"Why don't you write about _____?" is one of the more common e-mails I receive from curious grubbers. Here's why: that "hidden gem" you raved about is so damn famous that to write about it would make me seem as unimaginative asOrange County Register food writer Tenny Tatusian (Ramos House Café, Tenny? Way to establish your gem-finding cred!). _____ doesn't need an article—don't you see the people waiting in line? Don't you know you need a reservation just to see the menu? Plus, we're a good paper, so my chowhound forefathers wrote about _____ before my time. Here are some of the restaurants people have asked me to review in the past couple of weeks.

DINNER FOR TWO: ¢…….………………..…..Less than $10! $……………….…….…………..$10-$20 $$…………….……….…………$20-$40 $$$………………………¡Eres muy rico! AU LAC

Au Lac is as soothing and tranquil as any place you'll find in a strip mall. They specialize in gourmet Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine, but what really lines the kids up outside is the soy-meat masterpieces to be found on their almost entirely vegan-friendly menu. 16563 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 418-0658. $$

Location Info

Map

Black Sheep Bistro

303 El Camino Real
Tustin, CA 92780

Category: Restaurant > Spanish

Region: Tustin

Green Parrot Cafe

2035 N. Main St.
Santa Ana, CA 92706

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Santa Ana

Habana

2930 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Costa Mesa

La Palma Chicken Pie Shop

928 N. Euclid St.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Anaheim

Lucille's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que

1639 E. Imperial Highway
Brea, CA 92821

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Brea

Maggiano's Little Italy

3333 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Costa Mesa

Thanh My Restaurant

9553 Bolsa Ave. Westminster, CA
Westminster, CA 92683

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Westminster

Walt's Wharf

201 Main St.
Seal Beach, CA 90740

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Seal Beach

Watson Drugs and Soda Fountain

116 E. Chapman Ave.
Orange, CA 92866

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Orange

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The Black Sheep Bistro

For the superlative paella, a couple of days advance notice is needed, but for good reason. You won't find a more complex, beautifully presented or better-tasting paella in OC. 303 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 544-6060. $$

BURRELL'S BAR-B-QUE

Fred Burrell continues to mind the fires at his ultrafunky Santa Ana shack, serving up the greatest, messiest platters of ribs, hand-stuffed hot links and pork tips that bring a mouthful of soul to the county. 305 N. Hesperian, Santa Ana, (714) 547-7441. $

FELIX'S CONTINENTAL CAFÉ

One of OC's finest Cuban joints. Lunches run more than $5, but you'd be foolish to nix the chicken embajador on the patio during a warm afternoon. This place is legendary, and it smells damn good, too. 36 Plaza Square, Orange, (714) 633-5842. $$

GREEN PARROT café

At the Green Parrot, they know how to dish up hospitality instead of an endless bread basket and a maitre d's neglect. A prix frixe four-course tasting menu is affordable and includes a not-teeny blood-orange salad with bleu cheese and walnuts, plus a nicely crusted crème brûlée. Eat it outside in the twinkly light-bedecked patio or inside their beautiful dining hall. 2035 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 550-6040. $$

THE GYPSY DEN

Hipster Orange County's favorite place to ogle progressive waitresses. The menu is filled with an eclectic collection of healthy post-hippie sandwiches, and the décor of each location is almost identical, from the earthy walls to the funky art. 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 549-7012; 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 835-8840. $

Habana

The ambiance makes this the perfect date restaurant. The Nuevo Latino menu leans toward Cuban but mixes in Jamaican, Mexican and other flavors. The bar serves some of the best sangria around, and the lemon-drop martinis are near-legendary, too. 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-0176. $$

La Palma Chicken Pie Shop

It's pure comfort to know the same waitresses will serve you the same chicken pot pies year after year. These pies are the size of large talcum-powder puffs and have a flaky, golden-brown pastry crust. 928 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 533-2021. ¢

LUCILLE'S SMOKEHOUSE BAR-B-Q

Sides at Brea's hottest spot—two per entrée—are as big as appetizers, and appetizers constitute a month's worth of courses in some sub-Saharan nations. But these servings are mere crumbs when measured against the feral bulk of a Lucille's barbecue plate. After plowing through one of these, you'd better waddle out fast before the Lucille's owners size you up as ready for a dance on the grill, so plump will you be. 1639 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 990-4944. $$

MAGGIANO'S LITTLE ITALY

The choices for family dining are voluminous, and everything from the calamari to the lasagna to the shrimp—especially the shrimp—to the tiramisù is outstanding. The portions are huge, making us Americans the luckiest bunch of pigs this side of Charlotte's Web. 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 546-9550. $$

ROSINE'S MEDITERRANEAN ROTISSERIE & GRILL

Offering a wide swath of Eastern Mediterranean cuisine, all of the food here tastes like a mother made it for you, and that's because Rosine is a dynamo of a mom who either prepares or oversees everything that winds up on a plate. 721 S. Weir Canyon Rd., Ste. 135, Anaheim, (714) 283-5141. $$

ROYAL KHYBER

The self-proclaimed "restaurant of the year" unabashedly serves upscale Indian cuisine in a setting more suited for coats and ties than T-shirts and jeans. The spicy chicken Madras features big chicken chunks and sliced tomatoes buried in a potent curry highlighted by freshly ground black pepper. It torches. 1621 Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 436-1010; www.royalkhyber.com. $$

SAVOURY'S

Located in the La Casa de Camino Hotel in beautiful Laguna Beach, the restaurant is run by executive chef Brad Toles, captain of Team California in the International Culinary Olympics. He melds Asian and European cooking with a New Age flair. You can have your Brie and pad Thai here, and you'll like it. 1287 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-9716. $$$

THANH MY

Thanh My offers not just a palate-expanding, belt-popping introduction to Vietnamese cuisine, but also a veritable graduate course in it. With nearly 200 menu items, you could eat here for months without repeating a meal. 9553 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 531-9540. $$

WALT'S WHARF

One of the best—and most popular—seafood restaurants in the county, Walt's Wharf is perhaps most famous for things having nothing to do with fish. That would be the oak-grilled artichokes and the epic wait for a table that could make one very cranky if the food weren't so good and the bar fully stocked. 201 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 598-4433. $$

WATSON DRUGS AND SODA FOUNTAIN

Oldest drugstore (and probably diner) in OC—100 years and running. Real diner atmosphere, with counter dining and lots of burgers. Tom Hanks used it for That Thing You Do! Only place I know of where you can fill a Prozac prescription, buy Preparation H, eat a pastrami melt and read The New York Times in one sitting. 116 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 633-1050. $

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