OCs 97 Best American Restaurants

81. The nacho cheesesteak—a U-boat of a sub, parts Philadelphia and East Los Angeles—is the Liberty Hall of Toober's Chips, Dips, and Cheese Steak, a clean-kept Huntington Beach hoagie haven that, in a moral world, would exist on the beachfront rather than the asphalt river that is central Beach Boulevard. Make sure to get an order of chips: shaved on the premises from massive potatoes, lightly fried so the skin is crisp while the chip's thin-as-tissue body is nearly translucent and salted just enough to accentuate the tuber's earthy charm. 19092 Beach Blvd., Ste. T, Huntington Beach, (714) 968-2299.

82. Funniest indicator of the disparity between the UC and Cal State systems: while Cal State Fullerton students slosh up at the Off Campus Pub, UC Irvine's brainiacs drink in besotted bliss at the Anthill Pub, where a request for Coors earns haughty laughter and the draft, pilsner and lager selections are almost as large as the room's median IQ. Good Philly cheesesteaks, too. 4200 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 824-3050.

83. Ruth's Place would rank higher if not for its irregular hours. But when namesake Ruth Davenport fires up her powerful 'cue, she produces fried catfish with a crunch-factor that requires earplugs. And then there are the sweetest sweet potatoes this side of a Peruvian ceviche. 1236 Civic Center Dr. W., Santa Ana, (714) 953-9454.

84. Walt's Wharf is a Seal Beach institution, even if the lines are ridiculously long and stocked with slack-jawed Nebraskans fresh from a day of seeing the Pacific for the first time. Take a break from the seafood, as good as it may be, and dip into the oak-grilled artichokes. 201 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 598-4433.

85. It's difficult to determine what causes the chaps here to salivate more: the billowy buns supporting TK's renowned hamburgers or the barely legal female employees playing with their meat and squirting TK's acrid secret sauce. 110 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 10, Huntington Beach, (714) 960-3238; 2119 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-3438.

86. "Open 25 hours," as its motto boasts, Earl's Homecooking is a non-manufactured simulacrum of the '50s and '60s, back when cigarettes were aperitifs, steaks were burned and then drowned in A-1 Sauce, and grease was a welcome ingredient, whether on salads, cheesecake or even water. Feel free to light up—Earl's circumvents California anti-smoking laws in its backroom by keeping its windows open. 807 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 639-8590.

87. Forget the novelty of getting your tie snipped off here, a shtick stolen from the dearly departed Pinnacle Peak—Trabuco Oaks Steak House hearkens to a time when South County was Irvine- and O'Neill-owned ranches. Portions here are suitable for veterans of cattle trails—mesquite-grilled chickens, lambs, pork; pick the livestock, they have it. But meditate instead on the steaks, including the eight-ounce Lil' Wrangler and the two-pound Cowboy. 20782 Trabuco Oaks Dr., Trabuco Canyon, (949) 586-0722; www.trabucooaksteakhouse.com.

88. The filet mignon at Bungalow is as round as a Newport Beach socialite's new décolletage. Its pleasing cut, deep aroma and tender texture make it possible to eat the entire thing without encountering a morsel of fat or gristle. 2441 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-6585.

89. So Crescent City is part of a national chain—big bloody deal. This ain't no Disneyfication of the Big Easy. The shrimp po'boys are just the way they oughta be: a flaky French-bread roll bloated with lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, spicy mayo and fried, bite-size prawns—messier than a dip in the Mississippi. 2933 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 453-3555; www.crescentcitybeignets.com.

90. While most of the county may chug, we leave the brewing to masters. Not so at Brewbakers. Part fraternity, part bakery, part miniature brewery, Brewbakers is as much a bonding class as an eating establishment, a gustatory amusement park in the midst of chain-packed Huntington Beach. While the personal beer-making process is the main attraction, owner Dennis Midden maintains baking is his first love, and a chomp through his pretzels—chewy loops with an optimal crustiness and enough salt to enhance the taste but not cover it—confirms it. 7242 Heil Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 596-5506; www.brewbakers1.com.

91. Eating at Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ reminds me of the classic Simpsons episode in which Homer visits the Slaughterhouse, a beef barn that sells 16 pounds of what a waiter describes as "indomitable tenderloin." Homer tries but fails to finish the Sir Loins-a-Lot, and most of Lucille's customers likewise walk away defeated with bulky, suitcase-deep takeout cartons spilling over with ferociously smoked tri-tips, ribs and hot links the size of Nerf torpedoes. 1639 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 990-4944; www.lucillesbbq.com.

92. The Ritz: where suited lawyers and PR flaks take their dates to spend the equivalent of a Toyota Corolla on dinner. Exquisite cuisine: if there's a place claiming to better pair filet mignon and lobster tail, both proud avatars of their race, they're lying. 880 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 720-1800; www.ritzrestaurant.com.

93. The original Gypsy Den is Rutabegorz—started back in the 1970s by true hippies who lamented the lack of healthy munchies in a county that was still all steak and potatoes and crew cuts. Little has changed over the years, except the opening of new branches in Tustin and Orange: same holistic wraps, same Lonely Planet-inspired salads, same granola crowd. 154 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 574-8862; 264 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 633-3260; 158 W. Main St., Tustin, (714) 731-9807; www.rutabegorz.com.

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