiches were just fine. I need to go back and explore the menu further, especially for the beignets and steel cut oatmeal served at breakfast.
The Ruby’s Diner group owns this restaurant and the historic shake shack on the cliff above it, but takes great pains to distinguish their independence from their corporate, faux`50′s diner cousins. I like that the chefs prepare most of the sauces in house, and innovate with some interesting flavor combinations on the menu. Will untraditional items like the apple-nappa slaw cross over to the Ruby’s menus eventually? Don’t bet on it. It wouldn’t mesh with Ruby’s retro burger joint positioning.
Let’s appreciate The Beachcomber on its own merits: great view, good casual dining menu, and an enviable location that you’ll call your friends from. “Hey, guess where I’m sitting right now… ?”
The Beachcomber at Crystal Cove
15 Crystal Cove
Newport Coast, CA 92657
No reservations are taken. Call the restaurant for directions & parking instructions, as vehicles must be left in a remote lot on the other side of Pacific Coast Highway.