No restaurant in Orange County deserves an upgrade in location more than Mick's Karma Bar. From this former juice stand come some of the best burgers in Orange County, squat wonders with the bun crispy, the sirloin patty ground to order (and thus gushing juices), with the tomato cooling and lettuce crispy—and any other ingredients complementing those essentials.
But the setting! Mick's occupies a ground-level corner in Main Plaza, a godawful collection of office towers where the One Percent roams, with a retina-retching collection of pastel public art sculptures just outside Mick's patio that looks like scrap from 1980s-era Miami and a fountain setup straight out of Forest Lawn. You'll have to park in a parking structure, deal with surly guards, and wade through the suited masses at lunchtime and high schoolers in the afternoon, all for the privilege of pulling up to the bar and letting Michael Schepers take care of you.
Yes, despite the inconvenient location, and despite the snotty crowds, you will visit. Schepers (the namesake behind Mick's) knows his way around burgers like Pujols knows how to turn on an off-speed pitch. The go-to option is the Karma burger, the aforementioned basics spiked with what they call Karma sauce, some derivation of Thousand Islands dressing with a whisper of spice. It's the happy medium between the fast-food glory of TK and the pricey beauts of far too many restaurants to remember.
But Mick riffs from this structure to even better results like he's affected with attention-deficit disorder. He always constructs a Burger of the Week, on which he'll experiment with the fearlessness of someone BASE jumping off Half Dome. Many of his greatest hits have become staples on his cramped, rambling chalkboard, including a Habanero burger that includes slivers of honest-to-goodness chili peppers and is smeared with salty queso fresco and a garlic mayo that Mick will gladly trot out separately for dunking his sturdy fries. The results are what would happen if Tapatío ever bought In-N-Out. Whether you have your burger Baja style (guac and sour cream), or Mediterranean, or whatever, wash it down with his strawberry basil lemonade. It is tartness personified.
Breakfast burritos also impress, as does a jalapeño-cilantro hummus whose heat sneaks up at the back of your palate. Mick is such a damn talent that I wouldn't be surprised if he decides to do pop-up restaurants just for the hell of it—again, a talent that corporate Irvine so doesn't deserve. Of course, Mick knows his customer base better than anyone—he knows his first-timers and greets regulars as if they were family, so he's obviously happy. But please, pretty please, Mick: open another spot. Don't deny the county your genius. Hey, I hear downtown Santa Ana has a happening food scene…
This column appeared in print as “Burger Heaven In Irvine Hell.”