The Chuck Wagon

Steakhouses, mess halls, eateries, barbecues, fine-dining establishments, & gratuitous & thematically inconsistent Tolkien references

Best Two-Hour Wait for Food
3033 Bristol St., Costa Mesa
(714) 979-6700
Japanese barbecue places can be tricky. One wrong move, and you end up at a bland, touristy teppanyaki like Benihana, where semi-impressive food tossing is abundant, but taste isn't. A general rule of thumb: Head where the crowds are. And Anjin has crowds. The wait can be almost unbearably, dissuadingly long—as long as two hours on the weekends. The trick is to get your name on the list a good hour before you anticipate hunger pangs. Anjin's polite wait staff is forgiving; they'll take down your cell number so you can wander Bristol's shopping centers until your table's ready. Unlike Benihana, Anjin is a yakiniku restaurant, meaning you cook your own plates of thinly sliced meat on a grill placed in the center of your table. But with a variety of fragrantly flavored meats marbled with just the right amount of fat, seafood (scallops, shrimp, salmon), and a nice variety of dipping sauces, you won't mind the DIY factor of it all. In fact, it can actually be fun. (And for vegetarians, Anjin offers an admirable-sized array of delicious rice dishes, as long as you don't mind the background aroma of burning flesh.)

Best Chinese Restaurant
369 Shanghai Place
613 N. Euclid St., Anaheim
(714) 635-8369
For a couple of reasons: First, the name. Maybe it signifies something in Chinese (mystic, no doubt, in accordance with the ways of Celestials), but we like it for its faithfulness to multiples of three. We also enjoy its unassuming location in a shopping plaza, which tricks you into believing it's just another Chinese restaurant and not one that specializes in Shanghainese cuisine. Most important, the food is cheap, diverse (everything from fish-head casserole to crispy-fried rice) and delicious. Whenever you go, order the Chinese fried bread, with a decadent taste that makes Krispy Kreme seem like lettuce.

Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.

Readers' Choice: Ho Sum Bistro

Best Vietnamese Restaurant
9892 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove
(714) 530-1744
To pick one restaurant out of the hundreds lining the streets of Little Saigon is tricky. For one thing, with Vietnamese cuisine, there are subgenres. But we like Brodard because it's got a little of everything. Fried yams served with mountains of herbs. Plates of rice with grilled meats. Noodles swimming in soup or stir-fried with crab meat. But no trip is complete without their famous nem nuong rolls. Pork or shrimp, chopped lettuce, and a crunchy eggroll skin is wrapped in rice paper and served with a secret dipping sauce that has beguiled all who've tried to replicate it.

Readers' Choice: Pho 99

Best Thai Restaurant
Thai Nakorn
11951 Beach Blvd., Stanton
(714) 799-2031
Without so much as a plane ticket, you can eat Thai food at its most authentic, here in Orange County. The place: Thai Nakorn. Sure, there are plenty of other Thai restaurants to choose from, but none has a fan base so devoted that one patron actually offered to pay for a new restaurant when the first burned to the ground. Now resurrected in Stanton and serving scorching plates laced with Thai bird chiles like no time had passed, Thai Nakorn continues to wow. The best of the lot exists on a section labeled "Specials," where the funky, sweet, salty, hot and sour flavors of Issan cooking cut a path through your taste buds and leave you begging for mercy one moment, for more the next. The mango salad with crispy catfish, for instance, will burn a hole through your mouth and set your head ablaze, but you won't want to stop eating. Innocent shreds of the tart, tropical fruit meld with onions, chiles and crunchy crumbles of catfish the size of Grape-Nuts, making for a refreshingly bright, but unimaginably spicy ordeal for your palate. Now you know what that tall glass of iced Thai tea is for.

Best Filipino Restaurant
10964 Warner Ave., Fountain Valley
(714) 593-6212
Orange County lacks the great Filipino joints our neighbors in Artesia and Cerritos take for granted. So where to go to satisfy your adobo addiction and other Pinoy pinings? Kapamilya in Fountain Valley, where the turo-turo is tasty-tasty and eight different almusals (the Filipino answer to the all-American breakfast) are served throughout the day, complete with a fresh tomato, a fried egg and enough rice to sop up its runny yolk. The longanisa, the porkiest of pork sausages, pops with sweet fat. Their tapa has lots of sugar and love, and their corned beef is salty, sloppy and wet—precisely how a Filipino mom would make it.

Best Indian Restaurant
Dosa Place
13812 Red Hill Ave., Tustin
(714) 505-7777
Dosa Place has made our Best of OC list for the past couple of years, and with good reason. It remains the county's sole restaurant to specialize in dosas: cheap, crepe-like leviathans accompanied by a spicy soup and made 17 different ways—stuffed with potatoes, melted with Cheddar cheese, crammed with ground curried goat meat, or plated hollow, in a presentation that looks like a bazooka. Don't like dosas? No matter—they also stock a traditional South Indian buffet and specialize in the tamarind-friendly dishes of Andhra Pradesh.

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