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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

LUIGI'S D'ITALIABesides the tried-and-true Italian classics (hey, that's a spicy meatball sub!), this mom-and-pop restaurant boasts one of OC's better selections of seafood. 801 S. State College, Anaheim, (714) 490-0990. $$

MARISCOS LICENCIADO #2Mariscos Licenciado #2—#1 is in the 909—sells Sinaloan seafood but lies landlocked in the same decaying commercial pocket JC Fandango calls paradise. Nevertheless, a coastal breeze flows through the simple eatery. It starts somewhere in Mazatlán, sweeps past the tiled counter where men in tejanas sit and curse at televised soccer matches, and cools giant vats of boiling octopus and shrimp with a salty Sinaloan soul. 1052 N. State College, Anaheim, (714) 776-3415. $MATIKI ISLAND BARBEQUEWhether tucked between two bread slices or served alongside rondures of rice and macaroni salad, the beef at Matiki Island Barbeque is among the most memorably delicious pieces of cow you'll ever chew: ruddy, soft, not burnt at all, a veritable luau on your palate. That beef and other entrées are the sole enticers here—no need for Polynesian bric-a-brac when the food is a slice of the island alongside two scoops of rice and one of macaroni salad. 3070 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 821-5228. $

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



BREATAPS 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 PARKJANG MO

Jang Mo Restaurant specializes in soup, offering six aromatic choices. Add generous amounts of granulated salt, scallions, white rice and pungent hot mustard to unlock the potential of the peppery yook gejang (advertised as vegetable soup but laden with beef shreds) and the three types of gomtang (as delicious as its much-celebrated cousin pho, it's slowly simmered in beef bones) that makes this joint a must-slurp. 4546 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 228-0767. $

CORONA DEL MAR

FIVE CROWNS

With ferociously delicious food that destroys the stereotype of British cuisine, you can't go wrong with the Beefsteak Neptune (filet mignon topped with crab legs, asparagus and Béarnaise sauce) or the Jamaican "jerked" pork chop. One warning: prom-goers love this place—be afraid. 3801 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 760-0331. $$$

COSTA MESA

ORCHIDPersian food served in abundant portions on perfectly arranged plates complete with precise ovals of rice and small domes of vegetables. The basmati rice is as fluffy as cumulus clouds and as flavorful as fresh-popped popcorn. 3033 S. Bristol St., Ste. B., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-8070. $$

PINOT PROVENCE

Unlike other posh joints, where the idea of comfort is to make average folks feel uncomfortable, Pinot is nothing but inviting. The French-Californian cuisine and atmosphere manages to be classy without being stuffy, and the roasted-lamb noisette is one of the best cuts of lamb around. The Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel, 686 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 444-5900. $$$

PLUM'S CAFEPlum's Café is the county's premier place to enjoy the timber-soaked flavors of the Pacific Northwest. It's also what independent dining should be about: a spare design, gallery-deserving artwork, plus owner/chef Kim Jorgenson's ever-evolving experiments. We like the apple-infused pancakes, salmon platters redolent of the Chinook, and the marionberry cheesecake that forever elevates marionberry to our favorite obscure fruit—barobo, take a hike! 369 E. 17th St., Ste. B, Costa Mesa, (949) 722-7586. $$

CYPRESSIRIE JAMAICAN RESTAURANT

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

DANA POINT

THE WIND & SEA RESTAURANT

When friends come to town, the first thing we do is take them here. King crab legs, calamari and steaks are specialties of the house, served in generous proportions at reasonable prices. It always tastes great in an ambiance of SoCal beach hedonism. 34699 Golden Lantern, Dana Point, (949) 496-6500; www.windandsearestaurant.com. $$$

DIAMOND BAR

ASIAN DELIAsian 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 VALLEYKAPPO HONDA

Dubbed a Japanese pub restaurant, Kappo Honda serves the holy trinity of Japanese Beer—Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo—and Bud and Bud Light for some reason. The beer serves as amniotic fluid to some very solid excellent food. 18450 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 964-4629. $$

FULLERTON

419 CAFE VERONESE

In South Korea, the tabang (tea room) is a combination pub/coffeehouse where young adults roam until late, drinking super-sweet teas and engaging in fevered conversation or karaoke. Orange County's best is 419 Cafe Veronese, where you can sip of tart Korean teas and sit in private nooks where you can lose yourself in The Life of Pi or argue about whether "pinche" qualifies as a word in Scrabble. 419 W. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 578-8265. $

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. $$

ANGELO'S AND VINCI'S

This restaurant is a work of art. Never mind the monster wine cellar; it's like the Piazza Fantasia inside. You can't go wrong ordering pizza, so try the quattro formaggio that comes with tangy goat cheese. 550 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 879-4022. $

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. $

AZTECAAs far as Azteca goes, there are two words to keep in mind: "garlic" and "taco"—beef tacos with the usual fixings, but flavored with fresh garlic-and-vinegar dressing and lime. The garlic hits first, but it's the citrus that finishes each bite. 12911 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 638-3790. $



BÁNH MÌ CHE CALI

If you want to know what a thousand years of Chinese domination and a half-century of French colonization with dashes of Polynesian influence taste like, go for the bánh mì dac biet. Stuffed with pâté, pickled carrots and Chinese-style ham, this sandwich is the house specialty. 13838 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 534-6987. ¢

HUNTINGTON BEACH

PERUVIAN KITCHENThe 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. $SEBASTIANI'S ITALIAN BISTRO

Owner Pablo Benavente references his Peruvian roots during lunch and Italian dinners. Before you chow through an extensive, expensive gustatory tour of Southern Italy—highlights include powerfully herbed cannelloni, filling risotto and multiple chicken dishes—Benavente trots out a thimble of ají, the deceptively spicy Andean condiment, for your bread-spreading pleasure. 6078 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-3619; www.sebastianis.net. $$

SILK THAI

Munch down their vegetarian spring rolls, made special off the menu, or try the pad Thai noodles with shrimp and chicken and stir-fried vegetables—not too heavy or greasy. 19690 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 964-1151. $

SMOKIN' MO'SA tour of barbecue traditions within the confines of a gleaming Surf City development, Smokin' Mo's redeems the red states from which it pulls its stuff. Tennessee shines with vinegary, massive, great pork ribs, Louisiana appears with hot links that please like a boat ride through the bayou. Better than that, we love its pig mascot—wide-eyed, holding a massive wooden spoon, grinning at the thought of eating its brethren, the happiest cannibal since that weird gay German guy. 301 Main St., Ste. 107, Huntington Beach, (714) 374-3033; www.mosbbq.com. $

SUPER HERO'S

After two years of drunken bar talk, co-chefs Dan Gauna and Jeff Johnson have opened a sandwich shop where every sandwich is an adventure for the young, hip and hungry. 714 Adams Ave., #101, Huntington Beach, (714) 536-1188. $

IRVINE

DARBANDAll 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 brought it out simmering in a bowl of chicken broth. The result was a chicken so succulent and tender that I was able to eat it with a spoon. 14210 Culver Dr., Ste. H, Irvine, (949) 857-8265. $$

DIHO BAKERY

The Japanese are the creators of nikuman, the world's cutest sandwich which consists of a candied, spongy flour wrapped around gingered meats and vegetables. At Diho Bakery, nikuman-type sandwiches are elevated to an art form on par with calligraphy. The taro, in particular, is a pleasant surprise—not your tiki party's dull, watery poi paste, but instead a jam waiting to be copyrighted by See's. 14130 Culver Dr., Ste. J, Irvine, (949) 857-6415. $

GULLIVER'S

Gulliver's prime rim is primest of prime. El Primo de Ribbie Ribozo! Un Primen de Ribentrop! What else is there to say? It's succulent, it's pink, it's thick, and it's delicious. You'll be saying Voulez-vous le Ribby de Prim! I surrender. 18482 MacArthur Blvd., Irvine, (949) 833-8411. $$

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

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

THE JOLLY ROGER

This plain-folks restaurant's best dish is as plain as you can get: fish and chips. Fit to satisfy Ishmael's cravings, the fish is soaked in a thick batter that seals in the flavor just like the fish and chips you can get around London. 400 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-3137. $



LAS BRISAS

Sometimes you've gotta choose: the kid's college education, or another round of margaritas? Ah, but at Las Brisas—perched above Laguna Beach's Heisler Park, granting you a luxurious after-dinner view of the sun setting over Catalina, the seafood and booze are so good as to make temptation irresistible. 361 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-5434. $$

MADISON SQUARE & GARDEN CAFE

Topped with berry-infused butter, the ginger and lemon-perfumed ricotta pancakes are creamy and moist. Also, try the Shanghai chicken salad; it's a towering bed of gourmet greens, shredded carrots, rice, noodles, won tons and chicken. 320 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-0137. $LAGUNA HILLSONAMI 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. 1301, Laguna Hills, (949) 768-0500. $$



LAGUNA NIGUEL

THAI DININGStart 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

BUBBA GUMP SHRIMP CO.

The inheritor to the dumb Forrest Gump franchise actually fries some good seafood—shrimp, steaks, fillets with stupid names. Guaranteed to please are the Shrimpin' Dippin' Broth, a half-pound of spicy steamed shrimp served with dippin' bread for dippin' and coleslaw, and Forrest's Shrimp Net Catch, a massive basket of beer-steamed shrimp served with garlic and Cajun sauces. Ignore the dumb names and stick to the food. 87 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, (562) 437-2434; www.bubbagump.com. $

COCO RENO'SCoco Reno's, adjacent to its tattooed hipster sister bar the Reno Room, serves what can only be described as delight on a platter. Better known as carnitas, the cooks will even make 'em to order for those who are carb-challenged. Cancel the rice and beans, smother the succulent pork in cheddar cheese, slop on the sour cream and guac, and cheat just a little with a toasty tortilla. 3400 E. Broadway St., Long Beach, (562) 438-9381. $

LOS ALAMITOS

THE ORIGINAL FISH COMPANY

Both restaurant and market and far from the sea, the Original Fish Co. is where you can chomp through swordfish as a sandwich, on a skewer, as a fillet, mesquite-smoked or combined with a hunk of beef. Its other seafood platters are rightfully popular, but don't forget their accompanying sourdough rolls: slightly bitter, around the size of an enlarged orange and brilliant. 11061 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-4553; www.originalfishcompany.com. $$



MISSION VIEJOALOHA BBQ

Hawaiian staples such as manapua (steamed pork buns) and boiling saimin noodles are fine at Aloha BBQ, along with a Korean-skewed side menu filled with bimimbap and complimentary kimchi. As great as those are, the most impressive meat meal is the spicy pork ribs. Most rib places content themselves with giving patrons a couple of twigs, but Aloha BBQ carts over four massive things that appear to have been torn from a hippo. 24000 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. 4, Mission Viejo, (949) 581-0976. $

NEWPORT BEACH

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. $$$

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. $$

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. $$

YI DYNASTY KOREAN BBQ

With a BBQ 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, #E, Newport Beach, (949) 797-9292; www.yi-dynasty.com. $$$ORANGE

POUL'S DANISH-AMERICAN BAKERY 

Smells of sugar and cinnamon greet you at this bakery that has been a tradition in Orange since 1960. The glass cases are filled with sweet rolls, twists, cookies and Danishes with countless flavors. 770 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 532-5101. $



EL PORTAL DE VERACRUZ

Most people pick their El Portal meal from a buffet that surprises hourly. Sometimes you'll find fried bananas sidling against pork ribs slathered in a citrusy green salsa spiked with smoky cactus strips. Or you can go veggie and load up on grilled jalapeños, cheese-sprinkled refried beans and moist rice. But no meal at El Portal is worth eating without at least one masa-based Veracruzan snack: potato-y garnachas, lightly fried picaditas or fluffy chicken tamales. 4530 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 538-1660. $



SALAMAT MARKET & DELI

Salamat is more than just a takeout deli serving great kabobs, stews and soups. The tiny store stocks a surprising array of goods imported from Iran: traditional Persian cheeses and figs; oils, jams and spices; and Persian breads ranging from pita to lavash to the massive sangak, a 2-foot-long flatbread thing that looks like a miniature bed sheet—there's even something called Armenian cracker bread, which is wrapped in butcher paper but feels and weighs like a military-grade pretzel. 1718 N. Tustin St., Orange, (714) 921-0153. $

PLACENTIA

Q TORTASQ'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

IVA LEE'SSo authentically Cajun they hand out beads to patrons, Iva Lee's is a haute-cuisine take on the Big Easy. Crawfish cakes are topped with a dollop of saffron aioli, and the pan-fried pork chops are thick and juicy. The chicory coffee crème brulee is so tasty, it's like eating crack pudding. 555 N. El Camino Real, Ste. E, San Clemente, (949) 361-2855; www.ivalees.com. $$$

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

L'HIRONDELLE

The French/Belgian restaurant L'Hirondelle is a San Juan Capistrano institution, used as proof by residents that their city offers more than Fr. Serra this and swallows that (although the restaurant's name is French for "the swallow"—guess one can't fly too far from the nest). The lapin à la liégeoise (rabbit) is perfect, tasting like a duskier, moister turkey, with a plum wine sauce lending a bittersweet taste, and juicy plum skins mixed in. 31631 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 661-0425. $$$SANTA ANA

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' top is low. 515. S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-0350. $$

NEW PANDA CHINESE FOODCombo 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. ¢



NEWPORT SEAFOOD CHINESE RESTAURANT

Lobster lovers come from all over for these crustaceans heavily dosed with pepper that could make you reach spice heaven. It comes with dessert, including green beans and ice-cold oranges, that balance the meal out nicely. 4411 W. 1st St., Santa Ana, (714) 531-5146. $$$



LA NUEVA REYNA DE MICHOACÁN

If you get lost in the bustle of Santa Ana's Fourth Street on a hot day and need salvation, just follow the ice cream drippings toward La Nueva Reyna de Michoacán, a veritable Baskin Robbins en español. La Nueva Reyna's ice cream is velvety, like a lover's tongue on yours—except for the wonderful chunks of fruit. Go for the harder-to-find flavors—sultry mango, bitter plum, luscious coconut and the fleshy aroma of guayaba (sadly a seasonal fruit, available only in fall). 300 E. Fourth St., (714) 835-0394. ¢SANTA ANA FARMER'S MARKETThis 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 and Birch, Santa Ana; www.grainproject.org.

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

PARK AVENUE

Gourmet American food in Stanton—who'da thunk it? The whole stuffed chicken, covered in pan drippings, is as fatty as a marbled pork chop, and stuffed with a whipped concoction of creamy mashed potatoes and spinach you couldn't pay us not to eat. 11200 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 901-4400; www.parkavedining.com. $$$



SUNSET BEACHHARBOR HOUSE CAFE

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; www.harborhousecafe.com. $

TUSTIN

DOSA PLACEThere 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. $

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 produce, from fat Korean sushi rolls to an infinite number of kimchis. 14551 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-6801. $

VILLA PARKROCKWELL'S CAFE AND BAKERY

This neighborhood café and bakery is an ode to Norman with Rockwellian gilt-edged plates and prints covering the bathroom walls. Besides the interior-design salute, Rockwell's serves many great versions of eggs Benedict, all with hollandaise sauce made from scratch. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, (714) 921-0622; www.rockwellsbakery.com. $

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 chili rub, awaiting your cracking to reveal soft, buttery meat. 15430 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 775-7435. $$



CHEZ ROSE

The back-and-forth between French and Vietnamese décor at this vegetarian restaurant gets dizzying, even a bit annoying. But bickering soon dissipates under the brotherhood of great food, hybrids that you can imagine indulging along the banks of the Seine or Mekong. And as Edith Piaf begins to sing "La Vie en Rose"—for some serendipitous reason, the CD player always plays her torch song around dessert time—and you sip on a second order of coma-eradicating coffee, you can feel the world revert to a pre-Dien Bien Phu era, where French elegance and Vietnamese refinement waltzed tenuously. 7360 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 890-9711. $



COFFEE FACTORY

To get the full range of Vietnam's jolting coffees, pull up a table at the Anglo-named, French-themed Coffee Factory on the edge of Little Saigon. Sip slowly on the ca phé sua nong, which is as black as Larry Agran's heart (and just as shudder-inducing) or some ice-cold ca phé den da, complete with black tapioca pearls. 15582 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 418-0757. $

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. $$VAN HANH VEGETARIAN RESTAURANTVietnamese cuisine includes a proud tofu tradition, and Van Hanh's menu represents its full, finest flowering. No limp kung pao and imitation orange chicken here. Instead, you'll find biting papaya concoctions drenched in chile powder and lime juice, noodle selections studded with tasty tofu and veggies, and more rice plates than in Uncle Ben's wildest dreams. 9455 Bolsa Ave., Ste. D, Westminster, (714) 531-4661. ¢

YORBA LINDA

LA BETTOLADelicious 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 LOCATIONSATHENS 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. $$



CHA FOR TEALiquid refreshment makes up most of the extensive menu at Cha for Tea, and the high point may be the lilac-hued, creamy taro-milk tea. Even the food at Cha features notes of tea. The subtle tea-flavored minced pork and the tender, stew-like, tea-flavored beef are served with rice, vegetables and (surprise!) a complimentary green or black tea. 9200 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 306, Westminster, (714) 799-6957. Also at 4187 Campus Drive, Suite M-173, Irvine, (949) 725-0300. $



CLARO'S ITALIAN MARKETClaro's is a fourth-generation family business with a passion for food as big as the 600-pound loaves of provolone they are known to display during winter. Besides a huge selection of imported groceries, Claro's houses a stellar deli and bakery. 1095 E. Main St., Tustin, (714) 832-3081. Also at 101 W. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 690-2844. $EL CARBONEROOwner 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. $THE GYPSY DEN

Hipster Orange County's favorite place to ogle progressive waitresses. The menu is still filled with an eclectic collection of healthy post-hippie sandwiches; and the décor is almost identical, from the earthy walls to the funky art. 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 835-8840. Also 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 549-7012; www.gypsyden.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. $KNOWLWOODThe 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 CONNECTIONIf 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. $SANTA MONICA SEAFOODTucked inconspicuously in the corner is a takeout counter with cheap chowders, fried seafood, sandwiches, stir-fry and grilled fish. The smoked-salmon chowder is simply amazing and so delicious you'll kick yourself after inhaling the cup because you could've had a pint for only a little more. 154 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 574-8862; also 424 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 456-0234; www.santamonicaseafood.com. $$

SCHLEPPY'S

The two San Clemente Schleppy's are the prototypical beach shacks: tiled roof caked with bird crap; a side business in such curios as seahorse wind chimes; host to seagulls and pigeons that warily eye patrons for the first signs of a tumbling scrap. Rule of thumb about ordering at any beach dive: avoid any hint of the exotic. Order Schleppy's burger combo: a small drink that qualifies as a medium nearly anywhere else, snappy fries bursting with earthy potato pride and a flavorful hamburger featuring some of the finest beef patties grilled since the last Labor Day. 250 Avenida Calafia, San Clemente, (949) 498-6484; 615 Avenida Victoria, San Clemente, (949) 492-8335. ¢

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. $$

STUBRIK'SA steakhouse that co-owner Craig Voorting says is "all about the steak." With the best damn steak this side of a factory town and a pretty decent selection of white meat and seafood. 118 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-1290; also 28241 Marguerite Pkwy., Mission Viejo, (949) 218-0790; www.stubriks.com. $$

SUN-DRIED TOMATO CAFE Rack of lamb is as ubiquitous to fancy American bistros as falafels are to Middle Eastern bazaars, but the Sundried Tomato Café prepares a version fit for hoity-toity cavemen—meaty bones doused with a tart cranberry sauce, the lamb cooked to pink perfection. Great, zesty namesake cream soup as well. 31781 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 661-1167; also 361 Forest Ave., Ste. 103, Laguna Beach; (949) 494-3312; www.sundriedtomatocafe.com. $$
 
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