We all have a tendency to build up certain memories in our head that, when you rewind and really think about them, fall short when revisited.Such is the case with Rick’s Atomic Café. A while back I read countless glowing reviews for Rick’s which convinced me to stop by for breakfast, a feast that I remember as being glorious in it‘s simplicity yet complex in its mixture of flavors. After returning there recently for lunch, I’m left questioning everything I’ve ever believed in…ever.
Atomic Café is nestled inside an office park inside an office park inside an enigma, somewhere in Costa Mesa behind John Wayne Airport. When you see the statue of the fat Italian chef with the daily special written on the side, you’ve come to the right place. The restaurant itself is tiny, almost like you’re having a meal in a friend’s apartment. With only four tables about 3 feet away from the kitchen, you find yourself in a homey atmosphere unparalleled in Orange County. The chef is Rick, the eponymous owner of the café and super nice guy who greets you with a smile and is happy to go over any questions you may have. Rick tells us about the specials, we grab some drinks from the cold cases in the front, and decide to try the Reuben Special, Ham & Jalapeno Panini, and the Neutron Burrito.
While we were waiting, we snacked on some complimentary chips and incredibly fresh homemade salsa. The Reuben was…just a Reuben. It had a nice mix of flavors, but nothing too spectacular. I really enjoyed the Ham & Jalapeno Panini, though there were way too many jalapenos nestled inside. The black forest ham was moist and juicy, mixing well with the fresh cut apricot (great combination!) and melted Monterey Jack cheese, all of which were served on yeasty sourdough bread. While I normally enjoy a hefty amount of spice, in the end the jalapenos overpowered the other flavors and didn‘t mesh well with the sweetness of the apricots. The Neutron Burrito suffered from the opposite problem, however, as it lacked spice of any kind. All the ingredients (chicken breast, rice, black beans, cheddar cheese) were put together beautifully in a behemoth of a burrito, but a lack of flavor held it back from reaching its full potential.
Since it’s pretty much just Rick in the kitchen, the dishes do take some extra time, but the welcoming and friendly service more than make up for that. Sure, this experience didn‘t live up to my first time, but I would be more than willing to give it another shot (maybe just for breakfast though).
Mile-High Club First-Class Business Economy
Check ’em out at:
Rick’s Atomic Café
3100 Airway Avenue, Suite 113
Costa Mesa, CA92626
Mon – Fri 7am – 3pm
Photography by Cristiana Wilcoxon
~ Ricks Atomic Cafe Has Little Spark ~