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Grub 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

Matiki Island Barbeque

3070 W. Lincoln Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > Hawaiian

Region: Anaheim

Hot Dog On A Stick

2153 Brea Mall Way
Brea, CA 92821

Category: Restaurant > Fast Food

Region: Brea

Filipino Express

4544 Beach Blvd.
Buena Park, CA 90621-1133

Category: Restaurant > Filipino

Region: Buena Park

Maggiano's Little Italy

3333 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Costa Mesa

Proud Mary's Restaurant

34689 St. of the Golden Lantern
Dana Point, CA 92629

Category: Restaurant > Brunch

Region: Dana Point

The Wheel Of Life

14370 Culver Drive
Irvine, CA 92604

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Irvine

Five Feet Restaurant

12017 Harbor Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92840-4001

Category: Restaurant > New American

Region: Garden Grove

Penguin Cafe

981 S. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Laguna Beach

Corner Broiler

24301 Muirlands
Lake Forest, CA 92630

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Lake Forest

Bubba Gump Shrimp Co.

321 W. Katella Ave., Ste. 101
Anaheim, CA 92802

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Anaheim

Roy's Hawaiian Fusion Cuisine

453 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Category: Restaurant > Asian Fusion

Region: Newport Beach

The Filling Station

201 N. Glassell St.
Orange, CA 92866

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Orange

$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10-$20

$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20-$40

$$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ¡Eres muy rico!

ANAHEIM

ALI BABA RESTAURANT
For those of you who like your Arabic and Persian food on sticks, order the jujeh kebab, chicken kebabs surrounded by mounds of basmati rice. The slightly bland rice serves as a good counterpart to the succulent chicken, pepper and onion pieces. 100 S. Brookhurst St., Ste. D, Anaheim, (714) 774-5632. $$

ANGELO'S
I defy anyone to find a finer summer Friday night than the kind you get at Angelo's: a burger-fries-and-Coke combo for six bucks, a girl/boy by your side, nameless kids chucking pickles at one another, buxom waitresses skating without pause, and the half-Latino, half-white crowd communally willing another Vlad Guerrero horsehide bomb into the television sky. 511 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 533-1401. $

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 pieces 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. $

MERHABA RESTAURANT
You're probably the second non-African to visit Merhaba after me, so the female owner will be extra-attentive and repeatedly ask if you enjoy her East African recipes. You will. East African cuisine sticks mostly to stews: chewy cubes of tibisy beef; lamb ribs battling with furious peppers for control of your tongue; the famous Ethiopian doro wat, spicy chicken cooked in butter, hot like the pits of hell. The vegetarians in your party will content themselves with the shiro, an Eritrean chickpea mush similar to hummus. 2801 W. Ball Rd., Ste. 5, Anaheim, (714) 826-8859. $

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

HOT DOG ON A STICK
While these lemonade-churning chicks and guys do serve the dead stuff, they also peddle awesome veggie corn dogs. And to ensure that you are not ingesting a real wienie, the jockey-hatted crew differentiate their dogs with a green dot on the end of the stick. 2153 Brea Mall Way, Brea, (800) 321-8400. ¢

BUENA PARK

FILIPINO EXPRESS
This tiny joint has restored the art of fast food to its original intention: serving grub as quickly and as tasty as possible. Choose from more than 20 different entrées like adobo and lechon, but all are so delicious it?s really a matter of deciding which one you want spilling over the Styrofoam plate it?s served on. 4544 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 739-4479. ¢

CORONA DEL MAR

CAFÉ JARDIN
Located at the tranquil Sherman Library and Gardens, the café?s menu is well-thought-out. The mushroom soup is the color of a spa mudpack with an earthy mushroom flavor, and all of the desserts are made on the premises. 2647 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-0033. $$

COSTA MESA

AVANTI CAFE
While the Avanti menu is strictly vegetarian, with faux meats and even cheese, the steak-and-potatoes crowd will hardly notice or care. Every entrée, appetizer and dessert springs with flavor and heftiness; is there anything more mainstream than a morning cup of joe washing down crunchy waffles? 259 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 548-2224. $$

COSTA BRAVA
Slurping zinc-laden raw oysters at Costa Brava brings out the bravado in its loyal patrons. Try the super-popular coctel de camarones; the flash-fried whole catfish and red-snapper fillet with garlic sauce are also done up right. 727 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-8272. $

MAGGIANO'S LITTLE ITALY
The choices for family dining are voluminous, and everything from the calamari to the lasagna to the shrimp—especially the shrimp—to the tiramisù is outstanding. The portions are huge, making us Americans the luckiest bunch of pigs this side of Charlotte's Web. 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 546-9550. $$

PUPUSERÍA SAN SIVAR
The hole-in-the-strip-mall takes special care with its pupusas, which have a crispy yet malleable crust encasing thick, sticky cheese. Meanwhile, an oily, impossibly sugary plantain lying alongside refried beans is like a battle between the lush tropics and the spartan plains of El Salvador on the tongue; a side of sweet sour cream negotiates a tasteful truce. 1940 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-2952. $

CYPRESS

SEÑOR BIG ED
Ignore bustling Lincoln Avenue outside, and you can almost imagine Puerto Rico transplanted to this pedacitoof Orange County's industrial-park northwest. Many grand borinquenappetizers, but Señor Big Ed?s plato de resistance is the canoa de plátano maduro, a banana bloated with so much ground beef and melted Cheddar cheese that it looks like a quesadilla for Horatio Sanz. 5490 Lincoln Ave., Cypress, (714) 821-1290. $

DANA POINT

PROUD MARY'S
Opened in 1977 by Mary Merrill and her five children, this most certainly qualifies as a family-run establishment. Located in Dana Wharf on the waterfront, Proud Mary's serves breakfast and lunch. Their menu—at least their breakfast one—features lots of eggs scrambled into such dishes as breakfast burritos and omelets. 34689 St. of the Golden Lantern, Dana Point, (949) 493-5853. $

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

KAPPO HONDA
Dubbed a Japanese pub restaurant, Kappo Honda serves the holy trinity of Japanese beer—Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo—along with Bud and Bud Light for some reason. The beer serves as amniotic fluid to some very solid excellent food. 18450 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 964-4629. $$

FULLERTON

THE GREAT ZUCCHINI
The hearty bun kebab combo—a hamburger with a Pakistani patty, fries served with chutney, and a Pakistani cola: the melting pot gone carhop—is but one of the highlights of the Great Zucchini, whose name sounds more appropriate for a Little Italy diner than for one of the county's few Pakistani eateries. It's a small list, and you have to ask for a special menu to see it, but the Great Zucchini's preparation of Pakistani standbys attracts subcontinent expats from North County and beyond. 765 St. College Blvd., Ste. B, Fullerton, (714) 879-8522. $

HOTBELLIES
While offering all the dishes once balanced on the arms of roller-skating waitresses, Hotbellies also incorporates Asian cuisine, the better to serve the new multicultural, multitasteful American race. Get with the times, Hotbellies announces via a menu ranging from cheesy Philadelphia beef to soy sauce-baptized bulgogi (Korean barbecue)—this is the 21st century. 1860 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 870-4340. $

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. $$

GARDEN GROVE

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

NIZAM'S NIHARI HOUSE
Nizam's features the mainstays of the Pakistani diet—kebabs of lamb, fish and beef; goat, shrimp and chicken curries; many vegetarian selections; and an impressive roster of biryani, basmati rice moistened with chunks of meats and veggies; beef samosas furiously spiced, nicely fried and garnished with mint and onion chutneys. And the brain curry, hidden on the menu as maghaz masala, will eliminate your aversion to offal forever. 14204 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 636-2223. $

SHIK DO RAK
Dduk bo sam—which means "wrapped in a rice noodle"—is the $30 hamburger of Korean cookery, a trendy Korean barbecue style that originated recently in downtown Los Angeles and can be found locally only at the just-opened Shik Do Rak in Garden Grove. Just like regular Korean barbeque, except you play around with a rice-paper wrapper and make your own grilled-on-the-spot burrito. If you do it right, each mouthful will be crunchy, spicy and slippery with beef fat: grease-dappled bliss. 9691 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 534-7668. $$

VIEN DONG
Serving the best in Northern Vietnamese food, including banh tom co ngu, an addictive dish of lightly fried shrimp and sweet potato. As with many dishes, it comes with a plate loaded with mint leaves, lettuce and rice paper for rolling into burrito-like tubes. 14271 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-8253. $

HUNTINGTON BEACH

BREWBAKERS
Part fraternity, part bakery, part miniature brewery, Brewbakers is as much a bonding experience as an eating establishment, a gustatory amusement park in the midst of chain-heavy Huntington Beach. While the personal beer-making process is the main attraction, owner Dennis Midden maintains that baking is his first love, and a chomp through his pretzels—chewy loops with a perfect crustiness and enough salt to enhance the taste but not cover it—confirms it. 7242 Heil Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 596-5506; www.brewbakers1.com. $$

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. $

WHEEL OF LIFE
Wheel of Life's extensive and affordable menu is pan-Asian, encompassing everything from Vietnamese spring rolls, Indian curry, Chinese chow mein and pad Thai to soy Mongolian beef. Everything is 100 percent vegan, and manager Rose Tallman boasts she will make anything your tongue desires. Even so, it's a good bet not to stray from the menu—with more than 100 choices, choosing just a few is already a multiple-choice test more suited to a computer. 7251 Warner Ave., Ste. F, Huntington Beach, (714) 375-9505.$

TACOS EL CHARITO
Here is Orange County's best deal: two tasty tacos for a buck, with free, unlimited pineapple juice. Who cares that this taco truck is in the middle of Surf City's notorious Slater Slums—two tacos for a buck with free pineapple juice! On Morgan Street between Slater and Speer Aves., Huntington Beach. No phone number. ¢

IRVINE

A & J RESTAURANT
A & J Restaurant is a bustling café that's part of a massive Beijing-based chain known for fast, hot, cheap, delicious northern Chinese food: heavy wheat noodles, meats in scalding soups, pork dumplings with broth inside their transparent casing. But it's the salted soymilk—a pungent, oily, viscous, pretty funky type of porridge—that brings in the customers. 14805 Jeffrey Rd., Ste. D, Irvine, (949) 786-3585. $

BISTANGO
California cuisine. When we're dining on someone else's account, we like the prix fixe. Key attraction: ambiance. A rotating art exhibit features contemporary artists of the West (for sale) and lite—we mean helium-filled—jazz on the weekends. Always a business buzz. 19100 Von Karman Ave., Irvine, (949) 752-5222; www.bistango.com. $$$

CHICAGO'S BEST
This tiny counter in a nameless Irvine food court serves all your Chicago faves—hot dogs, roast beef sandwiches and the fascinating Chicago tamale, a sweeter, fluffier version of the Mesoamerican standard stuffed with chili. Not bad at all—you could sneak one into a Mexican household come Christmastime and no one would complain. 2540 Main St., Irvine, (949) 757-1802. $

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; www.jimmyzgrill.com. $$

LA HABRA

CAFÉ EL CHOLO
First served up by Rosa Bórquez in 1923 in LA's original El Cholo Café (her grandson Ron Salisbury owns the restaurant group these days), the place's green corn tamales are a Southern California dining institution. On bites two and three, you'll find oozing sharp Cheddar cheese and Ortega chiles, which combined offer a snappy alternative to the sweet corn. 840 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 691-4618. $$

LA PALMA

JOHNIE'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 BEACH

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. $$

FIVE FEET
It's no secret why snazzy Ritz-Carlton guests in Dana Point head north to Laguna Beach each night. For more than a decade, chef/owner Michael Kang has ranked among the most creative in California. Particularly popular is the whole catfish in hot braised sauce or the pan-roasted scallops. Reservations are a must. 328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-4955. $$$

HAPI SUSHI
When we come here, we consume like Newport housewives armed with gold cards at Fashion Island. The best way to enjoy the sushi is to ask about the specials. Each time we've entrusted ourselves to their culinary knowledge, we've been rewarded with something tastily beyond imagination. 250 Beach St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-9109. $$

PENGUIN CAFE
Whenever I visit Penguin Cafe, I always order the same item: the Penguin Burger combo, a half-pound burger sparsely decorated with lettuce, pickles, a tomato and a glorious patty. Thousand Island dressing is on the side; thin, crispy fries come as well. The Penguin Burger may seem unremarkable, something you can grill in your back yard, but this is the sweetest burger around: a luscious, massive pillow of juice, man's perfect burger. 981 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-1353. $

SAVOURY'S
Located in the La Casa del 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. $$$

LAGUNA HILLS

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 exhibiting bolder flavors. 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; www.palacebakery.com. ¢

LAGUNA NIGUEL

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

CORNER BROILER
Corner Broiler is the sort of intimate neighborhood steak house 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 fillets. 24301 Muirlands, Ste. Y, Lake Forest, (949) 581-1289; www.cornerbroiler.com. $$

LONG BEACH

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

BUBBA GUMP SHRIMP CO.
The inheritor to the dumb Forrest Gumpfranchise actually fries some good seafood—shrimp, steaks, fillets with stupid names. Guaranteed to please are the Shrimpin' Dippin' Broth, a half-pound of spicy steamed shrimp served with dippin' bread for dippin' and coleslaw, and Forrests Shrimp Net Catch, a massive basket of beer-steamed shrimp served with garlic and Cajun sauces. Ignore the dumb names and stick to the food. 87 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, (562) 437-2434; www.bubbagump.com. $

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.$

LOS ALAMITOS

PASTY KITCHEN
Home to the English pasty, a dish riddled with mystery meat and wrapped in a tasty enigma. It's a turnover filled with what was described as "paste"—piles of meat, vegetables and whatever else is lying around, chopped together and folded into a delicately sublime crust. 3641 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 431-9747. $

MISSION VIEJO

LA MAISON GOURMET
Every Friday for about three 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

CAFFÉ IL FARRO
Farro is the ancient health-imparting grain on which half of Cafe il Farro's pastas and risottos are based, but if you prefer the kind of pasta that gives your blood-glucose level a boost, try the homemade heart-shaped ravioli. 111 21st St., Newport Beach, (949) 723-5711; www.ilfarro.com. $

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

PAVILION
The clam chowder at Pavilion—a lump of something undistinguishable that turns into the most delicious clam chowder of your life, redolent of ginger and marine goodness—is an apt metaphor for Pavilion: showy to the point of ostentatiousness, but with the substance to warrant the flash. Everything is expensive but damn worth it. 690 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 759-0808. $$$

ROY'S
Roy's is all about Hawaii—from the "Aloha" you get when you come in the door and the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole playing over the speakers to the blah, blah, blah about Tokyo-born founder Roy Yamaguchi, whose childhood visits to Maui, we're told, indelibly shaped his palate (and his palette). Whatever: Yamaguchi has been fusing ever since, and with great success; he is now the Wolfgang Puck of some 30 eponymous restaurants in North America with entrées such as rib-eye or wild Scottish salmon. 453 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-7697; www.roysrestaurant.com. $$$

SEJOUR
Fancy place in Newport's Lido district with fusion cuisine and an atmosphere that recalls the British Empire as the sun finally set. 3400 Via Lido, Newport Beach, (949) 675-9800; www.sejour.us. $$$

ORANGE

CAFÉ LUCCA
Gourmet paninis are the jewels here, from hot sopresata and pepper-studded mortadella glued together by provolone and luscious red pepper pesto to a chocolate rendition for the Waldorf set. But also content yourself with the wondrous gelati: 16 separate flavors constructed daily with just water, sugar and fruit—no preservatives, chemicals or other artificial gunk. Each flavor not only tastes like its corresponding fruit but also leaps onto the tongue: furious, refreshing, delicious. 106 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 289-1255; www.cafelucca.com. $$

COSTA AZUL
Everything at Costa Azul—great empanadas, spicy enchiladas, delicious chocolate-dipped alfajor shortbread cookies—is secondary to its terrifying, glistening asado: five pieces of cow for a ridiculous $11.50. No extra spices, sauces or sides adorn any of these cuts in Costa Azul's asado—just pure, monumental beef. 121 N. Lemon St., Orange, (714) 628-0633. $

THE FILLING STATION
The menu is hi-fi breakfast/lunch food. The grilled-chicken caesar salad is distinctly clean and refreshing, letting you taste each ingredient in the mix, and the Old Towne scramble proves this is a very good place to wake up in. 201 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 289-9714; www.fillingstationcafe.com. $

PLACENTIA

EL FAROLITO
Everything at El Farolito, located in Placentia's historic Santa Fe district, is irregular and oversized. The chicken quesadilla that emerged from the kitchen was the size of a small hubcap, topped with guacamole and refried beans. Definitely order the sour cream. It has a tart, cream-cheese-like consistency designed to cool the palate after all the salsa and exotic cinnamon coffee they serve. 201 S. Bradford Ave., Placentia, (714) 993-7880. $

SAN CLEMENTE

THE FISHERMAN'S RESTAURANT
Locals tend to disparage the cuisine and long summertime waits for a table, but the mesquite-grilled seafood is usually quite good. Fresh catch of the day is always a good choice, and save room for the best desserts in South County: a slice of the peanut-butter pie or the mud pie, which is mammoth. 611 Ave. Victoria, San Clemente, (949) 498-6390; www.fishermansrestaurant.com. $

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

RENDEZVOUS
This restaurant is beauty manifested in an old Pullman railroad car, with fascinating takes on American cuisine (bison covered with chicory) and a strawberry-rhubarb cobbler topped with sweet corn ice cream that's all that's great about America. 26701-B Verdugo St., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-1006; www.rendezvoussjc.com. $$$

SANTA ANA

CHINA OLIVE
One of the few Chinese buffets 'round town that won't wreak havoc on your porcelain throne. Good mix of Chinese-American dishes, from sweet orange chicken to a hybrid chow mein speckled with baby octopus, snow peas, onions and carrots. 3420 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 957-2688. $

FAVORI
The French-Vietnamese hybrid has inexpensive French dishes of the kind that have all but evaporated from our cholesterol-obsessed culture. The fruit de mer au gratin features sweet clams and pungent mussels (both still in their shells), smoky shrimp, bits of fish, and strands of faux crabmeat baked in a terrine of cream sauce rich with butter. As good as it is, though, everything pales beside Favori's beautiful, huge catfish. 3502 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 531-6838. $$

NEWPORT SEAFOOD CHINESE 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 balances the meal out nicely. 4411 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 531-5146. $$$

YELLOW BASKET
Eighteen whoppers are flipped at this Santa Ana food-mark, but the best is a triple cheeseburger that could out-Carl's-$6-burger any day—and at only $4.60. 2860 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 545-8219; www.yellowbasket.com. $

SEAL BEACH

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

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. $$

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. $

TUSTIN

DOSA PLACE
There are so many dosas at Dosa Place—dosas crammed with goat, stuffed with cheese, oozing with curried potatoes—you'll probably overlook the rest of the platters. Don't. Once in a while, scan over the South India portion of the menu and devote a lunch to the idli, two rice-flour dumplings touched with a molten chile powder, or an uttapam, a flour Frisbee the menu advertises as a pancake but is really more of a veggie-gorged omelet. Dosa Place is also one of the precious few Southern California restaurants specializing in the tamarind-heavy cuisine of Andhra Pradesh. 13812 Redhill Ave., Tustin, (714) 505-7777; www.dosaplace.com. $

TROPIKA
If you're limited to just one dish at this Malaysian restaurant, try their rendang meats, a dish native to Indonesia—but who's paying attention? Pick beef, lamb or chicken—doesn't matter—and the Tropika folks cut them into cubes, then braise the meats in a sauce with about a dozen spices until the sauce seeps into the cubes and evaporates, leaving a dry, scorching heat that tastes like the Mojave—if the Mojave were redolent of cumin, coriander and ginger. 17460 E. 17th St., Tustin, (714) 505-9908; www.tropika.com. $$

VILLA PARK

FIRST CLASS PIZZA
Go for the employee sampler, which features four different pizzas, including barbecue chicken, zesty Italian, the Villa Park special with fresh basil and garlic, and the combo with pepperoni and sausage. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Ste. 101, Villa Park, (714) 998-2961. $

WESTMINSTER

COFFEE FACTORY
To get the full range of Vietnam?s jolting coffees, pull up a table at the Anglo-named, French-themed Coffee Factory on the edge of Little Saigon. Sip slowly on the ca phé sua nong, which is as black as Larry Agran?s heart (and just as shudder-inducing) or some ice-cold ca phé den da, complete with black tapioca pearls. 15582 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 418-0757. $

PAGOLAC
Pagolac will show you another side of beef—seven, to be exact. "Bo 7 Mon," the restaurant sign's subtitle, is Vietnamese for seven courses of beef, the restaurant's specialty. Ungodly slabs of sirloin are transformed into wisps of flavor-packed beef. 14580 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 531-4740. $$

PHO NGUYEN HUE
It seems like any other Little Saigon pho factory until you come across the pho pin xe luabull cock pho. It's not that tasty, so once you've ordered it for the fear factor, move on to the escargot with tofu and green banana, an appealing array of colors, seasonings, smells and textures essential to multidimensional and flavor-balanced dishes. 10487 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 839-8916. $

SEAFOOD WORLD
Seafood World lives up to its name by wheeling out goodies like fried scallop rolls (large scallops in a flaky pastry served with mayo and a maraschino cherry!), crab and shrimp balls with peas (wrapped in rice paper), and very large, juicy and spicy deep-fried shrimp. 15351 Brookhurst St., Ste. 106, Westminster, (714) 775-8828.$$

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

YORBA LINDA

THE WILD ARTICHOKE
While the restaurant's motto, "Food prepared from the heart, with the soul in mind," is cumbersome (it's like a New Age math problem), all of D'Aquila's culinary creations are fabulous, simply fabulous. Stick to the namesake 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

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; also at 2636 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 474-2223; www.dailygrill.com. $$

GYRO KING
It's a mighty gyro they spin at Gyro King: lamb and beef compressed into a hexagonal slab and 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; also at 2626 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 752-4976. $

JERRY'S WOOD-FIRED HOT DOGS
Not since Boogie Nights has a wiener garnered so much deserved buzz as the yearlong love-in for those steamed at Jerry's Wood-Fired Hot Dogs. Owner and Cleveland native Jerry O'Connell comes from the land where sausage-making is gospel, and his dogs show it: all-beef franks bursting from taut casings; X-rated kielbasas with a vicious, Warsaw Pact bite; and a jalapeño hot link that is proudly inauthentic, but nobody gives a damn as his whining-hole is deep-throating the eight inches. 2276 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 245-0200; also at 1360 S. Beach Blvd., Ste. C, La Habra, (562) 697-4644; www.jerrysdogs.com. $

MOTHER'S MARKET
This organic mini-chain is an Orange County institution: a place that, along with the Gypsy Den, hipped up vegetarian eating in Orange County years ago. They offer an extensive breakfast-through-dinner menu, but constant is their remarkable soyrizo—chopped up with onions, tomatoes and a bit of salsa instead of prepared in greasy, crispy cylinders hours after being removed from a pig—but this soyrizo is lean, hearty and even a bit spicy, and all-vegan. 2963 Michelson Dr., Irvine, (949) 752-6667; also at 225 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 631-4741; 19770 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-6667; 24165 Paseo de Valencia, Laguna Woods, (949) 768-6667; www.mothersmarket.com. $

ORIGINAL PANCAKE HOUSE
The restaurant's massive mascot looming over Lincoln Avenue at Original Pancake House—a grinning two-dimensional cook in a poofy hat flipping flapjacks—is a city icon as reassuring to Anaheimers as the Big A. And so are the pancakes—wheels of flour soaked with any number of syrups and gobs of butter. Chase them down with coffee. Good morning! 1418 E. Lincoln, Anaheim, (714) 535-9815; also at 18453 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, (714) 693-1390; 26951 Moulton Pkwy., Aliso Viejo, (949) 643-8591; www.originalpancakehouse.com. $

PACIFIC WHEY CAFÉ, BAKERY, AND COFFEE CO.
You start your day with breakfast, and even though the prices may be on the high side ($9 for pancakes with fruit?), what you get in return here are freshness and quality. Dinner selections are limited, but they do offer a mix of intriguing vegetable dishes and steamy pot pies and stews for foggy nights. 2622 San Miguel Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 644-0303; also at 7962 Pacific Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 715-2200; and 25672 Crown Valley Pkwy., Ste. G-1, Ladera Ranch, (949) 542-7744; www.pacificwhey.com. $$

PAUL'S PLACE
In a region still dotted with the mom-and-pop burger dives of yore, Paul's Place is our Mel's, a mini-chain with locations in Buena Park, Fullerton and Anaheim that don't look a day older than 50. Burgers are charred, massive and come sans condiments, the better for you to squirt to your delight. And in a nod to the changing times, there is also a salsa bar to douse their quite big, quite tasty burritos and gyros. 1040 N. Magnolia Ave., Anaheim, (714) 761-4351; also at 7012 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park, (714) 522-5050; 506 S. Euclid Ave., Fullerton, (714) 870-5995. $

EL POLLO NORTEÑO
El Pollo Norteño whole-cooks chickens on a spit that spins and spins over a fire. Once in a while, they'll squirt on some lemon and chili powder. What more could you ask for? 1525 W. First St., Ste. A., Santa Ana, (714) 541-9097; also at 202 N. Grand, Santa Ana, (714) 542-0779. $

STEER INN
"Get the 'small but mighty,'" my friend counseled. "It's the best." This steak is more mighty than small. The meat has enough texture to create a tooth-gnashing gusto reserved for Discovery Channel feeding frenzies, yet no steak knife is required to cut the beautifully seared surface. 801 S. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 639-2434; also at 444 N. Lakeview Ave., Anaheim, (714) 974-5321. $$

TACO MESA
You'll love everything about Taco Mesa, especially their calamari taco. Wrapped in a steaming flour tortilla, the thick, juicy slabs of chile-coated calamari-steak strips are among the tenderest sea creatures that will ever touch your lips. 3533 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 633-3922; also at 647 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0629; 22922 Los Alisos Blvd., Ste. P, Mission Viejo, (949) 472-3144; 27702 Crown Valley Pkwy., Ladera Ranch, (949) 364-1957; www.tacomesa.net. $

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