By Keith Plocek
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Matt Coker
By Edwin Goei
By Dave Mau
By Gustavo Arellano
27 Named after a Michoacán rancho that has sent thousands of its residents to Orange County, Taquería El Granjenalmakes the best tacos in the county. They deviate from taco protocol by using full-sized corn tortillas and piling on chunks of your choice of grilled meat. The salsa is extraordinary, a dark-red lava extract whose burn factor is unknown outside Paricutín. El Granjenal keeps two locations, but visit the original in Costa Mesa, as it has outdoor seating and blasts cheesy sonidero music throughout the eve. 899 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-4964; also 140 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 836-9300.
28 Vietnamese cuisine includes a proud tofu tradition, and the menu at Van Hanh Vegetarian Restaurant represents its full, finest flowering. No limp kung pao and imitation orange chicken here. Instead, you'll find biting papaya concoctions drenched in chile powder and lime juice, noodle selections studded with tasty tofu and veggies, and lots of rice dishes. The best way to experience the place is with their multiparty combos—the more people in your group, the more entrées the Van Hanh folks include. If you come with a party larger than 10, expect mad love. 9455 Bolsa Ave., Ste. D, Westminster, (714) 531-4661.
3641 Katella Ave.
Rossmoor, CA 90720
Region: Los Alamitos
1430 E. Edinger Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92705-4801
Region: Santa Ana
7703 N. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Region: Laguna Beach
14370 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843
Region: Garden Grove
305 N. Hesperia
Santa Ana, CA 92703
Region: Santa Ana
928 N. Euclid St.
Anaheim, CA 92801
14520 Magnolia St., Ste. B
Westminster, CA 92683
29 You probably won't go to Win Thai for its cheesy Asian-pop background music, but you will return for the deep sweat its spicy dishes stimulate. As the flagship business in Anaheim's Thai Corner, Win Thai draws the most customers by concocting more than 100 items, ranging from traditional rice dishes to more exotic fare such as the spicy green mussel salad. And if you return enough times, cheerful owner Sue Pirompramate will greet you by name, complementary lemonade in hand. 1151 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 778-0940; members.aol.com/bwinthai.
30 There's not much glamour in the presentation at Pacific Coast Hot Dog, which is nowhere near the beach but instead floats between the asphalt gulch that's Chapman Avenue and a Blockbuster-anchored shopping plaza. Accouterments don't stray from the roll call of hot dog standards—saccharine relish, freshly sliced onions and tomatoes, even some sauerkraut for the Teutonic among us. Try the namesake special, which features as many apparent conflicts as an episode of The O.C.: cumin-spiked chili fights with bitter mustard and zingy onions for domain over your palate, you bastard! 3438 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 744-1415.
31 Far away from the familiar confines of Little Saigon, Kim Loan prepares boiling cauldrons of pho that could sell from a Da Nang street corner tomorrow. Their hearty pho brims with noodles upon which juts a promontory of rare beef that you can dip into the bubbling, anise-flavored broth for a well-done finish, or you can leave it be if you like meat undone. Throw crisp bean sprouts and mint leaves into the pho, along with a dab of tart hoisin sauce, and the madness of Bolsa vanishes as the pho gently overwhelms your senses. 1651 & 1653 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-0374.
32 Al-Waha BBQ looks like how Norm's would play in Damascus: a family-style cafeteria/hookah lounge complete with arcade games, big-screen TV and a private praying room slanted toward Mecca. Because of this, Al-Waha goes beyond the hummus-and-shawerma parade of other Middle Eastern establishments to present regional faves. Bamia is an okra-and-beef stew native to Iraq, tasting equal parts Mesopotamia and Mississippi. Better is molokhia, a vegetarian Egyptian soup as regal as the Sphinx. And Jordan makes an appearance with mansaf, yogurt-dunked lamb sprinkled with almonds and pine nuts. 9562 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 539-0656.
33 Grandma's Chicken House is the county's place to worship the gnarled splendor of broasted chicken, the criminally underappreciated cooking style that dominates the Red States and is better than any other fried meal you'll ever taste. Grandma's prepares its birds just like they do it in Omaha, by patting down wings, breasts, thighs—even gizzards—with piquant seasonings and batter, then tossing the pieces inside one of many steel pressure cookers. A volley of pops heard around the tiny dining area announces their rising temperature, sounding like some of Santa Ana's rougher neighborhoods come nightfall. 6072 Lincoln Ave., Cypress, (714) 527-3162.
34 Drones at the industrial park at the corner of Tustin Ranch and Walnut welcome the noon hour with joy. Like an oasis in the Gobi lies Jamillah Garden, the county's only restaurant specializing in Islamic Chinese cuisine, a type of dining tradition combining Middle Eastern opulence with the austere tastes of Northern China. Corporate types crowd into the restaurant in a sort of hunger haj throughout the day, drawn by the affordable lunch specials; curry chicken; and the sesame bread, a Frisbee of flour speckled with scallions. 2512 Walnut Ave., Tustin, (714) 838-3522.
35 The namesake owner of Esther's Place, Esther Kim, shows off a daily sartorial elegance—she wears heels and dresses to work every day despite operating a sandwich shop within a health-food store—that's topped only by her sandwiches, made from organic veggies and better than anything Mom ever packed for lunch. Make sure to top any hoagie off with one of her frosty health shakes. 6789 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-4266.
36 So Los Cotijas sports a racist Mexican logo—their little man is fat, sports a sombrero and peasant huaraches; a stereotypical hat trick!—but what Mexican dinner dive doesn't? Ignore self-hatred in favor of fish tacos: soft fish encapsulated by the battered coating from heaven snuggled within corn tortillas that abuelita couldn't mimic even if she didn't have arthritis and a hearing aid. 11951 Euclid St., Garden Grove, (714) 636-3944.
Find everything you're looking for in your city
Find the best happy hour deals in your city
Get today's exclusive deals at savings of anywhere from 50-90%
Check out the hottest list of places and things to do around your city