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Famous Food

Conductors! Rock Stars! Restaurateurs! Poets!

Artwork by Mark DanceyContributors include Michael Alarcon, CJ Bahnsen, Victor D. Infante, Steve Lowery, Kelly McGinnis, Tim Meltreger, Buddy Seigal, Will Swaim and Dave Wielenga.

TONY LIOCE."My favorite restaurant is Donut World. The reason is it's clean and well-lighted," says the Capistrano Beach resident and Southern California Living section editor of the Los Angeles Times. "I order the large coffee, and they have the best tuna sandwich in 12 states." What's so great about the tuna sandwich? They put some special relish in it or something?"I think they do something to it. I don't know what they do, but it really tastes good." So that's it? Coffee and tuna sandwiches? Don't you even eat the donuts? "My wife likes the lemon donuts. And they have a hell of a breakfast special, too. But the real reason to go there is because it's clean and well-lighted." The ambiance: clean and well-lit. "Well-lighted, not well-lit." Donut World, 34130 Doheny Park Rd., Capistrano Beach, (949) 496-2454. (BS) MIKE VARDOULIS. Until his college days at Chapman University, Vardoulis considered himself an anarchist. Then he heard a speech by Libertarian Party leader Richard Bodie, and, he says, his life was changed. "He was incredible. Everything he said made sense to me." Vardoulis became the party's chief activist in Orange County and continues to minister to high school and college kids. "The party is all about freedom of choice, and kids see how little freedom they have these days," he says. "They see things like daytime curfews all over the county and feel like they're being presumed guilty. I mean, youth is not a crime." Vardoulis, 29, is also vice president of the Orange County Hemp Council, a position that has taken much of his time from the party. Still, he believes he's being true to his principles. "You know, I still think I'm an anarchist at heart; I'm just trying to be constructive about it." Given his choice, he likes to dine at Café Plaka in Fountain Valley. "I'm half-Greek, and their menu is phenomenal," he says. "The food is very authentic: it reminds me of Grandma's cooking. It's the real stuff, man." There's also the Ruby Palace off Beach Boulevard, a restaurant that "reminds me of an authentic New York Chinese restaurant. Everything from the male waiters to the red-leather booths to the gold and dishes like the honey shrimp caked with stuff," he says. "It's the kind of stuff you can dig your teeth into. It's not the light, fluffy stuff you normally get in California." Café Plaka, 18633 Brookhurst, Fountain Valley, (714) 963-4999; Ruby Palace, 18330 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 847-9208.(SL) BILL UNG.By day, Ung is a long-haired software designer and pinball aficionado. By night, he has for 10 years played the part of Brad Majors in the Long Beach Art Theatre's Rocky Horror Picture Show. Between the demands of a real job in computers and a strenuous rehearsal schedule, Ung doesn't have a lot of time to lounge. "I eat a lot of fast food," he says. "But if I want a real restaurant, I'll probably go with Ruby's." Ruby's has always struck us as a phenomenon of America's simpler-times nostalgia binge; Rocky Horror seems Ruby's antithesis. How does Ung bridge the apparent contradiction? "I suspect that I don't," he replies. "I can't recall ever having considered any sort of moral implications when choosing a place to eat. . . . Where do you think I should eat? Hooters?" Ung is particularly fond of "the meatloaf and the tangy sauce that comes with it. I order it with no mayo." He washes it down with a vanilla coke. It's all so . . . so . . . wholesome. The truth comes out when we ask him about the service. "Attractive gals walking around in cute pink dresses? Very nice," he says. Now we understand. Ruby's Diner, all over the friggin' place, particularly on the ends of piers; Hooters, on the other hand, is at 2406 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 723-5800. (VDI) DOUG DE WET.A mixing session for the Tiki Tones' upcoming release for Dr. Dream—a jet-setting collection of go-go pop (not the shoulder-bearing Belinda Carlisle kind) tentatively titled The International Sonic Set—finds soft-spoken percussionist De Wet uncharacteristically raising his voice over the din of a Hammond organ. He is talking about food. Chinese food. Vegetarian Chinese food. Organic vegetarian Chinese food. His favorite restaurant is Alisan in Fountain Valley. Recently relocated to new and bigger digs from its original Katella Avenue location (and perhaps to escape the imperialism of the ever-expanding Magic Kingdom), the restaurant's menu could keep the average non-carnivore busy for hours. "There's a big variety. It's got a lot of things going on," he says. De Wet frequently opts for the Monk's Feast, a meal that, like many items on the menu, has a certain Tao to it—raising consciousness while defying explanation. "The first time I had it, I liked it, but it was really afterward that I developed a craving for it. It's got this stuff in it called yuba, which is layered tofu, that's especially unique." When not feeling especially divine, however, De Wet goes for the lettuce burrito, which he calls "a multitextured taste explosion" of fried noodles and shiitake mushrooms—and something of a misnomer. "You put it in a lettuce leaf, and eat it like a taco; it's not really a burrito." De Wet hastens to add that Alisan is not the exclusive realm of vegetarians, and the welcome mat is out for anyone seeking to have their spirits—or maybe just their tastebuds—raised to a higher plane. Alisan, 17201 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 962-0055. (TM) CATHERINE GRAZIANO.When the Gypsy Den Cafe & Reading Room co-owner isn't eating at her own fine place, she and her husband, Joe—a towering man of equally imposing intellect but very provincial gustatory inclinations—would like to be eating at Pop's Café in Santa Ana. "It's really like sitting in someone's parking lot," she says, and then corrects herself. "No, it's not like that," she says. "It is that: the diviest little dive." Graziano appreciates the no-atmosphere atmosphere, the lowdown diner-style cooking, and the leftovers, about which she has this advice: order modestly. "We had never been there before," she says of her first Pop's tuna melt. "So when the girl asked if I wanted half a sandwich, I said, 'No, give me the whole thing.'" The "whole thing" was something bigger than a bread box and only slightly smaller than an entire yellowfin tuna. "It was," she recalls, "mammoth." Something that had looked "kind of pricy" on first glance turned out to be enough for three meals—"a very fair deal." Graziano also admits to a guilty culinary pleasure: almost ashamedly, she acknowledges that she goes now and then to Chili's for its black-bean veggie burger—"but only for that," she insists. Pop's Café, 112 E. 9th, Santa Ana, (714) 543-2772. (WS) JORG DUBIN. A self-taught painter whose dark, Photorealist images—crucifixions (Kee-rist!), suicides (aaaaargh!) and armed struggle (oi!)—stand out against his own sunny disposition; it must be the art-as-release-valve thing. "I don't go out to eat a bunch," he says, but when he does, he likes Olamendi's. His reasons are earthy: he enjoys the owners; the food's great "but doesn't cost a fortune"; and he's "good friends with Francisco," a classical and Mexican folk guitarist who plays Olamendi's five nights a week. "I like to jump around the menu a little bit, but you find things you can really live with," he says. He can live especially well on the calamari steak—"and, of course, the carnitas." Of course. He chases it down with a Negro Modelo or occasionally—Dubin being Dubin—"shots of better-quality tequila." Olamendi's, 1100 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-4148. (WS) AMY SICRE. With a background in psychology and as an executive recruiter, the director of Newport Beach's It's Just Lunch says she is suited for the job of matching up people who work till 7 p.m. and then go to the gym until 8:30. And then there's the fact "that I've been matching people since I was 15." It's Just Lunch has more than 1,000 local clients—and two engagements this year. It matches couples and sets up lunch dates for them at restaurants suited to the couple. What's Sicre's favorite restaurant? "It depends on the type of person," she says. "If I'm matching up two navy-pinstripe-suit types, then probably Tutto Mare in Fashion Island. It's popular with professional people, so they're going to feel comfortable because they're in a familiar environment. And the food is wonderful. For people who may want something more romantic, who are more serious about a romantic connection, I'd say Mulberry Street in Fullerton. It's small, intimate, I love the food, and you can smell it the moment you walk in the door. You feel so comfortable there that you can really talk until they close the place." Tutto Mare, Fashion Island, 545 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-6333; Mulberry Street Ristorante, 114 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-1056. (SL) LISA SEXTON. In three years as the assistant talent buyer/publicist for the Coach House and its sister stage, the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana, Sexton has been a beacon for many a young band, giving them their first real shot opening for national acts in two of the best rooms in the county. And sometimes it seems as if anyone with a guitar is sending her a package. "I've got more than I can handle, but it's great," she says. Her favorite restaurant is Yen Ching in Orange, about which the most curious thing is the oddly striking un-Chinese vibe of the award-winning restaurant. That's not necessarily a bad thing. It also means there aren't any trashy paper lanterns or dusty plastic Banyan trees, only the pitched roof, exposed beams, twinkly beveled light fixtures and dark mauve carpeting that suggest a smorgasbord, circa 1983. "The décor is very '80s," she says. "That's why I like it." Unintentionally retro décor is nice, but what keeps Sexton coming back is the aromatic shrimp, which—following a bowl of Yen Ching's exquisite fried-rice soup and coupled with another specialty, like the unforgettable lemon chicken—makes it pretty tough to go back to your favorite Chinese takeout. Yen Ching, 574 S. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 997-3300. (TM) CARL ST. CLAIR.Talking to Pacific Symphony Orchestra conductor Carl St. Clair about Orange County restaurants is setting yourself up for a whirlwind of enthusiasm. "I have so many favorites," he muses. "Gustaf Anders, Bistro 201, Antonello's, Café Zinc . . . I don't even know where to begin!" But as he waxes gastronomical, he settles on one fresh on his taste buds: Ti Amo in Laguna Beach, where he and his wife recently celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary. St. Clair has become increasingly prominent in Germany; he was recently appointed permanent guest conductor of the Stuttgart Radio Orchestra. "I travel so much that when I'm in Orange County, I become a bit of a homebody," he says. "I like to hang around Laguna Beach, where I live, and Ti Amo is a comfortable, lively place to eat." St. Clair's fondness for Italian food also springs from his frequent travels. "When you get to foreign countries, you discover that Italian food is one of the few things you can find well-prepared everywhere," he says. And to hear him tell it, Ti Amo prepares it very well. "I had the rack of lamb," he recollects. "I shouldn't be eating rack of lamb, but it was incredible! Deliciously tender New Zealand lamb with whipped potatoes and vegetables. Marvelous food! And to drink, we had a Cabernet Sauvignon from a small vineyard called 'Z.D.,' which you don't see very often." When eating at Ti Amo, St. Clair likes to sit by the fireplace in the main room. "It's warm and comfortable," he says. "I think Ti Amo may have been a home at one time. It certainly feels like it." Ti Amo Ristorante, 31727 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 499-5350. (VDI) STEVE GOLIAN.The self-described off-the-wall buyer for off-the-wall Sterling Art in Irvine speaks in exclamations. You want paint brushes? They got 'em! Ditto for frames, candles, candy bars for late-night, turbo-charged graphic design, handmade paper, pens, and bizarre toys! Where's he get all this stuff? He shops hard! But "whenever vendors want to take me out to eat—you know, they always want to butter you up—I take them to Jack Shrimp," Golian says—or, rather, exclaims. Golian's admiration of Jack Shrimp extends to Jack the businessman: "He's so smart!" Golian gushes. "So smart! He opened this new place in Park Place [an Irvine shopping center also famous for Houston's, Pick-up-Stix, Fat Burger, etc., etc.] that also serves lunch and this"—Golian says with something like reverence—"is where Jack is scoring really big now, unless he puts in a full bar, which I wouldn't personally take advantage of, but . . ." Golian likes the Jack rice, but he says "you [by which we suppose he means you and me] must have—have to have—just regular Jack Shrimp. He starts with these big, giant prawns, which he cooks in Jack's secret broth and serves them in the secret broth, and then you peel these shrimp, and they're . . . ohhh . . . very simple but fantastic!" When he's not being effusive on the subject of Jack Shrimp, Golian can be prompted into another favorite culinary subject: Maggiano's. He is something like horrified to learn that we haven't been there yet—"You're totally missing out!"—and explains it's the "free-standing restaurant across from Sears at South Coast Plaza." What does it serve? "Killer Italian. Killer! They almost have it down—that mama-mia cooking in the kitchen, but on a bigger, grander scale! And the portions are gigantic!" Which they would have to be to entertain the entertaining Golian! Jack Shrimp, 2400 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 650-5577; also in Irvine, (949) 252-1023; and Laguna Beach, (949) 376-8982; Maggiano's, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 546-9550. (WS) ERIK BLEUER.A good sound design can make or break a theatrical performance. Still, like the gaffer in film, the sound designer rarely gets any notice. So it's nice to see Costa Mesa's Erik Bleuer getting the recognition he deserves: this year, he's up for an LA Weekly Theater Award for his work on the underground hit Will Strip for Food, which is now playing in Silver Lake. Bleuer is one of the nicest, most unassuming and conscientious folks in SoCal theater, approaching every show—from big, Broadway-style musicals to tiny indie stagings—with extraordinary professionalism. He eats at Los Primos Cantina, a hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant in a Costa Mesa strip mall. "Damn good burritos!" he announces. "The ones I get are these huge tortillas—with pollo, black beans and hot salsa." Hot salsa is important: one of Bleuer's friends ordered the mild, and the clerk replied, "Oh, ketchup." The cooks "cram about as much stuff in there as they can," Bleuer says. "It's one of those things where, if you pull the string, it explodes." There's little seating, and Los Primos' generous portions have resulted in a huge following, so there's usually a bit of a wait. "It's a little noisy," admits Bleuer, who is understandably sensitive to sound quality. "Between people and the rattling refrigerator in the back, if you're going for nice, quiet conversation, it's definitely not the place. But for a good burrito . . ." Los Primos Cantina, 488 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-1486. (VDI) GILBERT GAUTHIER. Gauthier appears twice per year at Garden Grove's La Azteca restaurant to perform his Frank Sinatra tribute show. He resembles an older Sinatra, something he attributes to the fact "that we bonded. You know, like an old married couple that starts to look like each other." Gauthier never actually met Sinatra, though he did once con his way into Sinatra's Palm Springs home for an evening while the Chairman was away. Gauthier, who even talks like Sinatra (saying things like, "It was then that I started a relationship with an individual named Jesus of Nazareth"), grew up in Winnipeg and first heard Sinatra on "the hi-fi" when he was 12. Immediately smitten ("I slept next to that record player and went to sleep and woke up to Frank Sinatra for the next 2 1/2 years of my life"), he tried to imitate the best and worst of the Chairman. "I became a wheeler-dealer," Gauthier says. "I chased every skirt. I drank Jack Daniels, though it took me months to get used to it." He eventually hit it big in real estate only to lose it all to fast living. Six years ago, he was living out of his car in Palm Springs—"Where Sinatra lived," he says. "I think this whole thing was Freudian"—when he says God intervened and encouraged him to sing. He says he now believes that he is the "one chosen to carry on the torch." Carrying it has become more profitable since Sinatra's death last year. Asked if Sinatra's passing was bittersweet for him, Gauthier says: "Not at all. In life, something has to go for something else to live." His favorite restaurant? "That's easy," he says. "Sabatino in Newport Beach. I was invited there to do a performance. The food is absolutely delicious, and the people and ambiance are wonderful. It's right on the ocean. It started out as a sausage company, and they still make their own sausage. It's very elegant, very classy but down-to-earth. It has that quiet, Italian feel to it, the kind of place people from the neighborhood hang out. I've heard Ray Liotta and Joe Pesci are clients. If Sinatra were around, he'd eat there." Sabatino's Sausage Company, 251 Shipyard Way, Newport Beach, (949) 723-0645. (SL) SARAH ARNOLD. The Long Beach-based painter has drawn comparisons to Edward Hopper for her warm, stark urban landscapes. While old or abandoned buildings are the subject of much of her work, actually preserving those buildings has been a passion. She has worked on numerous committees, some of them rather hostile to her, and is a continuing member of the Long Beach Heritage Society. Painting has served her crusade. On more than one occasion, she has set up her easel on demolition sites, racing the wrecking ball to paint a landmark building before it's torn down. She devotes more time to painting and less to politics these days, though she can still stir it up, as when she was recently denounced as "the shrill voice of preservation." "I guess they thought they were insulting me," Arnold says. "But I took it as a compliment. What a wonderful thing to be called. I should have it tattooed." Her favorite restaurant is Frenchy's Bistro. "It's a real cute place with good food—the kind of place where on your birthday, they come out and sing to you and take your picture," she says. "Real corny but wonderful. Oh, and Christy's—you know, it's owned by Cher's daughter. I like the atmosphere: it's the kind of place where you can really talk, have great conversations. Café Piccolo—you know, just down the street from Christy's?—is like that, too, a really wonderful-looking place, and you can just sit and talk. Oh, and I have to mention the Golden Frog. They have great barbecue. Am I giving you enough? Long Beach is such a great eating town." Frenchy's Bistro, 4137 E. Anaheim, Long Beach, (562) 494-8787; Café Piccolo, 3222 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 438-1316; Christy's Restaurant, 3937 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 433-7133; The Golden Frog, 740 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 590-8419. (SL) DOUG SCRIBNER. When we first interviewed OC Libertarian Party secretary Doug Scribner, he showed up wearing a green Army jacket, a "Question Authority" pin, and a California Hemp Council T-shirt—definitely not your average purveyor of "boardroom politics." But even political activists have to eat, so when Scribner's not busy campaigning for the repeal of curfew laws, or disseminating information on the status of medical-marijuana-patients-turned-prisoners Steve Kubby and Marvin Chavez, he heads for Newport Beach's Jack Shrimp. "You get 10 of the biggest, fattest Louisiana jumbo shrimp," he says of the house specialty. "They're served in a bowl of a most unique, spicy broth. The recipe is a secret, but Jack has mumbled something about beer being one of the ingredients. You also get all the bread you can eat to dip in the sauce." Saddling up at the table with a plate of crawdads and a glass of water, Scribner bars no holds when it comes to attacking his plate. "Where else can you get crawdads in Orange County? Sure, it's only once a year, but the rest of the time, the shrimp is fantastic. And I love eating with my fingers—hey, I'm single!" Scribner also likes "the warm, friendly atmosphere—really! I know that sounds like a Denny's commercial, but I've never seen a minority refused service." An award-winning videographer, Scribner was allowed to shoot footage of owner Jack displaying a bunch of shrimp in his hands. "He wouldn't let me near the kitchen . . . because the top-secret recipe for his shrimp sauce might have been compromised." Ever the Libertarian, he's quick to add, "Ya gotta respect a free-market entrepreneur like that." Jack Shrimp, 2400 W. Pacific Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 650-5577; also in Irvine, (949) 252-1023; and Laguna Beach, (949) 376-8982.(VDI) DR. LORD LEE-BENNER. The mid-60-ish M.D. can most likely kick your butt: he works out for two hours each day, eats right and looks better than nearly everyone 20 years younger. Through his Lee-Benner Institute in Newport Beach—with clinics in Miami and Las Vegas—he counsels others in the way of his "anti-aging program," a program that includes exercise, eating right and human growth hormones. He loves eating out, but he also works at it. He is constantly asking restaurants how the food is prepared, the amount of oil used, and if there is a cream sauce. "You can eat healthy anywhere," he said, offering as evidence "the teriyaki-chicken bowl at Jack in the Box. You just have to know what to look out for." Jack in the Box? "Well, Bistango is great. It's elegant, with lovely art work and music and dancing on the weekends. It's got a wonderful continental cuisine that's very fresh and light. I also like two places on Coast Highway across from the Balboa Bay Club. Dolce is Italian, and it serves wonderful food. It's all very healthy and low-fat. Of course, my favorite restaurant is actually Koo Koo Roo. It's got great flame-broiled, skinless chicken and great vegetables; it's fast and tasty; and it's cheap." Bistango, 19100 Von Karman, Irvine, (949) 752-5222; Dolce, 800 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 631-4334; Koo Koo Roo, locations countywide. (SL) STEVE FRANKS. Franks' first screenplay, which was picked up last year by Columbia Pictures and made into the forthcoming Adam Sandler feature Big Daddy, pretty much ushered in a new era for him. Gone were his days spent slaving as a lackey/receptionist/gofer for a West LA television-movie production company. Agents, managers, film premieres, power lunches . . . er, not really. With the exception of a slightly higher-profile occupation, Franks is still more or less the same old schmo, only this schmo has projects at Disney and Universal. His favorite restaurant is the Napa Valley Pizza and Pasta Company in Sunset Beach. Franks says he digs the intimate spot. "The place is tiny—it fits only about 20—and you can see the kitchen from every table in the place," he says. This is a bonus, according to Franks, for those who need to know that their food is being prepared with the best ingredients, but he warns that the health-conscious might not want to watch too closely. "You can see how every dish is prepared," he says, "so if you order something with a lot of butter, you can see a big dollop of butter going right in." Unfettered, he regularly orders the chicken Marsala—a huge breast of chicken in a creamy white-wine sauce so good that he believes "it should come in its own carafe." Other favorites include the penne and the pizza, but he always saves room for dessert because the dessert menu, in the words of our erudite professional screenwriter, "kicks ass." And for those busy Hollywood types, all menu items can be ordered to go. The Napa Valley Pizza and Pasta Company, 16711 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-4459; also in Costa Mesa, (949) 574-7522.(TM) DR. GORDON LABEDZ. LaBedz helped found the Surfrider Foundation in 1985 because he didn't believe environmental organizations were paying enough attention to the coast. In just about 15 years, Surfrider has grown to 44 chapters nationwide (including Guam and Puerto Rico)—LaBedz heads the one based in Long Beach—with four international affiliates. LaBedz began surfing back in the early '60s in Long Island, of all places; he moved west to attend USC's medical school. A family practitioner, he still surfs every morning at Seal Beach Pier. "Surfing is Surfrider's best asset and our worst enemy," he says. "It's great because we get a lot of media coverage because of the surfing aspect, but it's also detrimental because a lot of people who believe in our cause and would like to join get nervous because they think they have to be surfers. That's not true at all. In Long Beach, hardly any of our members are surfers." It's not much of a surprise that LaBedz is a self-described "militant vegetarian. So my favorite place to eat would have to be Mother's Market in Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa. Everything on the menu is delicious—you don't have to be a vegetarian to enjoy it," he says. "I don't know how much you want to get into this, but half of our land is used for cattle production, grazing and for growing crops to feed cows. With that come things like habitat destruction and water pollution. So, really, Mother's is not only the best food, but it's also the healthiest food in Orange County: healthy for people, healthy for animals and healthy for the planet." Mother's Market, 225 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 631-4741; also in Huntington Beach, (714) 963-6667; and Irvine, (949) 752-6667. (SL) CELIA KUTCHER.Ever the naturalist, always the teacher, Kutcher just can't stop looking for ways to blend her favorite interests. As the curator of the Fullerton Arboretum, she has been overseeing the thriving plant collection at the arboretum since it opened on the Cal State Fullerton campus in 1979. She also serves as the vice-president of the Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society. Her dedication endures even when she's treating herself to a special dinner. So besides its gentle ambiance and excellent food, the Harbor Grill in Dana Point Harbor is Kutcher's favorite restaurant because it contributes a portion of its profits to the Orange County Marine Institute, an educational outreach program for children. Kutcher laughs and says, "It's great when you can be a supportive citizen by doing nothing more than eating a tasty meal." Kutcher says she's as apt to go to the Harbor Grill for lunch as for dinner. "There's an outside seating area pleasantly decorated with potted flowers," she says. But she usually orders the swordfish brochette. "They cook it masterfully—very simply but also very interestingly," she says. "The fish is mesquite-broiled, but it is never dry. It comes with a nice salad, rice and a vegetable." The Harbor Grill has a fine collection of wines, but Kutcher doesn't drink. She does do dessert, however. "I love their Key-lime pie. It's good because it's tart, not sweet, which makes it refreshing." Harbor Grill, 34499 Street of the Golden Lantern, Dana Point, (949) 240-1416.(DW) MINDY NETTIFEE.A poet and Chapman University political-science undergrad, Nettifee is one of the coolest people we know. The diminutive 19-year-old with dyed-black hair (last we saw, anyway) has represented OC at the 1998 National Poetry Slam Finals in Austin, Texas; has mingled with a diverse cross-section of California's political elite—everyone from Green Party gubernatorial candidate Dan Hamburg to county CEO Jan Mittermeier; and is helping organize this year's "Noise for the Needy" rock concert, which raises money for OC's homeless. In short, she's several OC Weekly staffers' dream date. Where does someone this unbelievably fab grab breakfast? Santa Ana's Cowgirls Café. "I've always felt curiously passionate about the subject of cowgirls, an obsession only intensified by Tom Robbins and a Playboy I saw once at a very impressionable age," she says. "I've also never had an empty cup of coffee at Cowgirls, a phenomenon rare enough that I was inspired to purchase a Cowgirls Cafe coffee mug on my second visit." Nettifee describes the place as "a charming little diner in the heart of an industrial area in Santa Ana . . . [with] comfortable green-vinyl booths, an eye-opening collection of pseudo-western paraphernalia on the walls, and the ability to play Keno with your breakfast. Perhaps the most unique thing in their décor is the posters they put beneath the table glass: scantily clad women, country-rock stars, Marilyn Monroe—a little something for everyone." Nettifee says she's "torn between the 'almost eggs Benedict' and the 'cowgirl omelet,' the latter of which comes with an extremely generous portion of fresh avocado slices. Either way, though, a meal at Cowgirls is not complete without at least a bite of their biscuits and gravy. Trust me on this—I've seen vegetarians converted by the aroma alone." The clincher on any restaurant is the staff, and Cowgirls Café doesn't disappoint. "Any place that has its waitresses wear sheriff's badges deserves my patronage," says Nettifee. "The waitress to request is a sassy and single Huntington Beach local named Janis. She tells stories, shows pictures of her pet iguana, and generally creates that great 'pub regulars' atmosphere we all pine for when we hear the Cheers theme song." Cowgirls Café, 1720 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 542-8877.(VDI) ALLEN TRAUTLOFF. Next time you decide you're done coming home from a long slog through traffic to a cramped apartment in Costa Mesa, consider the experience of oil-tanker driver Trautloff before you decide to chuck it all and move out to wider, opener spaces. He jumped at the chance to assume the payments on a friend's ranch-style condo not far from the shores of Lake Elsinore and right next to a little school. "Besides the fact that it takes me twice as long to get to and from work," says Trautloff, his irritation revving up like one of the trucks he drives, "they play nonstop soccer in that schoolyard—youth programs and adult leagues, practices and games. So every one of the quiet country weekends I expected are filled with referees' whistles, screaming players and the constant thunk-thunk-thunk of soccer balls being kicked." Plus, Trautloff misses Los Primos Cantina, his favorite Orange County eatery. "Ahh, the home of double-wrapped burritos," he sighs dreamily, as if transported to the bustling strip mall. "And even wrapped in two tortillas, sometimes those burritos will tear because they are packed so full. I guess the one I like most is called Mr. Serious. It has rice, beans, your choice of meat, pico de gallo, guacamole, sour cream—did I say lettuce already?—and oh, yeah, cheese." There are a few tables at Los Primos Cantina, but Trautloff prefers to take home a Mr. Serious and a big soft drink. They are part of his routine for big TV-sports events, part of his fond memories of the World Series, the Super Bowl or the NBA finals. And it's part of the reason he's already making plans to get out of Lake Elsinore. "I'll be moving back to Costa Mesa," he says. "I miss that place—the city and the restaurant. I'm serious." Los Primos Cantina, 488 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-1486.(DW) JIB. Jib—"Just Jib, no last name"—owner of Thai This restaurant in Dana Point, says his favorite place to eat is Sam Woo in Irvine. What kind of food? "Chinese Cantonese." What do you eat when you go there? "They are Hong Kong-style, right? I always order the Peking duck and the steamed fish. They've got live fish and shrimp." You eat them alive? "No, they have them swimming in tanks, and they steam them and bring them to you. For Chinese food, it's expensive, though." Is their food as good as your food? "For Chinese food, they're the best. I highly recommend Sam Woo in Irvine, okay?" Sam Woo Restaurant, 15333 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 262-0888. (BS) HARVEY SHELDON.Sheldon has been in show business since he was 9, dancing in musical theater and doing local radio in Philadelphia with Eddie Fisher. Job descriptions have included songwriter, radio-station owner and general manager, sports-talk host as well as originator of the Bunny Hop, along with his partner Dimples, as a 15-year-old dancer on the original American Bandstand. He's East Coast blunt; calls Orange County "Wonderbread, USA"; and won't play alternative music on his Century Cable music-video show, Monster Rock, which is produced from his Anaheim Hills home, because, he says, "it sucks." He plays Brian Setzer and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, but he prefers such classics as Benny Goodman because "Benny Goodman can rock with anyone." His favorite restaurants include two Jewish delicatessens: Benjies in Santa Ana and the Katella Deli in Los Alamitos. "Benjies is more of a breakfast and lunch place, and the Katella is more of a place you go for dinner," Sheldon says. "But they're both just awesome. Being from the East Coast, I grew up with a Jewish deli on every corner. It's very hard to get real Jewish food here—I'm talking about a stuffed cabbage and a hot sweet-and-sour meat borscht—oooooooohhh—and I like a place that knows how to make a stuffed knish and good blintzes. Yeeeaaah. And real authentic rye bread with a crunchy crust and crunchy bagels and kaiser rolls with crunchy crusts. Ooooh, maaaan. I love that, but you can't find that around here because things get so watered-down. It's Wonderbread, USA, and you can quote me." Benjies, 1828 N. Tustin, Santa Ana, (714) 541-6263; Katella Deli Restaurant, 4470 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-8611. (SL)

Famous Food, Part 2

 
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