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Grub Guide

The best damn dining guide in Orange County

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:

¢…….….……………..…..Less than $10!

Location Info

Map

Foscari

5645 E. La Palma Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92807

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Anaheim

Win Thai Cuisine

1151 N. Euclid St.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > Thai

Region: Anaheim

Renaissance Bistro

955 E. Birch St.
Brea, CA 92821

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Brea

Filipino Express

4544 Beach Blvd.
Buena Park, CA 90621-1133

Category: Restaurant > Filipino

Region: Buena Park

Trabuco Oaks Steak House

20782 Trabuco Oaks Drive
Coto De Caza, CA 92679

Category: Restaurant > Steakhouse

Region: Coto de Caza

Doria's Original Haus of Pizza

1500 Adams Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Costa Mesa

Franco's Italian Restaurant

4453 Cerritos Ave.
Cypress, CA 90630

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Cypress

Proud Mary's Restaurant

34689 St. of the Golden Lantern
Dana Point, CA 92629

Category: Restaurant > Brunch

Region: Dana Point

Angelo's and Vinci's Ristorante

550 N. Harbor Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Fullerton

Chicago Harv's

410 E. Chapman Ave.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Fullerton

Mandarin Pavilion

1050 W. Valencia Drive
Fullerton, CA 92833-3305

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Fullerton

Joe's Italian Ice

12302 Harbor Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92844

Category: Restaurant > Ice Cream

Region: Garden Grove

$………….…….…….…………..$10-$20

$$……….…….……….…………$20-$40

$$$……….………………¡Eres muy rico!

ANAHEIM

CAROUSEL BAKERY
Customers cram this cramped emporium not for the pan dulce—which is delicious, by the way—but for raspados, the Mexican version of snow cones made with the vivacious fruits of the country in syrup form. Choose quickly from the 14 options because a line is no doubt forming impatiently behind you, already shouting out their orders. 1509 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 778-2051.¢

FUSION CAFE
While they serve a decent hummus plate and chicken sandwich, their clientele comes for Fusion's perfect argeela handling. Their attentive coal guy runs around keeping the hookahs lit, swirling around warm coals and adding red-hot ones, instead of doing so only when prompted, like at other hookah lounges. Plus, Fusion features a color-coded system of matching hoses with flavors—that way, when you order their nutty double apple, there's no residue left from the previous smoker. 512 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 520-5661. $

FOSCARI
The kitchen is right out in the open, so it's not like they're hiding anything. This place harks back to the San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf Italian diners with its elegance and dishes like risotto and salmon. Make sure to get a plate of carpaccio, thinly sliced raw beef topped with shaved Parmesan and lemon-herb dressing that melts immediately upon touching your tongue. 5645 E. La Palma, Anaheim, (714) 779-1777. $$$

WIN THAI CUISINE
You probably won't go to Win Thai for its cheesy Asian pop background music, but you would go for the deep sweat its notoriously spicy dishes stimulate. Win Thai offers more than 100 items, ranging from traditional rice dishes to more exotic fare such as the spicy green mussel salad. 1151 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 778-0940. $

BREA

RENAISSANCE BISTRO
As the name probably suggests, Renaissance Bistro serves primarily northern-Italian fare, but the menu is dotted with just enough unexpected items to suggest the chefs aren't unduly locked into convention. 955 E. Birch St., Brea, (714) 256-2233; www.renaissancebistro.com. $$

BUENA PARK

FILIPINO EXPRESS
This tiny joint has restored the art of fast food to its original intention: serving grub as quick and as tasty as possible. Choose from more than 20 different entrées like adobo and lechon, but all are so delicious that it's really a matter of deciding which one you want spilling over the Styrofoam plate it's served on. 4544 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 739-4479. ¢

CANYON CITIES

TRABUCO OAKS STEAK HOUSE
Cruise this ramshackle roadhouse with a creek purling behind it, where inside you'll find the best dry-aged, corn-fed, hand-trimmed, mesquite-grilled beef in OC. It's all served with fried or baked potatoes, beans, garlic bread and a house salad. 20782 Trabuco Oaks Rd., Trabuco Canyon, (949) 586-0722; www.trabucooaksteakhouse.com. $$

CORONA DEL MAR

GELATO CLASSICO
Indistinguishable from the gelato shops you find in Italy. Go there now. 2756 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 721-1160. ¢

COSTA MESA

CAFÉ PASCAL
The creation of Pascal Olhats, whose Pascal Restaurant in Newport Beach is consistently rated among the best in the county, the café allows you to treat yourself to his signature light Provençal fare at a fraction of the restaurant price. The prosciutto panini—a flattened baguette stuffed with the aforementioned as well as cheese and tomatoes—is an effeminate calzone. It's terrific. 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-4911. $

DORIA'S ORIGINAL HAUS OF PIZZA
A great pizza is a strapping saucer of bread covered with a heated blanket of gooey mozzarella, crispy shards of breaded eggplant, minced garlic and oil-marinated peppers. 1500 Adams Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-8777.$

THE GOLDEN TRUFFLE
Impossible to categorize, with elements of different restaurants including seafood, French bistro, Pacific rim and down-home joint. Everything from pot roast to grits to chicken livers is served up with excellent service, making for one of the best meals you will have had in years. 1767 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-9858. $$$

MITSUWA MARKETPLACE
Formerly known as Yaohan Plaza (may it rest in peace), the Mitsuwa Marketplace is a Japanese market and food court where you can buy bobble-headed Hula dolls, good-luck cat erasers and sushi plates in bulk. When you get to the food court, try the mouth-friendly noodles, sushi or tempura. 665 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-6699. $

CYPRESS

FRANCO'S ITALIAN RESTAURANT
This tiny Cypress restaurant is the kind of place where the tablecloths are checkered, the waiters earnestly smack fingers against lips when describing linguine, and Frank, Dino and Pagliacci roar without rest. Franco's has an extensive Italian menu—all your major pastas, subs and even a surprising selection of veal dishes—but leave space for the cheesecake, one of the best ever to grace this world: thick, almost like tiramisù, but so strong with cinnamon you can feel it sizzle on your tongue. 4453 Cerritos Ave., Cypress, (714) 761-9040. $$

DANA POINT

PROUD MARY'S
Opened in 1977 by Mary Merrill and her five children, this place most certainly qualifies as a family-run establishment. Located in Dana Wharf on the waterfront, Proud Mary's serves breakfast and lunch. Their menu—at least their breakfast one—features lots of eggs scrambled into such dishes as breakfast burritos and omelets. 34689 St. of the Golden Lantern, Dana Point, (949) 493-5853. $

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

ASHOKA CUISINE OF INDIA
Never has bread been so uplifting as it is here. The Kabuli naan, for instance, is a minor meal masterpiece, stuffed with sweet nuts, raisins and cherry bits that clash with the bread's smoky shell with the intensity of an India-Pakistan cricket match. But the vegetarian offerings are Ashoka's finest creations, unpretentious stews and purées that allow greenery to taste like greenery while pulsating with spices. 18041 Magnolia St., (714) 593-2968; www.ashokacuisineofindia.com. $$

FULLERTON

ANGELO'S AND VINCI'S
This restaurant is a work of art. Never mind the monster wine cellar; it's like the Piazza Fantasia inside. You can't go wrong ordering pizza, so try the quattro formaggio that comes with tangy goat cheese. 550 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 879-4022. $

CHICAGO HARV'S
Most every county hot-dog cart advertises Chicago dogs, but Harv's is among the few places that does it better than the South Side. They ship in bulky Vienna sausages directly from the Windy City, stuff 'em into a poppy-speckled bun next to dill pickle slivers, and squirt the mess with stinky-but-super quarts of relish and mustard that'll leave lips a yellow-green color as vibrant as a 1970s Notre Dame football uniform. 410 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-0491. ¢

MANDARIN PAVILION
The windowless room nestled near a nondescript corner of working-class Fullerton has black-bowtied waiters who bring out such treasures as the three-flavor sizzling rice soup, a scintillating broth of grains, shrimp, ham and mushrooms that actually is sizzling when it arrives at the table. It's one option of their mandatory three-course dinners. 1050 W. Valencia Dr., Fullerton, (714) 870-7950. $$

GARDEN GROVE

ALI BABA'S KITCHEN
Although Ali Baba's prepares decent versions of subcontinent standards such as chicken tikka and tandoori and an epic chicken biryani that's more rice than fowl, concentrate on the Pakistani specialties—three types of kebabs and a scorching chicken kahari. And do trot out with an order of Afghan naan—a little less than two feet in length, dimpled, soft and sweet, about the thickness of a Bic, and easily feeds four. 14282 Brookhurst St., Ste. 1, Garden Grove, (714) 531-2000. $

JOE'S ITALIAN ICE
A Pennsylvania-based chain, Joe's Italian Ice has just one West Coast location, this one in Garden Grove, from which the company has hawked its namesake product to the heated hoi polloi for two years. (They also offer such soda-shop standards as ice cream cones, sundaes and root beer floats.) You can order the Italian ice as is, but it's infinitely better as a Joe Latti: your choice of Italian ice now crowned with a Babel-esque tower of velvety vanilla ice cream, each frosty product retaining its charm until uniting inside your mouth to create the most pleasant brain freeze of your life. 12302 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 750-1076. ¢

VIEN DONG
Serving the best in Northern Vietnamese food, including banh tom co ngu, an addictive dish of lightly fried shrimp and sweet potato. As with many dishes, it comes with a plate loaded with mint leaves, lettuce and rice paper for rolling into burrito-like tubes. 14271 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-8253. $

HUNTINGTON BEACH

GALLAGHER'S
Make Gallagher's your fish-and-chip home away from home. Icelandic cod served amid skin-on steak fries made from real potatoes awaits you under beer batter that's really beer batter! And the tartar sauce is smooth and garlicky—a perfect complement. 300 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 113, Huntington Beach, (714) 536-2422; www.gallagherspub.com. $

SEBASTIANI'S ITALIAN BISTRO
Owner Pablo Benavente references his Peruvian roots during lunch and Italian dinners. Before you chow through an extensive, expensive gustatory tour of Southern Italy—highlights include powerfully herbed cannelloni, filling risotto and multiple chicken dishes—Benavente trots out a thimble of ají, the deceptively spicy Andean condiment, for your bread-spreading pleasure. 6078 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-3619; www.sebastianis.net. $$

ZUBIES DRY DOCK
Zubies has yummy pizzas, sawdust on the floor and lots of TVs. Don't worry if food falls on the ground—you won't be able to find it even if you try. 9059 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-6362. $$

IRVINE

CHINA GARDEN
The dim sum jockeys who patrol China Garden with their carts and filled plates want you to gorge immediately, but pace yourself: the visits will not cease, the goodness of the county's best dim sum will not end. Cha shu bao, filled with sweet red barbecued pork, is a perfect foil to the steaming cup of sharp house oolong tea. So is the steamed chicken bun, a light, chewy thing filled with ground chicken meat, ginger and herbs. 14825 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 653-9988. $$

KOCHEE KABOB HOUSE
Kochee Kabob might lack decorative charm and relaxed ambiance, but its grilled meat is, well, hard to beat—eight kinds of kebab, each paired with flurries of long-grained, nutty basmati rice and a salad that can't quite measure up. Kochee Kabob's meats are flavorful enough without condiments, but there are two available: sour chili powder and a green hot sauce that's a fusion of a mint chutney and emerald Tapatío. 4143 Campus Dr., Ste. 195, Irvine, (949) 854-0206.

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 Drive, Irvine, (949) 955-3242. $$$

LA HABRA

GREAT WALL MONGOLIAN BBQ
In a culinary tradition that varies little whether you're chopsticking through Mongolian BBQ in Ulan Bator or Utica, Great Wall differentiates itself by offering grub more fiery, more nuanced and a bit more bountiful than other charcuteries. Their daily lunch special is one of the most rewarding in the county—$4.50 for a bowl of Mongolian BBQ, along with a better-than-average egg roll, a thimble of fried rice that tastes vaguely Mexican and a small tureen of unctuous egg flower soup. 1261 Harbor Blvd., La Habra, (714) 680-3569. ¢

LA PALMA

PAESANO'S
You probably slap together half of Paesano's menu at least once a week for dinner: sauce-drenched entrées such as mostaccioli, spaghetti and lasagna that aren't so much Old World as they are Hoboken. So why bother visiting this 26-year-old eatery? Meatballs—lacy, herbed, delish. And subs. Good subs. 5540 Orangethorpe Ave., La Palma, (714) 521-4748.

LAGUNA, LAGUNA, LAGUNA!

CASA OLAMENDI
Casa Olamendi's is the sort of place where you ask for a balcony seat for a sunny lunch or come later to watch the sun sink into the sea over the two T's: tamales and tequila. Tamales typically arrive on a combo plate, served without the husk and covered with a little cheese, with good corn masa and delicious, tender chicken chunks. 1100 S. Coast Hwy., Ste. 202, Laguna Beach (949) 497-4148. $$

FRENCH 75 BISTRO AND CHAMPAGNE BAR
The most beautiful bar in Orange County—with prices to match. The resonant thunk of champagne corks popping will be the only competition for the jazz piano as you savor the basil-fed escargot and langoustines with Black Forest ham swimming in herb-garlic butter. 1464 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8444. $$$

GAURANGA'S VEGETARIAN CUISINE
Gauranga's has outdoor, ocean-view seating where you can enjoy a large salad bar, spicy yellow-lentil soup and cauliflower fritters. Sweet hibiscus tea is Krishna hooch, and cardamom-scented rice pudding is tasty, too. 285 Legion St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-7029. $

HUSH
Hush is a wonderful eyesore, an anomaly among the run-down boutiques and faceless office buildings cluttering the southern portion of Pacific Coast Highway. Elegance also is prominent in Hush's menu, a New American take on standards such as rack of lamb, salmon and pork tenderloin that reminds me why people would ever plunk down $50 for a dinner. But when you just gnawed on chicken from heaven, with port wine slowly soaking through your soul, racial and class warfare tends to dissipate like the sun into the Pacific. 858 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-3616; www.hushrestaurant.com. $$$

KOSHER BITE DELI
Orange County seems just too spic-n-span Christian to host a real New York-style Jewish deli, but try telling that to the folks at Kosher Bite in Laguna Hills, a cluttered room where the air conditioning is three ceiling fans on their last wobbly rotations, potato-and-barley soup is boiled daily, the Sabbath means rest and the menu—knishes, matzo ball, pastrami on rye—is as stubbornly Borscht Belt as Carl Reiner. 23595 Moulton Pkwy., Ste. H, Laguna Hills, (949) 770-1818. $

PALACE BAKERY
Palace Bakery is the county's second shop to specialize in Persian desserts, a sweet-tooth tradition similar to Arabic pastries in their sumptuousness that also exhibits bolder flavors. You shouldn't let the yen for the new stop you from ordering the Middle Eastern pastries. Palace's baklava is sweeter than what they hawk in Anaheim's Little Arabia—splashed with more rosewater and honey, the phyllo dough tougher and rolled around a dense almond filling so it resembles a miniature cigar. And every boxed purchase comes with a cool golden sticker! 24751 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. D, Laguna Hills, (949) 768-6252. ¢

LAKE FOREST

EL TORO GOURMET MEATS
El Toro Gourmet Meats owner Bob Bacca has created a mecca of high-quality meats and seafood. The carne asada is artfully butterflied open, sliced very thin, and then marinated for one to two days in a mixture of soy sauce, orange juice and, of course, secret spices—one of which, Bacca let slip out, is red pepper. 23522 El Toro Rd., Lake Forest, (949) 855-0215. $

LONG BEACH

LA CRÊPERIE CAFÉ
Someone once said, "Simplicity is the spice of life." Snicker all you want, but they must have been referring to the Bolero crêpe at La Crêperie Café. This sorta-Provençal café offers perfection drenched in butter and sugar with a twist of lemon. C'est bon!5110 E. Second St., Long Beach, 562-434-8499. $$

DIPIAZZA
Established in 1952, this award-winning Italian restaurant received Best Pizza honors in the Entertainment Book for five straight years. It offers a huge menu selection, including American dishes; you'll want to try the enticing chicken piccata, fettuccine Alfredo, lasagna, shrimp and pastas. The chicken Parmesan melt sandwich and the calamari steak will create lasting memories in your stomach. Plus, they sell Fernet Branca, which will cure your cholera.5205E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 498-2461; www.dipiazzas.com. $$

GREEN FIELD CHURRASCARIA
The phrase "food coma" was invented for the visceral carnality that clogs your pores at Green Field Churrascaria, which specializes in the terrifying meat onslaught known as churrascaria, or Brazilian barbecue. Churrascaria is pricey, but here's what you get: all-you-can eat Brazilian sausage, tightly packed and burnt to nirvana, like a nonsweet Chinese sausage; a chicken thigh, good but perhaps too dry; and beef loin, best ever, rare but hot clear through. And this is only the first offering—the folks at Green Field will not be satisfied until meat starts poking out of your ears. 5305 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 597-0906. $$

LOS ALAMITOS

PASTY KITCHEN
Home to the English pasty, a dish riddled with mystery meat and wrapped in a tasty enigma. It's a turnover filled with what was described as "paste"—piles of meat, vegetables and whatever else is lying around chopped together and folded into a delicately sublime crust. 3641 Katella Ave., Los Angeles, (562) 431-9747. $

MISSION VIEJO

ALOHA BBQ
Hawaiian staples such as manapua (steamed pork buns) and boiling saimin noodles are fine at Aloha BBQ, along with a Korean-skewed side menu filled with bimimbap and complimentary kimchi. As great as those are, the most impressive meat meal is the spicy pork ribs. Most rib places content themselves with giving patrons a couple of twigs, but Aloha BBQ carts over four massive things that appear to have been torn from a hippo. 24000 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. 4, Mission Viejo, (949) 581-0976. $

NEWPORT BEACH

KITAYAMA
Kitayama's fans say it's as close to fine Japanese dining as you can get without flying to Tokyo. We're talking savory steak and seafood dishes and unbelievable sushi and sashimi. 101 Bayview Place, Newport Beach, (949) 725-0777.$$$

THE LIDO SHIPYARD SAUSAGE CO. AND SABATINO'S FAMILY RESTAURANT
The meals begin like an explosion at the back end of a cornucopia. The sausage is made on the premises and is meaty, clean and flavorful. The stuffed pasta is also incredible. 251 Shipyard Way, Newport Beach, (949) 723-0621. $$

THE RITZ
The Ritz: where suited lawyers and PR flacks 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. $$$$

ORANGE

CITRUS CITY GRILLE
The place is cavernous—there's a long, bending wall along a 60-degree curve on one side, as if this is half of what used to be a roller rink. A tender chicken is done Southwestern with a sharp-as-curry-but-not-curried white corn and side of wild rice. Demi-glazed pork chops emerge from a reduction of beef broth and red wine and then (here's the surprise) figs. 122 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 639-9600. $$

DARYA
If the delicacies on the Persian menu are in unfamiliar combinations of letters strung together with hyphens, just leave it to the waiters. You will love it. 1998 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 921-2773. $$$

PLACENTIA

SOPHIA'S
Some of the best Greek cuisine in North Orange County. The food is simple and perfect for long lunches in the pretty dining room or the small garden patio. I love their chicken-and-lemon soup. They serve a whole range of roasted meats, including lamb and fresh seafood. Their pistachio baklava tends to be very rich. 1390 N. Kraemer Blvd., Placentia, (714) 528-2021. $

SAN CLEMENTE

IVA LEE'S
So authentically Cajun they hand out beads to patrons, Iva Lee's is a haute-cuisine take on the Big Easy. Crawfish cakes are topped with a dollop of saffron aioli, and the pan-fried pork chops are thick and juicy. The chicory coffee crème brulee is so tasty, it's like eating crack pudding. 555 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 361-2855; www.ivalees.com. $$$

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

BAD TO THE BONE BBQ
Barbecue sandwiches are usually messy affairs, but Bad to the Bone's house sausage sandwich is as austere as it is sumptuous. A lean, sweet pork sausage speckled with pepper bits and accompanied by sautéed onions and bell peppers, it strikes several notes, the wonderfully bitter distinct from the sweet and salty. The crunchy French roll lends a taste of honey. 31738 Rancho Viejo Rd., Ste. E, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 218-0227; www.badtothebonebbq.com. $$

SANTA ANA

BANGKOK TASTE
Thong "Chim" Johnson, owner of Bangkok Taste, knows how to pack heat into her torrid Thai creations, like her luscious green curry and her garlic shrimp; no other Thai place I know of makes its own ice cream like Johnson's does. 2737 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 532-2216. $

CHINA OLIVE
One of the few Chinese buffets 'round town that won't wreak havoc on your porcelain throne. Good mix of Chinese-American dishes, from sweet orange chicken to a hybrid chow mein speckled with baby octopus, snow peas, onions and carrots. 3420 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 957-2688. $

MARISCOS LA SIRENA
This little palace serves caldo de caguama (turtle soup) but also represents its own endangered genus—the restaurant whose métier is stunning Sinaloan-style Mexican food with a side of stereotypes—blistering aguachile with wooden parrots, nuclear ceviche served under drooping nets, and deer steaks that are almost as tender as each waitress' top is low. 515. S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-0350. $$

RUTH'S PLACE
Open here for 11 years, Ruth's Place carries a tough-to-read sign out front advertising Southern-style soul food. You'll always find Ruth here, cooking catfish steamed and piled fist-high, yams sweet as Sade (the singer, not the sadomasochist), cornbread greasy as Pam Houchen's palms, and black-eyed peas that are soft and plump and just the proper earthen hue. 1236 Civic Center Dr. W., Santa Ana, (714) 953-9454. $

TACOS NEZA
Al pastor (spiced pork spun on a spit) is the name of the juego at Tacos Neza, a particularly divey taquería down the street from TheOrange County Register'soffices. Marinated in the manner of Texcoco—ain't diversity great? Now we have Mexican restaurants that specialize in the food of Mexican city neighborhoods—it's orange with pork grease, spicy with salsa and just saliva-inducing. 1320 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 834-1292. ¢

SEAL BEACH

MAHE
Mahe offers a delicious meeting of sushi and meat as God and Stewart Anderson, in their mercy, intended. Besides the raw stuff, the house special is the filet mignon stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon. Kill you? Sure. But it tastes damn good. 1400 Pacific Coast Hwy., Seal Beach, (562) 431-3022. $$$

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. $

STANTON

MITSUYOSHI
Mitsuyoshi, a humble, rock-solid Stanton restaurant patronized by the North County Japanese community, makes a particularly alluring version of sukiyaki, with a heavy, sweet broth packed with thin slices of beef, green onions, cellophane noodles, mushrooms, tofu cubes and bamboo shoots. And in traditional fashion, there's a bowl of raw egg in which to dip the beef strips. 12033 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 898-2156. $$

TUSTIN

INDIA SWEETS AND SPICES
It's a sweet shop and a produce vendor, a place to rent videos, buy Urdu-edition newspapers and get a home-style meal in a pop-culture mini-bazaar that caters to your taste for Indian soul food. 14441 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-2910. $

HONDA-YA
The Tustin Japanese joint continues to be a county chowhound phenomenon more than a decade after its opening, one of the precious few Orange County restaurants with a daily past-midnight closing time and a 150-plus-item menu that necessitates hours-long pilgrimages just to dent it. Per the izaka-ya tradition, Honda-Ya is all about time and placement: different sections that provoke a different feel and warrant a different menu at different hours. You'll find it all: noodles, sushi, yakitori and tiny bowl-meals sautéed with enough butter to make it pancake-spread worthy. 556 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-0081. $$

VILLA PARK

THE COFFEE GROVE
Villa Park's answer to Cheers, the Coffee Grove is a place where you can chat with the locals or read the paper while they whip up your favorite coffee drink. 17769 Santiago Blvd., (714) 974-2650. $

WESTMINSTER

COFFEE FACTORY
To get the full range of Vietnam's jolting coffees, pull up a table at the Anglo-named, French-themed Coffee Factory on the edge of Little Saigon. Sip slowly on the ca phé sua nong, which is as black as Larry Agran's heart (and just as shudder-inducing) or some ice-cold ca phé den da, complete with black tapioca pearls. 15582 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 418-0757. $

MÌ LA CAY
Mì rice noodles are actually Chinese, but many Vietnamese places have incorporated them into the menu. Funny how 1,000 years of colonization can do that. Mì La Cay is continuously one of the most popular restaurants in the genre of mi cookery. Bring your appetite, and order a heaping bowl of mì la cay dac biet (the house special). 8924 Bolsa Ave., (714) 891-8775. $

PAGOLAC
Pagolac will show you another side of beef—seven, to be exact. "Bo 7 Mon," the restaurant sign's subtitle, is Vietnamese for seven courses of beef, the restaurant's specialty. Ungodly slabs of sirloin are transformed into wisps of flavor-packed beef. 14580 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 531-4740. $$

VAN HANH VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT
Vietnamese cuisine includes a proud tofu tradition, and Van Hanh's menu represents its full, finest flowering. No limp kung pao and imitation orange chicken here. Instead, you'll find biting papaya concoctions drenched in chile powder and lime juice, noodle selections studded with tasty tofu and veggies, and more rice plates than in Uncle Ben's wildest dreams. 9455 Bolsa Ave., Ste. D, Westminster, (714) 531-4661. ¢

YORBA LINDA

FITNESS PIZZA & GRILL
Their oval-shaped thin-crust pizzas have deceptively healthy names like Triathlete, Iron Man and Gymnast (it is pizza after all, but they claim they're all very low in fat). Either way, they taste good. 18246 Imperial Hwy., Yorba Linda, (714) 993-5421; www.fitnessgrill.com. $

MULTIPLE LOCATIONS

BIRRIERIA Y PUPUSERIA JALISCO
Whether you order Mexican or Salvadoran food at Birriería y Pupusería Jalisco, make sure to mix and match condiments, if only in the name of Latino solidarity. Add curtido (the Salvadoran slaw that accompanies pupusas) to Birriería's bottle-sized burritos—enjoy the contrast between the garlicky, pickled curtido and the unspiced beans-rice-and-meat simplicity of the burrito. Spread the chilled, citrus-tinged house salsa on the pupusas to tweak the hearty appetizer. 404 N. Grand Ave., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 836-4409; 17292 W. McFadden, Ste. D, Tustin, (714) 573-1586; 6999 E. Cerritos Ave., Stanton, (714) 826-3382; 2525 N. Grand Ave., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 288-8931; 1212 S. Bristol Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 662-7400. $

HATAM
If you have a hankering for Persian food, try the lamb shank, a huge leg of lamb complete with bone marrow and fat. It's served as a stew, and the meat rivals Jell-O for tenderness. Kabobs are good, too! 1112 N. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 991-6060; 24000 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. 28, Mission Viejo, (949) 768-0122. $$

OPAH
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., (949) 360-8822; 22332 El Paseo, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 766-9988; 13122 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (714) 508-8055; www.opahrestaurant.com. $$

TAQUERÍAS GUADALAJARA
This place is open 24 hours! Try their corn tortillas filled with chicken; marinated asada; or smoky, chile-tinged rotisserie pork doused with chopped cilantro. The tacos al pastor are worth waiting for if you're there after midnight. 520 N. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 758-1370; 305 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 953-1191; 1904 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 547-7515. ¢

TITO'S LA ESPECIAL
Tito's La Especial is the master of the tacos al vapor format, the gloriously fatty style that steams tortillas and shredded beef together until it's almost like an ice cream sandwich. Ignore the drunks outside the nearby bar in the Harbor location, and they'll ignore you back. 503 W. 17th, Santa Ana, (714) 543-2900; 701 N. Harbor Blvd., Ste. D, Santa Ana, (714) 554-9871.

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