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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!

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

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

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

ANAHEIM

369 SHANGHAI

This one excels by alternating between the familiar and the esoteric. The culinary cowards in your dining circle can seek comfort in delicious versions of orange chicken, egg rolls and shrimp fried rice; everyone else can savor entrées usually available only in the Middle Kingdom—or maybe the San Gabriel Valley—like the fish head casserole, a single head sticking out of a Sargasso Sea of noodles, with a flavor as sharp and pungent as its smell. 613 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 635-8369. $

AL-AMIR BAKERY

Al Amir Bakery in Anaheim's Little Arabia enclave attracts all sorts of eaters, but it works best as an old-style pizzeria, a place where young people step in for a quick bite and flirt. Its primary draw is the extraordinary sphiha, a kind of Lebanese New York-style pizza: thin, toasty, wonderfully crunchy crust with layers of such powerful Middle Eastern flavors as soujouk, zaatar and milky Palestinian cheese. 518 S. Brookhurst St., Ste. 3, Anaheim, (714) 535-0973; www.alamirbakery.com. ¢

DUNAREA

Over the course of colonized centuries, the Romanians picked up cooking tips from each—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. $

E-SAN ROD-SAP

E-San specializes in 78 dishes of Isaan cooking, the sour-and-spicy cuisine of northeast Thailand that's exotic even inside the Southeast Asian kingdom. Most diners order from a buffet near the kitchen, where a stern-looking woman in a milk-colored hairnet lords over entrées that constitute the $5.50 three-items-plus-rice combo. Choices vary from hour to hour and include a spicy Lao-style vegetable soup redolent of pumpkin, fiery green curry (smoky with eggplant chunks) and fried catfish that crackles loudly across the dining room. 1719 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 999-0563. $

BREA

RENAISSANCE BISTRO

As the name probably 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

BISMILLAH HALAL TANDOORI RESTAURANT

The karahi lamb will blow your mouth into a new orbit. Prepared with a dictionary's worth of herbs and spices, the taste is an unbelievable medley of flavors. And the nihara's beef is so tender it's like butter. 8901-D Knott Ave., Buena Park, (714) 827-7201. $

CORONA DEL MAR

CAFÉ JARDIN

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

COSTA MESA

LA CAVE

Open since 1962 (!), La Cave continues to be the county's place for a touch of romance and a hunk of meat. Their steaks, fine slabs of beef burnt or bloodied to your liking and as big as a school desktop, fill the innards. Their music—cheesy lounge, stellar jazz—fills the soul. And the ambiance will get you lucky afterwards. 1695 Irvine Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-7944; www.lacaverestaurant.com. $$

CHAT NOIR

There is something downright satanic about Chat Noir, David Wilhelm's latest addition to his "Culinary Adventures" family of restaurants. It's in the had-to-sign-a-pact-with-Mephistopheles execution of his French fare: basil-fed escargot, three-way duck served in an orange-caramel dressing with Mandarin Napoleon cognac, and a dessert of profiteroles stuffed with espresso ice cream. If they serve these in Hell, just where do we sign, Mr. Wilhelm? 655 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-6647. $$$

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. $

CYPRESS

FRANCO'S ITALIAN RESTAURANT

This tiny Cypress restaurant is the kind of place where the tablecloths are checkered, the waiters earnestly smack fingers against lips when describing linguine, and Frank, Dino and Pagliacci roar without rest. Franco's has an extensive Italian menu all your major pastas, subs and even a surprising selection of veal dishes but leave space for the cheesecake, one of the best ever to grace this world: thick, almost like tiramisù, but so strong with cinnamon you can feel it sizzle on your tongue. 4453 Cerritos Ave., Cypress, (714) 761-9040. $$

DANA POINT

MIRABEAU BISTRO

The eatery's appellation derives from the famous Cours Mirabeau, a tree-lined avenue of bistros in Aix-en-Provence dear to the restaurant's proprietors. And the food offered here—lamb osso bucco with a North African bent, fine wines, and an addicting pork-and-duck confit—is just as renowned. As the French Revolution-era orator Mirabeau might have shouted, c'est magnifique! 17 Monarch Bay Plaza, Dana Point, (949) 234-1679; www.mirabeaubistro.com. $$$

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