Grub Guide

A taste of Orange 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:

¢ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than $10!

Location Info

Map

Gen Kai Japanese Restaurant

3344 E. Coast Highway
Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Corona Del Mar

Boulangerie Pierre & Patisserie

14352 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: Garden Grove

International Meats and Deli

10382 Stanford Ave., Ste. F
Garden Grove, CA 92840

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Garden Grove

Clay Oven Cuisine Of India

15435 Jeffrey Road, Ste 116
Irvine, CA 92618

Category: Restaurant > Indian

Region: Irvine

Jj Bakery & Cafe

15333 Culver Drive
Irvine, CA 92604-3078

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: Irvine

Taiko Japanese Restaurant

14775 Jeffrey Road
Irvine, CA 92618

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Irvine

Onami Sushi & Seafood Restaurant

24155 Laguna Hills Mall, Ste. 1301
Laguna Hills, CA 92653

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Laguna Hills

Picayo

610 N. Pacific Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Laguna Beach

Royal Thai Cuisine

1750 S. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Restaurant > Thai

Region: Laguna Beach

Zinc Cafe & Market

350 Ocean Ave.
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Restaurant > Eclectic

Region: Laguna Beach

Empanada Man

20761 Lake Forest Drive
Lake Forest, CA 92630

Category: Restaurant > South American

Region: Lake Forest

Pittsburgh Chicken & Taters

3671 Katella Ave.
Rossmoor, CA 90720

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Los Alamitos

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ANAHEIM

E-SAN ROD-SAP
E-San specializes in 78 dishes of Isaan cooking, the sour-and-spicy cuisine of northeast Thailand that's exotic even inside the Southeast Asian kingdom. Most diners order from a buffet near the kitchen, where a stern-looking woman in a milk-colored hairnet lords over entrées that constitute the $5.50 three-items-plus-rice combo. Choices vary from hour to hour and include a spicy Lao-style vegetable soup redolent of pumpkin, fiery green curry (smoky with eggplant chunks) and fried catfish that crackles loudly across the dining room. 1719 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 999-0563. $

 

INKA ANAHEIM
Groups eager to party will dig the décor of blacklight scenes of Peru's landscape. A good introductory dish to the Inka menu is the casa—a rotisserie chicken, featuring one-quarter of the bird, white rice, brown beans and salad, plus an Inka soda to wash it all down. 400 S. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 772-2263.$

LA PALMA CHICKEN PIE SHOP
It's pure comfort to know that the same waitresses will serve you the same chicken pot pies year after year. These pies are the size of large talcum-powder puffs and have a flaky, golden-brown pastry crust. 928 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 533-2021. ¢

RASTHAL VEGETARIAN CUISINE
The South Indian food served here ain't your Green Party fundraiser spread of bland samosas and lukewarm lentil broth. Rasthal is the type of dive where kaju karela—a peppered, unctuous mush combining cashews with coconut oil and bitter gourds—is among the more conservative dishes, where a chile-laced farina called upma is celebrated with the reverence with which a Punjabi restaurant serves up tandoori chicken.2751-2755 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-3800. ¢

BREA

TAPS FISH HOUSE & BREWERY
Located in the desperately fine-dining-deficient Brea, this place has everything—from steaks, chicken and pastas to an immense oyster bar. Gorge yourself with abandon on such appetizers as tropical shrimp quesadillas or French Quarter egg rolls. 101 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 257-0101; www.tapsbrea.com. $$

BUENA PARK

JANG MO
Jang Mo Restaurant specializes in soup, offering six aromatic choices. Add generous amounts of granulated salt, scallions, white rice and pungent hot mustard to unlock the potential of the peppery yook gejang (advertised as vegetable soup but laden with beef shreds) and the three types of gomtang (as delicious as its much-celebrated cousin pho, it's slowly simmered in beef bones) that makes this joint a must-slurp. 4546 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 228-0767. $

 

CANYON CITIES

SILVERADO CAFÉ
For breakfast, feast on their miner's omelet: a crepe-like blanket of eggs filled with mushrooms, onions, green peppers, chiles, tomatoes and cheese. I love the patty melt with fries and coleslaw for lunch. 28272 Silverado Canyon Rd., Silverado, (714) 649-2622.$

CORONA DEL MAR

GEN KAI
Many sushi bars don't stock hokegai, a generously two-toned Japanese clam with a mild flavor. It's a mark of quality that Gen Kai occasionally has on hand, and their fish servings are out-of-the-net fresh!3344 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 675-0771. $$

COSTA MESA

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. $$$HABANA
The ambiance makes this the perfect date restaurant. The Nuevo Latino menu leans toward Cuban but mixes in Jamaican, Mexican and other flavors. The bar serves some of the best sangria around, and the lemon-drop martinis are near-legendary, too. 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-0176.$$EL MATADOR
El Matador, with its scaled-down Olvera Street interior, boasts 27 combination plates and 30-weight mole sauce of chiles, chocolate and whatever will make you reflect, "This thing in my mouth should not be there. Help." The spicy shrimp tacos rise majestically over most fish tacos, too. 1768 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-0324. $$

 

OKI DOKI
Oki Doki is a pan-Asian restaurant but primarily draws in folks for its chicken ramen, a refreshingly light anomaly in the pork-centric ramen world. Chicken-based ramen is like a sharper version of the best Midwestern chicken soups, though now laden with sturdy noodles. Most of the toppings are typically Japanese: the chashu, hardboiled egg, bean sprouts and scallions. The delicious, fried crunchy bits of garlic, though, are an atypical, probably Vietnamese influence that are more than welcome as they provide a great tweak of sweet bitterness. 3033 S. Bristol St., Ste. O, Costa Mesa, (714) 540-2066. $

ORCHID
Persian food served in abundant portions on perfectly arranged plates complete with precise ovals of rice and small domes of vegetables. The basmati rice is as fluffy as cumulus clouds and as flavorful as fresh-popped popcorn. 3033 S. Bristol St., Ste. B., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-8070. $$

 

SANTOUKA RAMEN
Late last year, one of Japan's largest ramen chains, Santouka Ramen, opened its second California outpost here. But despite its chain ownership, Santouka's soup is stately, with cooks offering ramen from different regions: Tokyo (heavy with soy sauce, with a whisper of dried bonito flakes), the miso-flavored liquid pride of Hokkaido, and another style, shio ramen, simply flavored with salt. 665 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 434-1101.

CYPRESS

MIKE'S BAR-B-QUE
This establishment's barbecue is definitely Memphis-style, from the secret sauce with 20 ingredients to the beef brisket. The menu is your basic barbecue, but choosing what to eat isn't easy because everything is so good.11513 Knott Ave., Cypress, (714) 799-6222. $

DANA POINT

MOONLIGHT PIZZA & CHICKEN
Moonlight's soujouk pizza—grazed with the spicy Armenian beef sausage—is grander than mere foodstuff: it's an ambassador for that mythical melting pot, for the entrepreneurial spirit and innovation of owners Vazgen Akoyan and Karine Karpetyan. Add pineapple, and you have the best retort to the anti-immigrant crowd since the Statue of Liberty. 9895 Warner Ave., Ste. G, Fountain Valley, (714) 963-4488. $

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

EBISU RAMEN RESTAURANT
This restaurant is a sleek ramen mecca that serves miso ramen, a curative soybean-flavored elixir, poured over a tangled cake of supple noodles rife with bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, hard-boiled-egg halves and scallions. 18924-A Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 964-5993;www.ebisuramen.com. $

 

FULLERTON

THE BRITISH GROCER
Jacky Wyld's shop, in existence for 20 years now, sells a variety of British wares and foods: English teas, Jaffa cakes, Heinz beans and the like. But make a beeline for Wyld's freezer, one of the few places in the county where you can find a couple of different kinds of blood sausages to drool over. Snatch a free copy of the Union Jack, "America's Only National British Newspaper," on your way out. 305 N. Harbor Blvd., Ste. 124, Fullerton, (714) 738-0229. ¢-$$

HOT WOK
The greatest greasy Chinese on Earth: the three item combo plus chow mein and fried rice for just a bit north of $5.1111 S. Lemon St., Fullerton, (714) 525-3333. $

 

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 actuallyis 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. $$ROADSIDE BURGERS
Though it bills itself as a tribute to Route 66, Roadside is just too good. Its burgers—well-wrapped and slightly bigger and tastier (and more expensive) than your typical burger dive—are a tad too gourmet for true shack consideration. Still, the nostalgia at Roadside is all about the location: across the street is the historic Fox Theater. When that majestic building opens its doors anew, patrons will likely cross the street to share a malt with their beloved, and the curtain will rise on another scene in our American play. Onion rings are extra. 513 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 871-0040. $GARDEN GROVE

AZTECA
As far as Azteca goes, there are two words to keep in mind: "garlic" and "taco"—beef tacos with the usual fixings, but flavored with fresh garlic-and-vinegar dressing and lime. The garlic hits first, but it's the citrus that finishes each bite. 12911 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 638-3790. $

BOULANGERIE PIERRE & PATISSERIE
Many of the elderly Vietnamese who make up the morning crowd walk out laden with crunchy baguettes, but the younger afternoon clients prefer Boulangerie Pierre's other confections. The croissants are the antithesis of the baguettes: fluffy, flaky, light, some gooey with a peppery cheese baked inside. Boulangerie Pierre's best sweet bet, though, is the baba au rum: a rum-soaked, fruit-topped mini-cake and not a mistranslated Who song. 14352 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 418-9098. ¢

INTERNATIONAL MEATS & DELI
They have about the most authentic Hungarian food to be found without a passport. Try eating as they do in Eastern Europe—smorgasbord-style meats, cheeses and breads—or order some kolbasz, one of six kinds of homemade sausages available. 10382 Stanford Ave., Ste. F, Garden Grove, (714) 539-6334. $

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

CHICKEN CO.
If it wasn't copyrighted, we would tell you they do chicken right. So we'll just say that they do chicken correctly. They turn lowly poultry into buttery works of art. Forget chicken soup: this is what your soul is craving. 9017 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-0500. $

LUCCI'S DELI AND MARKET
Lucci's offers more than 30 hot or cold sandwiches under $5, not counting the house-specialty torpedoes that go for $2.99 and $5.25. There is pizza. There are the standard Italian dinners like spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna and eggplant, along with classics like linguine with clam sauce and fettuccine Alfredo—all between $6 and $10. Lucci's does catering, too. They even bake wedding cakes. 8911 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 968-4466. $$

SMOKIN' MO'S
A tour of barbecue traditions within the confines of a gleaming Surf City development, Smokin' Mo's redeems the red states from which it pulls its stuff. Tennessee shines with vinegary, massive, great pork ribs, and Louisiana appears with hot links that please like a boat ride through the bayou. Better than that, we love its pig mascot—wide-eyed, holding a massive wooden spoon, grinning at the thought of eating its brethren, the happiest cannibal since that weird gay German guy. 301 Main St., Ste. 107, Huntington Beach, (714) 374-3033; www.mosbbq.com. $

ZUBIES DRY DOCK
Zubies has yummy pizzas, sawdust on the ground 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

CLAY OVEN
What makes the Clay Oven stand out is the way it uses the traditional tandoori tools to expand upon the cuisine. You can't find a better swordfish in Orange County. It's so tender that it flakes apart at the mere hint of a fork. 15435 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 552-2851. $

J.J. BAKERY
Nearly every Irvine Chinatown visitor eventually waddles into this clean, well-lit bakery/boba shop, seeking a sugar capper to his day: bite-sized red-bean cookies, taro pastries, tart egg pudding and a bizarre bread slice that contains half a mango covered with cream cheese. But the main reason you should haunt J.J. Bakery is their prepackaged sandwiches, a sort of regal Hot Pocket that, at 90 cents, are the best lunch options since the three-tacos-for-a-buck special at Jack in the Box. 15333 Culver Dr., Ste. 660, Irvine, (949) 653-1566. $

 

TAIKO
Irvinites all agree on one thing and one thing only: the No. 10 combo, a tender, chewy, delectable calamari steak with teriyaki sauce and sashimi. Taiko's calamari is a delicate homage to the squid, one that I have many times failed to re-create.14775 Jeffrey Rd., Ste. K, Irvine, (949) 559-7190. $$

 

LA HABRA

IMPERIAL BURGERS
Imperial Burgers serves many more things besides its Cheddar cheese-heavy pastrami burritos—its burgers, for instance, charbroiled marriages of meat, soft bun, sweet cheese and lettuce. Or standard breakfasts of pancakes, hash browns and sausage. And always sip on ultra-sweet Orange Bang whenever you find this increasingly rare beverage. Everything is good here, really. But La Habra is so far away, and the pastrami burrito is so good—why would you ever order anything else? 241 E. Imperial Hwy., La Habra, (714) 525-1611. $

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!

MADISON SQUARE & GARDEN CAFE
Topped with berry-infused butter, the ginger and lemon-perfumed ricotta pancakes are creamy and moist. Also, try the Shanghai chicken salad; it's a towering bed of gourmet greens, shredded carrots, rice, noodles, won tons and chicken. 320 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-0137. $

 

KOSHER BITE DELI
Orange County seems just too spick-and-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. $

ONAMI SUSHI & SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Here, you can partake of as much sushi as you want. You can gobble down transparent globules of ikura (salmon roe) like popcorn or tiny particles of masago (smelt egg) as if they're, well, tiny particles of masago. 24155 Laguna Hills Mall, Ste. 1300, Laguna Hills, (949) 768-0500. $$

PICAYO
This charming boutique French restaurant has a terrific appetizer—a sautéed foie gras served on a bed of spinach with a sherry vinegar sauce. Forget your misgivings about eating goose liver; this is a culinary petit mort. Your server will suggest a glass of sweet sauvignon blanc to accompany the foie gras, and even though this will bring your tab to more than $20 (and you still haven't ordered an entrée), you'll do it gladly. 610 N. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-5051. $$$

ROYAL THAI
Feeling a cold coming? Phone Royal Thai and place an order for the po tak soup. It's a yummy clear chicken/seafood broth with New Zealand green mussels, scallops, calamari, shrimp and fresh green chiles. It'll make your eyes tear up and clear your head better than any over-the-counter sinus meds. And that's just smelling the stuff. 1750 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8424. $

ZINC CAFÉ
The lasagna is a great example of why meat or the absence of it is a non-issue at Zinc Café. A mixture of ricotta, ginger, shallots, garlic and spinach is lavished between the noodles making it rich and filling. Served on a soft bun with all the trimmings, the vegetarian Zinc burger imparts that certain meat-lust satisfaction that few meatless burgers do. 350 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-6302. $

LAKE FOREST

EMPANADA MAN
Empanada Man prepares its steaming delicacy upon order, so it'll be a while before you can start debating whether to order a fourth or fifth one for the journey home. Chicken and beef empanadas are mini-stews of joy, the meats moist and accompanied by corn kernels in the former, hard-boiled egg slices in the latter. The spinach and potato selections are the edible equivalent of Argentina's gold-medal-winning Olympic soccer squad: rough, earthy, at first unimpressive but ultimately a winner. And the tangy dance the ricotta cheese empanada stomps upon your palate is worthy of a Gardel croon. 20761 Lake Forest Dr., Lake Forest, (949) 855-9257; www.empanadaman.com. ¢

LONG BEACH

LA CRÊPERIE CAFÉ
Someone once said, "Simplicity is the spice of life." Snicker all you want, but he must have been referring to the Bolero crepe at La Crêperie Café. This sorta-Provençal café offers perfection drenched in butter and sugar with a twist of lemon. C'est bon!4911 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. $$

 

M & M SOUL FOOD
Ask the folks at M & M to comment on the peach-hued walls, lowered ceilings and general bunker-like atmosphere (livened up only by an animatronic James Brown doll and a display case full of dolphin-shaped oil burners for sale), and they'll decline. Wisely so. But the food—perfectly grilled short ribs, snappy okra with nary a touch of sliminess, nummy peach cobbler, amongst other dishes—they'll praise with the intensity of a Sunday-morning gospel choir. 5400 Cherry Ave., Long Beach, (562) 422-8395. $

LOS ALAMITOS

PITTSBURGH CHICKEN & TATERS
Most Americans know the Steel City for its bankrupt hockey teams and bruising football squads, but this storefront restaurant, with its goofy hen mascot (circa early Peanuts), makes broasted chicken. They pressure-cook the gals with the same relentless intensity the Steelers defense applies on third-and-15, producing meat that's plump and moist inside a fine gnarled skin. 3671 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-0140. $

 

MISSION VIEJO

SANTORA'S PIZZA, SUBS & WINGS
Matthew 20:16 taught us that the last shall be first, and that's the best way to describe Santora's Pizza, Subs & Wings, a dank tavern just down the street from the sterile opulence of the shops at Mission Viejo. Santora's pizza is passable; the subs nothing a Togo's drone can't slap together in three minutes. But Santora's Buffalo wings are the gourmand Gospel manifest: the Good Word transubstantiated into fleshy appendages ready to burn through your alimentary canal like the fires of Gehenna. 28251 Marguerite Pkwy., Mission Viejo, (949) 364-3282. $

NEWPORT BEACH

59TH AND LEX CAFE
Bloomingdale's West Coast café is sunnier and sassier than its New York counterpart. You'll like the 59th Street sampler, a salad combo that features fresh mozzarella and baked goat cheese on field greens with lemon vinaigrette. 701 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 729-6600. $$

MASTRO'S OCEAN CLUB FISH HOUSE
Mastro's prides itself on an à la carte menu with gargantuan portions—think Claim Jumper, but three times the style and cost. So it's not a problem that an appetizer like vanilla-battered shrimp includes just three of the crustaceans: the shrimp are among the largest you'll ever see, about the size of a cop's blackjack. And any qualms over paying almost $30 for a fish fillet will disappear under the dense, buttery consistency of any of them. 8112 E. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 376-6990. $$$

MULDOON'S
The perfect fish-and-chips search ends here. Five pieces of fresh red snapper are piled atop skin-on shoestring fries made from real potatoes. The batter on the fish is golden and puffy, like fried cumulus clouds. And the Irish soda bread will make you a regular. 202 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-4110. $$

TACO ROSA
It's not just the wide swath of Mexico—Mexico City, Oaxaca, even the Yucatan—that makes Taco Rosa one of the few truly successful gourmet Mexican restaurants. Taco Rosa succeeds because its few tweaks are Mexican-based and surprising. Ask for the aguas frescas and instead of horchata, waiters will recommend a frosted, freshly squeezed cup of cantaloupe or melon—¡delicioso! 2632 San Miguel Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 720-0980. $$

ORANGE

DAIRY TREET
Across the street from Chapman University, it's advertised as the oldest burger stand in OC (est. 1949). Get those burgers and also the smoothies and shakes. Don't get thrown off by thekatakana script above the ordering window: that's for Chapman's large Japanese student population. Poor student's special: 99-cent burger. 292 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 538-5904. ¢

 

THE TULSA RIB COMPANY
An open-minded place with a sense of adventure. The ribs rule here, coming in a broad range of styles from traditional to Cajun to Caribbean. 954 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 633-3760.$$

PLACENTIA

SOPHIA'S GREEK CUISINE
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

SWISS CHALET
This restaurant primarily serves German-inspired food, but such dishes as the Chalet Fischteller (sautéed shrimp, scallops and clams in a white wine-tarragon cream sauce and served on linguine) and a pfeffersteak (filet of beef tenderloin sautéed in a clarified butter on a four peppercorn-whiskey cream sauce) display interesting Italian and French touches. Since this is alpine food, Swiss Chalet also features many veal dishes.216 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 492-7931. $$

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

L'HIRONDELLE
The French/Belgian restaurant L'Hirondelle is a San Juan Capistrano institution, used as proof by residents that their city offers more than Father Serra this and swallows that (although the restaurant's name is French for "the swallow"—guess one can't fly too far from the nest). The lapin à la liégeoise (rabbit) is perfect, tasting like a duskier, moister turkey, with a plum wine sauce lending a bittersweet taste and juicy plum skins mixed in. 31631 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 661-0425. $$$

SANTA ANA

EL CURTIDO
The casamiento is a vegetarian's delight combining black beans and rice with eggs, avocado and cream, plus a piece of really salty cotija cheese on the side. We suggest you chase that down with a big cup of Salvadoran horchata. 300 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 973-0554. $

 

EL GALLO GIRO
Leopaldo Gonzalez cranks tortas out in seven excruciating seconds, but they're worth the wait. The tortas are delicious and filling beyond description. The bread is warm, and the fresh meats are savory and perfectly complemented by the condiments. 1422 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 549-2011; www.gallogiro.com.¢

 

HANS' HOMEMADE ICE CREAM
Hans Biermann likes to make ice cream and carries some 55 delectable flavors. He also serves up real meals, such as the flaky croissant filled with avocado, almonds, lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese and mayo. 3640 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 979-8815.¢

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's top is low. 515. S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-0350. $$

PHO HIEN VUONG
Pho Hien Vuong, supposedly the county's first restaurant to serve its beef noodle soup, does serve other things besides the dish it's named after: bouncy goi cuon (spring rolls); rice domes towering over chunks of sautéed beef, chicken or steamed vegetables; and the fabulous chilled vermicelli salad known as bún. But most of Orange County's legal community speeds in from the faraway Central Court for one of the restaurant's 18 primordial phos. 2525 W. 17th St., Ste. H, Santa Ana, (714) 554-2696. $

 

SEAL BEACH

PHILLIPS' FAMILY RESTAURANT
After a lifetime of frozen supermarket chicken pies, these are a revelation.The crust is thick and flavorful, and unlike its frozen brothers, Phillips' isn't stingy with the chicken—and they don't even bother with vegetables. Who needs 'em? Just about everything chicken is worthy here! 13936 Seal Beach Blvd., Seal Beach, (562) 596-1437.$

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

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. $$$

TUSTIN

KAPPO SUZUMARU
Small though it is, Kappo Suzumaru is really two restaurants—a fast-paced sushi bar with comforting (California) and confounding (fermented soy bean?) rolls, and a leisurely main dining room separated by paper lanterns and banners stitched with slogans in katakana and kanji script. At some point, get the ochazuke: rice plum soup that's hearty but viciously tart—something that will comfort and enthrall you the rest of the day. 17292 Mcfadden Ave., Ste. B, Tustin, (714) 665-1300. $$

NAAN & KABOB
Naan & Kabob should be renamed Rice & Kabob, since the Tustin Persian eatery prepares the latter platter 36 different ways. Rice with lamb kabob. Rice with fish kabob. Rice with beef, chicken and shrimp kabob. Rice with a type of falafel kabob. Redundant? No: regal. 416 E. First St., Tustin, (714) 66-KABOB. $

VILLA PARK

ROCKWELL'S CAFE AND BAKERY
This neighborhood café and bakery is an ode to Norman Rockwell, with 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

CAJUN CORNER
Cajun Corner is the latest in a rash of Little Saigon restaurants that attract mostly young Vietnamese looking for Louisiana seafood favorites like crab and crawfish, beer and a messy dinner—bibs and butcher paper on your table at Cajun Corner are gospel. The special is a whole Dungeness crab, brought out in a plastic bag heavy with chile rub, awaiting your cracking to reveal soft, buttery meat. 15430 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 775-7435. $$

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. $$

PHO HIEN VUONG DAKAO
How many sit-down Vietnamese eateries, let alone fast-food places, offer audacious dishes like a green papaya salad dotted with dried beef livers or an escargot bún soup? But among these, the sinh to is the true item of veneration: smoother and slightly sweeter than those of other hawkers—and extremely affordable at two bucks per serving. 9200 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 306, Westminster, (714) 897-4330. $

THANH'S
It's as if you're in the other Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City), sans the oppressive humidity. The menu—108 items ranging from bò nuong (barbecue beef) to hu tieu (noodle soup) to com (rice)—is a gastronomic delight. 9872 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 531-3888. $

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

AMAZING KABOB HOUSE
Take the advice of this tiny restaurant's name: kebabs of lamb, chicken, ground beef, even shrimp sizzling between bell peppers, tomatoes and onions on skewers. But make sure to also order the Kabuli palau—basmati rice cooked with lamb, carrots and currants—and a bowl of aash, a noodle soup with hefty portions of potatoes, chicken and tomato that would sell well in Iowa. 3209 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 282-1228; 2445 E. Imperial Hwy., Ste. F, Brea, (714) 529-9300; www.amazingkabobhouse.com. $

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. $

 

CLARO'S ITALIAN MARKET
Claro's is a fourth-generation family business with a passion for food as big as the 600-pound loaves of provolone it is known to display during winter. Besides a huge selection of imported groceries, Claro's houses a stellar deli and bakery. 1095 E. Main St., Tustin, (714) 832-3081; 101 W. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 690-2844. $

 

THE DAILY GRILL
This is where you can learn to love the Cobb salad, an orchestrated event of chicken, tomatoes, avocado, bacon, blue cheese, scallions, egg and romaine and iceberg lettuce mixed in a creamy Italian dressing. Also American comfort food—don't miss the meatloaf—prepared at its highest level. 957 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 644-2223; 2636 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 474-2223.$$

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