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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

Foscari

5645 E. La Palma Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92807

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Anaheim

Bismillah Halal Tandoori Restaurant

8901 Knott Ave.
Buena Park, CA 90620

Category: Restaurant > Indian

Region: Buena Park

Sushi Wave

2075 Newport Blvd., 108
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Restaurant > Sushi

Region: Costa Mesa

Silky Sullivan's Restaurant & Irish Pub

10201 Slater Ave.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Category: Restaurant > Irish

Region: Fountain Valley

Jang Toh

9872 Garden Grove Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92844

Category: Restaurant > Korean

Region: Garden Grove

Nuoc Mia Vien Tay

14370 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843

Category: Restaurant > Grocery

Region: Garden Grove

Diho Bakery

14130 Culver Drive
Irvine, CA 92604

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: Irvine

Taiko Japanese Restaurant

14775 Jeffrey Road
Irvine, CA 92618

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Irvine

Casa Olamendi's

1100 S. Coast Highway, Ste. 202
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Laguna Beach

Bistro Le Crillom

2523 Eastbluff Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Newport Beach

Hoag Hospital Cafeteria

1 Hoag Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92663

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Newport Beach

Sol Grill

110 McFadden Place
Newport Beach, CA 92663

Category: Restaurant > Eclectic

Region: Newport Beach

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ANAHEIM

LA CASA DE FERNANDO
While this dimly lit nightclub specializes mostly in different versions of the national dish gallo pinto (black beans cooked with rice and eggs), stick to the weighty wonder that is the tamal tico. Wrapped in a canopy-sized banana leaf, this Costa Rican staple requires hiking boots to maneuver through its myriad flavors. Start at the pointy sweet end, studded with raisins and dates, then hack through the wet masa toward pork, red peppers, peas and carrots; a sprightly olive demarcates the sweet/spicy divide. 2500 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-2010.

 

FOSCARI
The kitchen is right out in the open, so it's not like they're hiding anything. This place harks back to the San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf Italian diners with its elegance and distinct-tasting dishes like risotto and salmon. Make sure to get a plate of carpaccio, thinly sliced raw beef topped with shaved Parmesan and lemon-herb dressing that melts immediately upon touching your tongue. 5645 E. La Palma, Ste. 170, Anaheim, (714) 779-1777. $$$

 

MATIKI ISLAND BARBEQUE
Whether tucked between two bread slices or served alongside rondures of rice and macaroni salad, the beef at Matiki Island Barbeque is among the most memorably delicious piece of cow you'll ever chew: ruddy, soft, not burnt at all, a veritable luau on your palate. That beef and other entrées are the sole enticers here—no need for Polynesian bric-a-brac when the food is a slice of the island alongside two scoops of rice and one of macaroni salad. 3070 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 821-5228. $

EL POLLO FINO
Though it's in an area long overrun by Mexicans, all races line up in equal numbers outside El Pollo Fino, a charbroiled chicken shop decorated with photos and paintings of fighting roosters, a bulletin-board collage of boxing cut man extraordinaire Chuck Bodak, and three portraits of Aztec nobles cradling naked, curvaceous damsels. The best spectacle, however, occurs in the kitchen, where the cooks scamper from freezer to butcher counter to grill to takeout counter in a ballet of hen preparation. 723 N. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 533-1160. $

VICTORY BAKERY
Order the Lebanese sub—it doesn't have a special ethnic name, it's just a sub. After slicing a crunchy baguette in half, tossing in tomatoes, parsley, onions and the meat of your yen and sluicing everything with suety garlic sauce, Victory Bakery places the sandwich inside a press iron and clamp it down for about five minutes. Afterwards, a garlic deluge. 951 S. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 776-4493. $

BREA

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

BUENA PARK

BISMILLAH HALAL TANDOORI RESTAURANT
The karahi lamb will blow your mouth into a new orbit. Prepared with a dictionary's worth of herbs and spices, the taste is an unbelievable medley of flavors. And the nihara's beef is so tender it's like butter. 8901 Knott Ave., Ste. D, Buena Park, (714) 827-7201. $

CORONA DEL MAR

GALLO'S ITALIAN DELI
The thirtysomething-year-old deli is little more than counters, chips and sodas—which is to say, it's the perfect beach shack restaurant, even if it's on PCH. Request the Gallo's combo; the server will no doubt reply (as he once did to me), "Are you sure about that?" When he grabs sausages and begins hacking off massive slices, you'll understand his skepticism—the sandwich is bigger than most house cats. 3900 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 675-7404. $

COSTA MESA

LA CAVE
Open since 1962, La Cave continues to be the county's place for a touch of romance and a hunk of meat. Their steaks, fine slabs of beef burnt or bloodied to your liking and as big as a school desktop, fill the innards. Their music—cheesy lounge, stellar jazz—fills the soul. And the ambiance will get you lucky afterwards. 1695 Irvine Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-7944; www.lacaverestaurant.com. $$

COUNTRY INN GARDEN CAFÉ
The Edenic sense of isolation you get visiting here is due not only to the soothing waterfall and atrium-like patio but also to owner Kim Simpson's pleasing menu. She uses only the freshest ingredients and a home-style flare in her delicious (and reasonably priced) food. You gotta try her scones. And Cobb salad. And don't think of leaving without some peach cobbler. 130 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 722-1177. $$

SUSHI WAVE
This ain't no rock & roll sushi place with piercing music and pretty peeps. It doesn't have to be. With the freshest halibut drowning in ponzu sauce, the beefiest slabs of tuna and the most delicate piles of octopus sashimi, this is a grand sushi place. 2075 Newport Blvd., Ste. 108, Costa Mesa, (949) 722-8736; www.sushi-wave.com. $$

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 pile 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 enough sushi is here to warrant a Greenpeace visit. 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 545-2800; www.zipanguoc.com. $$

CYPRESS

IRIE JAMAICAN RESTAURANT
This mom-and-pop place serves an excellent ackee and salt fish that is a must-have. But you might be remiss if you passed on some of the other fine dishes, including oxtail, cow foot, curry goat or jerk chicken. 9062 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 484-0661. $

DANA POINT

THE WIND & SEA RESTAURANT
When friends come to town, the first thing we do is take them here. King crab legs, calamari and steaks are specialties of the house, served in generous proportions at reasonable prices. It always tastes great in an ambiance of SoCal beach hedonism. 34699 Golden Lantern, Dana Point, (949) 496-6500; www.windandsearestaurant.com. $$$

DIAMOND BAR

ASIAN DELI
Asian Deli operated for years from a hectic Orange strip mall, a spotless Indonesian dive where patrons happily munched on vast rice dishes that resembled hail flurries along with satay skewers of sweet, spicy and smoky savors. Now based in Diamond Bar, it still saunters through the Indonesian cookbook—one of the world's most deliciously anarchic due to the country's archipelagic nature and position between various trade routes—as if bankrolled by President Megawati Sukarnoputri. 23545 Palomino Dr., Ste. F, Diamond Bar, (909) 861-1427; www.asian-deli.com. $

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

SILKY SULLIVAN'S
Fish and chips are the name of the game here: triangle-shaped pieces of fish fried to a dark brown, and the steak fries are the same. Each has a nice flavor and texture. And the salad is great. 10201 Slater Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 963-2718; www.silkysullivans.com. $

 

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. $$

 

ROMAN CUCINA
There's nothing pretentious or nouveau about the service or cuisine, no-nonsense Italian fare based on three kinds of pasta: fettuccine, linguine and penne. And you won't find veal, lamb, rabbit or anything else too far off the main Italian grub drag—pasta, beef and pork make Roman Cucina the simplest, most delicious Italian since Sonny Corleone. 211 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 680-6000; www.romancucina.com. $$

EL SOMBRERO PLAZA DULCERÍA
Though Cortés vanquished the Aztecs centuries ago, their taste for sweet and searing lives on in El Sombrero Plaza Dulcería, a Mexican candy store on the outskirts of Fullerton's rough Tokers Town barrio, the hellish equivalent of Willy Wonka's wonderland, an expansive, adobe-style building—it looks like the manse of a Gabriel García-Marquez protagonist. You'll find chile-centric candy in dozens of improbable combinations here, but also such sweets as the neon-tinted alfajor de coco that are so rich a single nibble per hour is the recommended consumption rate. 415 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 992-5441. $

GARDEN GROVE

CAPITAL SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
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. $$

 

JANG TOH
Mmmm . . . grilled chicken gizzards. And other Korean goodies, too! 9872 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 530-5756. $

NUOC MÌA VIEN TÂY
The best drink in Orange County is also the least advertised. Nuoc Mía Vien Tây in Garden Grove sells an ambrosial sugar cane juice renowned throughout the Vietnamese diaspora but little known outside. A deep sip reveals its greatness: frothy but smooth, the sugar cane's earthy sweetness is tempered by the citric candor of tangerine and kumquat. It is extraterrestrial. It is patient, it is kind—it's the I Corinthians 13 of the beverage world. 14370 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-9801. ¢

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 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 $3.50 is the chicken-satay baguette sandwich full of faux fowl, tomatoes and so many julliened carrots that 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. $

EAST COAST HOT DOGS
No tables inside—just counters and stools. No air conditioning—that's why there are two tables outside. There's a great Italian roast beef sandwich, a multi-folded pastrami, fries, onion rings and tater tots. But people line up five deep for the 11 hot dog varieties, ranging from Chicago to chili cheese to something called the Wow! Dog—a blackened kielbasa, sautéed onions and a schmear of thick, gritty mustard worthy of its exclamatory name. 19092 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 378-0364. ¢

 

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

LOTUS CHINESE EATERY
Lotus is the county's second Chinese Muslim restaurant and does a fine job of preparing that cuisine's emphasis on meat, magazine-thick noodles, and sesame breads large enough to double as a Frisbee. Like almost every northern Chinese restaurant, Lotus trots out so-so egg rolls and egg-flower soup as appetizers, so it's better to start with chilled ox tripe. 16883 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 848-4940. $$

IRVINE

BRITTA'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, prosciutto and tomatoes. 4237 Campus Dr., Ste. B165, Irvine, (949) 509-1211; www.brittascafe.com. $$

DIHO BAKERY
The Japanese are the creators of nikuman, the world's cutest sandwich, which consists ofa 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. $

 

MELTING POT
At the Melting Pot, it's hard to eat a full meal, with dessert and drinks, without leaving at least a C-note behind, but the spent Franklin is worth it. Such a cost gets you a bowl of cheesy fondue, fine salad, French-influenced meat entrées and a dessert that's flambéed in front of ya. 2646 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 955-3242. $$$

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. 14775 Jeffrey Rd., Ste. K, Irvine, (949) 559-7190. $$

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

ELLEN'S PINOY GRILLE
Ellen's attracts as many non-Filipinos as pinoys, perhaps because Ellen's offers a menu—a list of all 70 entrées, 10 of them available at any time in the always-steaming turo-turo buffet. The daing na bangus—milkfish stew marinated with garlic and cucumbers and cooked in a searing coconut-and-soy-sauce broth—is fabulous.7971 Valley View St., La Palma, (714) 522-8866; www.ellenspinoygrille.com. $

LAGUNA, LAGUNA, LAGUNA!

BRUSSELS BISTRO
Brussels Bistro is the kind of place where you can linger, talk with the people at the next table, and then find yourself already gorged ordering dessert. The food is astonishing, a revelation, artistry. The Belgians are big on fries, so please order the pommes frites. 222 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-7955; www.brussels-bistro.com. $$$

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

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; www.thecottagerestaurant.com. $

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. $$

MOZAMBIQUE
It advertises itself as a South African restaurant, but Mozambique best 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. $$

 

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.$$SAVOURY'S
Located in the La Casa de Camino Hotel in beautiful Laguna Beach, the restaurant is run by executive chef Brad Toles, captain of Team California in the International Culinary Olympics. He melds Asian and European cooking with a New Age flair. You can have your Brie and pad Thai here, and you'll like it. 1287 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-9718; www.savourys.com. $$$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 1987. 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; www.solomonsbakery.com. $THAI DINING
Start with their tom kah gai soup, a creamy, flavorful offering of the popular Thai chicken-coconut soup; then try the beef panang. It rates pretty high on the beef panang scale—and it'll make you sweat. 28051 Greenfield Dr., Ste. J, Laguna Niguel, (949) 643-5521.$LAKE FOREST

EL PARAÍSO
El Paraíso prepares sit-down platters: 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. 25252 Jeronimo Rd., Ste. B, Lake Forest, (949) 770-2775. $

LONG BEACH

EGG HEAVEN
Egg Heaven would be Rockford's kind of place: plenty of wood paneling, a liquor store across the street and a big picture of Elvis next to the kitchen. They have anything you can make out of an egg—including more styles of omelets than there are stars in the Andromeda Galaxy—except the chicken. Now that we think about it, they have chicken sandwiches and salads, too. Truly is heaven here. 4358 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 433-9277.$

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

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; www.unclealseafood.com. $

LOS ALAMITOS

MUSTARD'S
Mustard's is a haunt for all artifacts Chi-Town: a yellowed Tribune front page celebrating da Bears' Super Bowl XX victory; a picture of former mayor/god Richard Daley; and the bold yellow slogan for Vienna Beef, the brand with which Mustard's makes its bulky, peppery Chicago dog, complete with tooth-blackening poppy-seed bun, leprechaun-green relish, gritty celery salt and a giant dill pickle. Great Italian roast beef as well, with as many folds as a Cubs pennant run. 3630 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 598-1662. $

 

MISSION VIEJO

LA MAISON GOURMET
Every Friday for about two years, this charming shop on the edge of Lake Mission Viejo has opened its private lakeside patio for wine tastings. The events are a smash; reservations are required, limited to about 30 per session and best made at least two weeks in advance. But it's also a bona fide gourmand's treat, with wines from across the world available plus a diverse cheese-and-meat wheel for grubbing. 27772 Vista del Lago, Ste. B-15, Mission Viejo, (949) 916-4810; www.lamaisongourmet.net. $$$

NEWPORT BEACH

BISTRO LE CRILLON
A quaint, Provençal-themed restaurant named after the village in Provence from which chef Chantal Berton's family hails. Thecassoulet c'est magnifique,a hearty mixture of flageolets blancs (white French beans), confit of duck and three types of sausage. Simmered and baked for days on end; the result is a mildly tangy bouquet of flavors. 2523 Eastbluff Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-8181; www.bistrolecrillon.com. $$$

CHARLIE'S CHILI
Perfect for kitschy late-night dining with booths covered in ancient nautical signs and models. The Wednesday night all-you-can-eat chili special is ideal: steaming bowls filled with a thick, sumptuous chili drowning in diced onions and cheese. 102 McFadden Pl., Newport Beach, (949) 675-7991. $

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 salad 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. $

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. $$

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 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; www.felixcontinentalcafe.com. $$

PAPA HASSAN'S CAFÉ
Near Chapman University, this is easily one of OC's best Lebanese places. The lamb shawarma pita is an ungodly delicious bargain at $4.50. The almost-as-good falafel pita is $3.50. 421 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 633-3903. $

PLACENTIA

TONY'S LITTLE ITALY
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., Ste. B, Placentia, (714) 528-2159; www.tonyslittleitaly.com. $

SAN CLEMENTE

SONNY'S PIZZA AND PASTA
Home of a monster marinara sauce that is nearly orgasmic. The sauce is ladled on to 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

TANNINS
Although the food menu isn't particularly extraordinary—an unimaginative, though tasteful, tour of northern and southern Italian favorites, with weekly chefs' menus of American fare like steaks and sesame-encrusted ahi passing for experimental—Tannins' wine execution and presentation make the place a must-dine. Sommelier Kijou Morris rotates the wine list every three months and scours the vineyards of the globe for pleasing brands. He even offers a cheat sheet for the ignorant—every entrée lists two wine recommendations. 27211 Ortega Hwy., Ste. C, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 218-3560; www.taninsrestaurant.com. $$

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 that 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 W. 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, 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

COACHES
The décor amounts to tables, chairs, some pictures of Babe Ruth and a few TVs. But the fish and chips is English-styled: hot and slathered in tartar and chased down with a cold beer. 1025 Pacific Coast Hwy., Seal Beach, (562) 431-5266. $

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

PARK AVENUE
Gourmet American food in Stanton—who'da thunk it? The whole stuffed chicken, covered in pan drippings, is as fatty as a marbled pork chop, and stuffed with a whipped concoction of creamy mashed potatoes and spinach you couldn't pay us not to eat. 11200 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 901-4400; www.parkavedining.com. $$$

TUSTIN

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. $$

SEOUL GARDEN KOREAN B.B.Q. BUFFET
This place does violate the First Commandment of Dining Out—thou shalt not cook—but that's beside the point. The buffet gives license to stuff your face with everything from ribs to spicy squid, sushi and two kinds of combustible kimchi. 13828 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 573-9292. $$

VILLA PARK

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

WESTMINSTER

DUONG SON BBQ
Chicken, duck and pork—these are the sole listings on the Vietnamese/Chinese/English menu at Duong Son BBQ, a smokehouse between a jewelry store and skin-care center in Little Saigon's anarchic Cultural Court district. The pork features a ruddy, crisp skin; is nearly fat-free; and is roasted until it's as soft as a marshmallow. Duong Son's pork is a meat for eternity, one of the best arguments yet against PETA. 9211 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 115, Westminster, (714) 897-2288. $

 

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. $$

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. $$

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

YORBA LINDA

LA BETTOLA
Delicious focaccia and a ramekin of butter-soft roasted garlic cloves glistening in olive oil arrive at your table when you sit down. Next, try the classic caesar salad (a better courtship tool than a dozen roses). 18504 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, (714) 695-0470. $$

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. $

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. $

 

GYRO KING
It's a mighty gyro they spin at Gyro King: lamb and beef compressed into a hexagonal slab, twirled slowly on a spit so the meats meld into one another. When you order a gyro sandwich, a cook shaves lengths from this dense mass and lays them inside toasted pita bread alongside lettuce, tomatoes, onion and crumbles of feta cheese. Although the veggies are crispy, the feta salty and the requisite dash of tzatziki sauce creamy, the gyro's flavor remains bold: slightly spiced, soft but firm like licorice, with a dab of grease glistening on the dark skin that lends a fatty-sweet delight.3601 Jamboree Rd., Ste. 4, Newport Beach, (949) 474-7300; 2626 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 752-4976. $

LILY'S BAKERY
Lily's primarily concerns itself with wedding cakes and pastries à la the original locale, but it also slaps 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. ¢

MARRI'S PIZZA
Sam Madain's family owns the 50-year-old restaurant and another of the same name that's been on Katella Avenue in Anaheim for about 20 years. The garlic bread is served in the form of French rolls baked on the premises and topped with a spread made of fresh garlic and spices. Whip me 40 times with wet linguine for my snobbery. 6436 E. Stearns St., Long Beach, (562) 596-5771; 1194 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 533-1631. $$

NORY'S RESTAURANT
The various entrées at Nory's speak of a Peruvian experience so wildly colorful, so diverse, it's understandable the country itself is in perpetual chaos. The Incan proclivity for potatoes is present, along with Spanish-influenced soups and other foods not of this planet. But the best is the Asian-influenced ceviche, large enough to qualify as a marine biology study and sour with splendor. 6959-63 Cerritos Ave., Stanton, (714) 761-3332; 933 1/2 S. Euclid, Anaheim, (714) 774-9115. $

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. $$

THE YARD HOUSE
Anüberbrewpub/restaurant boasting around 200 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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