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

La Langosta

408 S. Brookhurst St.
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: Anaheim

Rasthal Vegetarian Cuisine

2751-2755 W. Lincoln Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > Indian

Region: Anaheim

Gulfstream

850 Avocado Ave.
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Newport Beach

CARNICERÍA EL CAMPEÓN

31921 Camino Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

Category: Restaurant > Grocery

Region: San Juan Capistrano

New Panda Chinese Food

3814 S. Bristol St., Ste. B
Santa Ana, CA 92704

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Santa Ana

Mahe

1400 Pacific Coast Highway
Seal Beach, CA 90740

Category: Music Venues

Region: Seal Beach

Pagolac Restaurant

15470 Magnolia St.
Westminster, CA 92683

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Westminster

Gyro King

3601 Jamboree Road
Newport Beach, CA 92660

Category: Restaurant > Greek

Region: Newport Beach

Gyro King

2626 Dupont Drive
Irvine, CA 92612

Category: Restaurant > Greek

Region: Irvine

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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 is no doubt forming impatiently behind you, already shouting out their orders. 1509 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 778-2051. ¢

LA LANGOSTA
Located on the outskirts of Arab Anaheim, La Langosta is a family-themed Mexican seafood restaurant. Order its namesake langosta ranchera—lobster prepared with peppers, onions, cilantro, tomatoes and a salsa that is hot both in a literary and culinary sense. 408 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 772-6666. $$

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. ¢

RASTHAL VEGETARIAN CUISINE
The South Indian food served here ain't your Green Party fund-raiser spread of bland samosas and lukewarm lentil broth. Rasthal is the type of dive where kaju karela—a peppered, unctuous mush combining cashews with coconut oil and bitter gourds—is among the more conservative dishes, where a chile-laced farina called upma is celebrated with the reverence with which a Punjabi restaurant serves up tandoori chicken. 2751-2755 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-3800. ¢

BREA

TAPS FISH HOUSE & BREWERY
Located in the desperately fine-dining-deficient Brea, this place has everything—from steaks, chicken and pastas to an immense oyster bar. Gorge yourself with abandon on such appetizers as tropical shrimp quesadillas or French Quarter Egg Rolls. 101 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 257-0101; www.tapsbrea.com. $$

BUENA PARK

ALOHA CHICKEN
The soy sauce-fueled sizzle of meat slapped upon a grill is a constant at Aloha Chicken—that and a powerful punch-in-the-palate scent, the collective odors of thousands of chicken lunches and acrid macaroni salads gobbled within the restaurant's tiny premises. The chicken/macaroni smell is about as showy as Aloha Chicken gets; the rest of the place is a paragon of the Spartan setup characterizing the best Hawaiian restaurants—Spam musubi, loco-moco, and don't forget the poi! 10488 Valley View Ave., Buena Park, (714) 826-6672. $

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. $$$

BEACH PIT BBQ
Former baseball player Tim DeCinces focuses his menu on pan-Southern fare like sausage, pulled pork, chicken, brisket and ribs—no regional styles yet, although the off-the-menu pork taquitos hint at what Southerners can expect as more Mexicans settle in Dixie. I'm partial to the smoked sausage, each about the size of a kielbasa and arriving five to an order, prepared in a manner that allows the skin to maintain a distinct smoked flavor even as the interior comprises a wonderful mix of juice, spice and pork. 1676 Tustin Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-RIBS; www.beachpitbbq.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. $

HI-TIME WINE CELLAR
Not sure if there's a restaurant in OC that sells it, but the best wine since the days of Dionysus is Commandaria St. John, an elixir from Cyprus that's reputed to be the oldest vintage in the world. Hi-Time Wine Cellar also stocks nearly every other hooch on the planet. 250 Ogle St., Costa Mesa, (800) 331-3005. www.hitimewine.com. $$

CYPRESS

CAFÉ HIRO
Café Hiro is a three-year-old Cypress eatery that has everything going for it except the design scheme, a setup that would only happen elsewhere if Goodwill decorated Denny's. But Hiro's exquisite entrées—a fantastic fusion of Japanese, Italian, French and American—ensures a steady stream of suitors; ridiculously cheap prices guarantee many rendezvous. And the ahi poke appetizer special—the buttery fish seared warm and salty on the outside and chilled on the inside, wonderfully contrasting the accompanying field greens' snap—launches a thousand romances. 10509 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 527-6090. $$

DANA POINT

MEGA BURGERS
You can't accuse this joint, located quite obviously in a former KFC, of false advertising. Their trademark is the mega mega burger, a cake-sized burger, served in slices, that is the equivalent of eight hamburgers. Note: if you think a mega mega burger sounds like an eat-alone kind of meal, do yourself a favor—take a good look in the mirror and have your cholesterol checked first. 34122 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 488-0849. $

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

MEL'S DINER
When you want to throw caloric caution to the wind, there's no beating Mel's. The cooking is home-style, the portions huge and the waitresses friendly. Other than a hot cuppa joe (yep, that's here, too), what more do you want? You'd be a knucklehead to leave without ordering the hubcap-sized, homemade cinnamon rolls topped with generous dollops of pure melted butter (served weekends only). 9430 Warner Ave., Ste. 1, Fountain Valley, (714) 963-2662. ¢

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. $$

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

RUBEN'S BAKERY
There's about a dozen coolers of pan dulces at Ruben's, each containing multiple trays holding a specific pan dulce genus, each genus boasting mucho diversity, and so forth. Stock up on empanadas, turnovers gorged with fillings and adorned with unique crusts. The camote empanada houses its sweet yam innards within a firm, buttery crust; the same crust also gives refuge to fillings of the lemon and cream variety. 438 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 992-0414. ¢

GARDEN GROVE

ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF ORANGE COUNTY
During Ramadan, Fatima Rahman (known to all as Auntie Fatima) lords 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) 531-1722. $

KAJU SOFT TOFU RESTAURANT
This is an idyllic eatery that specializes in a soft and spicy tofu soup. Depending on what you want to put in the soup it becomes a sort of paella, except that with paella, the waitress doesn't drop a raw egg into it as it is being served. The bulgogi—thinly sliced, seasoned beef with sweet caramelized onions served on a fajita-like skillet—is a good complement to the soup. 8895 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 636-2849. $$

LA VERANDA
Most of the Vietnamese dishes listed in La Veranda's colossal 14-page menu are unsullied by French influences—here, the colonization runs backward. Traditional French delicacies such as escargot, frog legs and coq au vin are accompanied by such Vietnamese side dishes as pickled daikon, nuoc mam (sweet fish sauce) and rice paper. The ensuing DIY combos result in plates that should earn La Veranda at least a four-star rating from the Michelin guide. 10131 Westminster Ave., Ste. 114, Garden Grove, (714) 539-3368. $$$

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

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

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 Frisbees. 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. $$

LUCCI'S DELI AND MARKET
Lucci's offers more than 30 hot or cold sandwiches under $5, not counting the house-specialty torpedoes that go for $2.99 and $5.25. There is pizza. There are the standard Italian dinners like spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna and eggplant, along with classics like linguine with clam sauce and fettuccine Alfredo—all between $6 and $10. Lucci's does catering, too. They even bake wedding cakes. 8911 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 968-4466; www.luccisdeli.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 fritatta 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 thing filled with ground chicken meat, ginger and herbs. 14825 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 653-9988. $$

CLAY OVEN
What makes the Clay Oven stand out is the way it uses the traditional tandoori tools to expand upon the cuisine. You can't find a better swordfish in Orange County. It's so tender it flakes apart at the mere hint of a fork. 15435 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 552-2851. $$

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 BBQ 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 BBQ, along with a better-than-average egg roll, a thimble of fried rice that tastes vaguely Mexican and a small tureen of unctuous egg flower soup. 1261 Harbor Blvd., Ste. A, La Habra, (714) 680-3569. ¢

LA PALMA

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

LAGUNA BEACH

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

EVA'S CARIBBEAN KITCHEN
Eva's occupies the same simple cottage that the dearly missed Drew's Caribbean Kitchen rented for many years. The best remnant from the Drew's days is an open kitchen that continues to flambé and sauté a cruise-ship tour of Caribbean cuisine, with stops for moist Bahamian conch fritters, a sweet St. Martin-style salad and enough varieties of rum to give Captain Morgan cirrhosis. 31732 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 499-6311. www.evascaribbeankitchen.com. $$

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

ROMEO CUCINA
At Romeo Cucina in Laguna Beach, the carpaccio appetizer—a large platter caked with carpaccio—is preposterously delightful and, at $11.95, a steal of a meal. Both shaved and chunky, the soft morsels are complemented with zingy lemon and capers, fresh-shaved Parmesan, artichoke hearts and salad bits. Other Italian platters are excellent, but the carpaccio is like a beef-flavored Listerine strip for the gut. 249 Broadway, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-6627. $$

LAGUNA HILLS

SOLOMON'S BAKERY
At 3 a.m., when most Orange Countians are halfway through their slumber, Solomon Dueñas leaves Aliso Viejo and begins the 15-minute commute he's made nearly every morning to his Jewish bakery since 1987. Glass displays at Solomon's are clean, highlighting all the favorites of the Jewish-pastry galaxy—stomach-stuffing babkas; fruity hamantaschen; crumbly rugelach available in chocolate, raspberry and apricot. Even better is a Dueñas original that he calls an apple-raisin bran, a block of caramelized flour so decadent that customers drive in from San Diego and even Washington state just for a sniff. 23020 Lake Forest Dr., Ste. 170, Laguna Hills, (949) 586-4718; www.solomonsbakery.com. $

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 wares 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

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. $$

GREEN FIELD CHURRASCARIA
The phrase "food coma" was invented for the visceral carnality that clogs your pores 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 poking out of your ears. 5305 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 597-0906; www.greenfieldchurrascaria.com. $$

LOS ALAMITOS

ISLAND GRILL
Island Grill sells Hawaiian food with a Japanese bent, so that means you can get your sushi and bento box fill along with sumptuous teriyaki bowls. But regardless of 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. $

MISSION VIEJO

SANTORA'S PIZZA SUBS & WINGS
Matthew 20:16 taught us that the last shall be first, and that's the best way to describe Santora's Pizza, Subs & Wings, a dank tavern just down the street from the sterile opulence of the Shops at Mission Viejo. Santora's pizza is passable; the subs nothing a Togo's drone can't slap together in three minutes. But Santora's Buffalo wings are the gourmand Gospel manifest: the Good Word transubstantiated into fleshy appendages ready to burn through your alimentary canal like the fires of Gehenna. 28251 Marguerite Pkwy., Mission Viejo, (949) 364-3282. $

NEWPORT BEACH

GULFSTREAM
Yes, Gulfstream is big, but you'll never be served an entrée that is outweighed by a power garnish, and no heaps-o'-chow that scream Claim Jumper either. Proportions are just right, as is the wine list. Desserts aren't a big deal at Gulfstream, but they make a fabulous hot fudge sundae with candied pecans. 850 Avocado, Newport Beach, (949) 718-0188. $$$

THE LIDO SHIPYARD SAUSAGE CO. AND SABATINO'S FAMILY RESTAURANT
The meals begin like an explosion at the back end of a cornucopia. The sausage is made on the premises and is meaty, clean and flavorful. The stuffed pasta is also incredible. 251 Shipyard Way, Newport Beach, (949) 723-0621. $$

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 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. $$$

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. $$

ROY'S
Roy's is all about Hawaii—from the "Aloha" you get when you come in the door and the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole playing over the speakers to the blah, blah, blah about Tokyo-born founder Roy Yamaguchi, whose childhood visits to Maui, we're told, indelibly shaped his palate (and his palette). Whatever: Yamaguchi has been fusing ever since, and with great success; he is now the Wolfgang Puck of some 31 namesake restaurants in North America with entrées such as rib-eye or wild Scottish salmon. 453 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-7697. $$$

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 leaps onto the tongue: furious, refreshing, delicious. 106 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 289-1255; www.cafelucca.com. $$

CHA THAI
The yellow curry selection is optimal for those who sport the same color on their bellies, so be brave and step up a spice level to the red curry. Its marvelous mixture of bamboo shoots, bell peppers and coconut milk will give you the sensation of having had sex for two hours in a sauna. 1520 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 978-3905. $

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

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

WHITE HORSES
At the bottom of Avenida Victoria, below a bed-and-breakfast and a short jaunt from the ocean, stands this stunning, cozy bistro, named for what the British call foam-crested waves. Every six weeks or so, owners Mark and Aileen Norris redesign everything. Menu. House breads. Appetizers. Everything. There's only one constant at White Horses, and that's that the Norrises are consistently spectacular in their epicurean experiments, as dependably memorable and adventurous as riding Trestles. 610 Ave. Victoria, San Clemente, (949) 429-1800; www.whitehorses.us. $$$

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

CARNICERÍA EL CAMPEÓN
All things being equal, we find that the less we comprehend of a menu, the higher the odds we're going to get authentic food. "Tamale" at Carnicería El Campeón was arranged on the menu near some other foods that only a Mexican mama could recognize. Unlike the other joints, their tamales are unencumbered by frills. It is a Bauhaus dish: cornhusk, moist masa, chicken. 31921 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-3141. ¢

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. $

MARISCOS LA SIRENA
This little palace serves caldo de caguama (turtle soup) but also represents its own endangered genus—the restaurant whose métier is stunning Sinaloan-type Mexican food with a side of stereotypes—blistering aguachile with wooden parrots, nuclear ceviche served under drooping nets, and deer steaks that are almost as tender as each waitress's top is low. 515. S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-0350. $$

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. $

NEW PANDA CHINESE FOOD
Combo C: fried rice, chow mein and any three items. God love 'em, they'll most likely give you four just for the hell of it. And all for, like, $5—if you can beat that, you must be in China. 3814 S. Bristol St., Ste. B, Santa Ana, (714) 540-2238. ¢

SANTA ANA FARMER'S MARKET
This Wednesday-afternoon farmer's market is standard save for its bacon-wrapped hot dogs, the stuff of after-concert Los Angeles curbside vendor legend. Preparation is simple: Father grabs an all-beef hot dog and wraps it with strips of pale bacon as if it were gauze on an injured thigh. Son slaps the coiled wiener on the grill, where the bacon begins to fry. Sizzle. The fat of the bacon seeps into the hot dog, which plumps quickly, while the bacon burns until it's black and crispy. Every Wednesday on the corner of Third & Birch, Santa Ana; www.grainproject.org.

SEAL BEACH

MAHE
Mahe offers a delicious meeting of sushi and meat as God and Stewart Anderson, in their mercy, intended. Besides the raw stuff, the house special is the filet mignon stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon. Kill you? Sure. But it tastes damn good. 1400 Pacific Coast Hwy., Seal Beach, (562) 431-3022. $$$

STANTON

THE GOLDEN STEER
The Golden Steer is what a family restaurant used to be—not just inexpensive enough to feed a family, but tasty and wholesome enough to feed it well. It also harks back to the time when a family meal meant meat-meat-meat. The place is crowded, but good acoustics keep it from sounding like a mess hall and incredible service keeps that growl in your stomach from turning into a bad mood. 11052 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 894-1208; www.goldensteer.com. $$

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. $$

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

VILLA PARK

FIRST CLASS PIZZA
Go for the employee sampler, which features four different pizzas, including the barbecue chicken, zesty Italian, 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. $$

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

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. $$

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. $

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. $$

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, 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. $

EL CARBONERO
Owner María de Jesús Ramírez ensures that El Carbonero #1 and #2 use the same recipes of her hearty native cuisine, the primary reason why the county's pioneering guanaco restaurant persists while so many other Salvadoran restaurants disappear. Imitate the regulars and order at least one pupusa, the masa griddle cake that Salvadorans consume from crib to crypt. And El Carbonero's horchata, heavy with cinnamon and toasted rice, makes Mexican horchata taste like a Tijuana gutter. 803 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 542-6653. Also at 9304 Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-4542. $

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. $$

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

KNOWLWOOD
The place serves scrumptious one-third-pound burgers as big as your head. What else needs to be said? 150 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 879-7552. Also at 5665 E. La Palma Ave. Anaheim, (714) 779-2501; 14952 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine, (949) 857-8927; 28061 Greenfield Dr., Laguna Niguel, (949) 831-1593; www.knowlwoodrestaurants.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; 2145 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 541-0053; www.pastaconnection.net. $

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