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Grub Guide

Tasty morsels from 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:

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

Location Info

Map

La Langosta

408 S. Brookhurst St.
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Anaheim

Rasthal Vegetarian Cuisine

2751-2755 W. Lincoln Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > Indian

Region: Anaheim

Oki Doki

13681 Newport Ave., Ste. 9
Tustin, CA 92780

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Tustin

Harbor Café & Tacos

16540 Harbor Blvd.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Fountain Valley

Heroes Bar & Grill

125 W. Santa Fe., Ste. 128
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Fullerton

Kung Pao House

217 N. Euclid St.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Fullerton

Roadside Burgers

513 N. Harbor Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Restaurant > Burgers

Region: Fullerton

BCD Tofu House

9520 Garden Grove Blvd., Ste. 9
Garden Grove, CA 92844

Category: Restaurant > Korean

Region: Garden Grove

Boulangerie Pierre & Patisserie

14354 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: Garden Grove

Vien Dong

14271 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Garden Grove

The Chicken Co.

9017 Adams Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92646

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Huntington Beach

Lucci's Deli and Market

8911 Adams Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92646

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Huntington Beach

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ANAHEIM

LA LANGOSTA
Located on the outskirts of Arab Anaheim, La Langosta is a family-themed Mexican seafood restaurant. Order its specialty dish, langosta ranchera—lobster prepared with peppers, onions, cilantro, tomatoes and a salsa that is hot both in a literary and culinary sense.408 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 772-6666. $$

 

LORELEY RESTAURANT
It's located in Anaheim's German-American Phoenix Club, but there ain't no oompah bands or boars' heads on the wall. There is a menu that will open your mind to German cuisine, though. We were told the breaded veal cutlet was delicious, but we don't eat veal. 1340 S. Sanderson Ave., Anaheim, (714) 563-4164. $$

PLAZA GARIBALDI
Plaza Garibaldi is named after the famous square in Mexico City where mariachi bands play. Their dinner shows feature Mariachi Garibaldi, a nine-piece band that warms your dining experience—Mexico City-style. 500 N. Brookhurst, Anaheim, (714) 758-9014; www.plaza-garibaldi.com. $$

RASTHAL VEGETARIAN CUISINE
The South Indian food served here ain't your Green Party fund-raiser 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 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-3800. ¢

YOGIRAJ
The subcontinental meal known as a thali is the original Hungry-Man Meal: a metal tray that houses thimbles, cups and bowls heaped with vegetarian entrées from the southern Indian state of Gujarat. The thali at Yogiraj includes anything from sweetened black-eyed peas, spiced lentils and rasam, sour tomato-based soup, pea-potato stew or concoctions of cashews and peppers. Wash everything down with a rose sherbet, a creamy pink drink that tastes like strawberry Quik but with a hint of rose water—the best damn drink in the world. 3107 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 995-5900. $

BREA

BREA'S BEST BURGERS
The perfect non-chain burger, a quarter-pound patty all gussied up with the Thousand Island dressing, the lettuce, the onions, the tomatoes and the sesame-seed bun. Brea's Best also has sandwiches, hot dogs, tacos, burritos and breakfast fare. You could even eat healthy by ordering an ostrich burger—but why would you? A word of warning: the place gets mobbed during the weekday lunch rush, so plan accordingly. 707 S. Brea Blvd., Brea, (714) 990-2615. $

BUENA PARK

CAPTAIN THAI RESTAURANT
Every night is amateur night at Captain Restaurant, a nightclub that happens to serve great Thai food as wannabe singers take the stage to belt out some favorites. Fortunately, the food is better than the talent. 8552 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 995-1999. $$

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

BANDERA
Fancy, fancy, fancy but good, good, good. 3201 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-3524. $$$

COSTA MESA

BANGKOK FOUR
Who would have figured that hidden within the confines of South Coast Plaza's Crate & Barrel wing lies this pearl of Southeast Asian cuisine? The Pep Op is one of the best poultry dishes in the county. 3333 Bear St., Ste. 20, Costa Mesa, (714) 540-7661. $$HI-TIME WINE CELLAR
Not sure if there's a restaurant in OC that sells it, but the best wine since the days of Dionysius is Commandaria St. John, an elixir from Cyprus that's reputed to be the oldest vintage in the world. Hi-Time Wine Cellar stocks it, and nearly every other hooch on the planet. 250 Ogle St., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8463; www.hitimewine.com. $$LINGONBERRY CAFÉ
IKEA's insane mealtime bargain includes not only food but also free baby-sitting! So, hightail it upstairs for the manager's special: a godsend that includes a large portion of Swedish meatballs with creamy gravy and two steamed red potatoes. 1475 South Coast Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 444-4532. $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. $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

SWEETEE THAI CUISINE
Thai food has become so common in the Southland that memorable meals in this particular culinary genre are difficult to come by. Sweetee Thai is the exception. Try the Spiral—long, skewered shrimps swathed in a swirl of soft bacon, accompanied by two orange dips: one hot, one not. 10557 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 828-7371. $$

DANA POINT

THAI THIS
Order the "Old MacDonald," a fresh vegetable and fried rice dish. And get their creamy, orange Thai iced tea. 24501 Del Prado, Ste. B, Dana Point, (949) 240-7944; www.thaithis.com. $$

 

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

HARBOR CAFÉ & TACOS
Sample a turkey torta Mexican sandwich. Along with the usual ingredients, the large French rolls are filled with delicious thin slices of white turkey meat. Go with the ham chorizo filling if love handles aren't a concern. 16540 Harbor Blvd., Fountain Valley, (714) 839-8542. ¢

 

FULLERTON

HEROES
On those lazy afternoons, choose from one of the 102 beers on tap and order a bucket of steamers: Little Neck clams in a Chardonnay broth with tomatoes, celery, onions, carrots and lemon. A basket of crusty French bread is the perfect accompaniment. 125 W. Santa Fe., Ste. 128, Fullerton, (714) 738-4356. $

 

KUNG PAO BOWL
There are always cops out front of Fullerton's Kung Pao Bowl. That's a good sign: cops know where the best deals are, since they have to eat out on public servant's wages. Pile on the kung pao here as an ode to the restaurant's name: the shrimp, chicken and beef are all nicely spicy, though the beef is the best. 217 N. Euclid Ave., Fullerton, (714) 680-9793. ¢

 

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 beloveds, 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

BCD TOFU HOUSE
There are other things to munch on at BCD Tofu besides its tofu—a limited barbecue selection, bibimbap (a spicy noodle salad) and succulent chunks of raw crab spiced to a level worthy of any Mexican. But stick to the soon tofu. There's a reason BCD runs 12 outposts from Little Seoul to Korea to Koreatown to bloody Torrance—and it ain't the seasoned clam, as grand as that is. 9520 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 636-5599. $

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. ¢

HANDAAN
A traditional turo-turo (buffet), Handaan rotates out various Filipino goodies—adobo, satays and about five different offals. But the sides—vinegar-spiked rice and pansit bihon, tiny, tasty noodles cooked with cabbage, celery, carrots and baby shrimp—remain constant. 9777 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 636-8431. $

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 and cold sandwiches under $5, not counting the house-specialty torpedoes that go for $3.49 and $5.95. 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—and 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. $

WINGS 'N THINGS
With its dim lighting, cozy booths and just-shy-of-tacky wall-to-wall collection of Buffalo Bills football memorabilia interspersed with Little League team pictures, Wings 'N Things is like a portal to Eastern Standard Time. Authentic Buffalo-style wings (in hot sauces ranging from mild, medium and hot to "X-hot" and "Beyond Hot") are available in 10-piece ($6.25) or 16-piece ($8.75) servings. It's the county's most apt introductory course to Midwestern living. 18302 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 848-2767. $

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 its transparent casing. But it's salted soymilk—a pungent, oily, viscous, funky type of porridge—that brings in the customers. 14805 Jeffrey Rd., Ste. D., Irvine, (949) 786-3585. $

CHAKRA
You can imagine Bollywood goddess Aishwarya Rai filming some steamy-but-chaste dance scenes in the confines of Chakra's opulent set. But, thankfully, Chakra owners Ravi and Sunita Koneru invested money not only in the décor but also in chefs capable of embarking on a trek through India's major foodie provinces not found in any other Orange County restaurant—Gujarat, Kerala and even Hyderabad. 4143 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 854-0009; www.chakracuisine.com. $$

 

JIMMY Z GRILL
Don't be scared by the fact that the menu cover reads, "Jimmy Z Grill.com." Jimmy Z Grill is the hottest non-chain restaurant in Irvine, and Jimmy Z is a really nice guy. But that's not all—his menu is chock-full of delicious eats. 4517 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 737-6700. $$

 

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

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, (714) 871-4692. $

LA PALMA

HANNAM SUPERMARKET
The city says 1,500 shoppers file into this Korean grocery store every day. That's no surprise: this place is stocked with plenty of Korean squash—which resemble flattened pumpkins—frozen vegetable dumplings and corn buns for all your authentic Asian dining needs. 4941 La Palma Ave., La Palma, (562) 865-4116. ¢-$$

LAGUNA, LAGUNA, LAGUNA!

230 FOREST AVENUE
230 Forest Avenue's (it's both the address and the name of the restaurant) starter plates give you plenty to choose from, including wild-mushroom strudel wrapped in phyllo with dark garlic sauce; roasted-artichoke crab dip with warm herb-pita crisps; and salmon and mussel stew with white beans and applewood-smoked bacon, slow simmered in a vegetable fish broth. 230 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-2545. $$$

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 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. $$

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. $

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. $$$

 

ROMEO CUCINA
At Romeo Cucina in Laguna Beach, the carpaccio appetizer—a large platter caked with carpaccio—is preposterously delightful and, at $11.95, a steal of a meal. Both shaved and chunky, the soft morsels are complemented with zingy lemon and capers, fresh-shaved Parmesan, artichoke hearts and salad bits. Other Italian platters are excellent, but the carpaccio is like a beef-flavored Listerine strip for the gut. 249 Broadway, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-6627. $$

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 a certain meat-lust satisfaction that few meatless burgers do. 350 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-6302. $

LAKE FOREST

EL PARAÍSO
El Paraíso
prepares sit-down platters as well: aromatic soups of chicken, beef or cow's foot with about four different squashes and potatoes; nicely grilled meats; and yucca sancochada, a golden and chewy version of the tuber doused with lemon. But no matter who's ordering what or working where, everyone who comes to El Paraíso forks through at least two chewy, sweet pupusas, the Salvadoran griddle cake that's the sole unifier of the fractious Central American nation. If there's a better pupusa in South County, you're eating a gordita. 25252 Jeronimo Rd., Ste. B, Lake Forest, (949) 770-2775. $

LONG BEACH

ALEGRÍA COCINA LATINA
The Spanish-styled brocheta vegetariana isn't like any bruschetta we're used to. The bread is replaced with corn tortillas, topped with skewers of grilled vegetables in a light sesame sauce on a pile of Peruvian corn, fresh-chopped tomatoes and tofu. That's right—tofu! 115 Pine Ave., Long Beach, (562) 436-3388. $$

 

COCO RENO'S
Coco Reno's, adjacent to its tattooed hipster sister bar the Reno Room, serves what can only be described as delight on a platter. Better known as carnitas, the cooks will even make 'em to order for those who are carb-challenged. Cancel the rice and beans, smother the succulent pork in cheddar cheese, slop on the sour cream and guac, and cheat just a little with a toasty tortilla. 3400 E. Broadway St., Long Beach, (562) 438-9381. $

 

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 delicious dishes—they'll praise with the intensity of a Sunday-morning gospel choir. 5400 Cherry Ave., Long Beach, (562) 422-8395. $

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 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 VIEJOALOHA 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 bibimbap 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

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 marinated in head chef Jorge Guttierez's secret marinade before being charbroiled to delectability! 107 21st Place, Newport Beach, (949) 675-2338. $

EDDIE'S GALLEY
Eddie's Galley is one of those precious Balboa Peninsula institutions—since 1957!—that remains open despite the consistent encroachment of the Balboa Island folks. California cuisine unsullied by attempts at fusion—this California is about omelets gorged with whatever tickles your tongue, hamburgers and hot dogs, all doused with filling chili. 829 Harbor Island Dr., Newport Beach,(949) 673-4110. $

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. $$$

PASCAL EPICERIE
If you have a really bad day and need a treat, go to Pascal's Epicerie for lunch. Located in a strip mall in Newport Beach, this delicatessen serves simple food with French flair. Try the Niçoise salad, with poached tuna, black olives, red potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and butter lettuce. 1000 Bristol St., Newport Beach, (949) 261-9041. $

TACO ROSA
It's not just the wide swath of Mexico—Mexico City, Oaxaca, even the Yucatan—that makes Taco Rosa one of 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 Rd., Newport Beach, (949) 720-0980. $$

ORANGE

BYBLOS CAFÉ
It's a drop-kick from the historic traffic circle in the city of Orange, one of the county's best place for a leisurely summer lunch. "Fine Mediterranean Cuisine" (here, it means a mix of Lebanese and Greek cuisine) is the advertised fare. You are committing a crime if you do not have a cup of the lentil soup. 129 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 538-7180. $$

 

HOLLYWOOD BOLLYWOOD
The butter chicken? Just like they make it on the Indian subcontinent: slathered in sauce, blackened and firm old-school style, and spicy enough to gently sterilize your sinuses, which is just how we like it. And the naan, you ask? The naan is awesome. Awesome naan. 1840 N. Tustin Ave., Ste. C, Orange, (714) 974-5500. $

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

PITA WRAPS
Pita Wraps' colossuses aren't so much edibles as they are construction projects on the level of washing out the Augean stables—herds of wonderfully spiced lamb and beef chunks; valleys of tomatoes, onions and lettuce; all placed on a pita the size of a hamster velodrome, then welded with a brazenly tart tzatziki cucumber sauce. And the Acropolis of Pita Wraps is the souvlaki gyro: fat-free pork marinated in a zippy red-wine sauce, the best hog you'll chew on outside the South. 415 E. Ave. Pico, Ste. H, San Clemente, (949) 492-7779. $

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

CARNICERÍA EL CAMPEÓN
All things being equal, we find that the less we comprehend of a menu, the higher the odds we're going to get authentic food. "Tamale" at Carnicería El Campeón was arranged on the menu near some other foods that only a Mexican mama could recognize. Unlike the other joints, their tamales are unencumbered by frills. It is a Bauhaus dish: cornhusk, moist masa, chicken. 31921 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-3141. ¢

SANTA ANA

GEORGE'S THAI BISTRO
Served with rice or noodles, George's food tastes, looks and smells so delicious that your senses will beg you for return trips to this trippy little oasis. And if you've been a good boy, you can have some of the kiwi, mango or coconut ice cream. What's that? You don't like kiwi, mango or coconut, but you've still been a good boy? 3732 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 979-8366. $$

 

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-type 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. $$

NEW PANDA CHINESE FOOD
Combo C: fried rice, chow mein and any three items. God love 'em, they'll most likely give you four just for the hell of it. And all for, like, $5—if you can beat that, you must be in China. 3814 S. Bristol St., Ste. B, Santa Ana, (714) 540-2238. ¢

 

PRIMOS MARISCOS
No red meat at this lonchera: Los Primos Mariscosmakes seafood with a Nayarit twist. This means the freshness and sourness for which the coastal Mexican state's cuisine is famous reverberate from every plate. Most impressive is Los Primos Mariscos' ceviche: so many chunks of shrimp or fish are packed on the large tostada that it's only a matter of time before the Santa Ana Police Department cites Los Primos Mariscos for overcrowding. On the corner of First and Hesperian streets, Santa Ana. ¢

 

SEAL BEACHO'MALLEY'S
O'Malley's covers all the bases of pub grub, with nachos, quesadillas and chicken wings on one side and Irish sausage rolls, corned beef, and bangers and mash on the other. Theirshepherd's pie comes with a slag heap of tasty mashed potatoes on top that utterly hides the stew from the light (and oxygen) of day. 140 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 430-0631. $$

SUNSET BEACH

CAPTAIN JACK'S
Opened June 25, 1965, this steak and seafood restaurant supposedly serves 53,000 pounds of Alaskan king crab per year—more than any other restaurant in the U.S. It prides itself on consistent quality and hearty portions. The bar is one of the few that still uses the "Super Well," meaning that if you order gin, you get Bombay, and if you order vodka, you get Absolut. 16812 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-2514. $$

STANTON

THE GOLDEN STEER
The Golden Steer is what a family restaurant used to be—not just inexpensive enough to feed a family, but tasty and wholesome enough to feed it well. It also harks back to the time when a family meal meant meat, meat, meat. The place is crowded, but good acoustics keep it from sounding like a mess hall and incredible service keeps that growl in your stomach from turning into a bad mood. 11052 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 894-1208; www.goldensteer.com. $$

TUSTIN

McCHARLES HOUSE TEA ROOM
This 1885 restored Victorian is resplendent, and the menu items—such as the hearty shepherd's pie or the meatloaf sandwich—matches the décor in depth and scope right along with the vanilla-infused Cameo tea. 335 S. C St., Tustin, (714) 731-4063. $

NOODLE AVENUE
Noodles. Lots of 'em. Thin. Thick. Stir-fried. In soup. Yellow. White. Thai. Vietnamese. Japanese. Welcome to Noodle Avenue, a hectic fast-food Tustin eatery that fuses various Asian noodle traditions into heaps and heaps of long, luscious strands. 13816 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 505-9070. $$

VILLA PARK

FIRST CLASS PIZZA
Go for the employee sampler, which features four different pizzas, including the barbecue chicken, zesty Italian, Villa Park special with fresh basil and garlic, and the combo with pepperoni and sausage. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, (714) 998-2961. $

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 messy dinners—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. $$

SEAFOOD PARADISE
The tanks at Seafood Paradise contain live denizens of the deep, which are plucked from their temporary home and steamed whole in a deliciously rich Oriental black-bean sauce with ginger and scallions.8602 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 893-6066. $$

TAI BUU PARIS BAKERY
Order a bánh mì ga at the takeout counter, and you'll get a shredded-chicken sandwich. If you sit down and order cari ga bánh mì off the menu, though, a waiter will carry out a bowl of chicken curry stewed in turmeric-scented coconut milk; the bread comes as a half-baguette. Make sense? No? Ah, just chomp on the bánh mì thit nuong, barbecued pork seasoned with a restrained hand. 9039 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 101, Westminster, (714) 895-6114. ¢

YORBA LINDA

THE WILD ARTICHOKE
While the restaurant's motto "Food prepared from the heart, with the soul in mind" is cumbersome (it's like a New Age math problem), all of James D'Aquila's culinary creations are fabulous, simply fabulous. Stick to the artichokes—either the simple Wild Artichoke salad tossed with various vegetables and sprinkled with bitter balsamic vinaigrette, or Artichoke Napoleon—a puff pastry in which sautéed artichokes assume the luxuriousness of truffles. 4973-A Yorba Ranch Rd., Yorba Linda, (714) 777-9646; www.thewildartichoke.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 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 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. $

ATHENS WEST
Many Greek restaurants offer French fries on their menu, but few treat them with the care you find at both Athens West locations. They fry long, skinny potato strips until golden and firm, dust them heroically with—is it parsley I taste? Or oregano? The feta cheese on top is melted slightly, just enough to lend creaminess without producing a gooey disaster. Put some of Athens West's kebabs on top, and you have impromptu Greek chili billies. 7101 Yorktown Ave., Ste. 106, Huntington Beach, (714) 536-6112; 303 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 431-6500. $

BÁNH CUÔN HÔNG MAI
This chain of two near-closets in Garden Grove and Santa Ana offers most of their dishes—fragrant com tam, slippery bún and satisfying drinks—in 27 different fashions. But Hông Mai's ultimate specialty isn't numerology, but rather the studious preparation of the rice roll delicacy known as bánh cuôn: silky, light, furtively filling, a good sponge for the accompanying fish sauce. The rice paper itself is a bit bland, but that neutral flavor somehow amplifies a bánh cuôn's innards tenfold. 10912 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 534-4526; 5425 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 554-9190. ¢

 

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's 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.$$

 

EL FORTÍN
In a country where each state has its unique version of the curry-like mole, Oaxaca is king, and El Fortín offers four stunning varieties of the royal family. I won't even bother describing the house mole, as my tongue cannot possibly articulate this creation—only eat.700 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-4290; 10444 Dale Ave., Stanton, (714) 252-9120; www.restaurantelfortin.com. $

 

LEE'S SANDWICHES
Based out of San Jose, the shop specializes in bánh mì, the Vietnamese sandwich that is an appetizing post-colonial amalgamation. Though the always-endless lines seem imposing, Lee's service is so outstanding that you'll quickly be savoring one of the most outlandish deals ($1.50 for a huge, nine-inch, delicious sandwich) in the world. 9261 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 901-5788; 13991 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 636-2288; 1028 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-2989; 4127 Campus Dr., Irvine, 949-509-9299; www.leessandwiches.com. friggin' ¢JOHN'S PHILLY GRILL
Philly cheesesteak houses dot the county like drunks at the nearly departed Veterans Stadium—I mean, they're ubiquitous—but the cheesesteak prepared at John's Philly Grill is among the best, a squeeze of cheese and many peppers inside a firm loaf. If the meat were any juicier, it'd be a fruit. Thank owner John Carpenter for bringing along the cheesesteak's authentic zest from his native Philadelphia while leaving his city's beer stench back home. 1784 S. Euclid Ave., Anaheim, (714) 491-2733; 20379 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 969-8755; 16061 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-1513. $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; 10212 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 636-1652. $$

ROMA D'ITALIA
If you want spaghetti and meat sauce accompanied by Chianti in a straw-bound bottle, you're in the right place; the Dominic Corea family has been operating this colorful red-sauce joint in Tustin since 1961. 611 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 544-0273; 25254 La Paz Rd., Laguna Hills, (949) 581-2780. $$

ROMEO CUCINA
This ain't an intimate trattoria. Romeo's is a celebration space all about comfort food, and you'll be comforted by their specialty: pork chops, which come decked out in a reduction of shallots and peppercorns. It's a taste sensation. 249 Broadway, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-6627; 28241 Crown Valley Pkwy., Laguna Niguel, (949) 831-4131. $

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