Vacation time may be officially over now, but it always seems like summer at the Islands in Irvine.
The tropical-theme restaurant-bar at the intersection of Culver Drive and Barranca Parkway is filled with lush hanging plants and big-screen monitors showing surfing and volleyball videos. Add the great tropical drinks and employees in shorts and Hawaiian shirts, and you have the perfect place to forget the day at work and fantasize about a day at the beach.
Bartenders are both friendly and efficient. If you’re not driving, order a Cherry Bomb--a specialty drink you won’t find on the menu. This deep-red sweet and fizzy concoction is made of rum, 7-Up, sweet-and-sour mix, cherry brandy and cranberry juice.
What you will find on the menu are several “exotic drinks,” ranging from $3.25 to $3.75. These include mai tais; “Surf Chasers” (rum, blue curacao, orange and lemon-lime juices) and “Pocono Punch” (amaretto and orange, cherry and lemon-lime juices).
For truly exotic drinks, though, ask whether head bartender Mario Navarro is there. Navarro, who has been serving ‘em up since the restaurant opened three years ago, has a knack for inventing tangy tropical drinks on the spot. Just make up a drink name, and he’ll whip up a libation that matches it and tastes good enough to make you wonder why it hadn’t been invented yet. Say, for example, “A Day at the Beach,” and he’ll come up with a sea-green number of light and dark rums, orange juice, pineapple juice and blue curacao. Suggest “Behind the Orange Curtain,” and a minute later you’ll be sipping a blend of Stolichnaya vodka, orange curacao, orange juice, sweet-and-sour mix, 7-Up and a lime. His creations run about $4.75.
If you’re in the mood for something less exotic, a beer--including Miller Light, Coors Light, Heineken and Budweiser on tap, and foreign and domestic brews in bottles--will cost about $2.75. House wines by Inglenook and premium Napa Ridge and Robert Mondavi wines are priced from $2.25 to $2.75 per glass.
But the best thirst-quenching buy is a soft drink--99 cents for all you can drink with an entree.
And Islands has some great entrees. There are numerous spicy chicken-based salads, soft tacos and nachos, and excellent sandwiches and hamburgers. The best of the soft-taco items is the “Northshore” ($4.75)--three tacos made with chicken, lettuce, salsa, Cheddar cheese and (for $1 extra) guacamole. Those in the mood for a salad should try the “Mainlander,” made with chicken, lettuce, Cheddar cheese, cabbage, chives and black olives, $6.45. Two can split a plate of chicken nachos smothered in Cheddar cheese, salsa and sour cream, for $5.95.
And the Islands’ fries ($1.65 a basket) are perfect. They’re served hot and salty, with ranch dressing on request for no extra charge. The only drawback is that a side order is usually too big for one person.
There is a “gremmie” menu, “for surfers 12 and under,” that features hot dogs, grilled cheese sandwiches and hamburgers for $2.25.
Other Islands restaurants countywide are in Orange, Fountain Valley and Laguna Hills.
The Islands Restaurant, 4020 Barranca Parkway, Irvine. Open Monday through Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. (714) 552-1888.