It may be Orange County, and that may mean a majority of places shut down after 9 p.m., but there are a few late-night eateries out there to serve you night owls--and no, you don't always have to resort to Harbor House, Norms or Denny's. After the jump: Our favorite spots that stay open to or past 1 a.m.
1. BCD Tofu House: Irvine and Garden Grove
Sundubu, a hot and spicy soft tofu Korean stew served with rice, makes for the best kind of late-night/pre-hangover snack when you're not craving grease. Typically, sundubu is made with tofu, along with a variety of add-ins you choose at your discretion: shrimp, clams, veggies, meat, and you get to customize the level of spiciness of the stew. The sundubu is served along side a slew of all-you-can-eat side dishes called banchan, which range from kongnamul (cold bean sprouts tossed with sesame oil), kimchi, saengseon jjim (steamed fish), miyeok muchim (sweet seaweed), potato salad and more. If you're not feeling the tofu, BCD's popular beef and pork bulgogi (marinated barbecued meat!) dishes are also favorites. The best part? Most BCD Tofu House locations are open 24-hours, including both locations in Orange County.
BCD Tofu House, 2700 Alton Pkwy., Ste. 135, Irvine, (949) 553-6465; www.bcdtofu.com. Open 24-hours. Also: 9520 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 636-5599; www.bcdtofu.com.
2. Albertaco's: Mission Viejo
Sure, sure, Albertaco's has good carne asada, decent green salsa... But all the greatest and most mythical not-exactly-Mexican foods are served here. Breakfast burritos packed with all the delicious standards, carne asada fries (also available: pollo asada fries)... But the pièce de résistance at Alberto's has to be the California Burrito, which, again, isn't exactly authentic cuisine but it is the stuff Man vs. Food dreams are made of: It's a burrito the size of your forearm with carne asada, cheddar cheese, sour cream and--most notably--french fries all folded in.
Albertaco's, 28171 Marguerite Pkwy., Ste. 26, Mission Viejo; (949) 365-0695. Thurs.-Sat., 5:30 a.m.-midnight. Sun.-Wed., 5:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Also: 5894 Lincoln Ave., Cypress, (714) 220-2292, open daily 7 a.m.-1 a.m.
3. Beach Cities Pizza: Dana Point
Pilfered from our 2009 Best of OC pick: "The venerated harbor eatery with hilariously ugly '80s beach murals and peanut-ginger-chicken pies went 24/7 this year. Some locals don't even bother with the excellent, diverse pizza menu because there's no better 1 a.m. drunk food than a basket of Beach Cities' puffy, steaming breadsticks (nothing stick-like about them, though) drenched in the joint's homemade ranch sauce. Order a pitcher of beer and sidle up to the recently installed communal Wii, and the breadsticks become peerless 1 a.m. get-drunk food, too.
Beach Cities Pizza, 34473 Golden Lantern, Dana Point, (949) 496-0606, open daily, 10 a.m.-3 a.m.
4. The Crosby: Santa Ana
Is this one too obvious? We love the Crosby. We really do. If you're not familiar, it's a restaurant and bar that vegetarians and vegans love and are able to bring their non-veg friends to. Their delicious creole shrimp pizza, vegan chili cheese fries (made with sweet potato fries), stuffed mushrooms, the starving artist grilled cheese (gruyere! Basalmic mushrooms! Served with a tomato soup shooter!) are always reliable go-tos whether for lunch, happy hour or dinner. There's an all-night menu, a chef's menu that serves until 11 p.m., and happy hour specials ($1 Pabst, $3 sangria, $2 of all well drinks).
The Crosby, 400 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 543-3543; www.thisisthecrosby.com Mon.-Sat., 5 p.m.-2 a.m.
5. Luc Dinh Ky: Westminster
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With the tons of Vietnamese eateries that keep odd (odd for Orange County, at least) hours, it was hard narrowing it down to just one. This one comes from the advice of food blogger Dave Lieberman who followed his suggestion with the words: "Get your baked rice and nuoc mat (iced chrysanthemum tea) on." In fact, Dave liked it so much he named the baked rice his #91 favorite dish in Orange County:
The rice, which is glutinous to start with, forms a chewy shell on top, punctuated by slightly burned bits that resemble the Persian tadig. The smoky flavor permeates the entire dish and mixes with the rice's original fragrance for an unbeatable combination. Contrary to just about every etiquette book out there, you are supposed to use the supplied (and very popular) spicy soy sauce to moisten and salt the rice.
It doesn't really matter which main course you get with your baked rice, though the sauce on the much-vaunted salmon gets cloying and annoying after a few bites. Go for a beef or chicken-based entrée instead. Whatever you do, don't miss their nước mắt, an herbal, sweet "health" drink that takes a couple of sips to get used to and then worms its way into your palate in a most ingratiating way. The drink comes free with a meal and the waitstaff will refill it for you if you ask.
Luc Dinh Ky, 9600 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 775-8811. Sun.-Wed., 10 a.m.-2 a.m.; Thurs.-Sat., 10 a.m.-3 a.m.