It’s been a long time since there was a breakfast burrito that could legitimately challenge the holy trinity of Orange County: Athenian No. 3 in Buena Park, Nate’s Corner in Santa Ana and Nick’s Delhi in Los Alamitos and Seal Beach. Now there’s a worthy contender offering some of the best brown trailer OC breakfasts at the Home Depot in Cypress.
John Clark and Lydia Holmes opened Lil’ Cafe LJ in September 2021, years after working together in Seasons 52. in Costa Mesa, an upscale restaurant chain known for serving tuna and Chilean sea bass tartare to distinctly different customers from their current customer base. So how did this couple end up here, abandoning the glamor of the South Coast Plaza area to embrace the Home Depot parking lot instead? Simple: independence. “We’ve always dreamed of opening a restaurant,” says Clarke, “but we never thought it would become a reality until last year we saw the place where we are now up for sale. We thought it was the perfect place to start and there would be a lot of hungry walkers here.”
True. In addition to Home Depot shoppers and employees looking for a quick breakfast or lunch on the go, LJ’s is across the street from Cypress College, making it the perfect place for students looking to fill their belly before starting classes. . The menu revolves around “portables” i.e. hot dogs, burgers, breakfast burritos and other takeaways of the day. There’s a burger (it’s Southern California and all), a TexMex queso with cheesesteak, and four different variations of the humble hot dog, including a Seattle specialty that includes cream cheese and fried onions. Most people choose to pick up their bag and dine elsewhere, although there is a picnic table for those with time to sit and eat.
The star of the show is undoubtedly LJ’s breakfast burrito menu. While burritos are hefty, they are nothing like the potato-filled torpedo-sized bombs found in places like Nate’s Corner. Instead, LJ’s leads the way in a sort of understated decadence, using bacon and Portuguese sausage sourced from Fullerton’s Masterlink Sausage and Meats for the OG. Queso, with its own thin cheese sauce, pairs well with ground beef (a rarity in breakfast burritos) and chili imported straight from New Mexico. However, if you only try one, choose Spicy with its spicy Italian sausage, fried jalapenos, potatoes, eggs and cheese. The charred peppers pair well with the crunchy patties in texture, and each burrito is available with either slices of salsa or, surprisingly, Alabama white sauce. It’s an impressive lineup, especially considering the natural limitations of cooking with Home Depot.
“The store is all electric, so adding extra hardware is dependent on its support,” says Clarke. “I can only fit one flat surface and two small fryers, [making] sometimes it’s hard to fulfill orders.” Despite the shortcomings, Clarke and Holmes say they are determined to take their tiny restaurant as far as possible. They live in Cypress and are part of the northern Orange County restaurant community and credit the local support they have already received from the locals as the reason they have stayed in business.
“Our son was born eight weeks premature,” says Clarke. “We had to close for the holidays because he was returning home from the hospital. We have invested so much in this place and we love that it is so close to home. I don’t think we’re leaving any time soon.”
Lil’ Cafe LJ open Tuesday through Saturday from 8:30 am to 3:00 pm at 5800 Lincoln Avenue in Cypress, right in front of the Home Depot entrance. Call ahead at (657) 238-6110 to order, or just walk by.