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CONTINUED La Cave Restaurant

1695 Irvine Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 646-7944

First established way back on Valentine's Day, 1962, La Cave quickly became known as the source of the finest steaks and seafood in Orange County. Dark and romantic, with live jazz and lounge music Tuesdays through Saturdays, this underground treasure offers classic, elegant fare of steaks and seafood. Once you see the menu cart, wheeled to every table and offering that night's selections, you'll never go anywhere else.

Services: takeout available. Reservations suggested. Full bar. Hours: 5:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m. Most major credit cards accepted.Las Barcas21032 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 536-2616

And you thought healthy Mexican food was an oxymoron. Las Barcas, which serves up cuisine as stomach-friendly as it is savory, should relieve you of that sad assumption. Not that the soft tacos; carnitas platters; and cheese-stuffed, batter-fried chile rellenos don't hit the spot like nothing else. That fat "No Lard" sign in the window, however, just might prove even more satisfying—and you gotta love a place with a "Healthy Fitness Burrito" on the menu. Add to that cozy, casual atmosphere that recalls just about every past Mexican-restaurant experience you've had, minus the cholesterol. Consider Las Barcas a guilt-free pleasure.

Services: takeout available. Beer and wine served. Hours: daily, 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Left at Albuquerque20 The City Blvd. W., Ste. R-2, Orange, (714) 769-4300; 3309 Michelson Dr., Irvine, (949) 757-7600

The Southwest craze of the 1980s came and went and left a few hearty and worthy survivors, among the best of which is Left at Albuquerque, a restaurant that, according to The San Francisco Chronicle, "reverberates with pizzazz and energy." Within a high-ceilinged, airy interior that suggests the great outdoors, servers hurry about with astounding culinary collisions of north and south (consider the mango chicken quesadillas or the Ancho tequila lime prawns) and standards (such as BBQ baby back ribs and tequila-grilled chicken breast) that are anything but standard. Do not miss the world-famous Left at Albuquerque bar, serving scores of Mexico's greatest tequilas. (We're partial to the Route 66 Margarita, 66 fluid ounces of margarita madness.)

Services: catering available. Full bar. Hours: Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.-midnight. All major credit cards accepted.The Longboard Restaurant & Pub217 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-1896

Located right on the bikini-bearing street of Main Street sits the surfing-inspired Longboard Restaurant & Pub. They have 16 microbrews on tap and a great wine selection in addition to a menu filled with Caribbean, Cajun and American specialties. Try the Maine Street lobster flown in daily from the rocky coast of Maine or the jerk-chicken sandwich: marinated boneless chicken in a rich collection of Jamaican island fresh spices and seasonings, grilled, topped with lettuce and tomato, and served on a whole-wheat bun.

Services: takeout available. Hours: Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sat.-Sun., 9:30 a.m.-11 p.m. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted.Lotus Café1515 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 385-1233

Let's face it: steak gets old—really old. You're unlikely to find a more soothing alternative than the Lotus Café, a cozy, casual little Chinese bistro that's practically brimming with positive energy. The menu, which includes such gems as the fresh veggie feast (assorted vegetables sautéed with tofu and served with spicy kung pao or curry sauce) puts a unique vegetarian spin on Asian cuisine, and the atmosphere is as casual, low-key, plant-happy and family-oriented they come. It's a refreshingly perfect fit. And how's this for a bonus: the Lotus Café now serves boba milk tea, which may be the most deservedly popular phenomenon in the past century or so.

Services: takeout available. Hours: Mon.- Thurs., 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5 p.m.-9 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. & 5-9:30 p.m. All major credit cards accepted.Madeleine Mongolian BBQ2394 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-1421

Sporting an easy-to-find Costa Mesa location and a friendly, family-style atmosphere, Madeleine Mongolian BBQ offers meat-lovers some of the tastiest Mongolian- and Chinese-style barbecue dishes around, along with excellent chicken and shrimp meals, and even great options for vegetarians. Whatever you do, though, try the marvelous, exotic Pho noodle soup—you won't regret it!

Hours: Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sun., noon-7 p.m.Mahe1400 Pacific Coast Hwy., Seal Beach, (562) 431-3022
 
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