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

Merhaba Restaurant

2801 W. Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > African

Region: Anaheim

Kasen

9039 Garfield Ave.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Category: Restaurant > Sushi

Region: Fountain Valley

Larry's Pizza & Sports Parlor

926 W. Orangethorpe Ave.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Restaurant > Pizza

Region: Fullerton

BRODARD

9892 Westminster Ave.
Garden Grove, CA 92844

Category: Restaurant > Vietnamese

Region: Garden Grove

Seoul Oak Korean BBQ

8295 Garden Grove Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92844

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Garden Grove

Eva's Caribbean Kitchen

31732 S. Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Restaurant > Caribbean

Region: Out of Town

Pittsburgh Chicken & Taters

3671 Katella Ave.
Rossmoor, CA 90720

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Los Alamitos

Maya Inn

25571 Jeronimo Road, Ste. 8
Mission Viejo, CA 92691

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Mission Viejo

Kitayama Restaurant

101 Bayview Place
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Newport Beach

Hollingshead's Delicatessen

368 S. Main St.
Orange, CA 92868

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Orange

Tacos Jalisco

480 N. Tustin St.
Orange, CA 92867

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Orange

Mini-Gourmet

1210 E. Yorba Linda Blvd.
Placentia, CA 92870

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Placentia

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ANAHEIM

CAFÉ CASSE CROÛTE
This modest diner is the only place in OC to find authentic specialties from the Great White North. Try the tourtière: a mixture of slow-cooked ground pork and beef seasoned with garlic, onions and cloves that has been turned into a lidded pie crust and baked. 656 S. Brookhurst, Anaheim, (714) 774-8013. $

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. $

 

EL GAUCHO MEAT MARKET #2
Like its decade-old predecessor in Redondo Beach, El Gaucho is a geographical warp, a reproduction of Argentina occupying a hectic stretch of State College Boulevard. But you don't need to worship the Newell's Old Boys football club to enjoy the pristine deli connected perpendicularly to the market, which prepares brick-sized sandwiches and empanadas, steaming fist-sized triangular pies with a flaky crust straining to hold their meaty interior. 847 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 776-6400. ¢

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 islands 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; www.merhabarestaurant.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 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

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

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 béarnaise 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

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. $

FRANK'S PHILADELPHIA
There are no frills at Frank's Philadelphia when it comes to their Philly cheesesteak: humongous loaf (even the small is ginormous), beef bits chopped into portions so teensy you can absorb them through your fingertips; grilled pepperoncinis that remain juicy and fleshy even after meeting cast iron; and melted mozzarella that pours into your innards like milk. 2244 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, (949) 722-8725. $

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; www.maggianos.com. $$

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

SALT CREEK GRILLE
A cozy yet elegant, wood-accentuated 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. $$

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

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

FULLERTON

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 subcontinental expats from North County and beyond. 765 St. College Blvd., Ste. B, Fullerton, (714) 879-8522. $

LARRY'S PIZZA AND SPORTS PARLOR
The 34-year-old Larry's is a North County icon, a place where kiddie athletes celebrate after a victory—or, conversely, drown their losses in pitchers of pink lemonade—while their coaches knock back beers with parents and watch the big leaguers duke it out on television. Larry's pizza is utilitarian: pizza slices as thick as pocket Bibles, prepared with fragrant mozzarella and provolone cheese, toppings sprinkled over the pie rather than baked in so that picky kids won't goo up their fingers trying to discard unwanted salami. 926 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-3484. $

SEAFOOD GRILL
Set up more along the lines of a fast-food restaurant than a fine-dining experience, the humble look of the Seafood Grill belies the quite serviceable menu. Shrimp, lobster, crab and fish tacos are all on the menu, but the real deal here is the fish and chips. 100 S. Harbor Blvd., Ste. D, Fullerton, (714) 446-0700. $

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. $

BRODARD
No matter where the Vietnamese diaspora might take people, they return to Little Saigon for Brodard's hallowed barbecue pork rolls, a culinary beacon that attracts legions with its ruddy meat and the sweet sauce of heaven. There are other meals here, but everyone is focusing on those pork rolls, and you should too. 9892 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 530-1744. $$

SEOUL OAK
A Korean palace—beautiful tables, chandeliers, grand piano—where folks grill their meat or chow through cold noodles or seafood pancakes. Don't bother with ordering cake for dessert, though: the sweet hereafter is a wonderful cinnamon drink with floating pine nuts to rinse the garlic away from your breath. 8295 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 530-5388. $$

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 recently opened Shik Do Rak in Garden Grove. Just like regular Korean barbecue, 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. $$

HUNTINGTON BEACH

CHICKEN CO.
If it weren't copyrighted, we would tell you they do chicken right. So we'll just say that they do chicken correctly. They turn lowly poultry into buttery works of art. Forget chicken soup: this is what your soul is craving. 9017 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-0500. $

GALLAGHER'S
Make Gallagher's your fish-and-chips 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. $

ZUBIES DRY DOCK
Zubies has yummy pizzas, sawdust on the ground and lots of TVs. Don't worry if food falls on the ground—you won't be able to find it even if you tried. 9059 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-6362. $$

IRVINE

6IX PARK GRILL
The creations of chef Yves Fournier at 6ix Park are fresh and memorable, a studied California approach to standards such as salmon, steak and pastas. Even more impressive, though, Fournier veers from the protocol of most county hoteliers and offers a full breakfast, lunch and dinner menu. Any day that proceeds from a luscious frittata to a perfect porterhouse and concludes with an apple-hazelnut cobbler with a ginger sorbet will be one of the better 24-hour cycles of your year. 17900 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (949) 225-6666. $$$

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. $

KOCHEE KABOB HOUSE
Kochee Kabob might lack decorative charm and a relaxed ambiance, but its grilled meat is, well, hard to beat—eight kinds of kebabs, each paired with flurries of long-grained, nutty basmati rice and a salad that can't quite measure up. Kochee Kabob's meats are flavorful enough without condiments, but there are two available: sour chile powder and a green hot sauce that's a fusion of a mint chutney and emerald Tapatío. 4143 Campus Dr., Ste. 195, Irvine, (949) 854-0206. [$?]

WHOLESOME CHOICE
Wholesome Choice is the most diverse supermarket in Orange County, and maybe in Southern California: a garden of produce delights where Armenian cherry preserves, Polish kielbasa, Middle Eastern cream cheese, organic eggs and Tapatío exist within a three-aisle radius. But its greatest treat is the sangak, crispy Persian flatbread as crucial to Iranian identity as Rumi and about four feet in length. 18040 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 551-4111; www.wholesomechoice.com. $

LA HABRA

CHICKEN BOX
A tiny room that always seems packed, Chicken Box fries up all the bird parts you'd expect with just enough grease to keep things tasty, as well as ribs, batter-fried fish and reasonably healthy stuff like salads. And you gotta love a place that sells boysenberry punch—a supertart, purple elixir probably mixed nowadays only in one other concern, Knott's Berry Farm, and then probably only as a tourist curio. 330 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (714) 525-1345. $

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. $$

DIZZ'S AS IS
The dishes here are by far some of the best food you'll ever eat in OC. Rack of lamb perfumed with rosemary melts on the tongue. Filet mignon is plump and full of seared-in flavor. 2794 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-5250. $$

EVA'S CARIBBEAN KITCHEN
Eva's occupies the same simple cottage that the dearly missed Drew's Caribbean Cafe 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. $$

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 tasty beyond imagination. 250 Beach St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-9109. $$

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

EMPANADA MAN
Empanada Man prepares its steaming eponym upon order, so it'll be a while before you can start debating whether to order a fourth or fifth one for the journey home. Chicken and beef empanadas are mini-stews of joy, the meats moist and accompanied by corn kernels in the former, hard-boiled egg slices in the latter. The spinach and potato selections are the edible equivalent of Argentina's gold-medal-winning Olympic soccer squad: rough, earthy, at first unimpressive but ultimately a winner. And the tangy dance the ricotta cheese empanada stomps upon your palate is worthy of a Gardel croon. 20761 Lake Forest Dr., Lake Forest, (949) 855-9257; www.empanadaman.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. $$

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

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

PITTSBURGH CHICKEN & TATERS
Most Americans know the Steel City for its bankrupt hockey teams and bruising football squads, but this storefront restaurant with its goofy hen mascot (circa early "Peanuts") makes broasted chicken. They pressure-cook the gals with the same relentless intensity the Steelers defense applies on third-and-15, producing meat that's plump and moist inside a fine gnarled skin. 3671 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-0140. $

MISSION VIEJO

MAYA INN
Ah, the chicken chimichanga: seasoned (but not molten), tender chicken in a deep-fried tortilla with ample salsa, guacamole and sour cream flying atop the thing like a Mexican flag on a submarine. Cheap! 25571 Jeronimo Rd., Ste. 8, Mission Viejo, (949) 768-0401. $

NEWPORT BEACH

KITAYAMA
Kitayama's fans say it's as close to fine Japanese dining as you can get without flying to Tokyo. We're talking savory steak and seafood dishes and unbelievable sushi and sashimi. 101 Bayview Pl., Newport Beach, (949) 725-0777. $$$

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. $$

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; www.pescadoubistro.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. $$$

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; www.tacorosa.com. $$

ORANGE

LA BRASSERIE

The Orange institution looks, smells, tastes and sounds like the French eateries your grandparents frequented, the type of elegant dining experience that once required pearls, a dining jacket and an irony-free martini. All the French entrées Americans endlessly stereotype are here—duckling a l'orange, frog legs, pâté, escargot and the like. But La Brasserie also stays true to its rustic Alsatian roots by preparing nine different types of veal, each consisting of young cow slices cut into large portions, battered with egg and nearly floating over myriad tasty sauces. 202 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 978-6161. $$$

HOLLINGSHEAD'S DELI
It's a permanent tailgate at Hollingshead's, and not just because of the Green Bay Packers garb hanging from the ceiling or the pickled eggs and pickles kept in chilled brine. Hollingshead's is one of Orange County's premier booze barns, stocking drafts, ales, Hefeweizen and other brands from across the world (with a special focus on the Deutschland and the former Soviet Bloc). The limited menu is stubbornly heartland: deviled eggs, boldly pungent macaroni salads and the sweetest baked beans this side of the Lambeau Field parking lot. 368 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 978-9467. $

TACOS JALISCO
No one competes with the food at this taco joint because the albondigas are jawbreaker-sized meatballs, plump with rice, in a delicate, clove-tinged broth with oregano and dried chile flakes and with freshly minced onion served on the side. 480 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 771-5819. ¢

PLACENTIA

MINI-GOURMET
The Mini-Gourmet is a Placentia strip-mall diner where adults wear T-shirts proclaiming allegiance to the football squad at nearby El Dorado High while sipping coffee alongside no-frill omelets. The Ortega omelet is all about the mild chile, ripe tomatoes and liquefied cheese awaiting its scraping up with toast. 1210 E. Yorba Linda Blvd., Placentia, (714) 524-1611. $

SAN CLEMENTE

LA GALETTE CRÊPERIE
Twenty-six crepes are available in this beautiful little shop just a jog away from the Pacific—try the Kansas City chicken crepe beckoning with the promise of heartland-meets-Left Bank fusion: roasted chicken and caramelized onions tinctured with a maple barbecue sauce and sprinkled with Jack cheese. And the PPV crepe has whole slices of candied pears marked with thick, sugary mascarpone and a dollop of whipped cream on the side, with a spray of vanilla sauce on top of the crepe. 612 Avenida Victoria, Ste. E, San Clemente, (949) 498-5335; www.lagalettecrepes.com. $

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

BAD TO THE BONE BBQ
Barbecue sandwiches are usually messy affairs, but Bad to the Bone's house sausage sandwich is as austere as it is sumptuous. A lean, sweet pork sausage speckled with pepper bits and accompanied by sautéed onions and bell peppers, it strikes several notes, the wonderfully bitter distinct from the sweet and salty. The crunchy French roll lends a taste of honey. 31738 Rancho Viejo Rd., Ste. E, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 218-0227; www.badtothebonebbq.com. $$

SANTA ANA

BANGKOK TASTE
Thong "Chim" Johnson, owner of Bangkok Taste, knows how to pack heat into her torrid Thai creations, like her luscious green curry and her garlic shrimp; no other Thai place I know of makes its own ice cream. 2737 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 532-2216. $

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. $

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

KOI RESTAURANT
Koi's menu is uncomplicated, authentic and relatively easy on the wallet. For a starter, I adore their famous crunchy rolls made from shrimp tempura, a Japanese root called gobo and smelt egg. I know sea bass is politically incorrect these days, but what can you do? If you're an environmentalist, avoid it. If not, dig in! 600 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 100, Seal Beach, (562) 431-1186; www.koisushi.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. $$

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

CRESCENT CITY
Cajun purists will howl that there are no outposts of this rapidly expanding chain actually in the Crescent City, so therefore the food cannot possibly pass muster—hell, they don't even got gator! But Crescent City is no Disneyfied Big Easy. The shrimp po' boys are just the way they oughta be: a flaky French bread roll bloated with lettuce, pickles, tomatoes, spicy mayo and fried, bite-size prawns, and messier than a dip into the Mississippi. 2933 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 263-3111; www.crescentcitybeignets.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

ROCKWELL'S CAFE AND BAKERY
This neighborhood café and bakery is an ode to Norman with Rockwellian gilt-edged plates and prints covering the bathroom walls. Besides the interior-design salute, Rockwell's serves seven great versions of eggs Benedict, all with hollandaise sauce made from scratch. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, (714) 921-0622; www.rockwellsbakery.com. $

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. $

GRAND GARDEN
Boasting a wide variety of traditional Chinese/Vietnamese/French cuisine. Patrons come in droves for the ga quay da don, a fried-chicken platter, but if you're looking for a savory alternative, try the ca kho to, a spicy, salted fish baked in a clay pot. 8894 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 893-1200; www.grandgarden.com. $$

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

SEAFOOD 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., Westminster, (714) 775-8828.$$

THANH'S
It's as if you're in the other Saigon (or Ho Chi Minh City), sans the oppressive humidity. The menu—108 items ranging from bò nuong (barbecue beef) to hu tieu (noodle soup) to com (rice)—is a gastronomic delight. 9872 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 531-3888. $

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 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. $$

 

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; and 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 is 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 big, tasty burritos and gyros. 1040 N. Magnolia Ave., Anaheim, (714) 761-4351; also at 7012 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park, (714) 522-5050; and 506 S. Euclid Ave., Fullerton, (714) 870-5995. $

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. $

TAQUERÍA DE ANDA
Taquería de Anda makes fine tacos, but its real specialty lies in its burritos. Especially alluring is Anda's beef tongue version, which the always-working cooks prepare so exquisitely you'll want to confess to your priest that you thought for a fleeting moment you were Frenching a cow and liking it. 308 W. Valencia Dr., Fullerton, (714) 871-4211; also at 1029 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 558-0856; 1505 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 956-9359; 221 S. Magnolia Ave., Anaheim, (714) 821-4055; and pretty much any city with a Mexican section; www.taqueriadeanda.com. ¢

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