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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!

Location Info

Map

Al-Amir Bakery

2281 W. Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: Anaheim

Cortina's Italian Market

2175 W. Orange Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > Bakery

Region: Anaheim

La Palma Chicken Pie Shop

928 N. Euclid St.
Anaheim, CA 92801

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Anaheim

El Pollo Fino

723 N. Anaheim Blvd.
Anaheim, CA 92805

Category: Restaurant > Hot Chicken

Region: Anaheim

The Bungalow Restaurant

2441 E. Coast Highway
Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Category: Restaurant > Steakhouse

Region: Corona Del Mar

Avanti Cafe

259 E. 17th St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Restaurant > Fusion

Region: Costa Mesa

Country Inn Garden Cafe

130 E. 17th St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Restaurant > Cafe

Region: Costa Mesa

Lingonberry Cafe

1475 S. Coast Drive
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Restaurant > Cafe

Region: Costa Mesa

Marrakesh

1976 Newport Blvd.
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

Category: Restaurant > Middle Eastern

Region: Costa Mesa

Senor Big Ed

5490 Lincoln Ave.
Cypress, CA 90630

Category: Restaurant > Nuevo Latino

Region: Cypress

Bonjour Cafe & Bistro

24633 Del Prado
Dana Point, CA 92629

Category: Restaurant > Bistro

Region: Dana Point

Lucky Chinese

18525 Brookhurst St.
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Fountain Valley

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ANAHEIM

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 are the extraordinary sphihas, 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. ¢

CORTINA'S ITALIAN MARKET

Only the Italians remain from Anaheim's Old Europe guard, and they're the ones who keep the business bustling at Cortina's Italian Market, a cozy landmark that's been baking and slicing since 1963. The emporium consists of three rooms: a bazaar stocked with Italian produce (imitation Alka-Seltzer!), a side deli slapping together some of the heftiest subs outside Little Italy, and a dining room to enjoy said goods and grub. 2175 W. Orange Ave., Anaheim, (714) 535-1948; www.cortinasitalianfood.com. $

LA PALMA CHICKEN PIE SHOP

It's pure comfort to know 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. ¢

EL POLLO FINO

Though it's in an area long overrun by Mexicans, all races line up in equal numbers outside El Pollo Fino, a charbroiled-chicken shop decorated with photos and paintings of fighting roosters, a bulletin-board collage of boxing cut man extraordinaire Chuck Bodak, and three portraits of Aztec nobles cradling naked, curvaceous damsels. The best spectacle, however, occurs in the kitchen, where the cooks scamper from freezer to butcher counter to grill to takeout counter in a ballet of hen preparation. 723 N. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 533-1160. $

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 half a chicken, a skirt steak, chorizo, morcilla (a black sausage) and mollejas (grilled beef sweetbreads—and yes, a sweetbread is a hypothalamus gland, kiddies). 210 W. Birch St., Ste. 102, Brea, (714) 990-9140; www.gauchogrill.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

AVANTI CAFE

While the Avanti menu is strictly vegetarian, with faux meats and 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. $$

COUNTRY INN GARDEN CAFE

The Edenic sense of isolation you get visiting here is due not only to the soothing waterfall and atrium-like patio but also to owner Kim Simpson's pleasing menu. She uses only the freshest ingredients and a home-style flare in her delicious (and reasonably priced) food. You gotta try her scones. And Cobb salad. And don't think of leaving without some peach cobbler. 130 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 722-1177. $$

LINGONBERRY CAFE

IKEA's insane mealtime bargain includes not only food but also free baby-sitting! So hightail it upstairs for the manager's special: a godsend that includes a large portion of Swedish meatballs with creamy gravy and two steamed red potatoes. 1475 South Coast Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 444-4532. $

MARRAKESH

The belly dancers at Marrakesh can get a bit distracting, but the restaurant's veggie plates are another story. There are a lot of marinated and grilled vegetables and an amazing couscous. But the thing to get here are grapes that emit a beautiful rose perfume. The taste is even better. 1976 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-8384. $$

CYPRESS

SEÑOR BIG ED

Ignore bustling Lincoln Avenue outside, and you can almost imagine Puerto Rico transplanted to this pedacito of Orange County's industrial-park northwest. Many grand borinquen appetizers, but Señor Big Ed's plato de resistance is the canoa de plátano maduro, a banana bloated with so much ground beef and melted Cheddar cheese it looks like a quesadilla for Horatio Sanz. 5490 Lincoln Ave., Cypress, (714) 821-1290. $

DANA POINT

BONJOUR CAFE AND BISTRO

Despite the overhang that advertises otherwise, this cute, tree-shaded bistro doesn't do dinner anymore; it now offers only breakfast and lunch. The worthwhile offerings—quiche, crêpes, omelets—are all served during the day anyway. Try the omelette de Provence, with eggplant, black olives, sun-dried tomatoes and garlic. Or la crêpe bonne maman, filled with strawberry preserves and dusted with powdered sugar. 24633 Del Prado, Dana Point, (949) 496-6368; www.bonjourcafe.com. $$

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

LUCKY CHINESE

Here, they set the standard for more-bowl-for-your-buck. A bowl of rice and one selection from the steam table will knock you on your ass for less than $3. The sweet-and-supple barbecue pork somehow stays tender under those harsh fluorescents. The kung pao chicken has kick, maybe even too much. Bitterly cheap gluttons, this is your place. 18525 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 962-4221. ¢

FULLERTON

ANITA'S NEW MEXICO-STYLE

This nondescript Fullerton mock-adobe is one of the few Southern California restaurants emphasizing true New Mexico dietary traditions: thundering pozole bowls and meticulously stuffed chile rellenos that strike the model balance between earthy cheese and mild spice. You can find those entrées at Mexican restaurants, though, so eat American with the sopapilla: Indian fry bread gussied up with honey, a dry sweetness foreign to your chocolate-spoiled mouth but one fantastic enough to linger there for good. 600 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-0977. $

MULBERRY STREET

Mulberry Street, Fullerton's best East Coast-style bar, has plenty of seafood augmenting its Italian menu, and you can't go wrong with what locals tout as Mulberry Street's specialty: the steamed clams. In the words of one longtime patron and master of rhetoric, they are "to die for." 114 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-1056; www.mulberry-st.com. $$

SIDNEY'S VEGETARIAN CAFE

This charming café, right in the center of Fullerton's ever-expanding downtown bar life, might capitalize on the needs of the health-starved—it's a vegetarian joint, opening daily at 7 a.m. with an almost entirely vegan breakfast menu—but in a home-cooked, motherly, it's-good-for-you-because-I-say-so way. Owner Sandy Sauers excels with small touches, such as a feta cheese and sun-dried-tomato dressing that sits lightly on the portobello mushroom burger, adding a freshness to the dusky fungus, or almonds and golden raisins on a surprisingly zesty coleslaw. 108 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-5111; www.sidneyscafe.com. $

GARDEN GROVE

ÁNH HONG RESTAURANT

Ánh Hong Restaurant in Garden Grove claims to have invented bò bay món—the legendary seven-course Vietnamese dinner that remains the world's ultimate paean to red meat—at its original Saigon location in 1954 by combining the various beef appetizers native to South Vietnam and presenting it with French refinement. Whether that's historical fact or American-style hoo-hah is uncertain, but the classy restaurant does such a superb version of bò bay món and is so boastful of its star serving ("7 Courses of Beef," screams a massive billboard looming over Westminster Avenue) that we'll take their word for it. 10195 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 537-5230; www.anhhong.com. $$

HANG A RI NOODLE HOUSE

The cult of gook soo at Hang A Ri Noodle House, a wood-paneled Korean restaurant in Garden Grove's Little Seoul district, might initially flummox your American palate—these buckwheat noodles are thin, slimy and pungent. But then you chopstick the noodles into your mouth—sluiced with chile, pared with fiery kimchi, supported by a fine complementary anchovy soup—and the frustrations of the evening vanish. 9916 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 537-0100. $

REGINA'S RESTAURANT

Argentina lives in this tiny strip of Garden Grove's Westminster Avenue, and the results are incredible: cheesy, fresh Argentine-style Italian pastas, gut-busting dishes of beef (the parillada has five different types alone) and more than 30 native Argentine wines. But the best part is gracious owner Elías Niquias, who will greet you by name the second time you visit. 11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-9595; www.reginaargentina.com. $$

HUNTINGTON BEACH

EAST COAST HOT DOGS

No tables inside—just counters and stools. No air conditioning—that's why there are two tables outside. There's a great Italian roast-beef sandwich, a multifolded pastrami, fries, onion rings and tater tots. But people line up five deep for the 11 hot dog varieties, ranging from Chicago to chili cheese to something called the Wow! Dog—a blackened kielbasa, sautéed onions and a smear of thick, gritty mustard worthy of its exclamatory name. 19092 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 378-0364. ¢

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 a Frisbee. 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. $$

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 are chewy, intensely meaty, the best offal in the county. 17552 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 847-7555. $

SMOKIN' MO'S

A 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. $

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. $$$

BRITTA'S CAFÉ

Britta's is a quaint, European-style café where servers offer you individual pieces of bread (baguette or pumpernickel?) and a savory rustic tart isn't some old queen sashaying through a gay Parisian bistro but an appetizer you'll completely enjoy. Cheese lovers will freak out over the calzone packed with goat cheese, buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto and tomatoes. 4237 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 509-1211; www.brittascafe.com. $$

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 half a chicken, not 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 you can eat it with a spoon. 14210 Culver Dr., Ste. H, Irvine, (949) 857-8265. $$

KOCHEE KABOB HOUSE

Kochee Kabob might lack decorative charm and a relaxed ambiance, but its grilled meat is, well, hard to beat—eight kinds of kebabs, each paired with flurries of long-grained, nutty basmati rice and a salad that can't quite measure up. Kochee Kabob's meats are flavorful enough without condiments, but there are two available: sour chile powder and a green hot sauce that's a fusion of a mint chutney and emerald Tapatío. 4143 Campus Dr., Ste. 195, Irvine, (949) 854-0206. $$

LA HABRA

CHICKEN BOX

A tiny room that always seems packed, Chicken Box fries up all the bird parts you'd expect with just enough grease to keep things tasty, as well as ribs, batter-fried fish and reasonably healthy stuff like salads. And you gotta love a place that sells boysenberry punch—a supertart, purple elixir probably mixed nowadays only in one other concern, Knott's Berry Farm, and then probably only as a tourist curio. 330 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (714) 525-1345. $

LA PALMA

A'ROMA RISTORANTE TRATTORIA

The restaurant has a modern décor in deep soothing colors, where the servers are attentive. Put yourself in the mood for the chicken-breast special, which is cooked to a golden tenderness and seasoned to a subtle richness. 30 Center Pointe Dr., Ste. 1, La Palma, (714) 523-3729. $

LAGUNA BEACH

The COTTAGE

What's the secret of this Laguna Beach restaurant's decades of success? Good food and lots of it; comfy chairs and friendly service; charming framed photographs of Laguna's original greeter; a full, sated belly every time you leave. 308 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-3023. $

EVA'S CARIBBEAN KITCHEN

Eva's occupies the same simple cottage 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. $$

GOKO CAFE & DELI

Goko is one of the last remnants of the old Laguna Beach, the Laguna Beach of longhairs, coastal conservancy and a holistic lifestyle. Granola isn't an epithet here—it's the breakfast special. Goko also advertises breakfast burritos, beet-heavy salads and about 20 veggie takes on the pita sandwich from a couple of pastel-colored chalkboard menus that loom over the heads of customers. Great, healthy smoothies! 907 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-4880. $

SAVOURY'S

Located in the La Casa del Camino Hotel in beautiful Laguna Beach, the restaurant is run by executive chef Brad Toles, captain of Team California in the International Culinary Olympics. He melds Asian and European cooking with a New Age flair. You can have your Brie and pad Thai here, and you'll like it. 1287 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-9716; www.savourys.com. $$$

LAGUNA HILLS

PALACE BAKERY

Palace Bakery is the county's second shop to specialize in Persian desserts, a sweet-tooth tradition similar to Arabic pastries in their sumptuousness but exhibiting bolder flavors. Palace's baklava is sweeter than what they hawk in Anaheim's Little Arabia—splashed with more rose water and honey, the phyllo dough tougher and rolled around a dense almond filling so it resembles a miniature cigar. And every boxed purchase comes with a cool golden sticker! 24751 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. D, Laguna Hills, (949) 768-6252. ¢

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

EL PARAÍSO

El Paraíso prepares sit-down platters: aromatic soups of chicken, beef or cow's foot with about four different squashes and potatoes; nicely grilled meats; and yucca sancochada, a golden, chewy version of the tuber doused with lemon. But no matter who's ordering what or working where, everyone who comes to El Paraíso forks through at least two chewy, sweet pupusas, the Salvadoran griddle cake that's the sole unifier of the fractious Central American nation. 25252 Jeronimo Rd., Ste. B, Lake Forest, (949) 770-2775. $

LONG BEACH

BABETTE'S FEAST

Babette's Feast is a boulangerie/patisserie par excellence, laying out a spread of delectable, mouth-watering delights that makes you thank heaven above for the gift of taste buds and these ungodly desserts. 4621 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 987-4536. $

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. $$

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 burned to nirvana, like a not-sweet Chinese sausage; a chicken thigh, good but perhaps too dry; and beef loin, best ever, rare but hot clear through. 5305 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Long Beach, (562) 597-0906; www.greenfieldchurrascaria.com. $$

LOS ALAMITOS

PITTSBURGH CHICKEN & TATERS

Most Americans know the Steel City for its bankrupt hockey teams and bruising football squads, but this storefront restaurant with its goofy hen mascot (circa early Peanuts) makes broasted chicken. Those gals are pressure-cooked with the same relentless intensity the Steelers defense applies on third-and-15, producing meat that's plump and moist inside a fine gnarled skin. 3671 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-0140. $

MISSION VIEJO

ALOHA 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

CAFE IL FARRO

Spelt is the ancient health-imparting grain on which half of Cafe il Farro's pastas and risottos are based, but if you prefer the kind of pasta that gives your blood-glucose level a boost, try the homemade heart-shaped ravioli. 111 21st St., Newport Beach, (949) 723-5711. $

CHARLIE'S CHILI

Perfect for kitschy late-night dining with booths covered in ancient nautical signs and models. The Wednesday-night all-you-can-eat chili special is ideal: steaming bowls filled with a thick, sumptuous chili drowning in diced onions and cheese. 102 McFadden Place, Newport Beach, (949) 675-7991. $

PESCADOU BISTRO

Despite its location—in a storefront across from Newport Beach City Hall—Pescadou manages to impart a south-of-France feel with vibrant colors and eclectic table settings. You'll find traditional French dishes—frog legs and coq au vin—as well as such bistro fare as rib-eye steak, bouillabaisse and a variety of fish dishes. 3325 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 675-6990; www.pescadoubistro.com. $$$

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. $$

ORANGE

EGG ROLLS, ETC.

Naming a restaurant Egg Rolls, Etc. implies the eatery specializes in various versions of Asia's preferred fried snack. This Orange establishment, however, creates but one kind—lumpia, the Filipino type that's bulky enough to wield for bruising purposes. The "Etc." portion of Egg Rolls' name is more accurate, referring to the turo-turo ("point-point") cafeteria tradition of Filipino cuisine to which the restaurant adheres. 1710 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 937-0800. ¢

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 kebabs, 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

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-frills 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

MOLLY BLOOM'S IRISH BAR AND RESTAURANT

The interior of Molly Bloom's has the standard Irish-pub features: low lighting, Guinness posters and bricks. Lots of bricks. Both bar and restaurant offer sizeable menus featuring traditional Irish dishes such as fish and chips, bangers, and beans and mash (a surprisingly tasty combination of sausages, baked beans and mashed potatoes). 2391 S. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 218-0120. $$

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

RENDEZVOUS

This restaurant is beauty manifested into 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

50 FORKS

50 Forks, the student-run restaurant of the Art Institute of California's Orange County campus, is the final test for the school's culinary-arts students before they can graduate with a bachelor's degree, the classroom where years of theory and strategies get flambéed and presented to salivating, discriminating eaters who grade by pats to the gut and big tips. It's also one hell of a restaurant, with great, inventive platters, and it's more than affordable—probably the only place in the county where you can dine like Newport Beach at Santa Ana prices. 3601 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 429-0918. $$

FERDUSSI TASTE OF PERSIA

This Persian palace, replete with pictures and paintings of ancient Persia, makes their lamb shank just as it should be: stewed for so long the meat falls off the bone when you so much as look at it. This goes very well with their morrasa polo—basmati rice with orange peels, raisins, almond slivers and barberries. As for appetizers, their kashk budemjon (eggplant and whey dip) is so deliciously gooey, topped with toasted garlic, onion and mint, you'll be tempted to lick the plate. 3605 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 545-9096; www.ferdussi.com. $$

EL GALLO GIRO

Leopaldo Gonzalez cranks tortas out in seven excruciating seconds, but they're worth the wait. The tortas are delicious and filling beyond description. The bread is warm, and the fresh meats are savory and perfectly complemented by the condiments. 1442 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 549-2011; www.gallogiro.com. ¢

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., Santa Ana, (714) 835-0394. ¢

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 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

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 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

BLACK SHEEP BISTRO

For the superlative paella, a couple of days' advance notice is needed, but for good reason. You won't find a more complex, beautifully presented or better-tasting dish in OC. The scrumptious leftovers made for the 10 people in our party weighed at least a pound each. 303 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 544-6060; www.blacksheepbistro.com. $$

HONDA-YA

The Tustin Japanese joint continues to be a county chowhound phenomenon more than a decade after its opening, one of the precious few Orange County restaurants with a daily past-midnight closing time and a 150-plus-item menu that necessitates hours-long pilgrimages just to dent it. Per the izaka-ya tradition, Honda-Ya is all about time and placement: different sections provoke a different feel and warrant a different menu at different hours. You'll find it all: noodles, sushi, yakitori and tiny bowl-meals sautéed with enough butter to make it pancake-spread worthy. 556 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-0081. $$

VILLA PARK

ROCKWELL'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

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. $

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. $$

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. $

VAN HANH VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT

Vietnamese 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 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

CALIFORNIA FISH GRILL

California Fish Grill is one of those middle-class mini-chains common to Orange County—fancier than Knowlwood's or Natraj but a step below Sage or the Daily Grill. The massive charbroiled fillets feature deep grill marks and shine thanks to a powerful garlic-butter coating. All should also order the grilled zucchini and its juicy, smoky innards. 5675 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 777-5710; 10569 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 252-0001; 3988 Barranca Pkwy., Ste. B, Irvine, (949) 654-3838; www.cafishgrill.com. $$

Claro's Italian Market

Claro'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. 101 W. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 690-2844; 1095 E. Main St., Tustin, (714) 832-3081. $

FLEMING'S PRIME STEAKHOUSE

Styled after traditional Eastern steakhouses, Fleming's offers an à la carte menu of appetizers, salads, side dishes, "red meat and white meat," and seafood. The steaks are cooked in a superheated gas flame to "seal in the juices," as the publicity goes. They are. A little salt is added to the cut before cooking. 455 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 720-9633; 1300 Dove St., Ste. 105, Newport Beach, (949) 222-2223. $$$

EL FORTÍN

In a country where each state has its unique version of the curry-like mole, Oaxaca is king, and El Fortín offers four stunning varieties of the royal family. I won't even bother describing the house mole, as my tongue cannot possibly articulate this creation—only eat. 700 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-4290; 10444 Dale Ave., Stanton, (714) 252-9120; www.restaurantelfortin.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. 2626 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 752-4976; 3601 Jamboree Rd., Ste. 4, Newport Beach, (949) 474-7300. $

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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