Illustration by Bob AulThe meal is grand, delicious . . . but something's missing, that certain yo no sé quéthat catapults a dish toward the gastronomical stratosphere. Such a culinary conundrum arises in cultures worldwide, and nearly all respond with the addition of a condiment unique to their taste buds, ketchup be damned. The following five county dives are apt examples of the wonders humanity creates when its palate isn't quite sated. And yes: all the condiments on this list are gratis.
•ASHOKA, CUISINE OF INDIA, 18041 Magnolia St., Fountain Valley, (714) 593-2968; www. ashokacuisineofindia.com.Remember that episode in The Simpsons when Apu moves in with Homer and family and churns up for his hosts a chutney so hellish that, tasting it, Lisa gasps, "I can see through time!"? Ashoka's onion chutney is hotter still, so furious it could rip through to the fourth dimension.
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•Rosine's Mediterranean Rotisserie & GrilL, 721 S. Weir Canyon Rd., Anaheim Hills, (714) 283-5141. The failing of most Lebanese-Armenian rotisseries is a subpar garlic sauce, but Rosine's creamy, grainy concoction is tremendous. It accompanies the eatery's long-roasted chicken and announces itself on the breath of consumers for weeks afterwards. •REGINA'S RESTAURANT, 11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-9595.Chimmichurri's emerald texture makes it appear like the South American cousin of relish. But Buenos Aires' favorite garnish possesses an incipient fire within its watery essence that seeps perfectly into Argentina's many meat dishes. Regina's owner, Elías Niquias, grinds his chimmichurri daily and ruthlessly adds garlic cloves to cleanse your soul. •Wingnuts, 3030 Harbor Blvd., Ste. H-3, Costa Mesa, (714) 434-7700. In a tavern of infinite, infernal barbecue sauces, it is the "ouch" variety that is most obscene. A bite into a chicken wing slathered with the stuff reveals the sort of fire being stoked in hell right this moment for our president. •EL CAMINO REAL, 303 N. Euclid Ave., (714) 447-3962. The Fullerton fajita fave of Kobe Bryant—there's a picture to prove it—makes three salsas fresh almost hourly, since consumers usually sink into them with the fevered thirst of hard-driven camels. The red is nice and sweaty, the pico de gallo fine, but it is El Camino Real's green lava—sour with avocado nuances—that should anoint all meals.