Naugles Is Back!

This week is our annual Best Of issue, our ode to everything fantabulous and wonderful about Orange County. But my favorite dish for 2015 (not an official category . . . yet) is nowhere near the best food in OC, yet it's worthy of all the eating in the world: anything prepared by Naugles.

Yes, Naugles! The Mexican fast-food chain from the 1970s and 1980s that seems to evoke more nostalgia in middle-aged Southern Californians than anything since the old Coppertone billboard off Interstate 5 near Buena Park. I never ate Naugles growing up, so I was absolutely clueless why any posts I did about its slow return over the past couple of years would immediately go viral, why people would ask me about its rise from the dead. And that's why the place is my favorite for this year: Longtime local food blogger Christian Ziebarth not only fought a legal battle with Del Taco (who absorbed, then closed Naugles in the early 1990s) for its expired copyright, but also won—and how awesome is that?

Ziebarth is still trying to find investors for a full-fledged restaurant; in the meanwhile, those of ustedes who grew up with Naugles can go to a Fountain Valley test kitchen any weekend (although call in advance, lest they've run out of food, so much are they in demand). As for those of us who wouldn't know a Naugles from a Taco Tia? Here is Cal-Mex cuisine at its most glorious. Burritos come with cheese and ground beef, slathered in a red sauce more savory than anything spicy. It sells cups of beans and ground beef and recently introduced a bun taco—ground beef in a bun (you were able to order it at Del Taco for years, if you were in the know). Ziebarth vows to introduce even more old Naugles items, such as an orange sherbet drink and an Ortega burger . . . and that's it.

There is nothing innovative about this food—and that's the point. Naugles is an exercise in nostalgia, the culinary equivalent of Lazarus. And if Ziebarth could succeed, imagine the possibilities! Paging the La Palma Chicken Pie Shop!

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