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

Sonic

1632 N. Lemon St.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > Fast Food

Region: Anaheim

Thai Laos Market

1721 W. La Palma Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > Grocery

Region: Anaheim

Portillo's

8390 La Palma Ave.
Buena Park, CA 90620

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Buena Park

Irvine Lake Cafe

4621 Santiago Canyon Road
Silverado, CA 92676

Category: Parks and Outdoors

Region: Silverado

Karl Strauss Brewery

901 S. Coast Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Breweries and Wineries

Region: Costa Mesa

Sushi Sho Japanese Restaurant

2263 Fairview Road, Ste. J
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Costa Mesa

Ziing's Bistro and Bar

209 N. Harbor Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Fullerton

Hang a Ri Noodle House

9916 Garden Grove Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92844

Category: Restaurant > Korean

Region: Garden Grove

Esther's Place

6789 Warner Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

Category: Restaurant > Sandwiches

Region: Huntington Beach

Sebastiani's Italian Bistro Co.

6078 Warner Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Huntington Beach

Vessia

3966 Barranca Parkway
Irvine, CA 92606-8235

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Irvine

Onami Sushi & Seafood Restaurant

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

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Laguna Hills

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ANAHEIM

BOUTIQUE SAMOA
There are many options available in this Polynesian trade store's always sweltering buffet table. Mostly meats—pale, turgid beef sausages with a lean snap; finely sliced povi masima (salted beef) ruddy in color and buttery in flavor; fatty, sweet turkey tails and a couple of styles of ufi (fish) ranging from bitter to silky to sweet. Make sure to take home a couple of palusamis, baked taro leaves stuffed with onions and coconut milk that are little paragons of bite. 1217 S. Western Ave., Anaheim, (714) 220-9675. $

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. $

 

SONIC DRIVE-IN
Sonic Drive-In is a grand place to drive to, ring the buzzer and feast on the same crispy onion rings and uranium-thick shakes your Mom and Dad did on their first necking night. Not named after the Sega Genesis character, contrary to Internet myth. 1632 N. Lemon St., Anaheim, (714) 992-4500; www.sonicdrivein.com. $

THAI-LAO MARKET
Every ingredient you need for a Thai life is here, from fish sauce in foot-tall bottles to seasonings for at least eight curries. At the front of the store are Thai pastries and desserts—and videos. Look for the fresh fish, meats and veggies in the back freezer. But bachelors will rejoice at the more than 40 varieties of Thai instant noodles, four for a buck. 1721 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 535-2656; www.thaifoodandtravel.com. $

ZANKOU CHICKEN
An Armenian take on poultry. Although non-poultry products are available, eschewing chicken here is like going to Laguna Beach without going to the beach. The chicken itself is cooked piping-hot with a crisp golden skin that puts every other chicken skin we've eaten to shame. 2424 W. Ball Rd., stes. S & T, Anaheim, (714) 229-2060; www.zankouchicken.com. $

BREA

LUCILLE'S SMOKEHOUSE BAR-B-Q
Side dishes at Brea's hottest spot—two per entrée—would serve a family for a month in some sub-Saharan nations. But these servings are mere crumbs when weighed against the feral bulk of a Lucille's barbecue plate. After plowing through one of these, you'd better waddle out fast before the Lucille's owners size you up as ready for a dance on the grill, so plump will you be. 1639 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 990-4944; www.lucillesbbq.com. $$

BUENA PARK

PORTILLO'S
This is the first non-Illinois outpost for a legendary Chicago chain that specializes in Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago dogs. Neither disappoint: both are succulent, delicious, yum. And the chocolate cake, like their commercials say, really is to die for. 8390 La Palma Ave., Buena Park, (714) 220-6400; www.portillos.com. $

CANYON CITIES

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

CORONA DEL MAR

FIVE CROWNS
With ferociously delicious food that destroys the stereotype of British cuisine, you can't go wrong with the Beefsteak Neptune (filet mignon topped with crab legs, asparagus and Bearnaise sauce) or the Jamaican "jerked" pork chop. One warning: prom-goers love this place—be afraid. 3801 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 760-0331. $$$

COSTA MESA

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

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

SUSHI SHO
The longer you take to eat Sho's bowl of tempura udon, the better it tastes. The soup is incredibly hot—probably the hottest Japanese food there is—so start off your bowl by gulping down a few of the tempura-fried shrimp and shitake mushrooms that provide a sort of floating garnish.Oishii desu!(Japanese for "Mmm, mmm good!") 2263 Fairview Rd., Ste. J, Costa Mesa, (949) 645-5502. $

TAQUERÍA EL GRANJENAL
Named after a Michoacán rancho that has sent thousands of its residents to Orange County, the colorful restaurant makes the best tacos in the county. They deviate from taco protocol by using full-sized corn tortillas and piling on chunks of your choice of grilled meat. The salsa is extraordinary, a dark-red lava extract whose burn factor is unknown outside Paricutín. 899 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa. (949) 645-4964. $

ZIPANGU
There are marvels here: the kabocha dumpling is baby lobster and pureed Japanese pumpkin in a balsamic glaze and garnished with some sort of flash-fried sage or mint. The New York steak, served as sushi-sized pieces in a tangy teriyaki sauce, is buttery and tender and perfectly done. And there's enough sushi here to warrant a Greenpeace visit. 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 545-2800; www.zipanguoc.com. $$

CYPRESS

DALTON'S
"Family-style" before the phrase meant "Norm's," Dalton's has gabby servers with odd hairstyles, a mostly older clientele, hearty extra-large egg breakfasts served all day, and a menu dominated by meat and fried stuff. 9575 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 229-8101. $

DANA POINT

SALT CREEK GRILLE
A cozy yet elegant, wood-accented restaurant that would fit just perfectly at Whistler or some other upscale ski resort. Recommended are the margarita chicken (grilled chicken breast marinated in tequila and lime juice) and seared rare ahi (drizzled with ginger soy wasabi sauce). The bar area is a popular pickup joint for middle-aged folks. 32802 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 661-7799; www.saltcreekgrille.com. $$

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

SEÑOR RUBEN'S
This is one cozy oasis—especially after generous-sized margaritas and frosty-mugged Tecates are set before you. The shark fajitas—strips of onion, tomato, bell peppers and killer fish served sizzling in a platter—are muy bueno. 11035 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 531-4909. $$

FULLERTON

TAAL
A deviation from the usual buffets and quickie curries, Taal is a comprehensive take on Northern Indian cuisine with a couple of Chinese-Indian dishes—spicy chow mein!—to delightfully confuse eaters just so. 2720 Nutwood Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-7846; www.taalrestaurant.net. $$

THAI RAMA
Making tempura is a delicate process, but when it's cooked right, it's better than Jesus. This quaint little restaurant offers a vegetable tempura—lacy, golden, spot-on perfect with fresh vegetables, cooked to a slight snap, and coated in a batter so light it floats—that walks on water. 2500 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-0777. $$

ZIING'S
Ziing's owners consulted a feng shui master during the design, and the results seem to vindicate their expenditure. This applies particularly to the miso-seared ahi, which is sliced and arrayed on a black plate with a red spoon of Shanghai sauce, mixed greens, a cube of wasabi and shiitake-ginger "chopsticks" that look like Vienna roll cookies. The ahi itself is exquisite. 209 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 526-5777. $$

GARDEN GROVE

ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF ORANGE COUNTY
During Ramadan, Fatima Rahman (known to all as Auntie Fatima) lords over the best religious-minded buffet in the county at Orange County's largest mosque, preparing $2 Styrofoam cartons of delicious Indian food and stray baklava. The rest of the year, Auntie Fatima prepares it only during Friday services. Some of the tastiest Indian food around—and no faith in Allah required! 9752 13th St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-1722.¢

CAPITAL SEAFOOD
The clam-and-ginger soup at Capital Seafood is amazing. Small, chewy clams in their shells combined with a delicious, spicy, clear ginger broth make one of the most interesting and flavorful seafood soups out there.8851 Westminster Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 892-4182; www.capitalseafoodrestaurant.com. $$

HANG A RI NOODLE HOUSE
The cult of gook soo at Hang A Ri Noodle House, a wood-paneled Korean restaurant in Garden Grove's Little Seoul district, might initially flummox your American palate—these buckwheat noodles are thin, slimy and pungent. But then you chopstick the noodles into your mouth—sluiced with chile, paired with fiery kim chi, supported by a fine complementary anchovy soup—and the frustrations of the evening vanish. 9916 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 537-0100. $

REGINA'S RESTAURANT
Argentina lives in this tiny strip of Garden Grove's Westminster Boulevard, and the results are incredible: cheesy, fresh Argentine-style Italian pastas, gut-busting dishes of beef (the parillada has five different types alone) and over 30 native Argentine wines. But the best part is gracious owner Elías Niquias, who will greet you by name the second time you visit. 11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-9595; www.reginaargentina.com. $$

HUNTINGTON BEACH

BODHI TREE VEGETARIAN CAFÉ
Deciding what to eat at Bodhi Tree–there are more than 100 mock-meat choices–involves the same deliberation neededfora 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 $3.50 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. $

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

ESTHER'S PLACE
Owner Esther Kim's sartorial elegance is topped only by her sandwiches, made from organic veggies and better than anything Mom ever packed for lunch. Make sure to top any hoagie off with one of her frosty health shakes. Don't know which one? Let her decide for you—she decides well. 6789 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-4266. $

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

IRVINE

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

DIHO BAKERY
The Japanese are the creators of nikuman, the world's cutest sandwich, which consists of a candied, spongy flour wrapped around gingered meats and vegetables. At Diho Bakery, nikuman-type sandwiches are elevated to an art form on par with calligraphy. The taro, in particular, is a pleasant surprise—not your tiki party's dull, watery poi paste, but instead a jam waiting to be copyrighted by See's. 14130 Culver Dr., Ste. J, Irvine, (949) 857-6415. $

 

VESSIA RISTORANTE
Irvine's finest fine-dining experience. High ceilings, tall windows and a fine bar. Order the brasciole aua barese (pancetta, garlic and pecorino cheese rolled into a tender flank steak), or the ab-fab rotolo di spinaci. 3966 Barranca Pkwy., Ste. B, Irvine, (949) 654-1155; www.vessia.com. $$

WHEEL OF LIFE
Whether it's your first visit to Irvine's Wheel of Life Restaurant or your 30th, the welcome remains the same: a smile, a pat on the back and a vigorous handshake offered by owners Victor and Kim Lim. Even if the only interaction between owner and customer here were the bill, the Wheel's fresh, flavorful, flesh-free food (prepared mostly via a Thai cooking prism) would continue to attract the most demanding gourmand. 14370 Culver Dr., Ste. 2G, Irvine, (949) 551-8222; www.wheelofliferestaurant.com. $$

LA HABRA

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

LA PALMA

A'ROMA RISTORANTE TRATTORIA
The restaurant has a modern décor in deep soothing colors, and the servers are attentive. Put yourself in the mood for the chicken-breast special, which is cooked to a golden tenderness and seasoned to a subtle richness. 30 Center Pointe Dr., Ste. 1, La Palma, (714) 523-3729. $

LAGUNA, LAGUNA, LAGUNA!

ANASTASIA
A sweet little restaurant perfect for l'amour. The food is billed as French/California hybrid, but that is selling it short. 470 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-8903.$$

THE COTTAGE
What's the secret of this Laguna Beach restaurant's decades of success? Good food and lots of it; comfy chairs and friendly service; charming framed photographs of Laguna's original greeter; and a full, sated belly every time you leave. 308 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-3023. $

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

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

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.$$

SAVOURY'S
Located in the La Casa de Camino Hotel in beautiful Laguna Beach, the restaurant is run by executive chef Brad Toles, captain of Team California in the International Culinary Olympics. He melds Asian and European cooking with a New Age flair. You can have your Brie and pad Thai here, and you'll like them. 1287 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-9716; www.savourys.com. $$$

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

TACO LOCO
At Taco Loco, you can feast for cheap without the insult of fast-food taste. Whether it's the delicious à la carte Mexican food or the cheap prices, the place is constantly swarming with the beautiful surfing crowd. 640 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-1635. $

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

LAKE FOREST

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

LONG BEACH

DIPIAZZA'S
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. $$

OPEN SESAME
The food here is some kind of gustatory incantation; the dishes awaken taste buds that have been asleep since birth. The babaghanoush alone will take command of your senses, overwhelming them with the deep, smoky flavor of eggplant marinated in pungent olive oil and garlic. 5215 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 621-1698. $$

UNCLE AL'S SEAFOOD
Albert "Uncle Al" Fadonougbo has successfully drawn upon both sides of the Middle Passage in creating his restaurant's menu during the past 10 years. Though most of the entrées appear mundane on the menu, Fadonougbo's massive-but-delicate hands combine Cajun complexity with West African subtlety to inject some much-needed energy into Long Beach's soulless soul-food scene. Do chomp through Uncle Al's po'boy menu and marvel at his cross-continental fusion. 400 E. First St., Long Beach, (562) 436-2553. $

LOS ALAMITOS

KATELLA DELI
The place has a voluminous menu that spans matzo and mud pie, spinach salad and skyscraper sandwiches, knish and kippers—not to mention a full bakery that houses fresh rolls and bagels. Their Denver omelet is terrific. 4470 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-8611.¢

 

MISSION VIEJO

ALOHA BBQ
Hawaiian staples such as manapua (steamed pork buns) and boiling saimin noodles are fine at Aloha BBQ, along with a Korean-skewed side menu filled with 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

HOAG HOSPITAL CAFETERIA
There are bagels and muffins and, a friend swears, "killer" breakfast burritos in the morning at Newport Beach's ritzy Hoag cafeteria. In the refrigerated case, you can get grilled chicken caesar salads or roast beef horseradish panini. Want sushi? They've got vegetarian rolls for $3.75 and spicy tuna cut rolls for $4.15. Newport Beach class at cafeteria prices. 1Hoag Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 645-8600. $

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

SOL GRILL
New Orleans feel, Mediterranean taste: the kung fu shrimp and blackened ahi are excellent, but the jambalaya over fettuccini will leave your innards glowing. 110 McFadden Place, Newport Beach, (949) 723-4105. $$

SEASIDE BAKERY
It's 2 in the morning, and you're stumbling out of some bar at the Newport Pier. Nothing soaks up the booze like a nice warm croissant stuffed with ham and Cheddar cheese. A few bites of this, and you can kiss your fears of alcohol poisoning goodbye. 2108 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach, (949) 675-2533. ¢

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

FELIX'S CONTINENTAL CAFÉ
One of OC's finest Cuban joints. Lunches run more than $5, but you'd be foolish to nix the chicken embajador on the patio during a warm afternoon. This place is legendary, and it smells damn good, too. 36 Plaza Square, Orange, (714) 633-5842. $$

SALAMAT MARKET & DELI
Salamat is more than just a takeout deli serving great kebabs, stews and soups. The tiny store stocks a surprising array of goods imported from Iran: traditional Persian cheeses and figs; oils, jams and spices; and Persian breads ranging from pita to lavash to the massive sangak, a 2-foot-long flatbread thing that looks like a miniature bed sheet. There's even something called Armenian cracker bread, which is wrapped in butcher paper but feels and weighs like a military-grade pretzel. 1718 N. Tustin St., Orange, (714) 921-0153. $

PLACENTIA

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

SAN CLEMENTE

SONNY'S PIZZA AND PASTA
Home of a monster marinara sauce that is nearly orgasmic. The sauce is ladled onto your choice of spaghetti, mostaccioli or rigatoni with Italian sausage or meatballs the size of your fist on a plate big enough to feed three. 429 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 498-2540; www.sonnys.com. $

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

TAQUERÍA Y TORTILLERÍA
For $10, you can eat like a king. Goat burritos, tongue burritos, brain burritos, it doesn't matter; you'll eat like a king. 31921 Camino Capistrano, Ste. 15, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-3141. ¢

SANTA ANA

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 it's not even listed in most Spanish dictionaries. 1221 E. First St., Ste. C, Santa Ana, (714) 834-9004. $

ROYAL KHYBER
The self-proclaimed "restaurant of the year" unabashedly serves upscale Indian cuisine in a setting more suited for coats and ties than T-shirts and jeans. The spicy chicken Madras features big chicken chunks and sliced tomatoes buried in a potent curry highlighted by freshly ground black pepper. It torches. 1621 Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 436-1010; www.royalkhyber.com. $$

 

TANGATA
You want to feel pampered and catered-to like a well-tended divorcee? Then you must dine where the socialites and divorcees dine: at your neighborhood museum. Tangata is the Bowers Museum of Cultural Art's restaurant, and it is exquisite and perfect in every way. Everything goes better with the citrus-based ponzu (that's the stuff they put on your salmon and halibut in the better sushi joints). 2002 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 550-0906. $$$

WHOLE PITA GREEK ISLAND GRILLE
The Whole Pita's menu is simple—variations on gyros and salads and universal Mediterranean appetizers such as hummus and olives. But from this predictability emerges some of the finest Greek cuisine since the dearly departed Café Plaka. Pitas are Doric-big; the casseroles are hearty, meaty, and teeming with layers of flavor. Remember to squirt in some fotia, the restaurant's hellish emerald-green hot sauce, but drink lots of water afterward—fire! 3940 S. Bristol St., Ste. 113, Santa Ana, (714) 708-3000. $

YOUNG'S MARKET
Certainly Young's—the county's only Polynesian market—has crates of coconuts, tons of taro and packets of poi (the taro-based paste similar to applesauce) galore. But items such as corned beef, pork bangers and breakfast biscuits are the true imperialists of Young's three aisles. See, the Polynesian palate is dominated by British faves. Because of this hospitality, county Polynesians have made Young's their piece of paradise. 12317 Westminster Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 554-0690.¢

SEAL BEACH

YUCATÁN GRILL
If the baffling neon color scheme doesn't dissuade you from entering, you'll be rewarded with a stunning offering of Caribbean specialties. Order their steak Palomilla, a husky chunk of marinated steak topped with a garlicky garnish called mojo. 550 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 111 Seal Beach, (562) 430-4422. $$

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; www.harborhousecafe.com. $

STANTON

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

TUSTIN

OSAKA KAPPO
This tiny restaurant caters to off-duty sushi chefs and Japanese families, serving bento boxes and teriyaki lunch specials; but it specializes in the elusive kappo—traditional single dishes that originated in Kyoto hundreds of years ago. 13681 Newport Ave., Ste. 9, Tustin, (714) 730-7051. $$

PHILLY'S FAMOUS CHEESE STEAK
Though smaller than the monsters hawked at John's Philly Grille in Anaheim or Costa Mesa's Frank's Philadelphia, Philly's Famous's cheesesteak surpasses the two in the most crucial cheesesteak factor: the cheese. It overwhelms your senses like a good cheese should, like the best quesadillas: sharp, comforting, gooey. The cheesy cheese choice marries Cheez Whiz, American white and provolone into a tasty, wonderful triad, each fromage strong and distinct. And despite the dairy onslaught, the beef's savor doesn't wilt, remaining juicy like the finest shawermas. 648 E. First St., Tustin, (714) 505-6067. $

VILLA PARK

CHINA PANDA
With close to 200 menu items, I'd lean toward the Three-Ingredient Taste, an ESL-named chicken, beef and shrimp combo in a broccoli brown sauce. Or try the honey shrimp with walnuts—the salty, sweet shrimp go perfectly with a cold Tsingtao beer. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Ste. 102, Villa Park, (714) 998-4592. $

WESTMINSTER

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

PEKING 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. $$

SARA'S MERCADO
For the past four years, Sara's Mercado, a storefront in a section of Westminster Boulevard not occupied by Little Saigon, has imported Colombian produce directly from the homeland. Its three badly lit aisles tower above shoppers' heads with Colombian favorites: smoked oysters, slabs of arequipe (a decadent, silky milk candy), fruity cooking sauces and three different types of salty-sweet fried plantain chips for snacking. Don't forget to gulp down all the sodas! 7134 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 903-0900. $

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 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 chef/owner 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 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

AMAZING KABOB HOUSE
Take the recommendation offered by 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 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. $

CEDAR CREEK INN
The various Cedar Creeks offer similar menus featuring prime rib, rack of lamb and homemade desserts. The Brie-and-pecan-stuffed chicken breast comes with a creamy pear-sage sauce that draws out the fine, nutty flavor of the pecans. The large butterflied scampi is served with capers and diced Roma tomatoes. And the pot roast is a tribute to hearty northern Midwest German-American cooking. 20 Pointe Dr., Brea, (714) 255-5600; 26860 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-2229; 384 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-8696; www.cedarcreekinn.com. $$

CALIFORNIA FISH GRILL
California Fish Grill is one of those middle-class mini-chains common to Orange County—fancier than Knolwood's or Natraj, but a step below Sage or the Daily Grill. The massive charbroiled fillets feature deep grill marks and shine thanks to a powerful garlic-butter coating. All should also order the grilled zucchini and its juicy, smoky innards.10569 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 252-0001; 5675 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim Hills, (714) 777-5710; www.cafishgrill.com. $$

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.$$

JOHNNY REBS' SOUTHERN ROADHOUSE
With plastic flamingos and a stuffed-catfish wall trophy the size of a walrus, a meal at Johnny Rebs' is like a trip down South. Delight in the Yankee cheese grits and fried green tomatoes, but don't forget to try the catfish.4663 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 423-7327; 2940 E. Chapman, Orange, (714) 633-3369; www.johnnyrebs.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' ¢

LILY'S BAKERY
Lily's primarily concerns itself with wedding cakes and pastries à la the original locale, but they also slap out a fine bánh mì, layering meats and vegetables into an eye-pleasing sandwich. The best choice is the bánh mì jambon, thick slices of boneless pork leg cured with black peppercorns and a mild vinegar tang. The pork fat gels during curing, adding a curious, slightly rubbery textural contrast to the rich ham and sharp black peppercorns.1005 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 418-0099; 10161 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 109B, Westminster, (714) 839-1099; www.lilysbakery.com. ¢

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. $

THE YARD HOUSE
Anuberbrewpub/restaurant boasting 180 taps of brew with some good European pilsners and Anchor Steam. This is good news given the long lines. If you can wait the wait, drink the beer and eat the steak. You'll be happy. Triangle Square, 1875 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0090; 71 Fortune Dr., Irvine, (949) 753-9373; 401 Shoreline Village Dr., Long Beach, (562) 628-0455; www.yardhouse.com. $$

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