This Week In Small-City Dining

I'm sorry, residents of Villa Park, Aliso Viejo and other dwarf cities who write begging for reviews of restaurants in their municipalities. See, we've already reviewed most of your best grubberies years ago, and I have a strict (not to mention egotistical) policy of never writing about a place we've profiled in the past. To make up for the non-mentions, then, here are some culinary highlights of the county's tiny burbs.

DINNER FOR TWO: ¢ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than $10! $ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10-$20 $$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20-$40 $$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ¡Eres muy rico!APPLE A DAY HEALTH FOOD CO.

Sandwiches such as the tuna, egg salad and Valley avocado are excellent. Get the salad with honey-sesame dressing as the side order, and wash it all down with a strawberry-banana smoothie. 30262 Crown Valley Pkwy., Ste. A, Laguna Niguel, (949) 495-3250. $

A'ROMA RISTORANTE TRATTORIA

The restaurant has a modern décor in deep, soothing colors, and the servers are attentive. Put yourself in the mood for the chicken-breast special, which is cooked to a golden tenderness and seasoned to a subtle richness. 30 Centerpointe Dr., Ste. 1, La Palma, (714) 523-3729. $

LA BETTOLA

Delicious focaccia and a ramekin of butter-soft roasted garlic cloves glistening in olive oil arrive at your table when you sit down. Next, try the classic caesar salad (a better courtship tool than a dozen roses). 18504 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, (714) 695-0470. $$

BLUE AGAVE

A fantastically fabulous Southwestern place where everything on the menu—no, really, everything—is nothing short of orgasmic. Be sure to order the Montego Bay coconut-shrimp appetizer: big, plump prawns fried in shredded-coconut batter. 18601 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, (714) 970-5095. $$

CAPTAIN JACK'S

Opened on June 25, 1965, this steak and seafood restaurant supposedly serves 53,000 pounds of Alaskan king crab per year—more than any other restaurant in the U.S. It prides itself on consistent quality and hearty portions. The bar is one of the few that still use the "Super Well," meaning that if you order gin, you get Bombay and if you order vodka, you get Absolut. 16812 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-2514. $$

CHINA PANDA

With close to 200 menu items, lean toward the three-ingredient taste, an ESL-named chicken, beef and shrimp combo in a broccoli brown sauce. Or the honey shrimp with walnuts; the salty, sweet shrimp go perfectly with a cold Tsing Tao beer. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Ste. 102, Villa Park, (714) 998-4592. $

THE COFFEE GROVE

Villa Park's answer to Cheers, the Coffee Grove is a place where you can chat with the locals or read the paper while they whip up your favorite caffeinated drink. 17769 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, (714) 974-2650. $

COSMO'S ITALIAN KITCHEN

The restaurant is actually named after a family friend of the owners'—no relation to Cosmo Kramer. Try the homemade, meat-filled ravioli topped with pesto sauce; it has more flavor than anything Chef Boyardee could ever dream up! 23411 Aliso Viejo Pkwy., Aliso Viejo, (949) 448-9040. $

DOVE CANYON STEAK HOUSE

Practically a helicopter ride from most of Orange County, the Dove Canyon Steak House is worth the ride. The menu is beautifully simple: steaks, seafood and a couple of pasta dishes to go along with appetizing appetizers. 31911 Dove Canyon Dr., Trabuco Canyon, (949) 888-8477. $$$

ELLEN'S PINOY GRILLE

Ellen's attracts as many non-Filipinos as pinoys, perhaps because Ellen's offers a menu—a list of all 70 entrées, 10 of them available at any time in the always-steaming turo-turo buffet. The daing na bangus—milkfish stew marinated with garlic and cucumbers and cooked in a searing coconut-and-soy-sauce broth—is fabulous. 7971 Valley View St., La Palma, (714) 522-8866. $

HARBOR HOUSE CAFÉ

This 24-hour diner is a local institution that serves consistently good food. As it's incredibly popular with the late-night crowd, be prepared to wait for a table. 16341 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-5404. $

IRVINE LAKE CAFE

When you get hungry in the backwaters of OC, turn that skiff around and motor over to this café. They offer supersatisfying breakfast burritos and always-fresh Farmers Bros. coffee that can be packed for boat or car. 4621 Santiago Canyon Rd., Silverado, (714) 649-9111. $

MOLLIE'S COUNTRY KITCHEN

This is theplace for breakfast in Laguna Niguel. While they've got all the goods you'd associate with a restaurant that has "country kitchen" in its title (such as biscuits and gravy), their ultimate specialty is Mexican food, which includes morning-associated stuff such as huevos rancheros and machacha burritos. It's served all day, so late risers can appreciate the food, too. 27932 La Paz Rd., Laguna Niguel, (949) 643-9174. $

OPAH

The best fancy restaurant in South County's indistinguishable haven of master-plandom has expanded to Rancho Santa Margarita and is no longer privy to Aliso Viejo. The menu is a blend of nouveau seafood with democratic flair. Fish fanatics must get the Pacific Northwest cioppin, which bursts with chunks of salmon, halibut and ahi. Aliso Viejo Town Center, 26851 Aliso Creek Rd., Aliso Viejo, (949) 360-8822; 22332 El Paseo, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 766-9988. $$

OSAKA

Sushi, eight teppan-yaki tables, no karaoke, no artificial waterfalls, hot and tender scallops, and perfectly prepared hibachi steaks. The room is tiny, but the food will be pleasing to your palate—and your wallet. 27981 Greenfield Dr., Laguna Niguel, (949) 362-2897. $$

SILVERADO CAFÉ

For breakfast, feast on their miner's omelet: a crepe-like blanket of eggs filled with mushrooms, onions, green peppers, chiles, tomatoes and cheese. Try the patty melt with fries and coleslaw for lunch. 28272 Silverado Canyon Rd., Silverado, (714) 649-2622. $

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