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*** ITALY ***

LITTLE 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; www.cucinaalessa.com.

Japan - Ramen
Santoka
Edwin Goei
Japan - Ramen Santoka
Middle Eastern - Afghanistan
Gyro N Kabob
Keith May
Middle Eastern - Afghanistan Gyro N Kabob

Location Info

Map

Iva Lee's

555 N. El Camino Real
San Clemente, CA 92672

Category: Restaurant > Cajun

Region: San Clemente

Mustard's

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

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PIZZA
David Myers’ and Steve Samson’s Pizzeria Ortica has only been open since January, but in that short time, it has already built up a loyal following. And for good reason: The food is seriously bueno. With sweet-salty singed crusts and quality toppings, these high-end pies will make devotees of American styles (deep-dish, thin-crust) yearn for the motherland. The best: salame piccante e funghi (proper, spicy salami offset by silky mixed mushrooms and creamy mozzarella), but the faultless menu also encompasses tagliatelle Bolognese, affogato and other dishes. (LM) 650 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 445-4900; www.pizzeriaortica.com.

 

SOUTHERN
Massimo Navarretta was raised on a farm in Calabria, Italy’s southernmost province, a wine-producing region known to the ancient Greek colonists as Oenotria, or “land of wine.” No wonder his food at Onotria matches so well with vino. Ever-tender osso bucco as soft as pudding. Wild-boar pasta folded into origami shapes. Eggplant bruschetta layered with salty goat cheese. All made with either local seasonal produce or what grows in the restaurant’s garden. A restaurant that grows its own food in OC? Well, that’s how it’s done in Italy. Capice? (EG) 2831 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 641-5952; www.onotria.com.

 

SUBS
At DeSimone’s, Cuban sandwiches get pressed to the tight compactness of a checkbook, guaranteed to appease Tony Montana. But their Italian sandwich you can’t refuse. Cue the Godfather theme because the Deluxe is a Brando-sized feast. Dry salami, ham, mortadella, cotto salami, capacolla and provolone—all the Italian money meats stacked lovingly on good bread. You know what to do with the cannoli. (EG) 6850 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 847-0922.

VENETIAN
Among the many Italian cuisines, Venetian is often shamefully overlooked. So we must give thanks to Canaletto, a cavernous Fashion Island hotspot, for bringing it to the forefront. Not surprisingly, fresh fish is a big feature: Don’t miss the polipo con patate appetizer, a warm octopus-and-potato salad that’s lively on the tongue, or the show-stopper of an entrée, branzino al sale, a whole Mediterranean sea bass baked under a salt crust and served tableside with a flourish. Just try not to make off with the dessert cart, on which more regional treasures flourish. (LM) 545 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-0900; www.ilfornaio.com.

 

  

*** JAPAN ***

IZAKAYA
Honda-Ya
’s traditional-style izakaya (pub/restaurant) serves tapas-sized portions, which, combined with the late-night hours, make it a much-loved spot for postbar grazing. If your butt can stand it, head for the tatami room and be prepared to launch headlong into all manner of deep-fried, simmered, grilled and steamed fare. The yakitori dishes are dependable (although it’s easy to lose track of how many you’ve ordered), but our favorite is undoubtedly the quail eggs, subtly sweet with a hint of carbon imbued by the binchotan grill. (LM) 556 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-0081.

 

LITTLE TOKYO BY WAY OF SANTA ANA
Teriyaki with horchata and Tapatío at Mos II. ’Nuff said. (GA) 1008 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 772-8543; 117 S. Western Ave., Anaheim, (714) 761-5283; 221 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 835-8288; 1933 W. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-5997.

 

KAISEKI
If you think most Japanese chefs are dead serious about their craft, you haven’t met the chef at Kappo Hana, who is doubly so. Why? He’s the only chef in OC we know who has the balls and the mad skills to serve kaiseki, the highest form of cooking in a cuisine already steeped in tradition. The meal features a laundry list of methods and ingredients, all in a multicourse, seasonal-menu popular centuries before seasonal menus became popular. (EG) 25260 La Paz Rd., Ste. A, Laguna Hills, (949) 770-7746; www.kappohana.com.

 

NOUVEAU JAPANESE
There are restaurants like Cafe Hiro in Japan, establishments mixing Western flavors with Japanese ones. They are as adored there as Cafe Hiro is here. You can have rice or risotto as starch, demi glaze or ponzu as sauce. The sea urchin roe mingles with the spaghetti, and the panna cotta vies for your attention along with a green-tea blanc manger. Cafe Hiro is a model for society at large, where flavors intermarry and ingredients add up to more than the sum of their parts in a sing-song, “We Are the World” harmony. (EG) 10509 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 527-6090; www.cafehiro.com.

 

RAMEN
The intersection of Paularino and Bristol streets in Costa Mesa is the octagon of OC’s ramen wars, with no fewer than six places hawking Japan’s favorite noodle soup, each focusing on a regional version. Nevertheless, the undisputed king is Santoka; its Hokkaido-style preparation means an insulating layer of melted fat in the broth that keeps the milky-rich, pork-bone broth at the proper temperature: obscenely hot. (EG) 665 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-6699.

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