This Week In Small-City Dining

It may scream chain fast-food restaurant, but in fact the eatery is owned by an exhibition designer who knows how to make it look professional. The best deal is the lunch-time pad Thai combo, with two items and rice. It's a greasy, flavorful bargain. 26921 Aliso Creek Rd., Ste. J, Aliso Viejo, (949) 643-0627. $

TRABUCO OAKS STEAK HOUSE

Cruise this ramshackle roadhouse with a creek purling behind it, where inside you'll find the best dry-aged, corn-fed, hand-trimmed, mesquite-grilled beef in OC. It's all served with fried or baked potatoes, beans, garlic bread and a house salad. 20782 Trabuco Oaks Dr., Trabuco Canyon, (949) 586-0722. $$

ROCKWELL'S CAFE AND BAKERY

This neighborhood café and bakery is an ode to Norman with Rockwellian gilt-edged plates and prints covering the bathroom walls. Besides the interior-design salute, Rockwell's serves four great versions of eggs Benedict, all with hollandaise sauce made from scratch. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, (714) 921-0622. $

THE WILD ARTICHOKE

While the restaurant's motto "Food prepared from the heart, with the soul in mind" is cumbersome (it's like a New Age math problem), all of James D'Aquila's culinary creations are fabulous, simply fabulous. Stick to the namesake artichokes—either the simple Wild Artichoke salad, which is tossed with various vegetables and sprinkled with a bitter balsamic vinaigrette, or Artichoke Napoleon, a puff pastry in which sautéed artichokes assume the luxuriousness of truffles. 4973-A Yorba Ranch Rd., Yorba Linda, (714) 777-9646. $$$

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