Sunday, January 03, 2010

Break of Dawn - Laguna Hills

Culinarily speaking, if you drew a line from Little Saigon to the ritziest luxury hotels on the O.C. coast, you'd find Break of Dawn in Laguna Hills at the halfway point.

Arguably the most beloved breakfast spot in Orange County, this restaurant by Chef Dee Nguyen who was previously at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, takes the best of Vietnamese, the precision of French, the surprise of everything else in between and puts it on a plate that begins with one ingredient: the egg.

The place is not new. Nor is it exactly a best-kept secret. If you read food blogs or talk to anyone considered a foodie, you should've already heard of it. Just about every O.C. food publication has gushed about the place with accolades upon accolades, including Gustavo Arellano, fellow food blogger Chubbypanda, and oh yeah, me.

So if you haven't been, go. And if you have, let this overdue post be a reminder to revisit. The place is still fantastic and deserving of all the praise designating so.

If you are new to it, start with a glass of O.J. while you bask in the effortlessly sunny room -- a space with communal tables that seems to breathe the possibilities of Southern California. It reinvigorates you just being there. This, as you may have already guessed, is no greasy spoon.

A good primer is the sausage and rice plate, whereupon a fatty, delicious Portuguese sausage is sliced on the bevel, then fried to a mirror-shine and a boomerang curl. Every bite is porcine transcendence, which for me, fondly conjures memories of breakfast in Hawaii's Big Island where the meat is more likely to be seen next to the eggs than bacon.

But this is a spicier, bolder specimen; almost treading the line of chorizo than linguica.

Although I would much prefer just regular white sticky rice rather than the chewier, nuttier brown rice they form into a dome by an upturned bowl, its healthier and offsets the porky and eggy indulgence of its platemates.

The same can be said of the bright green swipe of scallion puree and the green papaya salad, which exists in refreshing, vinegary shreds atop the rice. Both cleanse the palate for the next piggy mouthful.

Wassatyousay? You like your breakfast meat more mooing than oinking? How about corned beef then? Theirs is not-too-salty, colored pink like a cherub's cheeks and served with cubed sweet potato hash, braised cabbage, coarse grain mustard sauce and just about the cutest, most bulbous poached eggs that dares you to pierce it like a water balloon.

And if there's any doubt that the restaurant respects all of O.C.'s wonderfully distinct food cultures, take the next dish I have pictured, which I believe is called Ranchero.

Dribbles of crema, sauce, and black beans surround a block of steamed masa, which functions as the base of a gravity-defying fried tostada disk. The crispy platform is itself mounded with scrambled eggs, wilted onions, and a slathering of fresh guac.

You forget for a second that you're in Laguna Hills, at the far end of a sprawling neighborhood center, not beachside at a Mexican resort somewhere. Then you look around and conclude you'd rather be nowhere else but here at Break of Dawn eating breakfast in O.C.

Break of Dawn
24351 Avenida De La Carlota #N-6
Laguna Hills, CA 92653

Stick A Fork In It - Year In Review


At 12:27 AM, Blogger dumplings said...


This is my favorite breakfast joint in OC. There's actually a bit of history behind the chef. I've heard that he quit his Ritz-Carlton job and opened this restaurant for his son who's ill. I'm not sure of the details, but we had a brief chat with him the first time we were there.

At 3:04 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

It all looks very fresh and tasty. As usual, though, I think I would either need to share (having kids helps in that respect) or take home leftovers. That's a lot of food!

At 6:40 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Yes indeed, Elmo, this is a perfect timing to remind me to get my butt over there again, as it has been a while. It looks like they've updated their menu from seeing your pics, so even more of a reason.
Yes, Dee's son is the reason he quit the hectic pace of the Ritz and got his own place, so he can have evenings off (they still don't serve dinner there).
We're so lucky to have this place here in OC. Everyone I've ever taken there have been blown away.

Happy New Year to everyone!

I have a new resolution - eat here more often!

At 6:41 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Wow as if I need to indulge more I think I've gain a very healthy weight since the holidays. LOL

At 8:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, what if you don't eat eggs?? Anything else? What about crepes?

At 10:51 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Happy New Year. With such a post, now I know where I should go next time for breakfast in the OC. So many dishes that I haven't tasted before!

You just added another restaurant to my must try list :).

At 11:01 PM, Blogger ChristianZ said...

Man, I need to get back there.

At 7:14 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

re: Anon

Check out the menu here:

At 9:49 AM, Blogger ila said...

elmo, i always pass by this place when i shop for groceries and TJ's. will definitely try some time soon - thanks!

At 6:17 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Yes, I too heard that touching story. There's a few articles on his website that talk about it more. It's just great that he was able to be so successful. He deserves it.


Believe it or not, each of us finished our plates (I had two other friends with me). Though we hobbled out of there in no condition to do anything least not for a few hours until the meal was fully digested.


Yes! I noticed that the menu changed since th last time I went. The pho is no longer there. I bet no one ordered it...and why would you when you have so many other things you can't have anywhere else!


If you're going to gain weight, it might as well be with something good! Like this!


In that case, I recommend the creme brulee French toast! It uses eggs, but then, so do crepes!


As far as I'm concerned, other than Dutch Babies at Original Pancake House and the Magic Wok's Filipino almusal, this is the place to get breakfast in O.C.


I bet I know what you'll be ordering!


I can't wait to read it on your blog soon then!

At 1:04 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

Let me start by saying that I was really impressed by this place in the beginning. The food tasted good and seemed fresh enough. The 5 other diners I went with were very pleased with their choices (none of which involved eggs, thankfully).

Unfortunately, the experience was horribly marred a few hours later when my delicious but not fully set chocolate custard french toast decided to make a violent reappearance. I ended up getting the worst food poisoning of my life. :-(

At 8:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My father tastes the food of this restaurant he told me that's perfect but the juices they prepare smell so strange, My father tried to find the recipe so the owners didn't want to give him it.


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