Irvine

Best Raqs SharqiDarband Persian Restaurant. The food here always satisfies, but on Friday and Saturday nights, the Raqs Sharqi—belly dancing—here goes above and beyond duty's call. Heh, duty. Also: the ceiling here is painted like a cloud-speckled sky, which makes you feel like you're eating outdoors—or in the Forum at Caesar's Palace. If that doesn't move you, there's always jazz on Thursdays. 14210 Culver Dr., Ste. H, Irvine, (949) 857-1103. Honorable mention: Caspian Restaurant,14100 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 651-8454.

Best Way to Slake Your Thirst Thirsty Thursdays at Gina's Pizza. "Mamma" Gina Costa started the first Gina's Pizza in Corona del Mar in 1974. Her seventh restaurant, a joint on the UCI campus, has become the darling of the impoverished student community on Thursday nights, dubbed "Thirsty Thursdays." Premium beers like Heineken, Firestone and Sierra Nevada are $7 for a 60-ounce pitcher. Coors Light is $6, if that's what makes your back teeth float. And with the closing of the Anthill Pub for student center renovation—and all-around uncertainty about whether it will ever reopen—Gina's proves you don't have to spend Steelhead prices for decent brew in Irvine. 4533 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 725-1144.

Best Place for Digi-Geeks Beall Center for Art and Technology. The Beall Center goes lo-fi (shadow machines/Pong) and hi-fi (Twilight Zone-ish video games whose landscapes you control), and sometimes the exhibits suck and are boring (the robot band I thought would be awesome), but they're always smart-tech/new-media/won't-the-future-be-grand! It's also a great place to meet science nerds if you don't want to go to Comicon. UC Irvine, Bridge & Peltason streets, Irvine, (949) 824 4339.

Best Concrete Blocks University of California, Irvine. William Pereira and Associates developed UCI's original buildings, such as Langson Library, in a "brutalist" style, from the French for raw concrete. It worked: 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes was filmed among these eye-popping edifices. University of Chimpanzee Imperialism? Nowadays UCI's mission statement is to have architecture as interesting and stimulating as the curriculum. Frank Gehry, Maya Lin and James Stirling are among recent architects with a hand in UCI development, but as the current plan is to double the physical size of the university, don't be surprised if some new faces (and edifices) turn up soon. University of Contruction Innovations. University and Campus Drs., Irvine.

Best Natural Resource The Duck Club. Nestled—a polite word for hidden—behind the Irvine Ranch Water District's wastewater reclamation plant is the Duck Club, home of the Marsh Education Project, a preserve that aptly named board member Peer A. Swan worked with Sea & Sage Audubon to create. The club itself, which dates to the late '80s, is your standard set of buildings, small Audubon Society wildlife museum, public meeting space, etc., but it's a great place to walk and watch the birds of the Back Bay without having to leave Irvine. Also? They have summer camp. Behind Michelson Waste Reclamation Plant, 3512 Michelson Dr., Irvine, (949) 453-5300.

Best Markets You can be vegetarian, vegan, macrobiotic, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Hmong, Thai, Pakistani, Indian, Tibetan, Hindi, Sikh, Iraqi, Afghani, Iranian, Saudi, Syrian, Armenian, Turkish or Israeli—and Irvine has what your mother used to make. Wholesome Choice, of course, is chock full of organic goodness. (18040 Culver Dr., Irvine, 949-551-4111); Super Irvine has your Persian delectables. (14120 Culver Dr., Ste. #B, Irvine, 949-552-8844);99 Ranch has most things Asian, from lychees to cuttlefish to rice cookers.(15333 Culver Dr., #800, Irvine, 949-651-8899 and 5402 Walnut Ave., Irvine, 949-651-8888;Irvine J's Market is your Japanese hookup, which for us is always Bandai Ultraman toys-with-candy and great fish. (4250 Barranca Pkwy., Ste. F, Irvine, 949-551-6136);Han's Market has your Korean connection—what you need to make kim chi and savory Korean barbecue.(14210 Culver Dr., Ste. G, Irvine, 949-552-6924.)

Best Graduate Degree A Master of Fine Arts in English from UCI. What do Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones (a No. 1 best-seller); Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay (aPulitzer Prize winner); and Aimee Bender's Girl in the Flammable Skirt (Ellen Griley's favorite book) have in common? Their writers each earned a Master of Fine Arts in English from UCI. Go ye and do likewise. Department of English, 435 Humanities Instructional Building, Irvine, (949) 824-6712.

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