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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!

Location Info

Map

Merhaba Restaurant

2801 W. Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92804

Category: Restaurant > African

Region: Anaheim

Mr. Stox Restaurant

1105 E. Katella Ave.
Anaheim, CA 92805

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Anaheim

Napa Rose

1600 S. Disneyland Drive
Anaheim, CA 92802

Category: Restaurant > California

Region: Anaheim

TAPS Fish House & Brewery

101 E. Imperial Highway
Brea, CA 92821

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Brea

Filipino Express

4544 Beach Blvd.
Buena Park, CA 90621-1133

Category: Restaurant > Filipino

Region: Buena Park

POFOLKS

7701 Beach Blvd.
Buena Park, CA 90621

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Buena Park

Gallo's Italian Deli

3900 E. Coast Highway
Corona Del Mar, CA 92625

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Corona Del Mar

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ANAHEIM

MERHABA RESTAURANT

If you're non-African, the 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. $

MR. STOX

The Nation's Restaurant News enshrined Mr. Stox into its Fine Dining Hall of Fame. But the venerable spot—one of the county's first serious haute-cuisine emporiums—is so much more than scintillating steaks, poached salmon, and a duck sauced with a sweet, luring glaze. Where else can you spend a couple of hundred for Mom's birthday dinner and get a complimentary photo? Awww . . . 1105 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 634-2994; www.mrstox.com . $$$

NAPA ROSE

There's a soup called Seven Sins of the Sea, with all these different seafoods, and if you dine on it with champagne, it makes you forget that Napa Rose is located in Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, rather than being a seaside French bistro. Duck and venison is fine, but the sautéed scallops with lobster sauce rules. Wine list is fine, too. 1600 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 635-2300. $$$

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 . $$

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

FILIPINO EXPRESS

This tiny joint has restored the art of fast food to its original intention: serving grub as quickly and as tasty as possible. Choose from more than 20 different entrées such as adobo and lechon, but all are so delicious it's really a matter of deciding which one you want spilling over the plastic plate it's served on. 4544 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 739-4479. ¢

POFOLKS

PoFolks is a rustically eccentric restaurant—tin and wooden agricultural-company signs on the walls, a working train that chugs the perimeter—specializing in Norms-style home cooking with a Southern bent, the kind of place where fried chicken livers with red beans and rice is a daily special, and peach cobbler isn't some ironic/iconic treat but rather what's for dessert. 7701 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 521-8955. $$

CORONA DEL MAR

GALLO'S ITALIAN DELI

The thirtysomething-year-old deli is little more than counters, chips and sodas—which is to say, it's the perfect beach-shack restaurant, even if it's on PCH. Request the Gallo's combo; the server will no doubt reply (as he once did to me), "Are you sure about that?" When he grabs sausages and begins hacking off massive slices, you'll understand his skepticism—the sandwich is bigger than most house cats. 3900 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 675-7404. $

GEN KAI

Many sushi bars don't stock hokegai, a generously two-toned Japanese clam with a mild flavor. It's a mark of quality that Gen Kai occasionally has it on hand, and their fish servings are out-of-the-net fresh! 3344 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 675-0771. $$

COSTA MESA

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, mosaic 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 serves 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 . $$

KARL STRAUSS BREWERY

You can excuse most patrons of this Costa Mesa restaurant if all they concentrate on is being hammered heavenly. After all, the Karl Strauss brewing process is so refined it could probably make a fine lager out of Santa Ana River water. But to obsess over their brews does disservice to their smoky steaks, surprisingly tasteful salads and magnificent hoagies. 901-A South Coast Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 546-BREW; www.karlstrauss.com . $$

CYPRESS

DALTON'S

"Family-style" before the phrase meant "Norms," Dalton's has gabby servers with odd hairstyles, a mostly older clientele, hearty extra-large egg breakfasts served all day, and a menu dominated by meat and fried stuff. 9575 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 229-8101. $

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

GEMMELL'S

The appetizers are memorable—a feuillette, puff pastry with shrimp in the middle, placed in an herb-butter sauce with shallots and parsley; and a mousse of duck liver surrounded by minced aspic and sprinkled with cognac—but even better are the main courses: buttery Dover sole, New York steak bathed in a creamy beige sauce of brandy and peppercorns, smooth French onion soup. Salivating yet? 34471 Golden Lantern St., Dana Point, (949) 234-0063; www.gemmellsrestaurant.com . $$$

Harbor House Café

Besides Denny's, this is basically the only 24-hour joint in the area, and thus a popular hangout for high school kids. After the one in San Clemente closed something like a decade ago, this became the hangout for San Clemente High School students, too. As far as eats go, it's known for its wide omelet selection and thick shakes. 34157 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 496-9270. $

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

EBISU JAPANESE NOODLE RESTAURANT

This restaurant is a sleek ramen mecca that serves miso ramen, a curative soybean-flavored elixir, poured over a tangled cake of supple noodles rife with bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, hard-boiled-egg halves and scallions. 18930 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 964-5993; www.ebisuramen.com . $

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

El Camino Real

For the best Mexican food in Fullerton for lunch, call ahead of time. The lunch lines are usually so long they are reminiscent of the toilet-paper lines in the good ol' Soviet Union. Vegetarians can rejoice in the potato taquitos! 303 N. Euclid St., Fullerton, (714) 447-3962. ¢

CHICAGO HARV'S

Most every county hot-dog cart advertises Chicago dogs, but Harv's is among the few places that does it better than the South Side. They ship in bulky Vienna sausages directly from the Windy City, stuff 'em into a poppy-speckled bun next to dill-pickle slivers, and squirt the mess with stinky-but-super quarts of relish and mustard that'll leave lips a yellow-green color as vibrant as a 1970s Notre Dame football uniform. 410 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-0491. ¢

GENGHIS KHAN MONGOLIAN BBQ

Genghis Khan's stir-frying of various frozen meat shavings transforms the Mongolian barbecue into a time machine: The brusque force of the Mongol Empire rampages anew across taste buds, meat and vegetables. There are other choices besides the Mongolian barbecue, but the restaurant offers it as an all-you-can-eat option for a reason. 333 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 870-6930. ¢

GARDEN GROVE

LIGHT TOWN HOUSE

Korean barbecue rules here—pork belly, beef, eel, what-have-you. But don't overlook the mushroom tofu stew—not that spicy, but containing enough chile to make you sweat and all the mushrooms you could want. 8902 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 638-5757. $$

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's 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. $$

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 . $$

BUKHARA

Bukhara—Indian for "strip mall"— is situated in, of all things, a Huntington Beach strip mall. It's an intimate and superb representation of its genre, featuring healthy food, an extensive menu and, most important, many vegetarian choices. The assault on one's taste buds is breathtaking from start to finish. 7594 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 842-3171. $$

THE CHICKEN CO.

If it wasn't copyrighted, we would tell you they do chicken right. So we'll just say they do chicken correctly. They turn lowly poultry into buttery works of art. Forget chicken soup: This is what your soul is craving. 9017 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-0500. $

IRVINE

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 instead of chicken strips. And instead of mixing it into the shirin polo, the Darband cooks bring out the bird simmering in a bowl of chicken broth. The result was a chicken so succulent and tender, 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 rib is the 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 barbecue, 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. ¢

IMPERIAL BURGERS

Imperial Burgers serves many more things besides its Cheddar cheese-heavy pastrami burritos—its namesake, for instance, a charbroiled marriage of meat, soft bun, sweet cheese, girth and lettuce. Or standard breakfasts of pancakes, hash browns and sausage. And always sip on ultra-sweet Orange Bang whenever you find this increasingly rare beverage. Everything is good here, really. But La Habra is so far away, and the pastrami burrito is so good—why would you ever order anything else? 241 E. Imperial Hwy., La Habra, (714) 525-1611. $

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. $

PAESANO'S

You probably slap together half of Paesano's menu at least once a week for dinner: sauce-drenched entrées such as mostaccioli, spaghetti and lasagna that aren't so much Old World as they are Hoboken. So why bother visiting this 26-year-old eatery? Meatballs that are lacy, herbed and delish. And good subs. 5440 Orangethorpe Ave., La Palma, (714) 521-4748. $

LAGUNA BEACH

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. $

MOZAMBIQUE

It advertises itself as a South African restaurant, but Mozambique best excels in its preparation of meat—pork chops, steaks, seafood and the great Durban curry, a dusky lamb dish that will warm you up wherever you may be. 1740 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 715-7100; www.mozambiqueoc.com . $$

THE LITTLE LAGUNAS

ONAMI 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. $$

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 . $

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. $

MANILA FOOD MART

Every Filipino joint offers the same meals; Manila Food Mart differentiates itself by hawking various products, from such Filipino garb 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. 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 and 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. $$

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. $$

LOS ALAMITOS

KATELLA DELI

The place has a voluminous menu that spans matzo to mud pie, spinach salad to skyscraper sandwiches, knish to kippers—not to mention a full bakery that houses fresh rolls and bagels. Their Denver omelet is terrific. 4470 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-8611. ¢

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. $

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

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. $$

PASCAL EPICERIE

If you have a really bad day and need a treat, go to Pascal's Epicerie for lunch. Located in a strip mall in Newport Beach, this delicatessen serves simple food with French flair. Try the Niçoise salad with poached tuna, black olives, red potatoes, green beans, tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs and butter lettuce. 1000 Bristol St., Newport Beach, (949) 261-9041. $

ORANGE

Mattern Deli

No one said sausage was health food, but if you're in the mood to down a few cold ones by the barbecue, oust the Ball Park Franks and take home a trio of Mattern's premises-made links to sample. 4327 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 639-3550. $

OMEGA DRIVE-IN

The "Last Word in Fine Food" is cheap, cheap, cheap. Full breakfast—eggs, pancakes and bacon—for $2.19. Burger specials with fries and drink for $3.45. Steak dinner for $4.10. If cholesterol don't scare you, see you there. Scary food item: The pastrami burrito unearths bad memories of Oki dog. Sadly, no Charlton Heston sightings. 319 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 532-2022. ¢

PAPA HASSAN'S CAFÉ

Near Chapman University, this is easily one of OC's best Lebanese places. The lamb shawerma pita is an ungodly delicious bargain at $4.50. The almost-as-good falafel pita is $3.50. 421 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 633-3903. $

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. $

Q TORTAS

Q'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

LA GALETTE CRÊPERIE

There are 17 crepes available in this beautiful little shop just a jog away from the Pacific. Try the Kansas City chicken crepe, beckoning with the promise of heartland-meets-Left Bank fusion: roasted chicken and caramelized onions tinctured with a maple barbecue sauce and sprinkled with Jack cheese. And the PPV crepe has whole slices of candied pears marked with thick, sugary mascarpone and a dollop of whipped cream on the side, all topped by a spray of vanilla sauce. 612 Ave. Victoria, Ste. E, San Clemente, (949) 498-5335. $

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

CAFÉ MOZART

Café Mozart brews an impressive array of beers, all of which ease its German-Austrian menu down one's gullet. Bavarian bread dumplings—made of three different kinds of bread and flecked with bacon—come two per order, sit in a brown pool of wild mushrooms, and exhibit the same luscious levity of Eine Kleine Nachtmusik. 31952 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-0212; www.cafemozart.net . $$$

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

Colima

Where else can you dine on tender barbecued goat in a smoky sauce and swaddled in steaming tortillas made on the premises? The only thing I like better is the house specialty: a mild whitefish filet stuffed with shrimp, mushrooms and mixed vegetables. 130 N. Fairview, Santa Ana, (714) 836-1254. $

EL CURTIDO

The casamiento is a vegetarian's delight, combining black beans and rice with eggs, avocado and cream, plus a piece of really salty cotija cheese on the side. We suggest you chase that down with a big cup of Salvadorian horchata. 300 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 973-0554. $

FAVORI

The French-Vietnamese hybrid has inexpensive French dishes of the kind that have all but evaporated from our cholesterol-obsessed culture. The Fruit de Mer au Gratin features sweet clams and pungent mussels (both still in their shells), smoky shrimp, bits of fish, and strands of faux crabmeat baked in a terrine of cream sauce rich with butter. As good as it is, everything pales besides Favori's beautiful, huge catfish. 3502 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 531-6838. $$

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. $

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 brings back the times 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 . $$

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 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. $$

Harbor House Café

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 . $$

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 omelet. 13812 Redhill Ave., Tustin, (714) 505-7777; www.dosaplace.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. $$

INDIA SWEETS AND SPICES

It's a sweet shop and a produce vendor, a place to rent videos, buy Urdu-edition newspapers and get a home-style meal in a pop-culture mini-bazaar that caters to your taste for Indian soul food. 14441 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-2910. $

VILLA PARK

China Panda

With close to 200 menu items, I'd lean toward the three-ingredient taste, an ESL-named chicken, beef and shrimp combo in a brown broccoli sauce. Or the honey shrimp with walnuts; the salty, sweet shrimp go perfectly with a cold Tsingtao beer. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Ste. 102, Villa Park, (714) 998-4592. $

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. $

Kim SU SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

A funky little place to eat lunch—traditional Chinese, great dim sum, but we usually go for lunch specials such as sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef, and kung pao chicken. Weeklings like this place not only because you can mix and share food so easily, but also because we're cheap bastards. 10530 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 554-6261. $

LAZY DOG CAFÉ

The menu is either eclectic or scattershot, depending on your point of view, with everything from pizza to kung pao. But there's no denying each entrée's inherent tastiness. The Shanghai tacos? Quite the treat, coming in the form of a large bowl filled with chicken ground to the consistency of hamburger, stir-fried with water chestnuts and shredded carrots, and accompanied by a plate of iceberg-lettuce leaves. 16310 Beach Blvd., Westminster, (714) 500-1140; www.thelazydogcafe.com . $$

La Cay

Mì rice noodles are actually Chinese, but many Vietnamese places have incorporated them into the menu. Funny how 1,000 years of colonization can do that. Mì La Cay is continuously one of the most popular restaurants in the genre of mi cookery. Bring your appetite, and order a heaping bowl of mì la cay dac biet (the house special). 8924 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 891-8775. $

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. $$

YORBA LINDA

FITNESS PIZZA & GRILL

Their oval-shaped thin-crust pizzas have deceptively healthy names like Triathlete, Iron Man and Gymnast (it is pizza, after all, but they claim they're all very low in fat). Either way, they taste good. 18246 Imperial Hwy., Yorba Linda, (714) 993-5421; www.fitnessgrill.com . $

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

BIRRIERIA Y PUPUSERIA JALISCO

Whether you order Mexican or Salvadoran food at Birriería y Pupusería Jalisco, make sure to mix and match condiments, if only in the name of Latino solidarity. Add curtido (the Salvadoran slaw that accompanies pupusas) to Birriería's bottle-sized burritos, and enjoy the contrast between the garlicky, pickled curtido and the unspiced beans-rice-and-meat simplicity of the burrito. Spread the chilled, citrus-tinged house salsa on the pupusas to tweak the hearty appetizer. 1212 S. Bristol Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 662-7400; 404 N. Grand Ave., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 836-4409; 2525 N. Grand Ave., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 288-8931; 6999 E. Cerritos Ave., Stanton, (714) 826-3382; 17292 W. McFadden, Ste. D, Tustin, (714) 573-1586. $

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 . $$

Chris & Pitts

Low prices and macro-brew vibe bring the teeming masses, who scarf on outrageously meaty beef and pork short ribs slathered in industrial-strength barbecue sauce. If you notice how much Chris & Pitts is like the Claim Jumper, don't be surprised—Mr. Jumper got the idea for his chain while growing up and eating here. 601 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 635-2601; 15975 Harbor Blvd., Fountain Valley, (714) 775-7311. $

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. $

The Crab Cooker

This is an institution to which you can take your out-of-town relatives. There, you can sample moderately priced seafood cooked on skewers in cramped booths next to goofy fishing-themed artwork. But first, you have to stand outside and wait for your table because this is a first-come-first-served place. 2200 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-0100; 17260 17th St., Tustin, (714) 573-1077. $

THE DAILY GRILL

This is where you can learn to love the Cobb salad, an orchestrated event of chicken, tomatoes, avocado, bacon, blue cheese, scallions, hard-boiled egg, and romaine and iceberg lettuces mixed in a creamy Italian dressing. Also American comfort food—don't miss the meatloaf—prepared at its highest level. 2636 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 474-2223; 957 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 644-2223; www.dailygrill.com . $$

EL CARBONERO

Owner María de Jesús Ramírez ensures that El Carbonero Nos. 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 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. 9516 W. Katella Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 527-4542; 803 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 542-6653. $

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 . $

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. $$$

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. $

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