By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
43. Hotel dining is always precarious, but 6ix Park Grill treats its guests to cuisine that trumps the Hyatt name sponsoring it. Breakfast brings complex frittatas; lunch is all about the finely grilled steaks. But it's only dinner where guests can gnaw on lightly smoked octopus tentacles rubbed with lemon, coupled with a sweet San Luis Obispo wine so rich it relegates chocolate to the blandness of chalk. 17900 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (949) 225-6666.
44. Really, $16 meatloaf is the most ridiculous purchase you'll make this life cycle . . . unless it's the chunk of breaded gunk over at The Lodge, two slices of caramelized gravy-dappled joy. Owners Tim and Liza Goodell whip up some other wildly overpriced TV trays of Americana as well—three-cheese mac 'n' cheese, burly steaks and straight Scotch—but who said nostalgia was affordable? 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-1700; www.lodge-restaurant.com.
45. If Santa Ana can host restaurant heavyweights like Darya and Ferdussi, then why can't Fashion Island host something as simple as Red Rock Chili? Six kinds of the goop are ladled here, from a White Rock-type gentle with white beans and simmered chicken breast, to the too-sweet Cincinnati-style radiating nutmeg and cinnamon. And although my Mexican lengua finds the habanero chile merely tingly—remember I drink Tapatío regularly—the habanero will tint you permanently red. 401 Newport Center Dr., Ste. A106, Newport Beach, (949) 760-0752; www.redrockchili.com.
46. Had a date at Hans' Homemade Ice Cream last year, and the lady's weapon of seduction was pecan ice cream scooped into a waffle cone. It was just like her: seemingly mundane but surprising, golden brown and one of the sweetest beauties I've ever man-handled. But, alas, this was the only night I tasted of her, and we ended the affair quietly. As for Hans? Has all the variety I need to keep my gustatory libido satisfied. 3640 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 979-8815.
47. Native Foods: vegans, vegans everywhere, and organic hooch to drink. And for carnivores, mock meat the likes of which hadto involve some sort of slaughterhouse. 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-2151; www.nativefoods.com.
48. The placement of Taps Fish House & Brewery in Brea's neon-blinding downtown district is a welcome anomaly: a place to chug home-brewed ales, lagers and other pints, all within the confines of a warehouse-looking building. Not a boozer myself, but take it from my cousins, who every Friday night hoist a pint to the newest bird and bite down on a po'boy engorged with Taps' snappy andouille. 101 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 257-0101; www.tapsbrea.com.
49. We prefer Memphis' original SoBeCa shack but profess a soft spot for its second location inside Santa Ana's historic Santora building, even if 90 percent of the city's residents—that would be the Mexicans—never visit. Regardless, both locations impress with Southern standards: catfish fillets pounded into a crispy sheet; a hearty jambalaya that doesn't scrimp on the pork; crackling, bittersweet hush puppies; and a clientele that's as warm, buttery and inviting as their cornbread. 2920 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-7685; 201 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 564-1064; www.memphiscafe.com.
50. There's a mini-Galapagos of seafood platters at 230 Forest Avenue, all California-ized with clashing, clairvoyant sauces—dig the hazelnut-seeded halibut sprinkled with a meaty papaya relish that imparts its mother fruit's pleasing sear at the moment the halibut's light essence melts into your brain. 230 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-2545.
51. Champs is stuck in the 1980s: faded pictures of Los Angeles Rams fans hang inside and hot dogs bear the names of Dodgers icon Fernando Valenzuela and members of the Showtime Lakers. Its snappy Chicago dogs, however, are timeless—slightly crispy Vienna beef sausage, speckled poppy-seed bun and relish so bright it makes you blink. 12161 Seal Beach Blvd., Seal Beach, (562) 596-2555.
52. Pittsburgh Broasted Chicken is just what the name says, plus a cute bird mascot armed with a baseball bat. They pressure-cook the gals with the same relentless intensity the Steelers defense applies on third-and-15, producing plump meat inside a fine knobby skin. 3671 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-0140.
53. Take a hint from the name: Vine is about matching vintages with the glimmering California cuisine of chef Justin Monson, platters such as smoked-tomato soup, seasonal basil-spiked pumpkin raviolis and sea scallops worthy of a chapter in Island of the Blue Dolphins. Only caveat: Vine, true to California-cuisine pedigree, changes its menu according to the seasons. So that sumptuous pumpkin ravioli you slowly chewed on throughout fall? Gone until next Halloween. 211 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 361-2079; www.vinesanclemente.com.
54. Sonic Drive-In is a grand place to drive to, ring the buzzer, and feast on the same crispy onion rings and uranium-thick shakes your Mom and Dad did on their first necking night. Not named after the Sega Genesis character, contrary to Internet myth. 1632 N. Lemon St., Anaheim, (714) 992-4500.
55. From the basketball-crazy, NASCAR-loving, Jesse Helms-worshiping land of North Carolina comes the first outpost of another Southern chain, Kill Devil's, where it's all about the slaw-topped barbecue-pork sandwich that brings in Cack-a-lacks (what native North Carolinians call themselves) from across the state. Chase that with some authentic frozen custard, let the Skynyrd deafen your ears and try to dodge the flying waddles of tobacco around you. 23842 El Toro Rd., Lake Forest, (949) 462-0690; www.killdevilsfrozencustard.com.