Visit the rest of Orange Countyâ€™s best damn dining guide at ocweekly.com/food, where it says â€œWhere to Eat Nowâ€ on the right side of the screen. If there are any bugs with it, e-mail Gustavo at email@example.com with your complaints!
DINNER FOR TWO:
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$$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Â¡Eres muy rico!
ANAHEIM ARAâ€™S PASTRY
A domino effect of ordering everything in sight possesses anyone who enters Araâ€™s. Quadruple-layer columns of trays extend across the bakery, heavy with cookies, Bavarian cake slices, cream tarts and other European confections. And, of course, thereâ€™s baklava, the Middle Eastern dessert standard baked here in eight distinct styles: shaped into diamonds, hexagons, flaky cylinders . . . nearly every shape in the Game of Perfection. 2227 W. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 776-5554. Â¢CAROUSEL BAKERY
Customers cram this cramped emporium not for the pan dulceâ€"which is delicious, by the wayâ€"but for raspados, the Mexican version of snow cones made with the vivacious fruits of the country in syrup form. Choose quickly from the 14 options because a line is no doubt forming impatiently behind you, already shouting out their orders. 1509 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 778-2051.Â¢
Most of Caraz Dulzuraâ€™s menu traces its origins to China even though the restaurant serves Peruvian cuisine. The arroz chaufa dishes are really glorified fried rice, here served with chunks of chicken or beef and with a bit more spice. The saltado platters, available as seafood or chicken, are soy-soaked stir-fries familiar to any lover of Cantonese food. And the long noodles called tallarÃn Iâ€™ve previously identified in this paper as a bastardized spaghetti? My badâ€"TheNew York Times revealed tallarÃn is really lo mein. 880 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 808-8302. $
LA PALMA CHICKEN PIE SHOP
Itâ€™s pure comfort to know that the same waitresses will serve you the same chicken pot pies year after year. These pies are the size of large talcum-powder puffs and have a flaky, golden-brown pastry crust. 928 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 533-2021. Â¢
EL POLLO FINO
Though itâ€™s in an area long overrun by Mexicans, all races line up in equal numbers outside El Pollo Fino, a charbroiled chicken shop decorated with photos and paintings of fighting roosters, a bulletin-board collage of boxing cut man extraordinaire Chuck Bodak, and three portraits of Aztec nobles cradling naked, curvaceous damsels. The best spectacle, however, occurs in the kitchen, where the cooks scamper from freezer to butcher counter to grill to takeout counter in a ballet of hen preparation. 723 N. Anaheim Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 533-1160. $BREATAPS FISH HOUSE & BREWERY
Located in the desperately fine-dining-deficient Brea, this place has everythingâ€"from steaks, chicken and pastas to an immense oyster bar. Gorge yourself with abandon on such appetizers as tropical shrimp quesadillas or French Quarter Egg Rolls. 101 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 257-0101; www.tapsbrea.com. $$BUENA PARK
Americans famished for a savor of liberty should trek over to India House, a tiny-but-posh Buena Park restaurant where the promise of freedom comes with a complimentary basket of naan. India Houseâ€™s buffet, an Electoral College of flavors, scents and options, offers the hallmarks of any outstanding Indian feastâ€"smoky tandoori chicken, assorted curries and masalas, and billowy basmati rice moundsâ€"but the chefs also sneak in some surprises in a vegetarian key. 7775 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 670-2114; www.newindiahouse.com. $$CORONA DEL MARBUNGALOW
The filet mignon at this steakhouse is round and plumpâ€"like a muffin. Its ideal cut, deep flavor and tender texture make it possible to eat the entire thing without encountering a morsel of fat or gristle. In essence, itâ€™s a tremendous piece of meat.2441 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-6585; www.thebungalowrestaurant.com. $$$COSTA MESAAIREAn hour or two getting fat, drunk and happy at Aire is the kind of worldly pleasure that could turn Gandhi into a Republican. Fusion is the nameâ€"the wasabi-smeared Kansas City steak strips are luscious, even if they come with a dumb monikerâ€"and the array of drinks and beautiful people will have you celebrating like Nero with a fiddle.2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-7099; www.aireglobal.com. $$$BEACH PIT BBQFormer baseball player Tim DeCinces focuses his menu on pan-Southern fare like sausage, pulled pork, chicken, brisket and ribsâ€"no regional styles yet, although the off-the-menu pork taquitos hint at what Southerners can expect as more Mexicans settle in Dixie. Iâ€™m partial to the smoked sausage, each about the size of a kielbasa and arriving five to an order, prepared in a manner that allows the skin to maintain a distinct smoked flavor even as the interior comprises a wonderful mix of juice, spice and pork. 1676 Tustin Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-RIBS; www.beachpitbbq.com. $$COSTA MESA OMELETTE PARLORGood job, Costa Mesans: when Vons Supermarket threatened to shutter the Omelette Parlor in late 2003, yâ€™all rallied to save this blue-collar haven (you shouldâ€™ve done the same for Kona Lanes, though). Now the rest of us can continue to scratch our bellies in bewildered satisfaction after eating one of the Omelette Parlorâ€™s fabulously stuffed omelets named after some long-dead Costa Mesa City Council memberâ€"give me the one with cucumbers. 179 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-0740. $FRANKâ€™S PHILADELPHIAThere are no frills at Frankâ€™s Philadelphia when it comes to their Philly cheesesteak: humongous loaf (even the small is ginormous), beef bits chopped into portions so teensy you can absorb them through your fingertips; grilled pepperoncinis that remain juicy and fleshy even after meeting cast iron, and the melted mozzarella pours into your innards like milk.2244 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, (949) 722-8725. $CYPRESSCAFÃ‰ HIROCafÃ© Hiro is a five-year-old Cypress eatery that has everything going for it except the design scheme, a setup that would only happen elsewhere if Goodwill decorated Dennyâ€™s. But Hiroâ€™s exquisite entrÃ©esâ€"a fantastic fusion of Japanese, Italian, French and Americanâ€"ensures a steady stream of suitors; ridiculously cheap prices guarantee many rendezvous. And the ahi poke appetizer specialâ€"the buttery fish seared, warm and salty on the outside and chilled on the inside, wonderfully contrasting the accompanying field greensâ€™ snappinessâ€"launches a thousand romances.10509 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 527-6090. $$DANA POINTHARBOR GRILLThis restaurant at Dana Point Harbor specializes in mesquite-broiled seafood thatâ€™s mixed with a variety of flavors, including Cajun, Italian and Southwestern. And speaking of a variety of flavors, the martini menu boasts nine varieties!34499 Golden Lantern, Dana Point, (949) 240-1416; www.harborgrill.com.$$DIAMOND BARASIAN DELIAsian Deli operated for years from a hectic Orange strip mall, a spotless Indonesian dive where patrons happily munched on vast rice dishes that resembled hail flurries along with satay skewers of sweet, spicy and smoky savors. Now based in Diamond Bar, it still saunters through the Indonesian cookbookâ€"one of the worldâ€™s most deliciously anarchic due to the countryâ€™s archipelagic nature and position between various trade routesâ€"as if bankrolled by President Megawati Sukarnoputri.23545 Palomino Dr., Ste. F, Diamond Bar, (909) 861-1427; www.asian-deli.com. $FOUNTAIN VALLEYMELâ€™S DINERWhen you want to throw caloric caution to the wind, thereâ€™s no beating Melâ€™s. The cooking is home-style, the portions huge and the waitresses friendly. Other than a hot cuppa joe (yep, thatâ€™s here, too), what more do you want? Youâ€™d be a knucklehead to leave without ordering the hubcap-sized, homemade cinnamon rolls topped with generous dollops of pure melted butter (served weekends only).9430 Warner Ave., Ste. 1, Fountain Valley, (714) 963-2662. Â¢FULLERTONAMAZON CHURRASCARIAThis Brazilian beef barn ignores the multicultural influences predominant in most Brazilian dishes for the straightforward flesh diet of the sertÃ£o. Impeccably dressed waiters serve 20 types of meat, everything from the Homer Simpson fantasy of bacon-wrapped turkey to well-charred chicken hearts to a great alligator sirloin. 1445 S. Lemon St., Fullerton, (714) 447-1200. $$CHICAGO HARVâ€™SMost every county hot-dog cart advertises Chicago dogs, but Harvâ€™s is among the few places that does it better than the South Side. They ship in bulky Vienna sausages directly from the Windy City, stuff â€™em into a poppy-speckled bun next to dill pickle slivers, and squirt the mess with stinky-but-super quarts of relish and mustard thatâ€™ll leave lips a yellow-green color as vibrant as a 1970s Notre Dame football uniform.410 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-0491. Â¢MULBERRY STREETMulberry Street, Fullertonâ€™s best East Coast-style bar, has plenty of seafood augmenting its Italian menu, and you canâ€™t go wrong with what locals tout as Mulberry Streetâ€™s specialty: the steamed clams. In the words of one longtime patron and master of rhetoric, they are â€œto die for.â€ 114 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-1056; www.mulberry-st.com. $$GARDEN GROVEANNAâ€™S MONDUAnnaâ€™s Mondu keeps an English-language menu, and bright pictures on the wall hint at its specialty: the massive Korean dumplings known as monduâ€"steamed giants of minced meat, buckwheat noodles and green onions. But the true revelation is the dduk bok ki, a plateful of stretched gnocchi over which the chef has drizzled a sweet-and-spicy chile sauce. Just three of the dduk will meet your daily caloric maximum; the plate comes with at least 20. 9972 Garden Grove Blvd., Ste. F, Garden Grove, (714) 530-0102. $BOULANGERIE PIERRE & PATISSERIEMany of the elderly Vietnamese who make up the morning crowd walk out laden with crunchy baguettes, but the younger afternoon clients prefer Boulangerie Pierreâ€™s other confections. The croissants are the antithesis of the baguettes: fluffy, flaky, light, some gooey with a peppery cheese baked inside. Boulangerie Pierreâ€™s best sweet bet, though, is the baba au rum: a rum-soaked, fruit-topped mini-cake andnot a mistranslated Who song. 14352 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 418-9098. Â¢ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF ORANGE COUNTYDuring Ramadan, Fatima Rahman (known to all as Auntie Fatima) lords over the best religious-minded buffet in the county at Orange Countyâ€™s largest mosque, preparing $2 Styrofoam cartons of delicious Indian food and the stray baklava. The rest of the year, Auntie Fatima prepares it only during Friday services. Some of the tastiest Indian food aroundâ€"and no faith in Allah required!1 Al-Rahman Plaza, Garden Grove, (714) 531-1722. $THUYEN VIENSince it opened in 2002, Thuyen Vien has attracted eaters not just because it seamlessly replicates all its meats with soy, but because it also nails the complex flavors of Vietnamese cuisine in a way few other Vietnamese vegetarian restaurants can. The curry soy â€œchicken,â€ a lovely stew of coconut broth, chile oil, potatoes, onions, tofu and fake chicken, is bueno. 11080 Magnolia St., Garden Grove, (714) 638-8189. $HUNTINGTON BEACHEAST COAST HOT DOGSNo tables insideâ€"just counters and stools. No air conditioningâ€"thatâ€™s why there are two tables outside. Thereâ€™s a great Italian roast beef sandwich, a multi-folded pastrami, fries, onion rings and tater tots. But people line up five deep for the 11 hot dog varieties, ranging from Chicago to chili cheese to something called the Wow! Dogâ€"a blackened kielbasa, sautÃ©ed onions and a schmear of thick, gritty mustard worthy of its exclamatory name. 19092 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 378-0364. Â¢LOTUS CHINESE EATERYLotus is the countyâ€™s second Chinese Muslim restaurant and does a fine job of preparing that cuisineâ€™s emphasis on meat, magazine-thick noodles, and sesame breads large enough to double as a Frisbee. Like almost every northern Chinese restaurant, Lotus trots out so-so egg rolls and egg-flower soup as appetizers, so itâ€™s better to start with chilled ox tripe. 16883 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 848-4940. $$LUCCIâ€™S DELI AND MARKETLucciâ€™s offers more than 30 hot or cold sandwiches under $5, not counting the house-specialty torpedoes that go for $3.49 and $5.95. There is pizza. There are the standard Italian dinners like spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna and eggplant, along with classics like linguine with clam sauce and fettuccine alfredoâ€"all between $6 and $10. Lucciâ€™s does catering, too. They even bake wedding cakes. 8911 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 968-4466; www.luccisdeli.com. $$PERUVIAN KITCHENThe folks at Peruvian Kitchen donâ€™t dumb it down for the cityâ€™s bros at all. In addition to their black-but-moist hen, they offer fried rice adorned with raisins, carrots and corn; sturdy French fries with snappy hot dog slices, and a fabulous mesquite-smoked yam. But go for the anticuchos: two skewers of dark-brown beef heart glazed with garlic. The anticuchos were chewy, intensely meaty, the best offal in the county. 8610 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 847-7555. $IRVINE6IX PARK GRILLThe creations of chef Yves Fournier at 6ix Park are fresh and memorable, a studied California approach to standards such as salmon, steak, and pastas. Even more impressive, though, Fournier veers from the protocol of most county hoteliers and offers a full breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu. Any day that proceeds from a luscious fritatta to a perfect porterhouse, and concludes with an apple-hazelnut cobbler with a ginger sorbet will be one of the better 24-hour cycles of your year. 17900 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (949) 225-6666. $$$A & J RESTAURANTA & J Restaurant is a bustling cafÃ© thatâ€™s part of a massive Beijing-based chain known for fast, hot, cheap, delicious northern Chinese food food: heavy wheat noodles, meats in scalding soups, pork dumplings with broth inside its transparent casing. But itâ€™s salted soymilkâ€"a pungent, oily, viscous, pretty funky type of porridgeâ€"that brings in the customers.14805 Jeffrey Rd., Ste. D., Irvine, (949) 786-3585. $BRITTAâ€™S CAFÃ‰Brittaâ€™s is a quaint, European-style cafÃ© where servers offer you individual pieces of bread (baguette or pumpernickel?) and a savory rustic tart isnâ€™t some old queen sashaying through a gay Parisian bistro but an appetizer youâ€™ll completely enjoy. Cheese lovers will freak out over the calzone packed with goat cheese, buffalo mozzarella, prosciutto and tomatoes. 4237 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 509-1211; www.brittascafe.com. $$WHOLESOME CHOICEWholesome Choice is the most diverse supermarket in Orange Countyâ€"maybe Southern Californiaâ€"a garden of produce delights where Armenian cherry preserves, Polish kielbasa, Middle Eastern cream cheese, organic eggs and TapatÃo exist within a three-aisle radius. But its greatest treat is the sangak, crispy Persian flatbread as crucial to Iranian identity as Rumi and about four feet in length. 18040 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 551-4111; www.wholesomechoice.com. $LA HABRAGREAT WALL MONGOLIAN BBQIn a culinary tradition that varies little whether youâ€™re chopsticking through Mongolian BBQ in Ulan Bator or Utica, Great Wall differentiates itself by offering grub more fiery, more nuanced and a bit more bountiful than other charcuteries. Their daily lunch special is one of the most rewarding in the countyâ€"$4.50 for a bowl of Mongolian BBQ, along with a better-than-average egg roll, a thimble of fried rice that tastes vaguely Mexican and a small tureen of unctuous egg flower soup. 1261 Harbor Blvd., Ste. A, La Habra, (714) 680-3569. Â¢LA PALMAAâ€™ROMA RISTORANTE TRATTORIAThe restaurant has a modern dÃ©cor in deep soothing colors, where the servers are attentive. Put yourself in the mood for the chicken-breast special, which is cooked to a golden tenderness and seasoned to a subtle richness.30 Center Pointe Dr., Ste. 1, La Palma, (714) 523-3729. $LAGUNA BEACHBRUSSELS BISTROBrussels Bistro is the kind of place where you can linger, talk with the people at the next table, and then find yourself, already gorged, ordering dessert. The food is astonishing, a revelation, artistry. The Belgians are big on fries, so please order the pommes frites.222 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-7955; www.brusselsbistro.com. $$$DIZZâ€™S AS ISThe dishes here are by far some of the best food youâ€™ll ever eat in OC. Rack of lamb perfumed with rosemary melts on the tongue. Filet mignon is plump and full of seared-in flavor. 2794 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-5250. $$GAURANGAâ€™S VEGETARIAN CUISINEGaurangaâ€™s has outdoor, ocean-view seating where you can enjoy a large salad bar, spicy yellow-lentil soup and cauliflower fritters. Sweet hibiscus tea is Krishna hooch, and cardamom-scented rice pudding is tasty, too. 285 Legion St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-7029.$ROMEO CUCINAAt Romeo Cucina in Laguna Beach, the carpaccio appetizerâ€"a large platter caked with carpaccioâ€"is preposterously delightful and, at $10.95, a steal of a meal. Both shaved and chunky, the soft morsels are complemented with zingy lemon and capers, fresh-shaved Parmesan, artichoke hearts and salad bits. Other Italian platters are excellent, but the carpaccio is like a beef-flavored Listerine strip for the gut. 249 Broadway, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-6627; www.romeocucina.com. $$LAGUNA HILLSPALACE BAKERYPalace Bakery is the countyâ€™s second shop to specialize in Persian desserts, a sweet-tooth tradition similar to Arabic pastries in their sumptuousness but also exhibiting bolder flavors. Palaceâ€™s baklava is sweeter than what they hawk in Anaheimâ€™s Little Arabiaâ€"splashed with more rosewater and honey, the phyllo dough tougher and rolled around a dense almond filling so it resembles a miniature cigar. And every boxed purchase comes with a cool golden sticker!24751 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. D, Laguna Hills, (949) 768-6252; www.palacebakery.com. Â¢LAGUNA NIGUELTHAI DININGStart with their tom kah gai soup, a creamy, flavorful offering of the popular Thai chicken-coconut soup; then try the beef panang. It rates pretty high on the beef panang scaleâ€"and itâ€™ll make you sweat.28051 Greenfield Dr., Ste. J, Laguna Niguel, (949) 643-5521.$LAKE FORESTMANILA FOOD MARTEvery Filipino joint offers the same meals; Manila Food Mart differentiates itself by hawking various products, from such Filipino wares as handbags and barongs (an ornate, light, long-sleeved shirt similar to the Caribbean guayabera) to a freezer stocked with ready-to-eat meals such as bags of plump, sugary longansina pork sausages. And while all Filipino restaurants fry turonsâ€"bananas wrapped with egg roll paperâ€"few do it as delectably as Manila Food Mart, which dusts each burrito-big turon with brown sugar so that the interior caramelizes just so: the epitome of sweet. 24601 Raymond Way, #10, Lake Forest, (949) 461-0113; www.manilafoodmart.com. $LONG BEACHALEGRÃA COCINA LATINAThe Spanish-styled brocheta vegetariana isnâ€™t like any bruschetta weâ€™re used to. The bread is replaced with corn tortillas, topped with skewers of grilled vegetables in a light sesame sauce on a pile of Peruvian corn, fresh-chopped tomatoes and tofu. Thatâ€™s rightâ€"tofu! 115 Pine Ave., Long Beach, (562) 436-3388; www.alegriacocinalatina.com. $$BUBBA GUMP SHRIMP CO.The inheritor to the dumbForrest Gumpfranchise actually fries some good seafoodâ€"shrimp, steaks, fillets with stupid names. Guaranteed to please are the Shrimpinâ€™ Dippinâ€™ Broth, a half-pound of spicy steamed shrimp served with dippinâ€™ bread for dippinâ€™ and coleslaw, and Forrestâ€™s Shrimp Net Catch, a massive basket of beer-steamed shrimp served with garlic and Cajun sauces. Ignore the dumb names and stick to the food. 87 Aquarium Way, Long Beach, (562) 437-2434; www.bubbagump.com. $EGG HEAVENEgg Heaven would be Rockfordâ€™s kind of place: plenty of wood paneling, a liquor store across the street, and a big picture of Elvis next to the kitchen. They have anything you can make out of an eggâ€"including more styles of omelets than there are stars in the Andromeda Galaxyâ€"except the chicken. Now that we think about it, they have chicken sandwiches and salads, too. Trulyis heaven here. 4358 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 433-9277.$LOS ALAMITOSISLAND GRILLIsland Grill sells Hawaiian food with a Japanese bent, so that means you can get your sushi and bento box fill along with sumptuous teriyaki bowls. But regardless of main course, your dessert should be the shaved ice: a frosty, chilled monolith flavored with fruit and so delicate you could whittle it down with dental floss.4390 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 431-6496. $MISSION VIEJOLA MAISON GOURMETEvery Friday for about two years, this charming shop on the edge of Lake Mission Viejo has opened its private lakeside patio for wine tastings. The events are a smash; reservations are required, limited to about 30 per session and best made at least two weeks in advance. But itâ€™s also a bona fide gourmandâ€™s treat, with wines from across the world available plus a diverse cheese-and-meat wheel for grubbing. 27772 Vista del Lago, Ste. B-15, Mission Viejo, (949) 916-4810; www.lamaisongourmet.net. $$$NEWPORT BEACHGULFSTREAMYes, Gulfstream is big, but youâ€™ll never be served an entrÃ©e that is outweighed by a power garnish, and no heaps-oâ€™-chow that scream Claim Jumper either. Proportions are just right, as is the wine list. Desserts arenâ€™t a big deal at Gulfstream, but they make a fabulous hot fudge sundae with candied pecans.850 Avocado, Newport Beach, (949) 718-0188.$$$HOAG HOSPITAL CAFETERIAThere are bagels and muffins and, a friend swears, â€œkillerâ€ breakfast burritos in the morning at Newport Beachâ€™s ritzy Hoag cafeteria. In the refrigerated case, you can get agrilled chicken caesar salad or roast beef horseradish panini. Want sushi? Theyâ€™ve got vegetarian rolls for $3.75 and spicy tuna cut rolls for $4.15. Newport Beach class at cafeteria prices. 1Hoag Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 760-4920. $PAVILIONThe clam chowder at Pavilionâ€"a lump of something undistinguishable that turns into the most delicious clam chowder of your life, redolent of ginger and marine goodnessâ€"is an apt metaphor for Pavilion: showy to the point of ostentatious, but with the substance to warrant the flash. Everything is expensive but damn worth it.690 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 759-0808. $$$MASTROâ€™S OCEAN CLUB FISH HOUSEMastroâ€™s prides itself on an Ã la carte with gargantuan portionsâ€"think Claim Jumper, but three times the style and cost. So itâ€™s not a problem an appetizer like vanilla-battered shrimp includes just three of the crustaceans: the shrimp are among the largest youâ€™ll ever see, about the size of a copâ€™s blackjack. And any qualms over paying almost $30 for a fish fillet will disappear under the dense, buttery consistency of any of them.8112 E. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 376-6990; www.mastrosoceanclub.com. $$$ROYâ€™SRoyâ€™s is all about Hawaiiâ€"from the â€œAlohaâ€ you get when you come in the door and the Israel Kamakawiwoâ€™ole playing over the speakers to the blah, blah, blah about Tokyo-born founder Roy Yamaguchi, whose childhood visits to Maui, weâ€™re told, indelibly shaped his palate (and his palette). Whatever: Yamaguchi has been fusing ever since, and with great success; he is now the Wolfgang Puck of some 31 namesake restaurants in North America with entrÃ©es such as rib-eye or wild Scottish salmon.453 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-7697. $$$ORANGECOSTA AZULEverything at Costa Azulâ€"great empanadas, spicy enchiladas, delicious chocolate-dipped alfajor shortbread cookiesâ€"is secondary to its terrifying, glistening asado: five pieces of cow for a ridiculous $11.50. No extra spices, sauces or sides adorn any of these cuts in Costa Azulâ€™s asadoâ€"just pure, monumental beef. 121 N. Lemon St., Orange, (714) 628-0633. $TAQUERÃA MEXICOTwenty-four hours a day every day, you can get a taco (and only tacos) with steak, barbecued pork, chicken, carnitas, beef tongue, beef head or beef brains for under a buck. Itâ€™s like having a warm tortilla security blanket.108 W. Katella Ave., Orange, (714) 538-5772. Â¢WATSON DRUGS AND SODA FOUNTAINOldest drugstore (and probably diner) in OCâ€"100 years and running. Real diner atmosphere, with counter dining and lots of burgers. Tom Hanks used it for That Thing You Do! Only place I know of where you can fill a Prozac prescription, buy Preparation H, eat a pastrami melt and read The New York Times in one sitting. 116 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 633-1050. $PLACENTIAREMBRANDTâ€™S BEAUTIFUL CUISINERembrandtâ€™s may claim to do â€œbeautiful food,â€ but that translates to hearty, plain fare done to nostalgic perfection: a Brown Derby for our county minus the starlets but without that whole wrecking-ball thing. This is truly the little steakhouse that time forgot. It looks like what the Velvet Turtle would be if theyâ€™d redone it Spanish-style in the â€™80s: stark, white walls; huge paintings; chandeliers, and filet mignon to the hilt.909 E. Yorba Linda Blvd., Placentia, (714) 528-6222. www.rembrandtsrestaurant.com. $$$SAN CLEMENTEPITA WRAPSPita Wrapsâ€™ namesake colossuses arenâ€™t so much edibles as they are a construction project on the level of washing out the Augean stablesâ€"herds of wonderfully spiced lamb and beef chunks; valleys of tomatoes, onions and lettuce; all placed on a pita the size of a hamster velodrome, then welded with a brazenly tart tzatziki cucumber sauce. And the Acropolis of Pita Wraps is the souvlaki gyro: fat-free pork marinated in a zippy red-wine sauce, the best hog youâ€™ll chew on outside the South. 415 E. Avenida Pico, Ste. H, San Clemente, (949) 492-7779. $SAN JUAN CAPISTRANOCARNICERÃA EL CAMPEÃ"NAll things being equal, we find that the less we comprehend of a menu, the higher the odds weâ€™re going to get authentic food. â€œTamaleâ€ at CarnicerÃa El CampeÃ³n was arranged on the menu near some other foods that only a Mexican mama could recognize. Unlike the other joints, their tamales are unencumbered by frills. It is a Bauhaus dish: cornhusk, moist masa, chicken.31921 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-3141. Â¢SANTA ANAAMI SUSHIAmi Sushi is the perfect Japanese restaurant: efficient during lunch, stately enough for a date, staffed with serious chefs who can wow you with off-the-menu stunners (ask for the wrap that looks like a burrito) or a simple crunchy roll. The Sunset Action is a California roll topped with albacore, the fatty fish melding nicely with the light crabmeat. 1804 N. Tustin Ave, Ste. C, Santa Ana, (714) 567-0018. $CHINA OLIVEOne of the few Chinese buffets â€˜round town that wonâ€™t wreak havoc on your porcelain throne. Good mix of Chinese-American dishes, from sweet orange chicken to a hybrid chow mein speckled with baby octopus, snow peas, onions and carrots. 3420 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 957-2688. $GEORGEâ€™S THAI BISTROServed with rice or noodles, Georgeâ€™s food tastes, looks and smells so delicious your senses will beg you for return trips to this trippy little oasis. And if youâ€™ve been a good boy, you can have some of the kiwi, mango or coconut ice cream. 3732 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 979-8366. $$NANCY PUEBLA RESTAURANTLurking within this seemingly mundane Mexican restaurant are delicious, complex rarities from the central state of Puebla, platters more familiar to an ethnography than an Orange County menuâ€"dense mole poblano, pale goat menudo and guilotas, a chewy type of quail so region-specific that itâ€™s not even listed in most Spanish dictionaries. 1221 E. First St., Ste. C, Santa Ana, (714) 834-9004. $SANTA ANA FARMERâ€™S MARKETThis Wednesday-afternoon farmerâ€™s market is standard save for its bacon-wrapped hot dogs, the stuff of after-concert Los Angeles curbside vendor legend. Preparation is simple: Father grabs an all-beef hot dog and wraps it with strips of pale bacon as if it were gauze on an injured thigh. Son slaps the coiled wiener on the grill, where the bacon begins to fry. Sizzle. The fat of the bacon seeps into the hot dog, which plumps quickly, while the bacon burns until itâ€™s black and crispy. Every Wednesday on the corner of Third and Birch, Santa Ana; www.grainproject.org.SEAL BEACHOâ€™MALLEYâ€™SOâ€™Malleyâ€™s covers all the bases of pub grub, with nachos, quesadillas and chicken wings on one side and Irish sausage rolls, corned beef, and bangers and mash on the other. Their shepherd pie comes with a slagheap of tasty mashed potatoes on top that utterly hides the stew from the light (and oxygen) of day. 140 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 430-0631. $$STANTONTHE GOLDEN STEERThe Golden Steer is what a family restaurant used to beâ€"not just inexpensive enough to feed a family, but tasty and wholesome enough to feed it well. It also harks back to the time when a family meal meant meat-meat-meat. The place is crowded, but good acoustics keep it from sounding like a mess hall and incredible service keeps that growl in your stomach from turning into a bad mood. 11052 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 894-1208; www.goldensteer.com. $$SUNSET BEACHCAPTAIN JACKâ€™SOpened June 25, 1965, this steak and seafood restaurant supposedly serves 53,000 pounds of Alaskan king crab per yearâ€"more than any other restaurant in the U.S. It prides itself on consistent quality and hearty portions. The bar is one of the few that still use the â€œSuper Well,â€ meaning that if you order gin, you get Bombay, and if you order vodka, you get Absolut. 16812 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-2514. $$TUSTINCHRISTAKISChristakisâ€™ beautiful setting separates the eatery from its local Greek brothers-in-grub, but what truly catapults the place into Orange Countyâ€™s high-class dining strata are the platters of its late eponymous founder, Joanne Christakis Wallace. Youâ€™ll find the standards of Greek restaurants: bitter spanakopita spinach pies, starchy moussaka casseroles, lamb prepared in more ways than there are actual lamb cuts and a thorough selection of seafood. More impressive is an array of pasta dishes that suggests an Italian influence at some point in Christakisâ€™ seven-year existence.13011 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-1179. $$NAAN & KABOBNaan & Kabob should be renamed Rice & Kabob, since the Tustin Persian eatery prepares the latter platter 36 different ways. Rice with lamb kabob. Rice with fish kabob. Rice with beef, chicken and shrimp kabob. Rice with a type of falafel kabob. Redundant? No: regal. 416 E. First St., Tustin, (714) 66-KABOB. $VILLA PARKFIRST CLASS PIZZAGo for the employee sampler, which features four different pizzas, including the barbecue chicken, zesty Italian, Villa Park special with fresh basil and garlic, and the combo with pepperoni and sausage.17853 Santiago Blvd., Ste. 101, Villa Park, (714) 998-2961. $WESTMINSTERDUONG SON BBQChicken, duck and porkâ€"these are the sole listings on the Vietnamese/Chinese/English menu at Duong Son BBQ, a smokehouse between a jewelry store and skin-care center in Little Saigonâ€™s anarchic Cultural Court district. The pork features a ruddy, crisp skin; is nearly fat-free; and is roasted until itâ€™s as soft as a marshmallow. Duong Sonâ€™s pork is a meat for eternity, one of the best arguments yet against PETA.9211 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 115, Westminster, (714) 897-2288. $PAGOLACPagolac will show you another side of beefâ€"seven, to be exact. â€œBo 7 Mon,â€ the restaurant signâ€™s subtitle, is Vietnamese for seven courses of beef, the restaurantâ€™s specialty. Ungodly slabs of sirloin are transformed into wisps of flavor-packed beef.14580 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 531-4740. $$KIM SUA funky little place to eat lunchâ€"traditional Chinese, great dim sum, but we usually go for lunch specials like sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef, and kung pao chicken. Weeklings like this place because you can mix and share food so easily, and because weâ€™re cheap bastards. 10530 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 554-6261. $SAIGON BISTROThe place has an interior seemingly boxed up and mailed from fin-de-siÃ¨cle Paris. The distinctly cosmopolitan appearance of the restaurant carries over into the song selections (we hear English-, Spanish- and Vietnamese-language tunes) and menu (escargot, flan and Vietnamese offerings). 15470 Magnolia St., Westminster, (714) 895-2120. $$SEAFOOD WORLDSeafood World lives up to its name by wheeling out goodies like fried scallop rolls (large scallops in a flaky pastry served with mayo and a maraschino cherry!), crab and shrimp balls with peas (wrapped in rice paper), and very large, juicy and spicy deep-fried shrimp. 15351 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 775-8828.$$YORBA LINDALA BETTOLADelicious focaccia and a ramekin of butter-soft roasted garlic cloves glistening in olive oil arrive at your table when you sit down. Next, try the classic caesar salad (a better courtship tool than a dozen roses). 18504 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, (714) 695-0470. $$MULTIPLE LOCATIONSATHENS WESTMany Greek restaurants offer French fries on their menu, but few treat them with the care you find at both Athens West locations. They fry long, skinny potato strips until golden and firm, dust them heroically withâ€"is it parsley I taste? Or oregano? The feta cheese on top is melted slightly, just enough to lend creaminess without producing a gooey disaster. Put some of Athens Westâ€™s kebabs on top, and you have impromptu Greek chili billies.7101 Yorktown Ave., Ste. 106, Huntington Beach, (714) 536-6112; 303 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 431-6500. $EL CARBONEROOwner MarÃa de JesÃºs RamÃrez ensures that El Carbonero #1 and #2 use the same recipes of her hearty native cuisine, the primary reason why the countyâ€™s pioneering guanaco restaurant persists while so many other Salvadoran restaurants disappear. Imitate the regulars and order at least one pupusa, the masa griddle cake that Salvadorans consume from crib to crypt. And El Carboneroâ€™s horchata, heavy with cinnamon and toasted rice, makes Mexican horchata taste like a Tijuana gutter. 803 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 542-6653. Also at 9304 Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-4542. $GYRO KINGItâ€™s a mighty gyro they spin at Gyro King: lamb and beef compressed into a hexagonal slab, twirled slowly on a spit so the meats meld into one another. When you order a gyro sandwich, a cook shaves lengths from this dense mass and lays them inside toasted pita bread alongside lettuce, tomatoes, onion and crumbles of feta cheese. Although the veggies are crispy, the feta salty and the requisite dash of tzatziki sauce creamy, the gyroâ€™s flavor remains bold: slightly spiced, soft but firm like licorice, with a dab of grease glistening on the dark skin that lends a fatty-sweet delight.3601 Jamboree Rd., Ste. 4, Newport Beach, (949) 474-7300; 2626 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 752-4976. $KNOWLWOODThe place serves scrumptious one-third-pound burgers as big as your head. What else needs to be said?150 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 879-7552. Also at 5665 E. La Palma Ave. Anaheim, (714) 779-2501; 14952 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine, (949) 857-8927; 28061 Greenfield Dr., Laguna Niguel, (949) 831-1593; www.knowlwoodrestaurants.com. $PASTA CONNECTIONIf you havenâ€™t dined at this Italian-Argentine chain, youâ€™re at least familiar with its logoâ€"a picture of a howling toddler with spaghetti dripping from his head, an Orange County advertising icon as beloved as Mickey Mouse or the Spankyâ€™s guy. As the name suggests, Pasta Connection likes to prepare pastaâ€"silky fettuccines, blockish raviolis and lasagnas that look like a Bicycle pinochle deck.1902 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-3484; 2145 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 541-0053; www.pastaconnection.net. $
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