Summer Eats

Part Two

[BREAKFAST] Across Coast Highway from the labyrinthine Balboa Bay Club is Galeos, a small café perfect for that early-morning summer breakfast by the bay. The tables are intimate, and the walls and ceiling are splashed with color. Oh, yeah—the food is incredible. If you're walking over from the club, try the scrambled eggs and prosciutto for $7.75. Others, like me, can be content with the more frugal fresh-baked bagels and buttery croissants. But watch out for the beautiful Russian woman who takes your order—she messes with your mind. Once, after I'd ordered my food, she looked at me pleasantly and asked in a kind of naive, ontological way, "Why?" [LUNCH] Balboa Bay is nice, but in the summer, everyone wants to see the beach. Conveniently located for the pale out-of-towners is Italiano, a tiny shop next to a hair salon not far from the Balboa Pier. The décor is plain—heavy, high-backed chairs surrounding tables draped in the typical red-and-white tablecloths. But the service is friendly (the guy behind the counter also serves your food and buses your table), and the food is great. The front door advertises a medium one-topping pizza for $4.95, but the meatball sandwich is one of the best items on the menu. It drips with lots of melted mozzarella and tangy sauce. [DINNER] The blazing sun that burned your skin only an hour ago is now a glowing red ball sinking into the Pacific beyond Catalina. For dinner, you want something light served someplace romantic. You stayed away from the typical beach pizza at lunch, so ride the ferry over to Balboa Island and get a gourmet pizza at Ciao. Each is a plate-sized disc of bread loaded with just about everything. My preference for all things ham and pineapple leads me to the Maui, but others may prefer loading theirs with onions, sausage and grilled eggplant. There's also a great cheeseless pizza. (Anthony Pignataro) Galeos, 930 W. Coast Hwy., (949) 574-0202; Italiano, 524 W. Balboa Blvd., (949) 673-1930; Ciao, 223 Marine Ave., Balboa Island, (949) 675-4070.


[BREAKFAST] PJ's Abbey is an honest-to-God former Baptist church erected in 1891. Enter through the side door, amble to the simple, clean wooden bar, and order something hot and steamy—I meant the coffee. Don't forget a bagel or muffin; regarding the latter, I recommend the tasty pumpkin-spice. Station yourself at one of the chest-high tables surrounded by tall stools and contemplate wandering through the Plaza's antique stores in search of treasures. (Don't bother with the expensive-looking places banking on kitsch collectibles; instead, haunt the stocked-to-overflowing coolness of Summerhill Ltd. and the Barn.) [LUNCH] at Zito's Pizza, which is tucked inside a strip mall across from the near-lifeless Orange Mall. As you enter, notice the photos of sports figures on the walls and smell the fresh pies being pulled from the brick-walled oven. Order an Italian, a meatless, modestly cheesy, spice-loaded house specialty. There's a wall-mounted TV on which sportscasters spew sportspeak; the place usually hosts a mob of kids, drawn there by the arcade, a throwback to your bad youth when you hung out in a New York pizzeria scoring like a playboy on Pac-Man. They don't make 'em like this anymore. For [DINNER], head to Juana Maria, home of real Mexican food; beware the slippery, spicier-than-at-your-usual-Mexican-joint salsa. My advice:order whatever the waiter suggests. The fish is invariably tender, and the sauces aren't overwhelming. When you ask for the check, they bring wonderful fruit-flavored hard candies; my favorite is the mango. Stuffed, but not ready for day's end, drive into Orange's hills for mochas at Cyrano's. The night air is cool, but sit on the back patio anyway. Tiny lights twinkle above you as you chat over a thick slice of cheesecake slathered in strawberries. Aren't you glad you went to Orange? (Patrice Wirth Marsters) PJ's Abbey, 182 S. Orange St., (714) 771-8556; Zito's Pizza, 2036 N. Tustin St., (714) 974-6191; Juana Maria Mexican Restaurant, 510 E. Katella Ave., (714) 639-5000; Cyrano's, 7446 E. Chapman Ave., (714) 289-1031.


[BREAKFAST] Maria's Bakery is an anti-bakery. There are no tables, no chairs and no lattes. A few cases along the wall overflow with Mexican sweet breads, cookies and cakes, some frosted with pink, green and blue icings. My favorite is the empanada (a cross between a puff pastry and a pound cake filled with custard). On a recent trip, I picked up seven different pastries for a Tijuana-cheap $2.45. That's less than the cost of coffee and a bagel. Grab some milk or juice from Bargain Basket next door and head over to Tri-City Park to enjoy a lakefront breakfast with the ducks and geese. [LUNCH] I should have realized from my first serving of chips that everything at El Farolito, located in the historic Santa Fe district, would be irregular and oversized. A basket of thick square- and half-moon-shaped chips came with a fresh, spicy salsa bearing a hectare of cilantro. Remember your mother's admonition—"You're eating with your eyes instead of your stomach "—when you order. I picked the ostensibly modest chicken quesadilla; what emerged from the kitchen was something the size of a small hubcap, topped with guacamole and refried beans. Definitely order the sour cream. It has a tart, cream-cheese-like consistency designed to cool the palate after all the salsa and exotic cinnamon coffee they serve. [DINNER] And speaking of your mother—ay, Dios mioHavana Grill serves the food your mother would make if you called your mom "Mami" and she were Cuban. This 4-month-old restaurant serves huge portions of Cuban favorites in what feels like a family dining room. I swear, at one point, I thought Mami would come around and say, "Mija, clean your plate!" The grass-green walls are covered with old family photos, pictures of 1950s Cuba—ah, for the glory days of Batista and Ricky Ricardo—and musical instruments. Even the dinnerware is bright, with Fiestaware-like platters, pitchers and plates. This is simple food with intense flavors of sweet, salty and spicy on one plate. The black beans and rice have a wonderful nutty flavor. The gloriously tender ropa vieja is cooked with garlic, onions and oregano and paired with a generous serving of maduros—my favorite. If you have room for anything besides a café con leche after dinner, try the creamy rice pudding with lots of cinnamon or the intensely sweet caramel flan. (Shelle Murach) Maria's Bakery, 642 W. Chapman Ave., (714) 993-5098; El Farolito, 201 S. Bradford Ave., (714) 993-7880; Havana Grill, 1221 E. Imperial Hwy., (714) 993-4393.

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