Summer Eats

Part Two

[BREAKFAST] I arrived three minutes before the posted 9 a.m. start time at Cabo Loco Grillto find the front door locked. Someone who had just arrived for work unlocked it for me at about 9:03 a.m. It took several moments before anyone showed up at the counter to take my order. My request for coffee and the $20 bill I used to pay for my fare were met with sighs of objection (no coffee in the pot; no change in the register). Oh, did I come at a bad time? My breakfast burrito made up for it. A flour tortilla warmed on a griddle (a pox on anyone who throws them into microwaves) was filled with beans, chorizo, diced green peppers, Mexican-style potatoes, and Cheddar and Jack cheeses. At $2.79, it's an affordably delicious way to start the day. And here's a health tip: the hot chile verde at the help-yourself salsa bar does wonders for postnasal drip. Spying a sign touting $1.89 halibut, salmon, shrimp or mahi-mahi tacos all day, I knew I'd be back, but NOT for the coffee. [LUNCH] The left-leaning political discussion at my table must have caused a few South County stomachs to turn at Biagio's Italian Restaurant, but it wouldn't have been enough to keep anyone who'd joined me in ordering the Sicilian-style linguine from digging in. Basil, oregano and anchovies were blended into a marinara sauce and poured over a healthy serving of thin spaghetti. It was delicious, but I could only finish half the platter because I had filled up on the accompanying salad and warm, crusty, homemade bread. After my Partner in Dine finished her bountiful booty of ravioli, our pleasant waitress came over and—rather than admonishing us for mixing pasta and politics—asked, "Whatever happened to Ralph Nader? He was my favorite." Take that, Antonello's. [DINNER] We turned up the noise another notch or three at Yee's Chinese Restaurant, but that was because we had a buncha stinkin' kids at our table. My personal history has been hit-and-miss with Chinese food in Orange County. Fortunately, Yee's—which has been around since 1973—falls squarely in the plus column. The meats and veggies were fresh, the dishes brimmed with flavor, and the service was excellent. In fact, our tireless waiter, Peter, barely batted an eye when one of the brats knocked a full platter of shrimp chow mein on the floor. Highly recommended: Sizzling 3 Flavors (sliced shrimp, chicken and beef sautéed in a tangy brown sauce and served in a sizzling platter); Buddha's feast (snow peas, water chestnuts, Chinese cabbage, broccoli and mushrooms in brown sauce); and orange chicken (breast of chicken deep-fried until crisp and drenched in sweet hot sauce; you'll appreciate the made-to-order quality if you've sampled this dish at places that keep their orange chicken in warming trays all day). (MC) Cabo Loco Grill, 20702 Lake Forest Dr., (949) 707-5346; Biagio's Italian Restaurant, 24301 Muirlands Rd., Ste. H, (949) 837-3850; Yee's Chinese Restaurant, 23684 El Toro Rd., Unit U, (949) 837-1181.

LA PALMA

[BREAKFAST] If you're rolling down the open road, you find your fine food by looking for the truckers outside the lonesome diner. When you're stop-and-going in claustrophobic suburbia, you place a random call to City Hall, closing your eyes and poking at the telephone keypad in response to every voice mail prompt. Eventually, you get a live person, and you ask: What's the best place in town for breakfast? And that's how you end up at Johnie's Jr., preparing to clean off a plate covered with a well-packed Western omelet, crispy-lush hash browns and two slices of warm, buttered sourdough toast while downing a couple of cups of coffee. The place is a converted old Taco Bell, but the most obvious changes are the decals bearing the likeness of the Johnie's mascot—Fat Boy, who appears to be a surviving relative of the late Big Boy—affixed to every tabletop. Ordering and serving is still done fast-food style, and if you're not the type to remember to grab the Tapatio sauce or the cream for your coffee, you'll likely be squeezing in and out of those '60s-era booths a few times. [LUNCH] A little past noon, we asked a cop sitting in his squad car for a mealtime suggestion, and let's just say they love their Johnie's Jr. in La Palma! But we were in the mood for something a little more relaxed and upscale. And different. A'Roma Ristorante Trattoriaaccomplished this from its motif to its menu. A modern décor in deep, soothing colors—no red-checkered tablecloths here—and attentive servers put us in the mood for the chicken-breast special, which is cooked to golden tenderness; seasoned to a subtle richness; stuffed with mozzarella and mushrooms; and accompanied by flavorful vegetables, colorful corkscrews of pasta and glasses of iced tea. The main course was preceded by a small mixed salad chopped to a fluttery lightness and enhanced with the house Italian dressing and a basket of warm bread with a cream-cheese-and-marinara-sauce. Dessert was the waiter's favorite, a chocolate mousse in raspberry sauce. [DINNER] La Capilla looks like an old Taco Bell on steroids and attracts the Acapulco/El Torito crowds, but despite the kitschy mission look and the six-page menu, the restaurant admirably holds on to its gastronomic integrity—even when it dances across cultural lines. We started with a bowl of savory tortilla soup and a bowl of chips with salsa that was wonderfully savory instead of merely scorching. The main course was camarones criollos—that is, shrimp creole—and the medium-sized little critters came plump, tender, peeled and sautéed in a hearty ranchera sauce. The requisite refried beans and rice came along for the ride, and both did their duty, which was to force us to take a few shrimp home. We might have had dessert, except for a long-ago bad experience with flan. (DW) Johnie's Jr., 7811 Valley View Ave., (714) 228-0464; A'Roma Ristorante Trattoria, 30 Center Pointe Dr., Ste. 1, (714) 523-3729; La Capilla, 4997 La Palma Blvd., (714) 821-6191.

LOS ALAMITOS
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