It’s been a long time since a breakfast burrito came along that could legitimately challenge Orange County’s holy trinity: Athenian #3 in Buena Park, Nate’s Korner in Santa Ana, and Nick’s Deli in Los Alamitos and Seal Beach. Now, there is a worthy contender, serving up some of OC’s best breakfast bites from a brown trailer at a Home Depot in Cypress.
John Clarke and Lydia Holmes opened LJ’s Lil’ Cafe in September 2021, years after working together at Seasons 52 in Costa Mesa, an upscale-ish restaurant chain known for serving tuna tartare and Chilean sea bass to a clientele decidedly different than their current customer base. So how did this couple find themselves here, foregoing the glamour of the South Coast Plaza area to instead embrace a Home Depot parking lot? Simple: independence. “We had always dreamed of starting a restaurant,” says Clarke, “but never thought it would be a reality until last year when we saw the place we’re at now for sale. We thought it was the perfect place to start out and would have plenty of hungry foot traffic.”
Indeed it does. In addition to Home Depot shoppers and workers looking for a quick on-the-go breakfast or lunch, LJ’s is across the street from Cypress College, making it a prime spot for students looking to fill a belly before settling in for a day of classes. The menu orbits around ‘handhelds’, meaning hot dogs, burgers, breakfast burritos, and other grab-and-go daytime options. There’s a burger (this being Southern California and all), a TexMex queso take on a cheesesteak, and four different takes on the humble hot dog, including the Seattle specialty that includes cream cheese and grilled onions. Most folks opt to score a bag and dine elsewhere, though there is a picnic table available for those who have time to sit and eat.
The star of the show, inarguably, is LJ’s breakfast burrito menu. While hefty, the burritos are nowhere near the torpedo-sized, potato-filled bombs found at spots like Nate’s Korner. Instead, LJ’s leads the way with a kind of understated decadence, using bacon and a Portuguese sausage sourced from Fullerton’s Masterlink Sausage and Meats for the OG. The Queso, with its own drippy cheese sauce, marries well with ground beef (a rarity for breakfast burritos) and hatch chiles imported straight from New Mexico. If only trying one, though, opt for the Spicy, with its hot Italian sausage, grilled jalapenos, tater tots, eggs, and cheese. The charred peppers play well with the crispy tots texturally, and each burrito is available with a side of either chunky salsa or, surprisingly, Alabama white sauce. It’s an impressive lineup, especially given the natural limitations of cooking alongside a Home Depot.
“The shop is all-electric, so adding more equipment is dependent on whether it can be supported,” says Clarke. “I can only fit one flattop and two small deep fryers, [making] it difficult at times to keep up with the orders.” Despite the drawbacks, Clarke and Holmes say that they’re committed to taking their tiny restaurant as far as it will get them. They live in Cypress and are a part of the north Orange County restaurant community, and believe that the local support they’ve already received from locals is the reason they’ve remained in business.
“Our son was born eight weeks early,” says Clarke. “We had to shut down around the holidays because he was coming home from the hospital. We’ve put so much into this spot and love the location being so close to home. I don’t see us leaving anytime soon.”
LJ’s Lil’ Cafe is open Tuesday through Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 5800 Lincoln Avenue in Cypress, directly in front of the entrance to Home Depot. Call ahead at (657) 238-6110 to order, or just walk up.