Event - Old Towne Orange Walking Food Tour

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to tour your own hometown? I've always been curious about what gems of knowledge I'd hear about Garden Grove if there was one. It was probably the thought that also struck the minds of sisters Deanna and Renee when they started up the Old Towne Orange Walking Food Tours. We had long heard about these fun guided events but didn't make it out until a few weeks ago upon invitation (thank you!) to participate in one of them. I browsed the one that piqued my interest the most (and fit into our schedules) which was the Orange Sampler Tour, though many others do exist including a Vintage Tour and TasteLAB Tour. We met up with a group of about 12 others to be led by Orange resident Linda Pero on a tasty Old Towne Orange adventure!

The start was in the Wells Fargo Bank - a stately bank built up on farmland back in the day; it was used back then and even now as the community's local bank. Linda pointed out its great acoustics and that open mic events happen frequently which seems to flow very well with the built-in Starbucks. As for the Starbucks, it is one of just a few "chain" businesses in the Old Towne Orange area (the others include Wahoo's and Avila's El Ranchito); the businesses hereabouts all pride themselves in being mostly mom-and-pop shops. It seems befitting of the community to preserve the history of the city though seeing as Orange was the first town in entire state of California to be built around a plaza consisting of these mom-and-pop shops. Once we stepped outside, we took a look at the center which has mostly been preserved since the town was built. It has also been noted for looking pretty much like 'Everywhere, USA' which allows it to be used in a variety of media including the film That Thing You Do. Around the plaza, we could see lampposts with patriotic banners of soldiers currently serving and in memory of.

Interesting fact: every Wednesday night, fully uniformed veterans come out to do a flag lowering at 5:30PM along with a brief speech and playing taps.

Let's go onto the food though! Our first stop was Felix Continental Cafe, a restaurant I personally have only heard rave reviews about for Cuban and Spanish food. A staple of Orange for 34+ years, this is a family owned and run business started by its namesake - Felix himself. An airplane mechanic looking for ways to help his family, he opened the restaurant to generate jobs for everyone who all pretty much still work here today. Linda pointed out that it's fairly typical of all the establishments in Old Towne Orange for the turnover rate of employees to be slow because, well, they're family! We had their deep-fried plantains with empanadas and a chile sauce. The empanadas are built of handmade dough and stuffed with ground beef, green olives, raisins, and their special sauce; what a nice, savory way to start the tour!

The next stop was Paris in a Cup, a place that just about everyone overlooks without realizing that it is not just a tea salon but also a gift shop, bakery, and 48-seat restaurant (in the back). This French-inspired tea salon & boutique features soups, salads, sandwiches, and 120 different teas daily, five days a week from Wednesday to Sunday 11:00-2:30PM (reservations highly recommended as they have just two tea seatings a day). We snagged samples of their House Passion Berry iced tea (lovely and refreshing) and Baked Potato Soup. The owner Cheryl had created this Parisian tea salon out of her dream to visit Paris, even going as far as having the architects watch An American in Paris to better understand her vision. She is no stranger to tea though, and Paris in a Cup was created out of the community's demand to bring her back to the area after her previous tea salon closed.

Being on a tour with such a knowledgeable guide led us to learning so much about why Orange was built up the way it was. For example, did you know that Chapman and Glassell, the probably familiar cross streets in Old Towne Orange, are the last names of the two founders of the city? Orange was built upon a focus on agriculture and originally named Richland. I'll let Linda tell you the rest of the story when you go on her tour though but it was fascinating hearing about the history.

Anyhow, our next stop was my favorite - Francoli Gourmet Restaurant. It is a corner spot restaurant of northern Italian food, complete with an interior designed only with imported Italian decor. We met General Manager Luis Mojica who was quite the vivacious and amicable host. He offered half-off glasses of wine (of course we indulged in a Primitivo) and talked about the restaurant's previous location at Fashion Island. The business' namesake company, Francoli, created itself through the making of grappa since 1875 but have also expanded to other beverages such as vodka, wines, and limoncello. We spotted historic photos along the tops of the walls of the company's growth. For our tasting here, fresh Mozzarella with organic tomatoes and basil from the farmers' market and a simple olive oil with balsamc vinegar was our treat. We also got a tasty bowl of pesto penne to taste as Luis talked about their dedication to purchasing organic, free-range, and local ingredients. Whatever else that is specialty is imported from Italy. To note for your future visits, there is an off-menu "menu" based on the chef's choice so make sure to ask. Also, enjoy the commissioned artwork on the walls and the gorgeous Italian handblown chandeliers when you dine because it is quite the sight. Want a more to-go option? There is a full deli and miniature store inside as well but I recommend sticking to the bar and enjoying their seven-nights-a-week live entertainment!

We then shifted dramatically from Italian to a slice of Americana by stepping into Watson Drugs and Soda Fountain, the oldest working business in Orange County which was a drug store until about a year and a half ago when Scott Parker retired from writing prescriptions for the last 40 years & just retired. That pharmacy is now a bakery but you can still see all of the bottles lined on a shelf along the walls. The interior setting hasn't changed since 1899 which is a testament to both its history and popularity. We all got cups of homemade rice pudding there.

The feel-good portion of the tour wasn't over though because through an annex from Watson was the quaint Front Porch Pops, a popsicle and pie place whose name you might all know. Surely you've seen their bright blue carts at farmers' markets and events throughout Orange County. Well here is the brick-and-mortar with plenty of knickknacks and cute crafts for sale. We each got a sampler popsicle of the flavor of our choice; options were roasted peach raspberry, vanilla spice, strawberries & cream, and mango pineapple. It's always a treat to have one of these and see Erin!

After the popsicles, Linda told us the 'Tale of the Two Fountains' in reference to the main fountain at the Old Towne Orange circle. There is definitely a long history involved with the fountain which was placed in 1887. The one fountain we see today at the Circle was placed there in 1937 though, and the original fountain was moved from place to place. If you're curious about it, you can find it at the Orange Library but without the grandeur with which it was first made. I wish I could tell you more but Linda tells it better! Immediately after these stories, we headed over to Provisions Market for a bit of cheese, cured meat, and beer. Yum.

And the tour was not even close to being over yet! Our next stop was the Old Towne Grinder which was practically an old-fashioned soda haven. There were more than 2,000 types of soda available ranging from original hard-to-find sodas to bizarre why-would-you-drink-that ones. Our samples included portions of their turkey sandwich with freshly sliced meat and daily baked bread, sweet potato fries, and their very own bottled soda (orange and red currant). They suggested people to try out their Pastrami and Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches for the hot ones and the Bacon Bomb for those daring folks. I liked seeing their own bottling machine in the back where they make their magic happen - how cool is that? Made with all natural ingredients and cane sugar, the sodas are featured in four flavors at a time and on occasion, you'll spot them bottling.

We then moved on to The Bite Market, a neighborhood market started three years ago after the founder was diagnosed with a gluten allergy. Tired of having to visit multiple stores to finish all her grocery shopping and running into food that wasn't so good, she started this gluten-free, dairy free, and sugar free spot that many with dietary restrictions can visit. We tried a Zing! bar in the dark chocolate sunflower mint flavor and actually quite enjoyed it. The store was cozy and full of the neatest products. It's good to keep in mind for those who have to be wary of these common allergens!

We really thought we were done but soon enough we found ourselves sitting in booths at Zito's Pizza down the brick alleyway where other eateries also reside. It looks like the iconic neighborhood pizza parlor, and the prices were community-friendly as well. We had slices of their margherita pizza of which they make their own dough. I really enjoyed the crunch on that crust and can see myself coming back again if I ever crave pizza! Right after indulging in the slices, we took an even further step back into our childhood to the Orange Candy Co. store which had old-fashioned candies like you would not believe. There were original versions of candy classics, brands that I once thought were discontinued, and even brands that I'm not sure are supposed to be on shelves. The walls were densely decorated with historic memorabilia and metal signs including pictures of the city of Orange in its infancy. If you are just curious about the city, talk a walk inside this candy store for a snapshot history.

We wanted to cry out "no more Linda!" before we realized that we actually were at the end of the tour. Our final stop was at Cafe Lucca for a small cup of their gelato. If there's one way to please the crowds, you have to give them cold sweets. We gathered around the corner of this spot for any remaining questions before everyone dispersed along their merry way that sunny afternoon. I found the whole tour quite informative and stomach-stuffing, and we were thankful for Linda's guidance (and the company of her family who joined the tour later!). Not only was she entertaining and lively, she was resourceful and knowledgeable. If you are interested in doing an Old Towne Orange Walking Food Tour, I hope you get a chance for her to be your guide!

Photography by Duc Duong. Additional photos to be available on Facebook.



  1. Thank you Minerva and Duc for the wonderful review and pictures of our tour!