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  with your complaints!

DINNER FOR TWO:

¢ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than $10!

Location Info

Map

Catalina Fish Kitchen

670 W. 17th St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Costa Mesa

Lucky Chinese

18525 Brookhurst St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Fountain Valley

Lou's Red Oak BBQ Grill

21501 Brookhurst St.
Huntington Beach, CA 92646

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Huntington Beach

PAESANO'S

5440 Orangethorpe Ave.
La Palma, CA 90623

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: La Palma

Aliso Beach Snack Bar

31131 S. Pacific Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Laguna Beach

Kosher Bite Deli & Meat Market

23595 Moulton Parkway
Mission Viejo, CA 92653

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Laguna Hills

Kitayama Restaurant

101 Bayview Place
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Newport Beach

Mastro's Ocean Club Fish House

8112 E. Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Category: Restaurant > Seafood

Region: Newport Beach

Pavilion

690 Newport Center Drive
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Category: Restaurant > Asian Fusion

Region: Newport Beach

Shiki Japanese Restaurant

1936 E. Katella Ave.
Orange, CA 92867

Category: Restaurant > Japanese

Region: Orange

Watson Drugs and Soda Fountain

116 E. Chapman Ave.
Orange, CA 92866

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Orange

Molly Bloom's Irish Bar and Restaurant

2391 S. El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672

Category: Music Venues

Region: San Clemente

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ANAHEIM

ARA'S PASTRY
A domino effect of ordering everything in sight possesses anyone who enters Ara's. Quadruple-layer columns of trays extend across the bakery, heavy with cookies, Bavarian cake slices, cream tarts and other European confections. And, of course, there's baklava, the Middle Eastern dessert standard baked here in eight distinct styles: shaped into diamonds, hexagons, flaky cylinders . . . nearly every shape in the Game of Perfection. 2227 W. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 776-5554. ¢

CAROUSEL BAKERY
Customers cram this cramped emporium not for the pan dulce—which is delicious, by the way—but for raspados, the Mexican version of snow cones made with the vivacious fruits of the country in syrup form. Choose quickly from the 14 options because a line of people is no doubt forming impatiently behind you, already shouting out their orders. 1509 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 778-2051.¢

 

DEE DEE
A couple of Thai buffets offer Laotian soups and beef jerky, but the county's remaining Laotian diner is the curiously titled Dee Dee, where the roselle juice's narcotic spell reminds slurpers why Laos' inclusion into the Golden Triangle arose in the first place and the curries come garnished with peanuts and fat onion slices. 309 S. Brookhurst, Anaheim, (714) 956-2997. $

LA PALMA CHICKEN PIE SHOP
It's pure comfort to know that the same waitresses will serve you the same chicken pot pies year after year. These pies are the size of large talcum-powder puffs and have a flaky, golden-brown pastry crust. 928 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 533-2021. ¢

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, takes place 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. $

BREA

RENAISSANCE BISTRO
As the name 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., Brea, (714) 256-2233; www.renaissancebistro.com. $$

BUENA PARK

INDIA HOUSE
Americans famished for a savor of liberty should trek over to India House, a tiny-but-posh Buena Park restaurant where the promise of freedom comes with a complimentary basket of naan. India House's buffet, an Electoral College of flavors, scents and options, offers the hallmarks of any outstanding Indian feast—smoky tandoori chicken, assorted curries and masalas, and billowy basmati rice mounds—but the chefs also sneak in some surprises in a vegetarian key. 7775 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 670-2114; www.newindiahouse.com. $$

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

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; www.avantinatural.com. $$

CATALINA FISH KITCHEN
Casual. Cheap. Terrific. This restaurant specializes in fresh fish, and you must try the gumbo: a spicy, cumin-scented stew of grilled fish topped with jasmine rice and fresh vegetables sautéed in olive oil. 670 W. 17th St., Ste. 68, Costa Mesa, (949) 645-8873. $

COSTA MESA OMELETTE PARLOR
Good job, Costa Mesans: when Vons Supermarket threatened to shutter the Omelette Parlor in late 2003, y'all rallied to save this blue-collar haven (you should've done the same for Kona Lanes, though). Now the rest of us can continue to scratch our bellies in bewildered satisfaction after eating one of the Omelette Parlor's fabulously stuffed omelets named after some long-dead Costa Mesa City Council member—give me the one with cucumbers. 179 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-0740. $

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 peppercinnis 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. $

CYPRESS

UZUSHIO
Make a beeline to the sushi bar, where the fish is most inventively prepared. Anything on the menu involving eel or avocado is a must, and the fried, heads-still-on-as-beady-little-eyes-stare-at-you shrimp is a greasy delight. 10545 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 236-0678. $$

DANA POINT

GEMMELL'S
Appetizers are memorable: a feuillette, puff pastry with shrimp in the middle, placed in an herb butter sauce with shallots and parsley; and a mousse of duck liver surrounded by minced aspic and sprinkled with cognac. But even better are the main courses—buttery Dover sole, New York steak bathed in a creamy beige sauce of brandy and peppercorns, or French onion soup. Salivating yet? 34471 Golden Lantern St., Dana Point, (949) 234-0063; www.gemmellsrestaurant.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

LUCKY CHINESE
Here, they set the standard for more-bowl-for-your-buck. A bowl of rice and one selection from the steam table will knock you on your ass for less than $3. The sweet-and-supple barbecue pork somehow stays tender under those harsh fluorescents. The kung pao chicken has kick, maybe even too much. Bitterly cheap gluttons, this is your place. 18525 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 962-4221. ¢

FULLERTON

AMAZON CHURRASCARIA
This Brazilian beef barn ignores the multicultural influences predominant in most Brazilian dishes for the straightforward flesh diet of the sertão. Impeccably dressed waiters serve 20 types of meat, everything from the Homer Simpson fantasy of bacon-wrapped turkey to well-charred chicken hearts to a great alligator sirloin. 1445 S. Lemon St., Fullerton, (714) 447-1200. $$

CHICAGO HARV'S
Most every county hot-dog cart advertises Chicago dogs, but Harv's is among the few places that do it better than the South Side. They ship in bulky Vienna sausages directly from the Windy City, stuff 'em into a poppy-speckled bun next to dill pickle slivers, and squirt the mess with stinky-but-super quarts of relish and mustard that'll leave your lips a yellow-green color as vibrant as a 1970s Notre Dame football uniform. 410 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-0491. ¢

 

LARRY'S PIZZA AND SPORTS PARLOR
The 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 thick as pocket Bibles, prepared with fragrant mozzarella and provolone cheese, with the 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. $

GARDEN GROVE

ANNA'S MONDU
Anna's Mondu keeps an English-language menu; bright pictures on the wall hint at its specialty: the massive Korean dumplings known as mondu—steamed giants of minced meat, buckwheat noodles and green onions. The true revelation is the dduk bok ki, a plateful of stretched gnocchi over which the chef has drizzled a sweet-and-spicy chile sauce. Just three of the dduk will meet your daily caloric maximum; the plate comes with at least 20. 9972 Garden Grove Blvd., Ste. F, Garden Grove, (714) 530-0102. $

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's other meals here, but everyone is focusing on those pork rolls, and you should too. 9892 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 530-1744. $$

ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF ORANGE COUNTY
During Ramadan, Fatima Rahman (known to all as Auntie Fatima) lords it over the best religious-minded buffet in the county at Orange County's largest mosque, preparing $2 Styrofoam cartons of delicious Indian food and the stray baklava. The rest of the year, Auntie Fatima prepares it only during Friday services. Some of the tastiest Indian food around—and no faith in Allah required! 1 Al-Rahman Plaza, Garden Grove, (714) 531-1515. $

THUYEN VIEN
Since it opened in 2002, Thuyen Vien has attracted eaters not just because it seamlessly replicates all its meats with soy, but because it also nails the complex flavors of Vietnamese cuisine in a way few other Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants can. The curry soy "chicken," a lovely stew of coconut broth, chile oil, potatoes, onions, tofu and fake chicken, is bueno. 11080 Magnolia St., Garden Grove, (714) 638-8189. $

HUNTINGTON BEACH

CHICKEN CO.
If it wasn'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. $

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. $$

LOU'S RED OAK BBQ GRILL
Lou's is Orange County's original place to knife through Santa Maria-style barbecue, the supremely succulent charcuterie tradition of the central California coast. Whether it's monstrous tri-tips, weighty steaks or divine chickens you're gnawing through, they all retain hints of Lou's red, oak-smoked, rotisserie pedigree. And there's a reason it was once "Lou's Oak Oven Beanery"—their poquito beans side is the ideal hybrid between the pinto bean's gentle bite and the red bean's furtive sweetness. 21501-D Brookhurst St., Huntington Beach, (714) 965-5200; www.lousbbq.com. $

PERUVIAN KITCHEN
The folks at Peruvian Kitchen don't dumb it down for the city's bros at all. In addition to their black-but-moist hen, they offer fried rice adorned with raisins, carrots and corn; sturdy French fries with snappy hot dog slices, and a fabulous mesquite-smoked yam. But go for the anticuchos: two skewers of dark-brown beef heart glazed with garlic. The anticuchos were chewy, intensely meaty, the best offal in the county. 17552 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 847-7555. $

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. $$$

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

THE 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 flambeauxed in front of ya. 2646 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 955-3242; www.meltingpot.com. $$$

WHOLESOME CHOICE
Wholesome Choice is the most diverse supermarket in Orange County—maybe 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

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

PAESANO'S
You probably slap together half of Paesano's menu at least once a week for dinner: sauce-drenched entrées such as mostaccioli, spaghetti and lasagna that aren't so much Old World as they are Hoboken. So why bother visiting this 26-year-old eatery? Meatballs—lacy, herbed, delish. And subs. Good subs. 5440 Orangethorpe Ave., La Palma, (714) 521-4748. $

LAGUNA BEACH

ALISO BEACH SNACK BAR
This South Laguna landmark anchored Aliso Pier until the pier's 1999 demolition but remains unchanged since its 1972 opening save for the prices, and a wooden menu dating back to the start shows that even those aren't dramatically different. The wait is always long, but don't hold it against owner Barbara Perry—she's usually the only person working. She no longer makes the funnel cake that seared itself into many a lingual memory many years ago, unfortunately, so salve your disappointment with a sip of a powerful banana shake and a surprisingly tasteful chicken gyro. 31131 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 499-6811. ¢

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. $$

GAURANGA'S VEGETARIAN CUISINE
Gauranga's has outdoor, ocean-view seating where you can enjoy a large salad bar, spicy yellow-lentil soup and cauliflower fritters. Sweet hibiscus tea is Krishna hooch, and cardamom-scented rice pudding is tasty too. 285 Legion St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-7029.$

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) 376-9716; www.savourys.com. $$$

LAGUNA HILLS

KOSHER BITE DELI
Orange County seems just too spick-and-span Christian to host a real New York-style Jewish deli, but try telling that to the folks at Kosher Bite in Laguna Hills, a cluttered room where the air conditioning is three ceiling fans on their last wobbly rotations, potato-and-barley soup is boiled daily, the Sabbath means rest and the menu—knishes, matzo ball, pastrami on rye—is as stubbornly borscht belt as Carl Reiner. 23595 Moulton Pkwy., Ste. H, Laguna Hills, (949) 770-1818. $

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

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

LONG BEACH

THE BLUE NILE CAFÉ
Blue Nile isn't just a place to soak up the spins with a sandwich or a great latte. It's like the best friend you don't deserve: stumble by late at night and get a sandwich so homemade (and healthy) you'll think of your fourth-grade brown bag days. The (soon-to-be-popular) chicken wraps—chicken, the usual veggies, whatever bizarre fetish items you wanna add—are great cold or warm, bulging like flexed biceps in their tortillas. 438 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 435-6453; www.thebluenilecafe.com. $

DIPIAZZA
Established in 1952, this award-winning Italian restaurant received Best Pizza honors in the Entertainment Book for five straight years. It offers a huge menu selection, including American dishes; you'll want to try the enticing chicken piccata, fettuccine Alfredo, lasagna, shrimp and pastas. The chicken Parmesan melt sandwich and the calamari steak will create lasting memories in your stomach. Plus, they sell Fernet Branca, which will cure your cholera. 5205E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 498-2461; www.dipiazzas.com. $$

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

VOLCANO BURGERS
A Tommy Burger tribute stand, but worth the wait in a teen-infested line that snakes all the way across the street to Los Al High. The chili is mandatory. 3652 Cerritos Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 430-6004. $

ISLAND GRILL
Island Grill sells Hawaiian food with a Japanese bent, so you can get your sushi and bento box fill along with sumptuous teriyaki bowls. But regardless of the main course, your dessert should be the shaved ice: a frosty, chilled monolith flavored with fruit and so delicate you could whittle it down with dental floss. 4390 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 431-6496. $

NEWPORT BEACH

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 Place, Newport Beach, (949) 675-7991. $

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 Place, Newport Beach, (949) 725-0777. $$$

MASTRO'S OCEAN CLUB FISH HOUSE
Mastro's prides itself on an à la carte with gargantuan portions—think Claim Jumper, but three times the style and cost. So it's not a problem that an appetizer like vanilla-battered shrimp includes just three of the crustaceans: the shrimp are among the largest you'll ever see, about the size of a cop's blackjack. And any qualms over paying almost $30 for a fish fillet will disappear under the dense, buttery consistency of any of them. 8112 E. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 376-6990; www.mastrosoceanclub.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 ostentatious, but with the substance to warrant the flash. Everything is expensive but damn worth it. 690 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 759-0808. $$$

YI DYNASTY KOREAN BBQ
With a barbecue promising such exotica as honey-corn tripe, black pork bellies, barbecued bone marrow, wild boar and stingray, Yi Dynasty is sure to placate even the most demanding gourmand. Korean cooking protocol—panchan, DIY meat cooking, feuding tastes in your mouth—is in effect at all times. 1701 Corinthian Way, Ste. E, Newport Beach, (949) 797-9292; www.yi-dynasty.com. $$$

ORANGE

SHIKI
There are only two teppan tables at this modest place, but the chefs perform like kung-fu movie stars with a license to grill when they serve up tender chicken and steak with ginger, hot mustard and teriyaki sauces on the side. 1936 E. Katella Ave., Orange, (714) 633-1765. $$

TAQUERÍA MEXICO
Twenty-four hours a day every day, you can get a taco (and only tacos) with steak, barbecued pork, chicken, carnitas, beef tongue, beef head or beef brains for under a buck. It's like having a warm tortilla security blanket. 108 W. Katella Ave., Orange, (714) 538-5772. ¢

 

WATSON DRUGS AND SODA FOUNTAIN
Oldest drugstore (and probably diner) in OC—100 years and running. Real diner atmosphere, with counter dining and lots of burgers. Tom Hanks used it for That Thing You Do! Only place I know of where you can fill a Prozac prescription, buy Preparation H, eat a pastrami melt and read The New York Times in one sitting. 116 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 633-1050. $

PLACENTIA

Q TORTAS
Q's is unique because it's one of the few restaurants in la naranja exclusively devoted to the torta-making trade. And the local landmark, having been there for nearly a quarter-century, does not disappoint, turning out juicy monstrosities only slightly smaller than the King James Bible. 220 S. Bradford Ave., Placentia, (714) 993-3270. ¢

SAN CLEMENTE

MOLLY BLOOM'S IRISH BAR AND RESTAURANT
Molly Bloom's interior has the standard Irish pub features: low lighting, Guinness posters and bricks. Lots of bricks. Both bar and restaurant offer sizable menus featuring traditional Irish dishes such as fish and chips, bangers, and beans and mash (a surprisingly tasty combination of sausages, baked beans and mashed potatoes). 2391 S. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 218-0120. $$

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

CAFÉ MOZART
Café Mozart brews an impressive array of beers that ease its German-Austrian menu well down one's gullet. Bavarian bread dumplings—made of three different kinds of bread and flecked with bacon—come two per order, sit in a brown pool of wild mushrooms, and exhibit the luscious levity of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. 31952 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-0212; www.cafemozart.net. $$$

SANTA ANA

50 FORKS
50 Forks, the student-run restaurant of the Art Institute of California's Orange County campus, is the final test for the school's culinary arts students before they can graduate with a bachelor's degree, the classroom where years of theory and strategies get flambéed and presented to salivating, discriminating eaters who grade by pats to the gut and big tips. It's also one hell of a restaurant, with great, inventive platters, and it's more than affordable—probably the only place in the county where you can dine like Newport Beach at Santa Ana prices. 3601 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 429-0918. $$

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. $

GEORGE'S THAI BISTRO
Served with rice or noodles, George's food tastes, looks and smells so delicious your senses will beg you for return visits to this trippy little oasis. And if you've been a good boy, you can have some of the kiwi, mango or coconut ice cream. What's that? You don't like kiwi, mango or coconut, but you've still been a good boy? 3732 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 979-8366. $$

LOS PRIMOS MARISCOS
No red meat at this lonchera: Los Primos Mariscos makes seafood with a Nayarit twist. This means the freshness and sourness for which the coastal Mexican state's cuisine is famous reverberate from every plate. Most impressive is Los Primos Mariscos' ceviche: so many chunks of shrimp or fish are packed on the large tostada it's only a matter of time before the Santa Ana PD cites Los Primos Mariscos for overcrowding. On the corner of First and Hesperian sts., Santa Ana. ¢

EL RINCÓN CHILANGO
El Rincón Chilango in Santa Ana is Orange County's best re-creation of Mexico City, and not just because the street-side restaurant features the megalopolis' iconic Angel of Independence statue as its logo, nor because its marquee screams "100% D.F." Mexico City favorites are in order here: wonderful potato tacos with the shells fried until they shine like the Stanley Cup; supersyrupy sodas such as Jarritos and Boing; and the tlacoyo, a foot-long gordita bloated with earthy, bright-yellow fava beans and splattered with diced onions and a tangy green salsa on the outside—the heartiest meal you'll eat until Thanksgiving. 1133 W. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-5096. $

SEAL BEACH

NICK'S DELI
Nick Zampino has no evidence, no proof, no corroborating facts or photographs, but he swears he knows in his heart that his family originated that most delicious and conveniently held of early morning victuals: the breakfast burrito. After tasting these apotheoses, you'll be inclined to agree. 223 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 598-5072. ¢

STANTON

CAFÉ CLAIR
If white people go in here, they get glared at—it's an all-Korean clientele. But they have these really great $5 milkshakes—they're small, but so good. It's a little bit bigger than a shot glass, and we don't know what's in there, but they're very creamy. Go with an Asian friend, preferably a Korean, and preferably a Korean who speaks Korean. 12860 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 379-2575. $

SUNSET BEACH

CAPTAIN JACK'S
Opened June 25, 1965, this steak and seafood restaurant supposedly serves 53,000 pounds of Alaskan king crab per year—more than any other restaurant in the U.S. It prides itself on consistent quality and hearty portions. The bar is one of the few that still use the "Super Well," meaning that if you order gin, you get Bombay, and if you order vodka, you get Absolut. 16812 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-2514. $$

TUSTIN

CHRISTAKIS
Christakis' beautiful setting separates the eatery from its local Greek brothers-in-grub, but what truly catapults the place into Orange County's high-class dining strata are the platters of its late eponymous founder, Joanne Christakis Wallace. You'll find the standards of Greek restaurants: bitter spanakopita spinach pies, starchy moussaka casseroles, lamb prepared in more ways than there are actual lamb cuts and a thorough selection of seafood. More impressive is an array of pasta dishes that suggests an Italian influence at some point in Christakis' seven-year existence. 13011 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-1179. $$

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

VILLA PARK

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

DRAGON PHOENIX PALACE
Get your chopsticks ready for the weekend dim sum, because in minutes, you'll have a tableful of sizzling pork and shrimp pot stickers, savory dumplings, won-ton soup, and wonderful salt-and-pepper squid. 9211 Bolsa Ave., Stes. 201-208, Westminster, (714) 893-1976. $$

KIM SU
A funky little place to eat lunch—traditional Chinese, great dim sum, but we usually go for lunch specials like sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef, and kung pao chicken. Weeklings like this place because you can mix and share food so easily, and because we're cheap bastards. 10526 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 554-6261. $

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. $$

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. $$

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.$$

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 menu, 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; also at 303 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 431-6500. $

 

BIRRIERIAS Y PUPUSERIA JALISCO
Whether you order Mexican or Salvadoran food at Birrierías y Pupusería Jalisco, make sure to mix and match condiments, if only in the name of Latino solidarity. Add curtido (the Salvadoran slaw that accompanies pupusas) to Birrierías' bottle-sized burritos—enjoy the contrast between the garlicky, pickled curtido and the unspiced beans-rice-and-meat simplicity of the burrito. Spread the chilled, citrus-tinged house salsa on the pupusas to tweak the hearty appetizer. 404 N. Grand Ave., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 836-4409; also at 17292 W. Mcfadden, Ste. D, Tustin, (714) 573-1586; 6999 E. Cerritos Ave., Stanton, (714) 826-3382; 2525 N. Grand Ave., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 288-8931; and 1212 S. Bristol Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 662-7400. $

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 meat loaf—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. $$

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

PASTA CONNECTION
If you haven't dined at this Italian-Argentine chain, you're at least familiar with its logo—a picture of a howling toddler with spaghetti dripping from his head, an Orange County advertising icon as beloved as Mickey Mouse or the Spanky's guy. As the name suggests, Pasta Connection likes to prepare pasta—silky fettuccines, blockish raviolis and lasagnas that look like a Bicycle pinochle deck. 1902 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-3484; also at 2145 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 541-0053; www.pastaconnection.net. $

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