By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Best Non-Chain Chai
Tandoor Cuisine of India
1132 E. Katella Ave., Orange
Forget the watered-down Starbucks bastardizations of chai. Or the powdered Trader Joe's, for that matter. If you're going to do chai tea, do it good and proper. Tandoor Cuisine of India has the right idea with their masala chai, or "spiced tea," boiled to perfection with milk, water and spices. The warm concoction is slightly bitter on its own, but a little sugar solves the problem. This is not for the lactose intolerant, but it's definitely worth half a dozen trips to the throne.
Best Snacks That Look Like Your Grandmother
BeBe Kho Bo Snacks & Candies
Asian Gardens Mall
9200 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 146, Westminster
Isn't it ironic how the folks who eat prunes the most tend to look just a little bit like them? Perhaps it's for that reason that some stores have taken to calling the withered snacks "dried plums." Whether you're a youngster who actually enjoys such things, or an oldster desperate for some variety in the regularity-inducing sweetmeats, BeBe Kho Bo is a godsend. Tired of that musty plum flavor? Try coffee-flavored dried plums. Or milk-flavored. Sweet and sour, even! And, of course, the Mexican favorite, salted.
14081 Newport Ave., Tustin
This place serves a variety of French-influenced Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches and noodle specialties, but it makes our list because here's where you can find the freshest, biggest, saltiest and Frenchiest baguettes in Orange County. A large loaf will put you back just $1.75. Just make sure you eat that bread—or stick it in an airtight breadbox—the same day. Unlike the crap you buy at an American supermarket, it goes hard overnight.
Crepes del Mar at Felix Continental Café
36 Plaza Square, Orange
This Orange Circle staple serves up a delicately chewy confection stuffed with crabmeat and drowning in a slightly spicy Cajun broth that's crave-inducing. (The broth also adds zing to the dish's accompanying Spanish rice.)
Food Court at Asian Garden Mall
9200 Bolsa Ave., Westminster
Orange County isn't immune to the frozen-yogurt craze sparked by LA's Pinkberry. And this is even before Pinkberry has had a chance to open a single outlet here. With lines akin to geeky movie premieres, Yogurtland is fast becoming Orange County's own fro-yo phenom. There is the original store in Fullerton, but the action is centered on the new Irvine location—a space so Sanrio cute it'll make your teeth rot even before you eat. Yogurts and toppings are self-dispensed and priced by weight. In this veritable dessert buffet, 16 yogurt flavors, fresh-fruit toppings and even cereal are available. Never mind that the dessert is nonfat and has less than 30 calories per ounce—it's just plain fun to create your own masterpieces.
Best French Fries
2991 Michelson Dr., Irvine
Fries these addictive should not just belong in a restaurant like Houston's. They should be sold on every street corner and for pennies, not as a side to a piece of steak that will cost significantly more. But we suppose it just provides an excuse to eat the steak. Houston's fries are of the shoestring variety; as thin as matchsticks, as crisp as chips, and so tasty they must have been fried in something unholy.
Readers' Choice: Slidebar Cafe
Best Chicken Wings
3030 Harbor Blvd., Ste. H-3, Costa Mesa
26711 Aliso Creek Rd., Aliso Viejo
You can't really compete with the West Coast's first restaurant to specialize in chicken wings, one that offers 30 different sauces ranging from roasted garlic parmesan to honey mango habanero. Of course, if the only flavor you want on your wings is "hot," they can do that too—the Double Dog Dare sauce is recommended only for masochists, though for the rest of us, it's fun to mix a little of it in with one of the other flavors. Charred whiskey barbecue is a standout, and can also be had on ribs. And if you order 100 wings, they're only 50 cents each, which helps when racking up points in the restaurant's Pile High Club. We recommend getting extra sauces on the side—even if the wings can't soak 'em all up, the potato chips they come with will. There's other tasty-sounding stuff on the menu ("far-east nachos" on wonton strips sound crispy-good), but it's so easy to stuff yourself with wings, you may never get around to anything else.
3544 E. Chapman Ave., Orange
Someday we'll get burned out on pizza, we're sure. It will probably be on the same day we get tired of fresh ingredients; a thin, smoky crust; a sense of authenticity; and thick, stretchy cheese that bends from here to the shores of the Mediterranean. On that day, we will stop going to Pascale's, home of Orange County's finest pizza. Just thinking about it is distracting enough to pizza pizza pizza—we mean forget about whatever it is that we're pizza. Not only are Pascale's pizzas tasty, but they're also beautiful. Pascale's is really an all-around quality Italian restaurant, and the visual aspect of their delicious menu has obviously been taken into consideration. Oh, and the $6.75 pitchers of domestic beer don't hurt, either. So bring pizza the whole pizza, pizza.