OCs 97 Best American Restaurants

9. The perfect Orange County fancy dinner is at Savoury's: in a historic building (Laguna Beach's La Casa del Camino Hotel) near the sea, with an award-winning chef (Brad Toles led Team California to four gold medals in the 2002 International Culinary Olympics) concocting platters deliciously jumbled in their California spin. Crab cakes with wasabi? Hai! 1287 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-9716; www.savourys.com.

10. Ten years after debuting in a dilapidated Costa Mesa factory, five years after opening a second location in downtown Santa Ana, the Gypsy Den remains blue-state Orange County's salon, where nose-pierced babes woo scruffy-bearded grad students with promises of Foucault and vegetarian chili. Though lunch and dinner skew toward hippy healthy, owners Catherine Graziano and Joe Ongie always include wet veggies in their lengthy wraps and non-refried black beans in their gabacho Mexican breakfasts. Their carrot cake is the creamiest in town. 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 549-7012; 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 835-8840; www.gypsyden.com.

11. In a county dotted with Philly cheesesteak houses, John's Philly Grille is our 1980—the year the Phillies won their only World Series. Sports paraphernalia hang from the walls, the amount of big-screen TVs reward workers with tans, and the cheesesteaks are bigger than Mike Schmidt's bat: juicy beef shavings, perfectly grilled peppers, a sturdy Italian loaf and sprays of Cheez Whiz gluing the disparate parts with its sharp, sticky power. 1784 S. Euclid Ave., Anaheim, (714) 491-2733; 20379 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 969-8755; and 16061 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-1513.

12. In my trips over the years to Chris & Pitts, I've seen customers sporting pajamas, muumuus and oxygen tanks sitting in corny Naugahyde booths, awaiting platters of inexpensive steak and ribs drowned in a spicy-for-whitey sauce. It's been like this for decades, and the only update of the menu in the past 10 years or so came last year, when it added broasted chicken. This is the modern world. 601 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 635-2601; 15975 Harbor Blvd., Fountain Valley, (714) 775-7311.

13. Last year, the Nation's Restaurant News enshrined Mr. Stox into its Fine Dining Hall of Fame. But the venerable spot—one of the county's first serious haute cuisine emporiums—is so much more than scintillating steaks; poached salmon; and a duck sauced with a sweet, luring glaze. Where else can you spend a couple of hundred for Mom's birthday dinner and get a complimentary photo? Awww . . . 1105 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 634-2994; www.mrstox.com.

14. Hot dog eating the way God wants it at Pacific Coast Hot Dogs—outside a colorful building, washed down with frothy fruit shakes, decorated only with the essential condiments. The chilidog's piquant flavor provokes memories of a summer's worth of love, heat, fireworks and heartache. And the namesake special features as many apparent conflicts as an episode of The O.C.: cumin-driven chili fights with bitter mustard and zingy onions for domain over your palate. 3438 E. Chapman Ave., Orange (714) 744-1415; 300 Pacific Coast Hwy. Ste. 106-A, Huntington Beach, (714) 969-8799.

15. The décor at Grandma's Chicken House is 1950s drive-through—high-backed black booths, domino-checkered floor and a Plexiglas chicken that towers over Lincoln Avenue. The menu is pure heartland—broasted chicken pressure-cooked to a gnarled, greasy apogee, the hen buttery but peppery (girthy potatoes broasted in the batter). The prices are wonderfully low. And the owners are Filipinos. How much more America do you want? 6072 Lincoln Ave., Cypress, (714) 527-3162.

16. Rack of lamb is as ubiquitous to fancy American bistros as falafels are to Middle Eastern bazaars, but the Sundried Tomato Café prepares a version fit for hoity-toity cavemen—meaty bones doused with a tart cranberry sauce, the lamb cooked to pink perfection. Great, zesty namesake cream soup as well. 361 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach; (949) 494-3312; 31781 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 661-1167; www.sundriedtomatocafe.com.

17. Orange County had a pitiful pizza tradition until the arrival of A Slice of New York Pizza. Whatever you might want on your pie—zesty pesto, searing buffalo wings, pineapple, pepperoni—it comes out like they like it in the Bronx—superthin, crunchy, topped with the minimal amount of sauce and served on butcher paper. If you care anything about food, you will visit this cubbyhole. And we love the blown up Topps football card of John Riggins with the New York Jets—supoib! 142 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 493-4430.

18. Descend into a dank strip-mall cellar. Listen to lounge. Flirt with cuties of both sexes and diverse sexual preferences. Sit in real-deal, red Naugahyde booths. Peek at the steak cart. Order one. Knife through transcendent, lightly sauced steer. Flirt again. Knock back a few martinis. Go home with said cutie. And come back to La Cave in a week, ready to do it again. 1695 Irvine Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-7944; www.lacaverestaurant.com.

19. After Burrell's and a couple of Santa Ana Mexican taquerías, Ramos House is probably the only restaurant left in Orange County that operates in a living, noisy neighborhood. Its southern-fied breakfasts—fried green tomatoes topped with goat cheese is the most imaginative spin—are a Capistrano Valley institution, the bitter Bloody Marys Orange County's best. But it's the comforting cinnamon beignets that make the long Saturday-morning drive and the one-hour wait all worth it. 31752 Los Rios St., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 443-1342.

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