Grub Guide

The county's best damn dining guide

Visit the rest of Orange County's best damn dining guide at ocweekly.com/food, where it says "Where to Eat Now" on the right side of the screen. If there are any bugs with it, e-mail Gustavo at garellano@ocweekly.com with your complaints!

 

DINNER FOR TWO:

Location Info

Map

Ali Baba Restaurant

100 S. Brookhurst St.
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: Anaheim

Matiki Island Barbeque

3070 W. Lincoln Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > Hawaiian

Region: Anaheim

El Misti Picanteria Arequipena

3070 W. Lincoln Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > Peruvian

Region: Anaheim

Hot Dog On A Stick

2153 Brea Mall Way
Brea, CA 92821

Category: Restaurant > Fast Food

Region: Brea

Karuta Restaurant

6890 Beach Blvd.
Buena Park, CA 90621

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Buena Park

Irvine Lake Cafe

4621 Santiago Canyon Road
Silverado, CA 92676

Category: Parks and Outdoors

Region: Silverado

Beach Pit BBQ

1676 Tustin Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Costa Mesa

Karl Strauss Brewery

901 S. Coast Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Breweries and Wineries

Region: Costa Mesa

Harbor House Cafe

34157 Pacific Coast Highway
Dana Point, CA 92629

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Dana Point

Anh Hong Restaurant

10195 Westminster Ave.
Garden Grove, CA 92843

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Garden Grove

Seoul Oak Korean BBQ

8295 Garden Grove Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92844

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Garden Grove

Duke's Huntington

317 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Category: Restaurant > Hawaiian

Region: Huntington Beach

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ANAHEIM

ALI BABA RESTAURANT
For those of you who like your Arabic and Persian food on sticks, order the jujeh kebab, chicken kebabs surrounded by mounds of basmati rice. The slightly bland rice serves as a good counterpart to the succulent chicken, pepper and onion pieces. 100 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 774-5632. $$

 

ANGELO'S
I defy anyone to find a finer summer Friday night than the kind you get at Angelo's: a burger-fries-and-Coke combo for six bucks, a girl/boy by your side, nameless kids chucking pickles at one another, buxom waitresses skating without pause, and the half-Latino, half-white crowd communally willing another Vlad Guerrero horsehide bomb into the television sky. 511 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 533-1401. $

 

MATIKI ISLAND BARBEQUE
Whether tucked between two bread slices or served alongside rondures of rice and macaroni salad, the beef at Matiki Island Barbeque is among the most memorably delicious pieces of cow you'll ever chew: ruddy, soft, not burnt at all, a veritable luau on your palate. That beef and other entrées are the sole enticers here—no need for Polynesian bric-a-brac when the food is a slice of the island. 3070 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 821-5228. $

PICANTERÍA ARIQUEPEÑA EL MISTI
Little more than a long dining hall adorned with WPA-style farmer murals, El Misti prepares the diet of Arequipa, a city of about 750,000 acclaimed for its desiccated, hearty dishes and thunderously flavored drinks. El Misti offers Peruvian standards as well for the unadventurous: coconut-milk-based chupe soups, the buttery stir-fried chow meins known as tallarines and savory pollo a brasa. All good versions, really—but why would you eat anything else on the planet when pig knuckles are but a request away? 3070 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 995-5944; www.elmisticuisine.com. $

BREA

HOT DOG ON A STICK
While these lemonade-churning chicks and guys do serve the dead stuff, they also peddle awesome veggie corn dogs. And to ensure that you are not ingesting a real wienie, the jockey-hatted crew differentiate their dogs with a green dot on the end of the stick. 2153 Brea Mall Way, Brea, (714) 256-2602. ¢

BUENA PARK

KARUTA
Whether the hissing grill and spinning knives at Karuta strike you as a little pop-culture retro or even warmly nostalgic, they are a startling reminder of the joys and dangers of this food-and-fun combo. While you're awaiting portions of shrimp, sesame chicken and teriyaki steak, along with mixed veggies and sprouts, the comic/surgeon/cook will make a what-did-the-banana-say-to-the-vibrator joke while strobe lights dance on his flicking, flashing knives. Food's good too. 6890 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 994-2730.$$

 

CANYON CITIES

IRVINE LAKE CAFE
When you get hungry in the backwaters of OC, turn that skiff around and motor over to this café. They offer supersatisfying breakfast burritos and always-fresh Farmers Bros. coffee that can be packed for boat or car. 4621 Santiago Canyon Rd., Silverado, (714) 649-9111. $

CORONA DEL MAR

CAFÉ JARDIN
Located at the tranquil Sherman Library and Gardens, the café's menu is well-thought-out. The mushroom soup is the color of a spa mud pack with an earthy mushroom flavor, and all of the desserts are made on the premises. 2647 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-0033. $$

COSTA MESA

AVO'S BISTRO
Order at the counter—their succulent braised-beef-and-lamb gyro is a good choice—and the food is brought to your table. Their secret-recipe tsatsiki provides a creamy condiment in many of the already flavorful foods. 580 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-6555. $

BEACH PIT BBQ
Former baseball player Tim DeCinces focuses his menu on pan-Southern fare like sausage, pulled pork, chicken, brisket and ribs—no regional styles yet, although the off-the-menu pork taquitos hint at what Southerners can expect as more Mexicans settle in Dixie. I'm partial to the smoked sausage, each about the size of a kielbasa and arriving five to an order, prepared in a manner that allows the skin to maintain a distinct smoked flavor even as the interior houses a wonderful mix of juice, spice and pork. 1676 Tustin Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-RIBS; www.beachpitbbq.com. $$

 

COSTA BRAVA
Slurping zinc-laden raw oysters at Costa Brava brings out the bravado in its loyal patrons. Try the super-popular coctel de camarones; the flash-fried whole catfish and red snapper filet with garlic sauce are also done up right. 727 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8272. $

KARL STRAUSS BREWERY
You can excuse most patrons of this Costa Mesa restaurant if all they concentrate on is getting hammered. After all, Karl Strauss' brewing process is so refined it could probably make a fine lager out of Santa Ana River water. But to obsess over their brews does disservice to their smoky steaks, surprisingly tasteful salads and magnificent hoagies. 901-A South Coast Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 546-BREW; www.karlstrauss.com. $$

 

CYPRESS

CAFÉ HIRO
Café Hiro is a 3-year-old Cypress eatery that has everything going for it except the design scheme, a setup that would only happen elsewhere if Goodwill decorated Denny's. But Hiro's exquisite entrées—a fantastic fusion of Japanese, Italian, French and American—ensure a steady stream of suitors; ridiculously cheap prices guarantee many rendezvous. And the ahi poke appetizer special—the buttery fish seared, warm and salty on the outside and chilled on the inside, wonderfully contrasting with the accompanying field greens' snappiness—launches a thousand romances. 10509 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 527-6090. $$

DANA POINT

HARBOR HOUSE CAFÉ
Besides Denny's, this is basically the only 24-hour joint in the area and thus a popular hangout for high school kids. After the one in San Clemente closed something like a decade ago, this became the hangout for San Clemente High School students too. As far as eats go, it's known for its wide omelet selection and thick shakes. 34157 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 496-9270. $

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

KHYBER BAZAAR
Khyber Bazaar carries 4,500 Bollywood videos, along with Pakistani dramas and Afghani movies. It also sells Hindi, Pakistani and Afghani music. Oh, and the Bazaar also packs in two aisles of Afghani/Pakistani/Indian/Middle Eastern groceries like eight types of lentils, numerous types of rice and hard-to-find Afghani snacks. 10810 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 962-8879. ¢-$

 

FULLERTON

AMAZON CHURRASCARIA
This Brazilian beef barn ignores the multicultural influences predominant in most Brazilian dishes for the straightforward flesh diet of the sertão. Impeccably dressed waiters serve 20 types of meat, everything from the Homer Simpson fantasy of bacon-wrapped turkey to well-charred chicken hearts to a great alligator sirloin. 1445 S. Lemon St., Fullerton, (714) 447-1200. $$

MULBERRY STREET
Mulberry Street, Fullerton's best East Coast-style bar, has plenty of seafood augmenting its Italian menu, and you can't go wrong with what locals tout as Mulberry Street's specialty: the steamed clams. In the words of one longtime patron and master of rhetoric, they are "to die for." 114 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-1056; www.mulberry-st.com. $$

GARDEN GROVE

ÁNH HONG RESTAURANT
Ánh Hong Restaurant in Garden Grove claims to have invented bò bay món—the legendary seven-course Vietnamese dinner that remains the world's ultimate paean to red meat—at its original Saigon location in 1954 by combining the various beef appetizers native to South Vietnam and presenting them with French refinement. Whether that's historical fact or American-style hoo-hah is uncertain, but the classy restaurant does such a superb version of bò bay món and is so boastful of its star serving ("7 Courses of Beef," screams a massive billboard looming over Westminster Boulevard) that we'll take their word for it. 10195 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 537-5230. $$

 

SEOUL OAK
A Korean palace—beautiful tables, chandeliers, grand piano—where folks grill their meat or chow through cold noodles or seafood pancakes. Don't bother with ordering cake for dessert, though: the sweet hereafter is a wonderful cinnamon drink with floating pine nuts to rinse the garlic from your breath. 8295 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 530-5388. $$HUNTINGTON BEACH

DUKE'S
Everyone from surfers in damp trunks to families celebrating special occasions feels welcome at this restaurant inspired by the Islands and the Pacific Rim. 317 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 374-6446.$$

 

MARTINI BLUES
Everything coming out of the kitchen looks great at this bona fide supper club, and we can personally vouch for the Martini Blues Favorite—a rotelli pasta with chicken or shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, and bell peppers in a spicy chipotle Alfredo sauce. Like all dinners, it comes with soup or salad; steamed vegetables; and a choice of garlic mashed potatoes, angel hair pasta or rice pilaf. 5874 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 840-2129; www.martiniblues.com. $$

SUPER HERO'S
After two years of drunken bar talk, co-chefs Dan Gauna and Jeff Johnson have opened a sandwich shop where every sandwich is an adventure for the young, hip and hungry. 714 Adams Ave., Ste. 101, Huntington Beach, (714) 536-1188. $?

IRVINE

A & J RESTAURANT
A & J Restaurant is a bustling café that's part of a massive Beijing-based chain known for fast, hot, cheap, delicious northern Chinese food: heavy wheat noodles, meats in scalding soups, pork dumplings with broth inside their transparent casing. But it's salted soymilk—a pungent, oily, viscous, pretty funky type of porridge—that brings in the customers. 14805 Jeffrey Rd., Ste. D, Irvine, (949) 786-3585. $

BRITTA'S CAFÉ
Britta's is a quaint, European-style café where servers offer you individual pieces of bread (baguette or pumpernickel?) and a savory rustic tart isn't some old queen sashaying through a gay Parisian bistro but an appetizer you'll completely enjoy. Cheese lovers will freak out over the calzone packed with goat cheese, buffalo mozzarella, proscuitto and tomatoes. 4237 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 509-1211; www.brittascafe.com. $$

MELTING POT
At the Melting Pot, it's hard to eat a full meal, with dessert and drinks, without leaving at least a C-note behind, but the spent Franklin is worth it. Such a cost gets you a bowl of cheesy fondue, fine salad, French-influenced meat entrées and a dessert that's flambeauxed in front of ya. 2646 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 955-3242. $$$

 

LA HABRA

RICARDO'S EL RANCHITO
Go here for three reasons: to watch the tortilla makers do their thing inside a glass booth; to mack out on the light, flaky flour tortilla chips; and to feast on the superb camarones rancheros, a droolingly wonderful dish. 1351 S. Beach Blvd., La Habra, (562) 943-6020. $

LA PALMA

ELLEN'S PINOY GRILLE
Ellen's attracts as many non-Filipinos as pinoys, perhaps because Ellen's offers a menu—a list of all 70 entrées, 10 of them available at any time in the always-steaming turo-turo buffet. The daing na bangus—milkfish stew marinated with garlic and cucumbers and cooked in a searing coconut-and-soy-sauce broth—is fabulous. 7971 Valley View St., La Palma, (714) 522-8866. $

LAGUNA, LAGUNA, LAGUNA!

BRUSSELS BISTRO
Brussels Bistro is the kind of place where you can linger, talk with the people at the next table and then find yourself already gorged ordering dessert. The food is astonishing, a revelation, artistry. The Belgians are big on fries, so please order the pommes frites. 222 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-7955; www.brusselsbistro.com. $$$

EVA'S CARIBBEAN KITCHEN
Eva's occupies the same simple cottage that the dearly missed Drew's Caribbean Kitchen rented for many years. The best remnant from the Drew's days is an open kitchen that continues to flambé and sauté a cruise-ship tour of Caribbean cuisine, with stops for moist Bahamian conch fritters, a sweet St. Martin-style salad and enough varieties of rum to give Captain Morgan cirrhosis. 31732 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 499-6311; www.evascaribbeankitchen.com. $$

THE JOLLY ROGER
This plain-folks restaurant's best dish is as plain as you can get: fish and chips. Fit to satisfy Ishmael's cravings, the fish is soaked in a thick batter that seals in the flavor just like the fish and chips you can get around London. 400 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-3137. $

SOLOMON'S BAKERY
At 3 a.m., when most Orange Countians are halfway through their slumber, Solomon Dueñas leaves Aliso Viejo and begins the 15-minute commute to his Jewish bakery he's made nearly every morning since 1988. Glass displays at Solomon's are clean, highlighting all the favorites of the Jewish-pastry galaxy—stomach-stuffing babkas; fruity hamantaschen; crumbly rugelach available in chocolate, raspberry and apricot. Even better is a Dueñas original that he calls an apple-raisin bran, a block of caramelized flour so decadent that customers drive in from San Diego and even Washington state just for a sniff. 23020 Lake Forest Dr., Ste. 170, Laguna Hills, (949) 586-4718. $

THAI DINING
Start with their tom kah gai soup, a creamy, flavorful offering of the popular Thai chicken-coconut soup; then try the beef panang. It rates pretty high on the beef panang scale—and it'll make you sweat. 28051 Greenfield Dr., Ste. J, Laguna Niguel, (949) 643-5521.$

LAKE FOREST

MANILA FOOD MART
Every Filipino joint offers the same meals; Manila Food Mart differentiates itself by hawking various products, from such Filipino garb as handbags and barongs (an ornate, light, long-sleeved shirt similar to the Caribbean guayabera) to a freezer stocked with ready-to-eat meals such as bags of plump, sugary longansina pork sausages. And while all Filipino restaurants fry turons—bananas wrapped with egg roll paper—few do it as delectably as Manila Food Mart, which dusts each burrito-big turon with brown sugar so that the interior caramelizes just so: the epitome of sweet. 24601 Raymond Way, Ste. 10, Lake Forest, (949) 461-0113; www.manilafoodmart.com. $

LONG BEACH

THE BLUE CAFÉ
This music venue's food emphasizes fresh salads and semihealthy fare. The Blue Café salad—featuring grilled chicken, mango chunks, pepitas, blue cheese crumbles and apple slices—makes for a meal that is fresh, filling and packed with your recommended daily allowance of something or other. 210 North Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111. $$

EGG HEAVEN
Egg Heaven would be Rockford's kind of place: plenty of wood paneling, a liquor store across the street and a big picture of Elvis next to the kitchen. They have anything you can make out of an egg—including more styles of omelets than there are stars in the Andromeda Galaxy—except the chicken. Now that we think about it, they have chicken sandwiches and salads too. Truly is heaven here. 4358 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 433-9277.$

ROSCOE'S CHICKEN AND WAFFLES
Put simply, everything is good. When He's just not up to creating anything, much less cooking, God orders the waffles here. If you're one of those chicken-skin eaters, you'll figure you've died and gone to heaven—where there'll be waffles. 730 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 437-8355;www.roscoeschickenandwaffles.com. $

LOS ALAMITOS

ISLAND GRILL
Island Grill sells Hawaiian food with a Japanese bent, so that means you can get your sushi and bento box fill along with sumptuous teriyaki bowls. But regardless of the main course, your dessert should be the shaved ice: a frosty, chilled monolith flavored with fruit and so delicate you could whittle it down with dental floss. 4390 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 431-6496. $

 

MISSION VIEJO

LA MAISON GOURMET
Every Friday for about two years, this charming shop on the edge of Lake Mission Viejo has opened its private lakeside patio for wine tastings. The events are a smash; reservations are required, limited to about 30 per session and best made at least two weeks in advance. But it's also a bona fide gourmand's treat, with wines from across the world available plus a diverse cheese-and-meat wheel for grubbing. 27772 Vista del Lago, Ste. B-15, Mission Viejo, (949) 916-4810; www.lamaisongourmet.net. $$$

NEWPORT BEACH

BLUE BEET CAFÉ
This restaurant is a steak oasis, where the meat is aged for about one week to break down the sinew—that's what makes it tender—while being soaked in head chef Jorge Guttierez's secret marinade before being charbroiled to delectability! 107 21st Place, Newport Beach, (949) 675-2338.$

PESCADOU BISTRO
Despite its location—a storefront across from Newport Beach City Hall—Pescadou manages to impart a south-of-France feel with vibrant colors and eclectic table settings. You'll find traditional French dishes—frog legs and coq au vin—as well as such bistro fare as rib-eye steak, bouillabaisse and a variety of fish dishes. 3325 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 675-6990. $$

ROY'S
Roy's is all about Hawaii—from the "Aloha" you get when you come in the door and the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole playing over the speakers to the blah, blah, blah about Tokyo-born founder Roy Yamaguchi, whose childhood visits to Maui, we're told, indelibly shaped his palate (and his palette). Whatever: Yamaguchi has been fusing ever since, and with great success; he is now the Wolfgang Puck of some 31 eponymous restaurants in North America with entrées such as rib-eye and wild Scottish salmon. 453 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-7697. $$$

ORANGE

THE DISTRICT LOUNGE
The District Lounge's 'cue is serious, and Reverend Morton's Savory Bar-b-que Savior Sauce—a relishy, sweet glop the District crew administer judiciously to all meats—could score a ribbon in a Kansas City cook-off. The tri-tip's middle is pink, its skin charred yet juicy, and it arrives about eight lengths to an order. Ribs plop off easily, and enough chewy meat hangs off the bone to fill you and create a separate hamburger. Chicken wings slap the tongue with their salty, mesquite burn and await a dunking into a thimble of great mustard-ranch dressing. 233 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 639-7777. $$

PLACENTIA

TONY'S LITTLE ITALY
The best lunchtime pizza is made at Tony's Little Italy: as thick as a Tom Clancy novel and the circumference of a basketball hoop. They also sell subs and such Italian-American classics as spaghetti, ravioli and mostaccioli, but the focus is on the pizza—it says so on their window. 1808 N. Placentia Ave., Unit B, Placentia, (714) 528-2159; www.tonyslittleitaly.com. $

SAN CLEMENTE

CAFÉ CALYPSO
Café Calypso's inventive menu and fresh ingredients draw some real salt-and-pepper legitimacy from being served on the bottom floor of the old Hotel San Clemente. Their breakfast bagel melt is a killer, with steamed scrambled eggs, roma tomatoes and provolone cheese baked onto the bagel. Café Calypso makes some mighty coffee drinks too. 114 Avenida de la Mar, San Clemente, (949) 366-9386. $

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

VINE
Vine is an epicurean stunner, a snug eatery that's been open for about a year now and continues to attract South Countians seeking a joyous repast. It focuses on California wine-country cuisine, meaning alchemies of seasonal flavors and ingredients that are as nuanced and numerous as the vineyards of Napa: pumpkin ravioli appetizers, sea scallops with fava beans and other assorted meal miracles prepared by owner/chef Justin Monson. 211 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 361-2079; www.vinesanclemente.com. $$$

SANTA ANA

BENJIES
Benjies is mostly about big, meaty food served quickly. After chucking any hopes of swimsuit modeling, the Francheesy may be for you: grilled knackwurst with bacon and American cheese just oozing off the sides. It's angioplantastic! 1828 N. Tustin, Santa Ana, (714) 541-6230.$

FAVORI
The French-Vietnamese hybrid has inexpensive French dishes of the kind that have all but evaporated from our cholesterol-obsessed culture. The Fruit de Mer au Gratin features sweet clams and pungent mussels (both still in their shells), smoky shrimp, bits of fish, and strands of faux crabmeat baked in a terrine of cream sauce rich with butter. As good as it is, everything pales beside Favori's beautiful, huge catfish. 3502 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 531-6838. $$

LA NUEVA REYNA DE MICHOACÁN
If you get lost in the bustle of Santa Ana's Fourth Street on a hot day and need salvation, just follow the ice cream drippings toward La Nueva Reyna de Michoacán, a veritable Baskin Robbins en español. La Nueva Reyna's ice cream is velvety, like a lover's tongue on yours—except for the wonderful chunks of fruit. Go for the harder-to-find flavors—sultry mango, bitter plum, luscious coconut and the fleshy aroma of guayaba (sadly a seasonal fruit, available only in the fall). 300 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 835-0394. ¢

 

EL RINCÓN CHILANGO
El Rincón Chilango
in Santa Ana is Orange County's best re-creation of Mexico City, and not just because the street-side restaurant features the megalopolis's iconic Angel of Independence statue as its logo, nor because its marquee screams "100% D.F." Mexico City favorites are in order here: wonderful potato tacos with the shells fried until they shine like the Stanley Cup; supersyrupy sodas such as Jarritos and Boing; and the tlacoyo, a foot-long gordita bloated with earthy, bright-yellow fava beans and splattered with diced onions and a tangy green salsa on the outside—the heartiest meal you'll eat until Thanksgiving. 1133 W. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-5096. $

TACO ADOBE
Like the magma-like house salsa, Taco Adobe's impressive gourmet platters emerge from a seemingly mundane menu. The camarones con chipotle are butterflied, grilled and slathered with a creamy, sweet chipotle sauce that complements the beautiful pungency of the shrimp. The hefty Adobe burritos could stand proudly against anything rolled in the Mission District and feature three types of cheese within their flour tortilla wrappers. They even experiment successfully with the Adobe pasta platter, linguine sautéed with garlic and that wonderful chipotle cream sauce. 1319 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 543-2411. $

SEAL BEACH

A SLICE OF NEW YORK PIZZA
Orange County had a pitiful pizza tradition until the arrival of A Slice of New York Pizza. Whatever you might want on your pie—zesty pesto, searing buffalo wings, pineapple, pepperoni—it comes out like they like it in the Bronx—superthin, crunchy, topped with the minimal amount of sauce and served on butcher paper. If you care anything about food, you will visit this cubbyhole. And we lovethe blown-up Topps football card of John Riggins with the New York Jetssupoib! 142 Main St., Ste. B, Seal Beach, (562) 493-4430. $

STANTON

PARK AVENUE
Gourmet American food in Stanton—who'da thunk it? The whole stuffed chicken, covered in pan drippings, is as fatty as a marbled pork chop and stuffed with a whipped concoction of creamy mashed potatoes and spinach you couldn't pay us not to eat. 11200 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 901-4400; www.parkavedining.com. $$$

SUNSET BEACH

HARBOR HOUSE CAFÉ
This 24-hour diner is a local institution that serves consistently good food. As it's incredibly popular with the late-night crowd, be prepared to wait for a table. 16341 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-5404. $

TUSTIN

BLACK SHEEP BISTRO
For the superlative paella, a couple of days advance notice is needed, but for good reason. You won't find a more complex, beautifully presented or better-tasting dish in OC. The scrumptious leftovers made for the 10 people in our party weighed at least a pound each. 303 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 544-6060; www.blacksheepbistro.com. $$

CHRISTAKIS
Christakis' beautiful setting separates the eatery from its local Greek brothers-in-grub, but what truly catapults the place into Orange County's high-class dining strata are the platters of its late eponymous founder, Joanne Christakis Wallace. You'll find the standards of Greek restaurants: bitter spanakopita spinach pies, starchy moussaka casseroles, lamb prepared in more ways than there are actual lamb cuts and a thorough selection of seafood. More impressive is an array of pasta dishes that suggests an Italian influence at some point in Christakis' seven-year existence. 13011 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-1179. $$

VILLA PARK

ROCKWELL'S CAFE AND BAKERY
This neighborhood café and bakery is an ode to Norman, with Rockwellian gilt-edged plates and prints covering the bathroom walls. Besides the interior-design salute, Rockwell's serves four great versions of eggs Benedict, all with hollandaise sauce made from scratch. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, (714) 921-0622. $

WESTMINSTER

GRAND GARDEN
Boasting a wide variety of traditional Chinese/Vietnamese/French cuisine. Patrons come in droves for the ga quay da don, a fried-chicken platter, but if you're looking for a savory alternative, try the ca kho to, a spicy, salted fish baked in a clay pot. 8894 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 893-1200; www.grandgarden.com. $$

LAZY DOG CAFÉ
The menu is either eclectic or scattershot, depending on your point of view, with everything from pizza to kung pao. But there's no denying each entrée's inherent tastiness. The Shanghai tacos? Quite the treat, coming in the form of a large bowl filled with chicken ground to the consistency of hamburger, stir-fried with water chestnuts and shredded carrots, and accompanied by a plate of iceberg-lettuce leaves. 16310 Beach Blvd., Westminster, (714) 500-1140; www.thelazydogcafe.com. $$

SEAFOOD WORLD
Seafood World lives up to its name by wheeling out goodies like fried scallop rolls (large scallops in a flaky pastry served with mayo and a maraschino cherry!), crab and shrimp balls with peas (wrapped in rice paper), and very large, juicy and spicy deep-fried shrimp. 15351 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 775-8828.$$

YORBA LINDA

THAI BISTRO CUISINE
Orange County's Thai curry king will surprise you: Thai Bistro Cuisine in Yorba Linda, a saffron-colored, porcelain-plated place that offers an incredible eight: gentle red, sweet pineapple, musky eggplant and a masman curry that combines Buddhist cuisine's austerity with the heartiness of Islamic food to create the best interreligious mixer since the Nicene Council. 21560 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, (714) 693-2888. $

MULTIPLE LOCATIONS

EL CARBONERO
Owner María de Jesús Ramírez ensures that El Carbonero #1 and #2 use the same recipes of her hearty native cuisine, the primary reason why the county's pioneering guanaco restaurant persists while so many other Salvadoran restaurants have disappeared. Imitate the regulars and order at least one pupusa, the masa griddle cake that Salvadorans consume from crib to crypt. And El Carbonero's horchata, heavy with cinnamon and toasted rice, makes Mexican horchata taste like a Tijuana gutter. 803 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 542-6653; also at 9304 Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-4542. $

CHA FOR TEA
Liquid refreshment makes up most of the extensive menu at Cha, and the high point may be the lilac-hued, creamy taro-milk tea. Even the food at Cha features notes of tea. The subtle tea-flavored minced pork and the tender, stew-like, tea-flavored beef are served with rice, vegetables and (surprise!) a complimentary green or black tea. 9200 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 306, Westminster, (714) 799-6957; also at 4187 Campus Dr., Ste. M-173, Irvine, (949) 725-0300. $

 

JERRY'S WOOD-FIRED DOGS
Not since Boogie Nights has a wiener garnered so much deserved buzz as the yearlong love-in for those steamed at Jerry's Wood-Fired Dogs. Owner and Cleveland native Jerry O'Connell comes from the land where sausage-making is gospel, and his hot dogs show it: all-beef franks bursting from taut casings; X-rated kielbasas with a vicious, Warsaw Pact bite; and a jalapeño hot link that is proudly inauthentic, but nobody gives a damn as his whining-hole is deep-throating the eight inches. 2276 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 245-0200; also at 1360 S. Beach Blvd., Ste. C, La Habra, (562) 697-4644; www.jerrysdogs.com. $

KNOWLWOOD
The place serves scrumptious one-third-pound burgers as big as your head. What else needs to be said? 150 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 879-7552; also at 5665 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 779-2501; 14952 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine, (949) 857-8927; 28061 Greenfield Dr., Laguna Niguel, (949) 831-1593. $

QUAN HY
Quan Hy serves country-style Vietnamese—a lot more flavor and eccentricity than food like pho. With the country stuff, you taste a lot of different things. They sell a lot of mixed bowls—one is like a seafood medley, an assortment of pork and beef and shrimp and fish and vegetables. 9727 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 775-7179; also at 10212 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 636-1652. $$

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