By Kiera Wright-Ruiz
By Cleo Tobbi
By Moss Perricone
By Anne Marie Panoringan
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
By Edwin Goei
The people? They like the chains. Despite Marx and Engels' admonition to break them, the people say what the hell, let's eat Olive Garden. (Seriously: read it in the Register's Best of Orange County.) But good chain restaurants abound, some of them little empires based primarily in OC. And while everyone knows our grandest success stories -- Wahooâ€™s Fish Tacos, BJâ€™s Pizza, Diedrich Coffee, Taco Mesa, Ruby's -- smaller chains are expanding like the American waistline.
DINNER FOR TWO:
26851 Aliso Creek Road, Ste. C
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
Region: Aliso Viejo
23600 Rockfield Blvd.
Lake Forest, CA 92630
Region: Lake Forest
249 Broadway St.
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Region: Laguna Beach
c . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than $10!
$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10-$20
$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20-$40
$$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Eres muy rico!
OPAHThe best restaurant in Aliso Viejo, a masterpiece of master planning. The menu is a blend of nouveau seafood with democratic flair. Fish fanatics must get the Pacific Northwest cioppino, which bursts with chunks of salmon, halibut and ahi. 26851 Aliso Creek Rd., #C, Aliso Viejo, (949) 360-8822; also 22332 El Paseo, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 766-9988, and 13122 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (714) 508-8055;WWW.OPAHRESTAURANT.COM. $$PEPPINO'S ITALIAN FAMILY RESTAURANTJoseph Moscatiello owns this restaurant, but it's his father, Carlo, who is the true patriarch. He's the type of dad who'll give you free sandwiches and make small talk. Even if he didn't exhibit such fatherly concern, the sandwiches -- bulging with fresh meats, cheeses, peppers and onions -- would have you coming back for more. 23600 Rockfield Blvd., Lake Forest, (949) 951-2611; also 651 E. First St., Tustin, (714) 573-9904; 27782 Vista del Lago, Mission Viejo, (949) 859-9556; 26612 Towne Centre Dr., Foothill Ranch, (949) 951-1210; 31371 Niguel Rd., Laguna Niguel, (949) 661-1250. $$
Not an intimate trattoria, Romeo's is a celebration space all about comfort food, and you'll be comforted by their specialty: pork chops, which come decked out in a reduction of shallots and peppercorns. It's a taste sensation.249 Broadway, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-6627; also 28241 Crown Valley Pkwy., Laguna Niguel, (949) 831-4131. $$
According to lore, four hippie entrepreneurs opened this joint in 1970 with a menu of "health-conscious" salads, soups, sandwiches and meatless entrees. Get a delicious full day's worth of vegetable action with a bowl of vegetarian delight. 211 N. Pomona, Fullerton, (714) 738-9339; also 158 W. Main St., Tustin, (714) 731-9807, and 264 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 633-3260;WWW.RUTABEGORZ.COM. $
The two San Clemente Schleppy's are prototypical beach shacks: tiled roof caked with bird crap, a side business in such curios as seahorse wind chimes, and host to seagulls and pigeons that eye patrons for the first sign of a tumbling scrap. Rule of thumb about ordering at any beach dive: avoid any hint of the exotic. Order Schleppy's burger combo: a small drink that qualifies as a medium nearly anywhere else, snappy fries bursting with earthy potato pride and a flavorful hamburger featuring some of the finest grilled beef patties since the last Labor Day. 250 Ave. Califia, San Clemente, (949) 498-6484; 615 Ave. Victoria, San Clemente, (949) 492-8335. c
TAQUERIA DE ANDA
Taqueria de Anda makes fine tacos, but its real specialty lies in its burritos. Especially alluring is Anda's beef tongue version, which the always-working cooks prepare so exquisitely you'll want to confess to your priest that you thought for a fleeting moment you were Frenching a cow and liking it. 308 W. Valencia Dr., Fullerton, (714) 871-4211. Also at 1029 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 558-0856; 1505 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 956-9359; 221 S. Magnolia Ave., Anaheim, (714) 821-4055, and pretty much any city with a Mexican section;WWW.TAQUERIADEANDA.COM. c
Where else can you get fine ground turkey and fresh purple onions on a bouncy egg bun, breathe in salt air, and listen to the waves for less than $4? The burger is so fine you'd never guess it's good for you. The locals aren't quite sure what's in it, but they agree it's the secret sauce that makes the bun and turkey combo shred. 110 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 10, Huntington Beach, (714) 960-3238; also 2119 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-3438. $
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