Grub Guide

Orange Countys 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!
$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10-$20
$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20-$40
$$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ¡Eres muy rico!


ANAHEIM

Location Info

Map

Merhaba Restaurant

2801 W. Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > African

Region: Anaheim

Yogiraj

3107 W. Lincoln Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92801-6004

Category: Restaurant >

Region: Anaheim

Zankou Chicken

2424 W. Ball , Stes. S-T
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > Armenian

Region: Anaheim

Mandarin Pavilion

1050 W. Valencia Drive
Fullerton, CA 92833-3305

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Fullerton

Seoul Soondae

8757 Garden Grove Blvd.
Garden Grove, CA 92844

Category: Restaurant > Korean

Region: Garden Grove

Wasabi and Sushi

9542 Chapman Ave.
Garden Grove, CA 92844

Category: Restaurant > Sushi

Region: Garden Grove

East Winds Asian Cuisine

7114 Edinger Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Huntington Beach

Martini Blues

5874 Edinger Ave.
Huntington Beach, CA 92649

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Huntington Beach

Wings 'N Things

18302 Beach Blvd.
Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Huntington Beach

Taleo Grill

3309 Michelson Drive
Irvine, CA 92612

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Irvine

The Cat & the Custard Cup

800 E. Whittier Blvd.
La Habra, CA 90631

Category: Restaurant > English

Region: La Habra

Picayo

610 N. Pacific Coast Highway
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Category: Restaurant > French

Region: Laguna Beach

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AL-WADEE BURGERS
This old burger stand in the middle of Anaheim's Little Arabia district offers delicious halal burgers and shakes and a galaxy of Middle Eastern fast-food specials—best is the cheese sticks, dignified rods with a sweet crust encasing milky cheese with parsley: refreshing, sweet, Muslim, American, heaven. 10441 S. Magnolia, Anaheim, (714) 828-2770. $


DUNAREA
Over the course of colonized centuries, the Romanians picked up cooking tips from each oppressor—grilled kebabs and searing coffee from the Turks, unctuous beef stroganoff from the Russians, goulash and paprika from the Hungarians, and the sarmales, reminiscent in their pungency of Mediterranean stuffed grape leaves. All are present at Dunarea, and all are magnificent. 821 N. Euclid Ave., Anaheim, (714) 772-7233; www.dunarea.us. $


MERHABA RESTAURANT
You're probably the second non-African to visit Merhaba after me, so the 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. $


YOGIRAJ
The subcontinental meal known as a thali is the original Hungry-Man meal: a metal tray that houses thimbles, cups and bowls heaped with vegetarian entrées from the southern Indian state of Gujarat. The thali at Yogiraj includes anything from sweetened black-eyed peas, spiced lentils and rasam, a sour tomato-based soup, to a pea-potato stew and concoctions of cashews and peppers. Wash everything down with a rose sherbet, a creamy pink drink that tastes like strawberry Quik but with a hint of rose water—the best damn drink in the world. 3107 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 995-5900. $


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

 
GAUCHO GRILL
Here's what you need to know about Argentine food as it relates to Gaucho Grill: meat. Lots of it, most of it beef, served many ways. The ultimate meat-eater's special is the plato mixto, a beast of a dinner including a half-chicken, a skirt steak, chorizo, morcilla (a black sausage) and mollejas (grilled beef sweetbreads—and a sweetbread is a hypothalamus gland, kiddies). 210 W. Birch St., Ste. 102, Brea, (714) 990-9140; www.gauchogrill.com. $$


BUENA PARK


CHONG KI WA TOFU
The tiny Korean eatery offers nine different tofu-centric soups, ranging from tofu and oysters to their namesake house specialty. At your request, the server will crack an egg into your dish, giving the tofu a yolkier taste. You can order any tofu dish on a sliding spice scale to give it an even better seasoning, ranging from one (white, clear broth) to five (hydrochloric acid). 5238 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 562-8989. $


CORONA DEL MAR
 

BUNGALOW
The filet mignon at this steakhouse is round and plump—like a muffin. Its ideal cut, deep flavor and tender texture make it possible to eat the entire thing without encountering a morsel of fat or gristle. In essence, it's a tremendous piece of meat. 2441 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-6585; www.thebungalowrestaurant.com. $$$

COSTA MESA 

AIRE
An hour or two getting fat, drunk and happy at Aire is the kind of worldly pleasure that could turn Gandhi into a Republican. Fusion is the name—the wasabi-smeared Kansas City steak strips are luscious, even if they come with a dumb moniker—and the array of drinks and beautiful people will have you celebrating like Nero with a fiddle. 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-7099; www.aireglobal.com. $$$


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. $$


GREEK TOWN GRILL
You can sing the praises of Greek Town Grill in Costa Mesa's happening East 17th Street District for its sleek décor (ceiling-to-floor windows, mosaicked counter, sexy lighting and chairs), delicious takes on such Greek-American classics as pitas and dolmades, and the fact that owner Jim Marutsos works with fresh ingredients. But also hum some bars for the pear salad, a glistening hill of leaves, candied walnuts, long pear slices and melted gorgonzola. 279 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 515-2788; www.greektowngrill.com. $


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. $


TURNER NEW ZEALAND
With offices in Germany, New Zealand and Newport Beach, Turner is world-renowned for providing hormone- and antibiotic-free meats and seafood to chefs at posh venues. Their Costa Mesa nosherie cooks the meat to their gore-ific standards. The double cuts are thick and tender, not at all gamy—more like lightly peppered beef. The king salmon, meanwhile, features crispy skin and is served with sautéed leeks, saffron potatoes and a citrus shallot confit. 650 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 668-0880; www.turnernewzealand.com. $$$


CYPRESS 

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

 

EBISU JAPANESE NOODLE RESTAURANT
This restaurant is a sleek ramen mecca that serves miso ramen, a curative soybean-flavored elixir, poured over a tangled cake of supple noodles rife with bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, hard-boiled egg halves and scallions. 18924-A Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 964-5993; www.ebisuramen.com. $


FULLERTON 

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, Potbellies 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. $


MANDARIN PAVILION
The windowless room nestled near a nondescript corner of working-class Fullerton has black-bowtied waiters who bring out such treasures as the three-flavor sizzling rice soup, a scintillating broth of grains, shrimp, ham and mushrooms that actually is sizzling when it arrives at the table. It's one option of their mandatory three-course dinners. 1050 W. Valencia Dr., Fullerton, (714) 870-7950. $$

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 

LIGHT TOWN HOUSE
Korean barbecue rules here—pork belly, beef, eel, what have you. But don't overlook the mushroom tofu stew—not that spicy but containing enough chile to make you sweat and all the mushrooms you could want. 8902 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 638-5757. $$


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. $


SEOUL SOONDAE
You won't find the sort of pretty, colorful foods that look good in a "Welcome to Korea!" travel pamphlet here—no Korean barbecue, no short ribs, no dainty cold noodles or boiling soft tofu bowls on your table. This restaurant is all about the hog: rustic, delicious platters originating from such pig parts as trotters, blood, intestines, fat and other assorted offal that our prime-cut society ships to the hot-dog factory. 8757 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 636-0686. $$


WASABI & SUSHI
Grace Chon, the mom in this mom-and-pop operation, has much to do with Wasabi & Sushi's steady success. She's patient with the first-timers and chummy with the regulars. Although I know that sushi purists scoff at the California roll, Grace's rolls are almost dessert-like. 9542 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 539-4511. $$

HUNTINGTON BEACH
 

EAST WINDS ASIAN CUISINE
East Winds offers an attractive measure of the wild and the mild both, with staple Asian fare available for enthusiastic customization—an attentive and experienced waiter recommended super-fit orange peel chicken made with all white meat—and mix-and-matchers like teriyaki buffalo wings and kung pao pasta to dissolve the film off more jaded palates. 7114 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-1800; www.eastwindsasiancuisine.com. $


MARTINI BLUES
Everything looks great coming out of the kitchen of this bona fide supper club, and we can personally vouch for the Martini Blues Favorite—a rotelli pasta with chicken or shrimp, sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms and bell peppers in a spicy chipotle Alfredo sauce. Like all dinners, it comes with soup or salad; steamed vegetables; and a choice of garlic mashed potatoes, angel hair pasta or rice pilaf. 5874 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 840-2129; www.martiniblues.com. $$


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. ¢

WINGS 'N THINGS
With its dim lighting, cozy booths and just-shy-of-tacky wall-to-wall collection of Buffalo Bills football memorabilia interspersed with Little League team pictures, Wings 'N Things is like a portal to Eastern Standard Time. Authentic Buffalo-style wings (in hot sauces ranging from mild, medium and hot to "X-hot" and "Beyond Hot") are available in 10-piece ($6.25) or 16-piece ($8.95) servings. It's the county's most apt introductory course to (upstate) New York living. 18302 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 848-2767. $

IRVINE 

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; www.chicagos-best.net. $


DARBAND
All Persian restaurants feature shirin polo, basmati rice mixed with shredded chicken and fragments of orange peel, pistachios and almonds. Darband outdoes them all by including a whole half chicken instead of chicken strips. And instead of mixing it into the shirin polo, the Darband cooks bring it out simmering in a bowl of chicken broth. The result is a chicken so succulent and tender that you can eat it with a spoon. 14210 Culver Dr., Ste. H, Irvine, (949) 857-8265. $$


TALEO
You've been eating Taléo's dishes all of your Southern California life—chicken and beef enchiladas, sultry mole poblano, ceviches and sopes. But they were never so tasteful and light on the stomach as these. And the flan—smoky, moist custard—will finally convince you there's a future for this most mundane of desserts. 3309 Michelson Dr., Irvine, (949) 553-9002; www.taleomexicangrill.com. $$$


LA HABRA 

CAT & CUSTARD CUP
La Habra's toniest (read: priciest) restaurant—nothing on the dinner menu is less than $16.50. We can't actually afford to eat here, but it's been around for years, and people are always raving about it, so it must be good. Fancy-prepared American food in an English-pub setting (though it's quite a bit larger than a real English pub). 800 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 694-3812; www.catandcustardcup.com. $$$


LA PALMA
 

JOHNIE'S JR. BURGERS
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

 

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 lingual memories 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. ¢


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. $$


MOZAMBIQUE
It advertises itself as a South African restaurant, but Mozambique most excels in its preparation of meat—pork chops, steaks, seafood and the great Durban curry, a dusky lamb dish that will warm you up wherever you may be. 1740 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 715-7100; www.mozambiqueoc.com. $$


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 and a tomato atop the 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. $


PICAYO
This charming boutique French restaurant has a terrific appetizer—a sautéed foie gras served on a bed of spinach with a sherry vinegar sauce. Forget your misgivings about eating goose liver; this is a culinary petit mort. Your server will suggest a glass of sweet sauvignon blanc to accompany the foie gras, and even though this will bring your tab to more than $20 (and you still haven't ordered an entrée), you'll do it gladly. 610 N. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-5051; www.picayorestaurant.com. $$$


LAGUNA HILLS
 

ONAMI SUSHI & SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Here, you can partake of as much sushi as you want. You can gobble down transparent globules of ikura (salmon roe) like popcorn or tiny particles of masago (smelt egg) as if they're, well, tiny particles of masago. 24155 Laguna Hills Mall, Ste. 1300, Laguna Hills, (949) 768-0500. $$
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. $$
LONG BEACH

 

THE BLUE CAFÉ
This music venue's food emphasizes fresh salads and semihealthy fare. The Blue Café salad—featuring grilled chicken, mango chunks, pepitas, blue cheese crumbles and apple slices—makes a meal that is fresh, filling and packed with your recommended daily amount of something or other. 210 N. Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111; www.thebluecafe.com. $$
GREEN FIELD CHURRASCARIA
The phrase "food coma" was invented for the visceral carnality that clogs your arteries at Green Field Churrascaria, which specializes in the terrifying meat onslaught known as churrascaria, or Brazilian barbecue. Churrascaria is pricey, but here's what you get: all-you-can-eat Brazilian sausage, tightly packed and burnt to nirvana, like a nonsweet Chinese sausage; a chicken thigh, good but perhaps too dry; and beef loin, best ever, rare but hot clear through. And this is only the first offering—the folks at Green Field will not be satisfied until meat starts seeping out of your ears. 5305 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 597-0906; www.greenfieldchurrascaria.com. $$
LOS ALAMITOS

 

PAPA'S WESTERN BBQ
Papa's specializes in Santa Maria-style barbecue, a tradition native to the coastal central California town that dates to the time when Mexico's rule over California wasn't just a MEChA dream. So, like the Californios of yore, the Papa's crew smokes folds of tri-tip and other meat cuts over red oak chips that impart a fragrant, salty flavor. This is also one of the last places in Southern California where you can order the spicy Portuguese sausage known as linguiça. 10900 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-9251; www.papaswesternbbq.com. $


MISSION VIEJO

 
LA MAISON GOURMET
Every Friday for about two years, this charming shop on the edge of Lake Mission Viejo has opened its private lakeside patio for wine tastings. The events are a smash; reservations are required, limited to about 30 per session and best made at least two weeks in advance. But it's also a bona fide gourmand's treat, with wines from across the world 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 

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. $$$
RED ROCK CHILI
You wouldn't expect a chili station to be a tenant in Fashion Island's hoity indoor Atrium Court. Yet there it is, in big, neon letters: Red Rock Chili, a spicy meat-and-bean man's Xanadu, where six varieties of the goop are always bubbling in cauldrons. For those of us who prefer our chili molten, the Hot Rock chili, stewed with the infamously hellish habanero pepper and vanilla-by-comparison jalapeños and chipotles, burns the spot. 401 Newport Center Dr., Ste. A104, Newport Beach, (949) 760-0752; www.redrockchili.com. $
SEJOUR
Fancy place in Newport's Lido district with fusion cuisine and an atmosphere that recalls the British Empire as the sun finally set. 3400 Via Lido, Newport Beach, (949) 675-9800; www.sejour.us. $$$
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. $$
YI DYNASTY KOREAN BBQ
With a barbecue promising such exotica as honey-corn tripe, black pork bellies, barbecued bone marrow, wild boar and stingray, Yi Dynasty is sure to placate even the most demanding gourmand. Korean cooking protocol—panchan, DIY meat cooking, feuding tastes in your mouth—is in effect at all times. 1701 Corinthian Way, Ste. 6, Newport Beach, (949) 797-9292; www.yi-dynasty.com. $$$
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—just pure, monumental beef. 121 N. Lemon St., Orange, (714) 628-0633. $
PLACENTIA

 

TONY'S LITTLE ITALY
The best lunchtime pizza is made at Tony's Little Italy: as thick as a Tom Clancy novel, the circumference of a basketball hoop. They also sell subs and such Italian-American classics as spaghetti, ravioli and mostaccioli, but the focus is on the pizza—it says so on their window. 1808 N. Placentia Ave., Ste. B, Placentia, (714) 528-2159; www.tonyslittleitaly.com. $


SAN CLEMENTE

 

SWISS CHALET
This restaurant primarily serves German-inspired food, but such dishes as the Chalet Fischteller (sautéed shrimp, scallops and clams in a white wine-tarragon cream sauce and served on linguine) and a pfeffersteak (filet of beef tenderloin sautéed in a clarified butter on a four peppercorn-whiskey cream sauce) display interesting Italian and French touches. Since this is alpine food, Swiss Chalet also features many veal dishes. 216 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 492-7931. $$


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 with America. 26701-B Verdugo St., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-1006; www.rendezvoussjc.com. $$$
SANTA ANA

 

AMI SUSHI
Ami Sushi is the perfect Japanese restaurant: efficient during lunch, stately enough for a date, staffed with serious chefs who can wow you with off-the-menu stunners (ask for the wrap that looks like a burrito) or a simple crunchy roll. The Sunset Action is a California roll topped with albacore, the fatty fish melding nicely with the light crabmeat. 1804 N. Tustin Ave., Ste. C, Santa Ana, (714) 567-0018. $
CHINA OLIVE
One of the few Chinese buffets around 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. $


PANGEA
We love Pangea best because it delivers. Regardless of how you eat, indulge in their sandwiches: a hibachi-grilled Atlantic salmon fillet served with a zesty ponzu glaze, a fresh Artist Village turkey wrap, or the Malaysian curry chicken breast sandwich—really, any of these fusion-style globalnesses that Pangea rocks out with its cocks out. 211 W. Second St., Santa Ana, (714) 834-0688; www.pangea-cafe.com. $$


RICAS TORTAS AHOGADAS
Ricas Tortas Ahogadas offers no seating except a shade-free street curb where it parks on Santa Ana's Fifth Street, next to a host of auto shops. But this lunch truck is a barrio culinary school: the guys inside slap out hellacious tortas ahogadas, the Guadalajara specialty involving luscious carnitas, crispy French rolls, cold onions and a pool of salsa: the best burn since Chris Rock ragged on his own kind. On the corner of Fifth and Townsend sts., Santa Ana. No phone number. ¢


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 

CREMA CAFÉ
Crema is a good place to take a balmy window seat and nurse a newspaper as the beach people bounce along outside while you enjoy omelets and crepes filling enough for a man but tasty enough for gourmands. 322 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 493-2501. $
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. $
TUSTIN 

HK FOOD MARKET
Like most ethnic grocery stores, the Korean-centric HK Market functions more like a Costco, a capitalist wonderland where jewelry stands abut gumball machines and towers of bags swelling with rice are visible from the counter where a cute girl sells designer purses. The most enjoyable feature here, however, is the aisle stands where you can sample its products, from fat Korean sushi rolls to an infinite number of kimchis. 14551 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-6801. $


INDIA SWEETS AND SPICES
It's a sweet shop and a produce vendor, a place to rent videos, buy Urdu-edition newspapers, and get a home-style meal in a pop-culture mini-bazaar that caters to your taste for Indian soul food. 14441 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-2910. $

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
 

CAJUN CORNER
Cajun Corner is the latest in a rash of Little Saigon restaurants that attract mostly young Vietnamese looking for Louisiana seafood favorites like crab and crawfish, beer, and a messy dinner—bibs and butcher paper on your table at Cajun Corner are gospel. The special is a whole Dungeness crab, brought out in a plastic bag heavy with chile rub, awaiting your cracking to reveal soft, buttery meat. 15430 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 775-7435. $$


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 lua—bull 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. $


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. $$


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 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
 

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, dust them heroically with—is it parsley I taste? Or oregano? The feta cheese on top is melted slightly, just enough to lend creaminess without producing a gooey disaster. Put some of Athens West's kebabs on top, and you have impromptu Greek chili billies. 7101 Yorktown Ave., Ste. 106, Huntington Beach, (714) 536-6112; 303 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 431-6500. $
CEDAR CREEK INN
The various Cedar Creeks offer similar menus featuring prime rib, rack of lamb and homemade desserts. The Brie-and-pecan-stuffed chicken breast comes with a creamy pear-sage sauce that draws out the fine, nutty flavor of the pecans. The large butterflied scampi is served with capers and diced Roma tomatoes. And the pot roast is a tribute to hearty Midwest German-American cooking. 20 Pointe Dr., Brea, (714) 255-5600. Also at 26860 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-2229, and 384 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-8696; www.cedarcreekinn.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 & BAKING 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; 25672 Crown Valley Pkwy., Ste. G-1, Ladera Ranch, (949) 542-7744; www.pacificwhey.com. $$


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 lemon and chile powder. What more could you ask for? 1525 W. First St., 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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