When Asian Deli skedaddled to Diamond Bar a few years ago, it left Orange County deprived of its only Indonesian restaurant. The nearest alternative for hungry expats existed just beyond the Orange County line, at Toko Rame in Bellflower. Meanwhile, in O.C., Indonesian food remained the Rodney Dangerfield of Asian cuisine. It gets no respect.
So when a reader* tipped me off to a new Indonesian restaurant inside the Orange Curtain, my exact words were: "HOLY SH*T!!!!"
The news couldn't have come at a better time. A week ago, I'd learned that Pondok Kaki Lima -- the every-Saturday outdoor gathering of Indonesian vendors at the Duarte Inn -- was recently shut down by the state**.
As fortuitous as it is bitter sweet, and in a "one door closes, another one opens" kind of way, I found myself in a parking lot at the corner of Harbor and Garden Grove Blvd. There, next to Chuck E. Cheese's and a 99-Cent-Only store, in the shell of what was a Chinese take-out, stood Warung Pojok, the newest and so far, the only Indonesian restaurant in Orange County.
The name itself made me giddy. "Warung" is a general Indonesian term for casual eatery. In Java, it can constitute anything from a lowly shack made out of discarded aluminum siding or a brick-and-mortar structure. "Pojok" meant corner, but together the words actually suggested something else; hole-in-the-wall.
And that's exactly what it is.
There is no menu. No waitresses. Everything is served on Styrofoam. It is, in fact, fast food. Moreover, Warung Pojok makes full use of the chafing trays left behind by the Chinese take-out that was there before it. But instead of troughs of kung pao chicken and broccoli beef, now there's ayam goreng (fried chicken) and beef rendang (beef, stewed in spices). Instead of fried rice, it's nasi goreng (Indonesian fried rice) and nasi kuning (turmeric rice).
Other than just dropping by and having a look, you can check up on what's being cooked that day on their constantly updated website. Also, on a white board, a few made-to-order items are scribbled. On my visit, it's mie ayam -- a classic Chinese/Indonesian bowl of egg noodles, coated in flavorful oil, topped with diced chicken and mushroom, served with a side of bakso (beef meat balls) in broth.
You eat it as separate entities, first slurping the noodles, then sipping the soup immediately afterwards as a chaser. And in between, you slather everything with sambal (chili paste).
The chafing dish selection is served as combos with rice or noodles. I tried sayur urap, a salad of boiled cabbage and kale dressed with chili-spiked grated shavings of coconut. And there was was a coconut milk-based curry of tofu and egg, which made my burps fragrant for the rest of the day.
Rendang was seasoned confidently, with more spices I'd care to name here. It could've been softer -- though I am biased and still partial to my mom's fork-tender version.
But make no mistake: even though Warung Pojok may appear to be no different than a Panda Express clone (they even offer boba milk tea), the food is authentic. Even the smell of the restaurant is distinctly Indonesian. How so? Well that's easy: it smells like how an Indonesian restaurant should smell -- like my auntie's kitchen back in Java.
13113 Harbor Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92843
*Special Thanks to Monster Munching reader Tony for this tip.
**Update: There's word that the Pondok Kaki Lima organizers are trying to resolve the situation with the State.