OCs 97 Best American Restaurants

20. Besides the Nixon Library, the only reason to visit Yorba Linda is The Wild Artichoke. Many dinners have prematurely ended here thanks to patrons filling up on numerous thimbles of the creamily delightful artichoke dip, so go easy. Leave room for chef James D'Aquila's inventive takes on the lowly artichoke such as the Artichoke Napoleon, a puff pastry in which sautéed artichokes assume the luxuriousness of truffles, or a rosemary-scented New York steak, with toasted artichoke leaves sitting sentry. 4973-A Yorba Ranch Rd., Yorba Linda, (714) 777-9646; www.thewildartichoke.com.

21. Chicken Box's broasted-chicken preparation has earned plaudits in publications from Los Angeles(Magazine) to Orange County(Register). So let's celebrate other aspects of this 31-year-old roadside cottage. Boysenberry punch—a supertart, purple elixir mixed nowadays only in one other likely concern, Knott's Berry Farm, and then probably only as a tourist curio. Corn on the cob and frozen watermelon purchased from one of Orange County's last roadside produce stands. Precious ribs. And an entire roost of chicken tchotchkes—I like the statues! 330 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 691-1701.

22. Hidden in an adobe-style building that may be Central County's prettiest office complex, the Green Parrot Café draws in Santa Ana residents who live north of 17th Street—that would be the gabachos—looking for nearby eats that don't involve refried beans, tortillas or any fluency in Spanish. The lingua franca here is California bistro, which is a fancy way of saying Green Parrot makes its memorable meatloaf with pork, beef and veal. Good meatloaf. 2035 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 550-6040; www.greenparrotcafe.net.

23. Every industrial plaza keeps one—the deli with sandwiches as vile as the tenants (at our old Costa Mesa offices, we called ours the "Smelly Deli"). The healthy exception is Esther's Place, located next to a Huntington Beach post office. Owner Esther Kim slaps together vegetarian sandwiches that aren't Green Party guilt trips—tumbles of raw veggies crammed between two mustard-smeared loaves that are not only good for you, but are also honest-to-goodness good. And Esther wears high heels to work every day—now that's a classy dame! 6789 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-4266.

24. Lou's Oak Oven Barbeque is Orange County's original place to knife through Santa Maria-style barbecue, the supremely succulent charcuterie tradition of the central California coast. Whether it's monstrous tri-tips, weighty steaks or divine chickens you're gnawing through, they all retain hints of Lou's red, oak-smoked, rotisserie pedigree. And there's a reason it was once "Lou's Oak Oven Beanery"—their poquito beans side is the ideal hybrid between the pinto bean's gentle bite and the red bean's furtive sweetness. 21501-D Brookhurst St., Huntington Beach, (714) 965-5200; www.lousbbq.com.

25. The restaurant's massive mascot looming over Lincoln Avenue at Original Pancake House—a grinning two-dimensional cook in poofy hat flipping flapjacks—is a city icon as reassuring to Anaheimers as the Big A. And so are the pancakes—wheels of flour soaked with any number of syrups and gobs of butter. Chase them down with coffee. Good morning! 26951 Moulton Pkwy., Aliso Viejo, (949) 643-8591; 1418 E. Lincoln, Anaheim, (714) 535-9815; 18453 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, (714) 693-1390; www.originalpancakehouse.com.

26. The only redeeming feature of Disney's California Resort save for the Tea Cups, the Napa Rose burrows as deep into the recesses of your palate's memory as it does your bank account. They stock some 600 vintages in their wine cellar, many from its namesake region. All dance tremendously with any entrée, but be sure to imbibe multiple vintages with the Seven Sparkling Sins plate, jewels of the deep blue (black caviar and tobiko roe are the most decadent) along with deviled quail eggs. 1600 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 781-3463.

27. It's not just the huge sandwiches—one is rightly dubbed "The Deli," as in all cuts available in the delicatessen—that makes the Shore House Café a favorite sub shop, but rather a melding of meats, spices and dressings working together for the greater good: pastrami joining with turkey unified by ham, and a united front of roast beef and salami. People, if the meat world can do it, why can't we? And why not with a side of curly fries? 520 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-8091; 5271 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 433-2266; 801 E. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-7726; 201 Ave. del Mar, San Clemente, (949) 498-3936; 941 Pacific Coast Hwy., Seal Beach, (562) 430-0116.

28. Good job, Costa Mesans: when Vons Supermarket threatened to shutter the Omelette Parlor in late 2003, y'all rallied to save this blue-collar haven (you should've done the same for Kona Lanes, though). Now the rest of us can continue to scratch our bellies in bewildered satisfaction after eating one of the Omelette Parlor's fabulously stuffed omelets named after some long-dead Costa Mesa City Council member—give me the one with cucumbers. 179 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-0740.

29. Thirty variations on the Buffalo wing at Wingnuts! Most of them viciously hot! Some of them strangely sweet! All affordable! And many televisions! 26711 Aliso Creek Rd., Aliso Viejo, (949) 305-7700; 3030 Harbor Blvd., Ste. H-3, Costa Mesa, (714) 434-7700. www.wingnuts.biz.

30. If county invalids knew about the impressive selections at the Hoag Hospital Cafeteria, you'd see ambulances idling on Newport Boulevard ready to unload their hungry wards. While waiting for dialysis, folks can munch on Hoag's intricate grilled sandwiches; along with a dollop of potato salad, it's $3.50. Not the healthiest of deals, but the cafeteria leaves the life-saving to its next-door trauma unit: here, they just want to rehabilitate your taste buds. 1 Hoag Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 645-8600.

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