Grub Guide

Tasty morsels from OC'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

Loreley Restaurant

1340 S. Sanderson Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92806

Category: Restaurant > German

Region: Out of Town

Plaza Garibaldi

500 N. Brookhurst St.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Anaheim

Sal's Bit of Italy

918 S. Magnolia Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > Bar Food

Region: Anaheim

Yogiraj

3107 W. Lincoln Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92801-6004

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Anaheim

Brea's Best Burgers

707 S. Brea Blvd.
Brea, CA 92821

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Brea

POFOLKS

7701 Beach Blvd.
Buena Park, CA 90621

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Buena Park

Silverado Cafe

28272 Silverado Canyon Road
Silverado, CA 92676

Category: Restaurant > Cafe

Region: Out of Town

Avo's Bistro

580 Anton Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Out of Town

Hi-Time Wine Cellars

250 Ogle St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Restaurant > Wine Bar

Region: Costa Mesa

Lingonberry Cafe

1475 S. Coast Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Restaurant > Cafe

Region: Costa Mesa

Pinot Provence

686 Anton Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Restaurant > California

Region: Costa Mesa

Santouka Ramen

665 Paularino Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Costa Mesa

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ANAHEIM

CEDAR BAKERY
Cedar Bakery differentiates itself from the other Middle Eastern restaurants in Anaheim's crowded Little Gaza district by specializing in such small meals as sambouseks, cinnamon-dusted ground beef turnovers. Mornings begin with a bowl of kishek, a sort of Lebanese oatmeal of yogurt, bulgur wheat and salt that doesn't do much for the sweet tooth but bulks you up for the day like a one-hour free-weights session. Pair the kishek with a croissant, although these are salty and as svelte as the crescent on Turkey's flag, not the chubby Gallic version Americans will expect. 930 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 991-5888. $

 

LORELEY RESTAURANT
It's located in Anaheim's German-American Phoenix Club, but there ain't no oompah bands or boars' heads on the walls. There is a menu that will open your mind to German cuisine, though. We're told the breaded veal cutlet is 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. $$

 

SAL'S BIT OF ITALY
"Workmanlike" is the best adjective for Sal's—and a compliment for those of us who like our food as Sal's prepares it: unthemed, unspectacled, unattached to theatrics or waiters as therapists and best friends. Pub-like. Terrific pizza! 918 S. Magnolia, Anaheim, (714) 826-3590. $$

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 to 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 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

POFOLKS
PoFolks is a rustically eccentric restaurant—tin and wooden agricultural-company signs on the walls, a working train that chugs the perimeter—specializing in Norms-style home cooking with a Southern bent, the kind of place where fried chicken livers with red beans and rice is a daily special and peach cobbler isn't some ironic/iconic treat but what's for dessert. 7701 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 521-8955; www.pofolks.com. $$

 

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

BUNGALOW
The filet mignon at this steakhouse is round and plump—like a muffin. Its ideal cut, deep flavor and tender texture make it possible to eat the entire thing without encountering a morsel of fat or gristle. In essence, it's a tremendous piece of meat. 2441 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-6585; www.thebungalowrestaurant.com. $$$

COSTA MESA

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

 

HI-TIME WINE CELLAR
Not sure if there's a restaurant in OC that sells it, but the best wine since the days of Dionysus is Commandaria St. John, an elixir from Cyprus that's reputed to be the oldest vintage in the world. Hi-Time Wine Cellar also stocks nearly every other hooch on the planet. 250 Ogle St., Costa Mesa, (800) 331-3005; 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.$

 

PINOT PROVENCE
Unlike other posh joints, where the idea of comfort is to make average folks feel uncomfortable, Pinot is nothing but inviting. The French-Californian cuisine and atmosphere manage to be classy without being stuffy, and the roasted-lamb noisette is one of the best cuts of lamb around. The Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel, 686 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 444-5900.$$$

 

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, and 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. $CYPRESSUZUSHIO
Make a beeline to the sushi bar, where the fish is most inventively prepared. Anything on the menu involving eel or avocado is a must. And the fried, heads-still-on-as-beady-little-eyes-stare-at-you shrimp are a greasy delight. 10545 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 236-0678. $$DANA POINTTHAI THIS
Order the "Old MacDonald," a fresh vegetable fried rice dish. And get their creamy, orange Thai iced tea. 24501 Del Prado, Ste. B, Dana Point, (949) 240-7944; www.thaithis.com. $$

 

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

KASEN
DO NOT under any circumstances journey to Kasen and attempt to order teriyaki chicken or shrimp tempura or—dear God—California rolls, which are about as authentically Japanese as the Viennese waltz. Kasen is not that type of Japanese restaurant. 9039 Garfield Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 963-8769. $$

 

FULLERTON

CHICAGO HARV'S
Most every county hot-dog cart advertises Chicago dogs, but Harv's is one of 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. ¢

 

LARRY'S PIZZA AND SPORTS PARLOR
The 32-year-old Larry's is a North County icon, a place where kiddie athletes celebrate after a victory—or, conversely, drown their losses in pitchers of pink lemonade—while their coaches knock back beers with parents and watch the big leaguers duke it out on television. Larry's pizza is utilitarian: pizza slices thick as pocket Bibles, prepared with fragrant mozzarella and provolone cheese, toppings sprinkled over the pie rather than baked in so that picky kids won't goo up their fingers trying to discard unwanted salami. 926 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-3484. $

 

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's—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 GROVEBOULANGERIE 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. $HWANG HAE DO BBQ
Hwang Hae Do is the Orange County outpost of an Artesia restaurant famed for its mandoo—delicate dumplings native to North Korea which are a bit bigger than the five knuckles of your hand bunched together and bloated with herbed ground beef and snappy zucchini bits. But Hwang Hae Do also prepares other Korean favorites: chicken, pork or beef shavings (bulgogi) doused in soy sauce and brought out on a skillet with almost-caramelized onions; eggy seafood pancakes engorged with grilled octopus, buttery clams and some viciously pickled house kim chi; noodles of various temperatures, consistencies and strewn vegetables. 9448 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 590-1588. $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 BEACHBODHI TREE VEGETARIAN CAFÉ
Deciding what to eat at Bodhi Tree—there are more than 100 mock-meat choices—involves the same deliberation needed for a koan. The tofu-drop soup, bobbing with meaty chunks of bean curd, bamboo shoots and cilantro, is free. Not free but worth the somewhat-pricey $4.50 is the chicken-satay baguette sandwich full of faux fowl, tomatoes and so many julliened carrots it could be classified under the salad portion of the menu and mislead no one. 501 Main St., Ste. E, Huntington Beach, (714) 969-9500. $PERUVIAN KITCHEN
The folks at Peruvian Kitchen don't dumb it down for the city's bros at all. In addition to their black-but-moist hen, they offer fried rice adorned with raisins, carrots and corn; sturdy French fries with snappy hot dog slices; and a fabulous mesquite-smoked yam. But go for the anticuchos: two skewers of dark-brown beef heart glazed with garlic. The anticuchos are chewy, intensely meaty and easily the best offal in the county. 17552 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 847-7555. $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. $IRVINEBRITTA'S CAFÉ
Britta's is a quaint, European-style café where servers offer you individual pieces of bread (baguette or pumpernickel?) and a savory rustic tart isn't some old queen sashaying through a gay Parisian bistro but an appetizer you'll completely enjoy. Cheese lovers will freak out over the calzone packed with goat cheese, buffalo mozzarella, proscuitto and tomatoes. 4237 Campus Dr., Ste. B-165, Irvine, (949) 509-1211; www.brittascafe.com. $$

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 HABRAARTHUR'S COFFEE SHOP
"Best Breakfast in Town," proclaims the sign out front, and they probably don't hear too many arguments. While the food's good, the atmosphere is even better, like scenes from an unwritten Tom Waits song. Waitresses sport "OKIE SPOKEN HERE" T-shirts as they take orders from Korean War vets who have axle-grease stains on their well-worn Dickies. Arthur's serves real food for real people. 1281 E. La Habra Blvd., La Habra, (562) 691-7793. ¢LA PALMAJOHNIE'S JR.
It's ham, cheese, onions and green peppers—hold the nonsense—stuffed into a three-egg pillowcase, presented alongside a nest of crispy, lush, hashed-brown potatoes and two slices of sourdough toast, and gobbled down between a couple of cups of coffee. It's nothing fancy, which means it fits right in at this converted Taco Bell with decals of the Fat Boy—a too-close-for-comfort cousin of the late Big Boy—plastered across the table at every booth. 7811 Valley View St., La Palma, (714) 228-0464. $LAGUNA, LAGUNA, LAGUNA!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. $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. $MOZAMBIQUE
It advertises itself as a South African restaurant, but Mozambique excels in its preparation of meat—pork chops, steaks, seafood and the great Durban curry, a dusky lamb dish that will warm you up wherever you may be. 1740 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 715-7100; www.mozambiqueoc.com. $$O-NAMI 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. $$PALACE BAKERY
Palace Bakery is the county's second shop to specialize in Persian desserts, a sweet-tooth tradition similar to Arabic pastries in their sumptuousness but also exhibiting bolder flavors. You shouldn't let the yen for the new prevent you from ordering the Middle Eastern pastries. Palace's baklava is sweeter than what they hawk in Anaheim's Little Arabia—splashed with more rosewater and honey, the phyllo dough tougher and rolled around a dense almond filling so it resembles a miniature cigar. And every boxed purchase comes with a cool golden sticker! 24751 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. D, Laguna Hills, (949) 768-6252. ¢ROMEO CUCINA
At Romeo Cucina in Laguna Beach, the carpaccio appetizer—a large platter caked with carpaccio—is preposterously delightful and, at $11.95, a steal of a meal. Both shaved and chunky, the soft morsels are complemented with zingy lemon and capers, fresh-shaved Parmesan, artichoke hearts and salad bits. Other Italian platters are excellent, but the carpaccio is like a beef-flavored Listerine strip for the gut. 249 Broadway, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-6627. $$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 that certain meat-lust satisfaction that few meatless burgers do. 350 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-6302. $

LAKE FOREST

CORNER BROILER
Corner Broiler is the sort of intimate neighborhood steakhouse that fell years ago to the nationwide chains but is rightfully, slowly staging a comeback. True to its name, Corner Broiler specializes in revered American meat cuts: mountainous rib-eyes and porterhouses, nicely smoked barbecued chicken, blackened salmon or halibut filets. The steak-and-potatoes entrées complement the restaurant's hushed, humble décor: maybe 20 tables, a small bar, tasteful landscape paintings and warm, low lighting. 24301 Muirlands, Ste. Y, Lake Forest, (949) 581-1289. $$

LONG BEACH

ALEGRÍA COCINA LATINA
The Spanish-styled brocheta vegetariana isn't like any bruschetta we're used to. The bread is replaced by 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, among other 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 the main course, your dessert should be the shaved ice: a frosty, chilled monolith flavored with fruit and so delicate you could whittle it down with dental floss. 4390 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 431-6496. $

 

MISSION 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 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

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 it's 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. Californian 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 one. 8112 E. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 376-6990. $$$

PASCAL ÉPICERIE
If you have a really bad day and need a treat, go to Pascal's Épicerie 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 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

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 PIZZA
The best lunchtime pizza is made at Tony's Little Italy: as thick as a Tom Clancy novel, 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. Avenida 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's 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 for dessert. 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. $$

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' top is low. 515. S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-0350. $$NANCY PUEBLA RESTAURANT
Lurking within this seemingly mundane Mexican restaurant are delicious, complex rarities from the central state of Puebla, platters more familiar to an ethnography than an Orange County menu—dense mole poblano, pale goat menudo and guilotas, a chewy type of quail so region-specific that it's not even listed in most Spanish dictionaries. 1221 E. First St., Ste. C, Santa Ana, (714) 834-9004. $NEW PANDA CHINESE FAST FOOD
Combo C: fried rice, chow mein and any three items. God love 'em, they'll most likely give you four just for the hell of it. And all for, like, $5—if you can beat that, you must be in China. 3814 S. Bristol St., Ste. B, Santa Ana, (714) 540-2238. ¢NEWPORT SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Lobster lovers come from all over for these crustaceans, heavily dosed with pepper that could make you reach spice heaven. It comes with dessert, including green beans and ice-cold oranges, that balance the meal out nicely. 4411 W. 1st St., Santa Ana, (714) 531-5146. $$$.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. Their shepherd's pie comes with a slagheap 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. $$SUNSET BEACHCAPTAIN JACK'S SEAFOOD AND PRIME RIB
Opened June 25, 1965, this steak and seafood restaurant supposedly serves 53,000 pounds of Alaskan king crab per year—more than any other restaurant in the U.S. It prides itself on consistent quality and hearty portions. The bar is one of the few that still use the "Super Well," meaning that if you order gin, you get Bombay, and if you order vodka, you get Absolut. 16812 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-2514. $$STANTONTHE 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 hearkens 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. $$TUSTINMcCHARLES HOUSE RESTAURANT AND TEA ROOM
This 1885 restored Victorian is resplendent, and the menu—featuring such items as the hearty shepherd's pie or the meatloaf sandwich—matches the décor in depth and scope right along with the vanilla-infused Cameo tea. 335 S. C St., Tustin, (714) 731-4063. $NOODLE AVENUE
Noodles. Lots of 'em. Thin. Thick. Stir-fried. In soup. Yellow. White. Thai. Vietnamese. Japanese. Welcome to Noodle Avenue, a hectic fast-food Tustin eatery that fuses various Asian noodle traditions into heaps and heaps of long, luscious strands. 13816 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 505-9070. $$VILLA PARKFIRST CLASS PIZZA
Go for the employee sampler, which features four different pizzas: the barbecue chicken, the zesty Italian, the Villa Park special with fresh basil and garlic, and the combo with pepperoni and sausage. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, (714) 998-2961. $WESTMINSTERPEKING RESTAURANT
The jellyfish salad is quite tasty, and if you think of it as Chinese pasta, you won't squirm. The family dinners are fabulous with interesting choices, including an entire steamed fish. 8566 Westminster Ave., Westminster, (714) 893-3020. $$PHO HIEN VUONG DA KAO
How many sit-down Vietnamese eateries, let alone fast-food places, offer audacious dishes like a green papaya salad dotted with dried beef livers or an escargot bún soup? But among these, the sinh to is the true item of veneration: smoother and slightly sweeter than those of other hawkers—and extremely affordable at two bucks per serving. 9200 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 301, Westminster, (714) 897-4330. $PHO HOA
When fate or a bad date takes you to Little Saigon in the early morning, stop by this 24-hour dive to feast on steaming, massive bowls of pho. The touted pho hoa is great, not the best you'll ever taste, but with the largest, softest steak slices, massive cuts almost as big as poker cards and chopped just as thin. 9211 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 101, Westminster, (714) 899-4886; www.phohoa.com. $SAIGON BISTRO
The place has an interior seemingly boxed up and mailed from fin-de-siècle Paris. The distinctly cosmopolitan appearance of the restaurant carries over into the song selections (we hear English-, Spanish- and Vietnamese-language tunes) and menu (escargot, flan and Vietnamese offerings). 15470 Magnolia St., Westminster, (714) 895-2120. $$YORBA LINDATHE 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 chef/owner James D'Aquila's culinary creations are fabulous, simply fabulous. Stick to their specialty artichokes—either the simple Wild Artichoke salad tossed with various vegetables and sprinkled with bitter balsamic vinaigrette, or the 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

ATHENS WEST
Many Greek restaurants offer French fries on their menus, but few treat them with the care you find at both Athens West locations. They fry long, skinny potato strips until golden and firm, and then 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 its 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. ¢

 

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' ¢SUNDRIED TOMATO CAFÉ
Rack of lamb is as ubiquitous to fancy American bistros as falafels are to Middle Eastern bazaars, but the Sundried Tomato Café prepares a version fit for hoity-toity cavemen—meaty bones doused with a tart cranberry sauce, the lamb cooked to pink perfection. A great, zesty sundried tomato cream soup as well. 31781 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 661-1167;361 Forest Ave., Ste. 103, Laguna Beach, (949) 494-3312;www.sundriedtomatocafe.com. $$SWEET JILL'S
Bakery standards at Sweet Jill's—peanut-butter brownies, cookies, lemon bars and a cornucopia of fruit-flavored muffins—taste like a church fund-raiser held outside the Pearly Gates. The cinnamon rolls are big sellers, as are the peach coffee cakes, snowdrifts of cream smartly balanced by unsweetened peaches in the cakes' centers. But beware of the German chocolate cake coated with a tan coconut frosting that Pharis could successfully export to the Fatherland; the stuff's denser than uranium. 123 1/2 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 598-3445; 5224 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 438-4945. $

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