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Exotic Ethnic Treasures in Orange County

Find out what to see and do in Little Arabia and Little Saigon

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Though it was originally settled by Bavarian vintners in the 1850s, Anaheim (combining the word “Ana,” for the Santa Ana River, with “heim,” the German word for home), now has a global community of cultures in and around its city borders. With restaurants serving national favorites, unusual treasures in shops, and fascinating cultural sites, these communities create an easy way to explore a world of cultures in a relatively small area. In these two ethnic enclaves, take time to taste, tour, listen, and explore.

LITTLE ARABIA

In the 1980s, a growing number of people from Middle Eastern and North African countries settled in sunny Anaheim. Today they operate stores and eateries, many clustered in West Anaheim. This is the place to go for the enticing cuisines of Lebanon, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia—as well as Armenia—often at very affordable prices. Here are some places to enjoy them.

Altayebat Market. Like a souk (Arab marketplace) transplanted to the middle of Anaheim, this shop is a sensory whirlwind of ethnic spices and Middle Eastern foods, as well as American-style groceries and produce. 1217 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim

Olive Tree Restaurant. This is the place for succulent lamb, with preparations including a stellar mansaf—the meat dressed in a special yogurt sauce and served with saffron-colored rice. Cozy and friendly, with Arabic featured on the menus and wall decorations, this appealing find is a worthy dinner destination. 512 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim

Sahara Falafel. You will not leave here hungry. Overloaded plates at this family-run restaurant showcase Middle Eastern standards, like crispy falafel balls, hummus, and greens dressed with sesame-flavored sauce. Vegetarians will find plenty of options here, like baba ghanouj and tabbouleh. More of a carnivore? Order an overstuffed combo shawarma (sliced beef and chicken, sesame and garlic sauce, tomatoes, and pickles, all wrapped in a pita). 590 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim

Zait & Zataar. The dishes at this petite Lebanese eatery stand up to the restaurant’s tagline: “Fresh, healthy, and delicious.” To sample zataar, a traditional blend of herbs that’s a staple in Lebanese cooking, try the zaatar and cheese pie. Portions here are generous, so nab a table outside and share your way through the menu. 510 N. Brookhurst St., Suite 106, Anaheim

Zankou Chicken. Let the line at the door be your guide. Locals flock to this unassuming storefront café, giving big thumbs-up to the chicken and beef shawarma plates—juicy broiled meat wrapped in a warm pita and topped with tomatoes, pickled turnips, and house-made tahini. 2424 W. Ball Rd., Anaheim

LITTLE SAIGON

Visiting this area is like taking a trip to Asia without the jet lag. Over 3,500 bustling Vietnamese-owned businesses and restaurants pack the region, home to almost 40,000 Vietnamese Americans. Little Saigon covers roughly three square miles, mostly in the city of Westminster, but also spills over into Garden Grove, Santa Ana, and Fountain Valley. Here are a few worthy stops.

Asian Garden Mall. If you have time for only one stop, consider this first. It has everything from bakeries to food vendors to jewelry stores (mainly on the second floor) and plenty of knickknack stalls. Treat the kids to freshly squeezed sugarcane juice at Suite 303--let them watch as the stalk gets pulverized into frothy pale-green juice, with tangy kumquat ground in for extra flavor. 9200 Bolsa Ave., Westminster 

Chua Hue Quang. Visitors are welcome to step inside this ornate Buddhist temple topped by a curving crimson roof. Inside, it’s just as eye-popping--a riot of color and decorations, including a giant white statue of Buddha seated on a lotus blossom. 4918 Westminster Ave., Santa Ana

Lily’s Bakery. At this low-key charmer, families and singles alike sit comfortably on a tree-shaded patio around little bistro-style tables, nibbling at pastries, talking, and reading. Croissants are properly flaky, and the coffee—the supercharged café sua dá (French roast with sweetened condensed milk)—will rocket-fuel your day. 10161 Bolsa Ave., Westminster

Quán Hy. Inside this elegant restaurant, it’s all bamboo, smooth and stylish surfaces, and soft shadows—a refined setting in which to sample sophisticated Vietnamese food. The focus is on central Vietnamese cuisine (from the Hue area), particularly noodles and rice dishes, and the menu is in English and Vietnamese. 9727 Bolsa Ave., Westminster

Vua Kho Bo. Got a sweet tooth, or know someone who does? Find your happy place at this incredible shop, with countless types of candies—chewy ginger and fragrant pandan treats, crunchy sesame mini-bars, and other exotic delights from bins occupying about a third of the store. There’s a serious jerky section too. 9717 Bolsa Ave., Westminster

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