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This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

OC's best buffet

A food critic rarely writes twice about the same place, let alone in the span of six months. Yet here's a second plug for WHOLESOME CHOICE, the Irvine supermarket that stocks some of the best food products in Southern California—my current favorite find is a spicy Tunisian spread. I previously wrote about the store's sangak, Persian flatbread as long as a small child is tall, but toastier and tastier. After you grab a fresh batch of the bread, visit Wholesome Choice's buffet section where you'll find great:

PERSIAN FOOD:While international in scope, Wholesome Choice primarily serves an Iranian clientele, so the buffet's largest section is dedicated to Persian food. You'll find the cuisine's most familiar meals—rice pilafs mixed with fruits, massive kabobs, complex stews—but also some entrées I've yet to find in any of the county's Persian restaurants. One of them is the meatball of the gods: kooftah, glistening orbs of beef, nuts, fruits and spices basking in a sweet tomato sauce. Another, tahchin, finds rice baked with egg, yogurt and chicken until it looks like cornbread. While the traditional meals are fine, order the kooftah and tahchin for your first culinary surprise of the year.

INDIAN FOOD: Irvine also has a large Indian community, so the offerings at Wholesome Choice go beyond the tandoori chicken and tikka masala—although you can pick those as well. Samosas are crispy on the outside, fluffy inside, fried upon order and come with an extraordinary mint chutney—sweet, hellish, wonderful. The lamb curry could use more spice, but the mango-corn soup combines the fruit's earthy sweetness with corn's freshness into a flavorful symphony. Ask for extra naan to dunk into this wonderful potage.

GREEK FOOD: Don't know too many Greeks who live in Irvine, although the gorgeous St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church is a couple of minutes away. The Greek stand at Wholesome Choice sticks to gyros—not a bad situation considering the heft and savoriness of the beef shavings wrapped inside a warm pita. Best deal is the gyro plate: about a pound of shawerma on a pita alongside glops of tzatziki sauce and a sweet, orange-tinted hummus. Split between four, por favor.

Wholesome Choice also has food stands for Chinese, American, Italian and Japanese food, but you can skip those—they're so-so. Their deli, though, prepares hoagies thick with meats and cheeses, and you could plop Wholesome Choice's bakery in Paris and no one would complain. You won't find a better food mall in Orange County—and no meal costs more than $10.

WHOLESOME CHOICE, 18040 CULVER DR., IRVINE, (949) 551-4111; WWW.WHOLESOMECHOICE.COM.

 
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