If you ever find yourself at a Chinese restaurant and an iceberg salad starts your meal and a fortune cookie ends it, you’re probably sitting in a dining subphylum best described as Chinese-American, the kind of place that predates the ubiquitous takeout chains with cute pandas as mascots. We’re talking kung pao chicken and sweet-and-sour everything. May Garden is a throwback to those times, with a dining room that looks more like a country home in Nantucket than Nanking. (EG) 1400 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-9229.

Jamillah Ma introduced Orange County to Chinese Muslim cuisine more than a decade ago, and she continues the craft at Ma’s Islamic Restaurant,a spacious lot just past the railroad tracks. Her pedigree doesn’t mean this place rests on its laurels, however. Far from it: Standards are higher than the distinctive dome outside. The scallion flatbread, as large and thick as deep-dish pizza, is legendary, while the orange chicken, characterized by just the right amount of sweetness, elicits “oohs” and “aahs” from those who have succumbed to it. And FYI: Muslims know lamb the way Vietnamese know pho.(LM) 601 E. Orangethorpe Ave., Anaheim, (714) 446-9553.

The bright, popular, child-friendly Tri-Village café showcases Chinese cuisine and northern dim sum, with the rest of the menu devoted to massively portioned dishes. Too many specialties to single out, although can’t-go-wrong choices include the pan-fried pot stickers: eight envelopes of charred, doughy casing filled with pork and vegetables. And if you’re undecided about what else to order, simply scan the room for something you like the look of and utter the magic words, “We’ll have what they’re having.” It worked for us! (LM) 14121 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 857-8833.

India - Southern
Dosa Place
Jonathan Ho
India - Southern Dosa Place
Italy - Pizza
Pizzeria Ortica
Jonathan Ho
Italy - Pizza Pizzeria Ortica

Location Info


Iva Lee's

555 N. El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672

Category: Restaurant > Cajun

Region: San Clemente


3630 Katella Ave.
Rossmoor, CA 90720

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Los Alamitos

Katella Deli

4470 Katella Ave.
Rossmoor, CA 90720

Category: Restaurant > Breakfast

Region: Los Alamitos

Anita's New Mexico Style Mexican Food

600 S. Harbor Blvd.
Fullerton, CA 92832

Category: Restaurant > Southwestern

Region: Fullerton

Plum's Café and Catering

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

Category: Restaurant > Breakfast

Region: Costa Mesa

Memphis Soul Cafe

2920 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Restaurant > Southern

Region: Costa Mesa

Philly's Best

26612 Towne Center Drive
Foothill Ranch, CA 92610

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Foothill Ranch

King Lobster Palace

2045 N. Tustin St.
Orange, CA 92865

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Orange

May Garden Restaurant

1400 Bristol St.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Category: Restaurant > Asian

Region: Costa Mesa

Tri Village

14121 Jeffrey Road
Irvine, CA 92620

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Irvine

Chong Qing Mei Wei Szechwan Restaurant

5406 Walnut Ave.
Irvine, CA 92604

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Irvine

Nice Time Deli

5408 Walnut Ave.
Irvine, CA 92614

Category: Restaurant > Chinese

Region: Irvine

If you desire a little spice in your Chinese food, it has to be Szechuan fare. The two outposts of Chong Qing Mei Wei specialize in the region’s hellish cuisine, bent on eroding your stomach lining—these places love chile oil like Italians love olive oil. Fistfuls of dried, gnarled red chiles over some dishes will make it look like a red party popper exploded, igniting an unquenchable fire in your mouth that continues to smolder in your gut. “Please aware of the spiciness for the spicy food,” the menu warns. Duh! (EG) 5406 Walnut Ave., Ste. C, Irvine, (949) 651-8886; 22371 El Toro Rd., Ste. A, Lake Forest, (949) 380-8869.

We fully support Taiwan’s autonomy, Chuck DeVore, but bear with us for the sake of this article, will ya? The island’s food can be as simple as rice topped with soy-sauce-cooked ground pork, as dastardly complex as the Taipei night-market specialty, stinky tofu. The latter is an infamous, fetid-smelling treat, which is probably best left to outdoor eating; yet they serve it at Nice Time Deli, indoors, at arguably the longest-running, most-consistent Taiwanese restaurant in OC. (EG) 5408 Walnut Ave., Ste. A, Irvine, (949) 654-8542.


*** INDIA ***

Rasthal Vegetarian Cuisine
is dedicated to the meat-free cuisine of southern India, as well as to how they eat: the thali, a kind of subcontinental TV-dinner tray with slots for whatever veggie stews the kitchen is turning out. Add unlimited roti, soft basmati rice or khichdi—rice with lentils—and top with chutneys and garnishes (beware the nuclear-powered pickled carrots!). The adjacent room is a Gujarati chaat shop, the Indian equivalent of a candy store, stocked with salted and spiced rice, lentils, beans, nuts, chiles and noodles. (LM) 2751-2755 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-3800.

Chinese food goes where the diaspora takes it, even in India. Don’t expect a dumbing down of flavors, though. The Indians go the other way with it. What you get in the fusion is doubly spicy and unforgiving in its heat. Annapoorna has a dish called chili chicken, as explosive as a Chinese firecracker and as sweat-inducing as a Mumbai summer. They even have Chinese-style fried rice, even though their own culture already has an indigenous one-pot rice dish called biryani. (EG) 14450 Culver Dr., Ste. A, Irvine, (949) 651-1144;

It’s worth a visit to Haveli for the luxurious interior (almost) as much as its food. The food is largely stuff you’ve seen, but done better. The spicing is spot-on—tandoori chicken literally sizzles, while curry redeems the dish from the dozens of bad buffets in the county. Combine with a garlic naan, and no Twilight fan will talk to you again. (LM) 13882 Newport Ave., Ste. G, Tustin, (714) 669-1011;

Dosa Place
is one of the precious few Southern California restaurants specializing in the cuisine of Andhra Pradesh, a state renowned for scorching tamarind-based platters and, of course, dosas—a pancake-cum-crepe-cum-waffle cone with a savory center. Its behemoth size needs an outstretched arm to describe. Often rolled to bazooka-long cylinders, its wingspan is meant to elicit awe, shooting past the width of its plate by at least a foot. (EG) 13812 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 505-7777;


*** ITALY ***

The lengthy menu of Italian-American creations at Cucina Alessá, boosted by daily specials, makes it virtually impossible to choose, but we’ve never been disappointed by anything, from pasta to salads to meat and fish. Try the standout conchiglie gamberi e asparagi, a classic pairing of shrimp with asparagus, enriched by a lobster cream sauce, or the superlative rib-eye. Heck, even the much-maligned Brussels sprout—prepared here in classic Italian fashion, with garlic, pancetta, sage and butter—is a must-order. (LM) 6700 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 645-2148; 520 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 969-2148;

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