Grub Guide

Visit the rest of Orange County's best damn dining guide at ocweekly.com/food, where it says "Where to Eat Now" on the right side of the screen. If there are any bugs with it, e-mail Gustavo at garellano@ocweekly.com with your complaints!

DINNER FOR TWO:

¢ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than $10!

$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10-$20

$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20-$40

$$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ¡Eres muy rico!

ANAHEIM

369 SHANGHAI

This one excels by alternating between the familiar and the esoteric. The culinary cowards in your dining circle can seek comfort in delicious versions of orange chicken, egg rolls and shrimp fried rice; everyone else can savor entrées usually available only in the Middle Kingdom—or maybe the San Gabriel Valley—like the fish head casserole, a single head sticking out of a Sargasso Sea of noodles, with a flavor as sharp and pungent as its smell. 613 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 635-8369. $

AL-AMIR BAKERY

Al Amir Bakery in Anaheim's Little Arabia enclave attracts all sorts of eaters, but it works best as an old-style pizzeria, a place where young people step in for a quick bite and flirt. Its primary draw is the extraordinary sphiha, a kind of Lebanese New York-style pizza: thin, toasty, wonderfully crunchy crust with layers of such powerful Middle Eastern flavors as soujouk, zaatar and milky Palestinian cheese. 518 S. Brookhurst St., Ste. 3, Anaheim, (714) 535-0973; www.alamirbakery.com. ¢

 

DUNAREA

Over the course of colonized centuries, the Romanians picked up cooking tips from each—grilled kebabs and searing coffee from the Turks, unctuous beef Stroganoff from the Russians, goulash and paprika from the Hungarians, and the sarmales, reminiscent in their pungency of Mediterranean stuffed grape leaves. All are present at Dunarea, and all are magnificent. 821 N. Euclid Ave., Anaheim, (714) 772-7233; www.dunarea.us. $

E-SAN ROD-SAP

E-San specializes in 78 dishes of Isaan cooking, the sour-and-spicy cuisine of northeast Thailand that's exotic even inside the Southeast Asian kingdom. Most diners order from a buffet near the kitchen, where a stern-looking woman in a milk-colored hairnet lords over entrées that constitute the $5.50 three-items-plus-rice combo. Choices vary from hour to hour and include a spicy Lao-style vegetable soup redolent of pumpkin, fiery green curry (smoky with eggplant chunks) and fried catfish that crackles loudly across the dining room. 1719 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 999-0563. $

BREA

RENAISSANCE BISTRO

As the name probably suggests, Renaissance Bistro serves primarily northern-Italian fare, but the menu is dotted with just enough unexpected items to suggest the chefs aren't unduly locked into convention. 955 E. Birch St., Brea, (714) 256-2233; www.renaissancebistro.com. $$

BUENA PARK

BISMILLAH HALAL TANDOORI RESTAURANT

The karahi lamb will blow your mouth into a new orbit. Prepared with a dictionary's worth of herbs and spices, the taste is an unbelievable medley of flavors. And the nihara's beef is so tender it's like butter. 8901-D Knott Ave., Buena Park, (714) 827-7201. $

CORONA DEL MAR

CAFÉ JARDIN

Located at the tranquil Sherman Library and Gardens, the café's menu is well thought out. The mushroom soup is the color of a spa mudpack with an earthy mushroom flavor, and all of the desserts are made on the premises. 2647 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-0033. $$

COSTA MESA

LA CAVE

Open since 1962 (!), La Cave continues to be the county's place for a touch of romance and a hunk of meat. Their steaks, fine slabs of beef burnt or bloodied to your liking and as big as a school desktop, fill the innards. Their music—cheesy lounge, stellar jazz—fills the soul. And the ambiance will get you lucky afterwards. 1695 Irvine Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-7944; www.lacaverestaurant.com. $$

 

CHAT NOIR

There is something downright satanic about Chat Noir, David Wilhelm's latest addition to his "Culinary Adventures" family of restaurants. It's in the had-to-sign-a-pact-with-Mephistopheles execution of his French fare: basil-fed escargot, three-way duck served in an orange-caramel dressing with Mandarin Napoleon cognac, and a dessert of profiteroles stuffed with espresso ice cream. If they serve these in Hell, just where do we sign, Mr. Wilhelm? 655 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-6647. $$$

 

GREEK TOWN GRILL

You can sing the praises of Greek Town Grill in Costa Mesa's happening East 17th Street District for its sleek décor (ceiling-to-floor windows, mosaicked counter, sexy lighting and chairs), delicious takes on such Greek-American classics as pitas and dolmades, and the fact that owner Jim Marutsos works with fresh ingredients. But also hum some bars for the pear salad, a glistening hill of leaves, candied walnuts, long pear slices and melted gorgonzola. 279 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 515-2788; www.greektowngrill.com. $

CYPRESS

FRANCO'S ITALIAN RESTAURANT

This tiny Cypress restaurant is the kind of place where the tablecloths are checkered, the waiters earnestly smack fingers against lips when describing linguine, and Frank, Dino and Pagliacci roar without rest. Franco's has an extensive Italian menu all your major pastas, subs and even a surprising selection of veal dishes but leave space for the cheesecake, one of the best ever to grace this world: thick, almost like tiramisù, but so strong with cinnamon you can feel it sizzle on your tongue. 4453 Cerritos Ave., Cypress, (714) 761-9040. $$

DANA POINT

MIRABEAU BISTRO

The eatery's appellation derives from the famous Cours Mirabeau, a tree-lined avenue of bistros in Aix-en-Provence dear to the restaurant's proprietors. And the food offered here—lamb osso bucco with a North African bent, fine wines, and an addicting pork-and-duck confit—is just as renowned. As the French Revolution-era orator Mirabeau might have shouted, c'est magnifique! 17 Monarch Bay Plaza, Dana Point, (949) 234-1679; www.mirabeaubistro.com. $$$

DIAMOND BAR

ASIAN DELI

Asian 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 cookbook—one of the world's most deliciously anarchic due to the country's archipelagic nature and position between various trade routes—as if bankrolled by President Megawati Sukarnoputri. 23545 Palomino Dr., Ste. F, Diamond Bar, (909) 861-1427; www.asian-deli.com. $

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

AU LAC

Au Lac is as soothing and tranquil as any place you'll find in a strip mall. They specialize in gourmet Vietnamese and Chinese cuisine, but what really lines the kids up outside is the soy-meat masterpieces to be found on their almost entirely vegan-friendly menu. 16563 Brookhurst St., (714) 418-0658;www.aulac.com. $$

FULLERTON

CHICAGO HARV'S

Most every county hot-dog cart advertises Chicago dogs, but Harv'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 'em into a poppy-speckled bun next to dill pickle slivers, and squirt the mess with stinky-but-super quarts of relish and mustard that'll leave lips a yellow-green color as vibrant as a 1970s Notre Dame football uniform. 410 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-0491. ¢

GENGHIS KHAN MONGOLIAN BBQ

Genghis Khan's stir-frying of various frozen meat shavings transforms the Mongolian barbecue into a time machine—the brusque force of the Mongol Empire rampages anew across taste buds, meat and vegetables. There are other choices besides the Mongolian barbecue but stick to the Mongolian barbecue; the restaurant offers it as an all-you-can-eat option for a reason. 333 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 870-6930. ¢

RUBEN'S BAKERY

There's about a dozen coolers of pan dulces at Ruben's, each containing multiple trays holding a specific pan dulce genus, each genus boasting mucho diversity, and so forth. Stock up on empanadas, turnovers gorged with fillings and adorned with unique crusts. The camote empanada houses its sweet yam innards within a firm, buttery crust; the same crust also gives refuge to fillings of the lemon and cream variety. 438 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 992-0414. ¢

GARDEN GROVE

BCD TOFU HOUSE

There are other things to munch on at BCD Tofu besides its namesake—a limited barbecue selection, bibimbap (a spicy noodle salad) and succulent chunks of raw crab spiced to a level worthy of any Mexican. But stick to the soon tofu. There's a reason BCD runs 12 outposts from Little Seoul to Korea to Koreatown to bloody Torrance—and it ain't the seasoned clam, as grand as that is. 9520 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 636-5599. $

DELICIAS DE MÉXICO

Delicias de México (Delights from Mexico) is one of the county's precious few neverías: ice cream shops that specialize in resolutely Mexican flavors such as velvety mango, smoky mamey, sour guanábana and many other tropical, luscious fruits. Don't forget to order at least one of their paletas: frosty monoliths of vim, each balanced on a sturdy wooden stick and wrapped in a plastic sheet that requires a sensuous tugging motion to remove. 13466 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 636-7163. ¢

 

HANDAAN

A traditional turo-turo (buffet), Handaan rotates out various Filipino goodies—adobo, satays, and about five different offals. But the sides—vinegar-spiked rice and pansit bihon, tiny, tasty noodles cooked with cabbage, celery, carrots and baby shrimp—remain constant. 9777 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 636-8431. $

HUNTINGTON BEACH

LOU'S OAK OVEN BARBEQUE

Lou's Oak Oven Barbeque is Orange County's original place to knife through Santa Maria-style barbecue, the supremely succulent charcuterie tradition of the central California coast. Whether it's monstrous tri-tips, weighty steaks or divine chickens you're gnawing through, they all retain hints of Lou's red, oak-smoked, rotisserie pedigree. And there's a reason it was once "Lou's Oak Oven Beanery"—their pinquinto beans side is the ideal hybrid between the pinto bean's gentle bite and the red bean's furtive sweetness. 21501-D Brookhurst St., Huntington Beach, (714) 965-5200; www.lousbbq.com. $

LUCCI'S DELI AND MARKET

Lucci's offers more than 30 hot or cold sandwiches under $5, not counting the house-specialty torpedoes that go for $2.99 and $5.25. 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 alfredo—all between $6 and $10. Lucci's does catering, too. They even bake wedding cakes. 8911 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 968-4466; www.luccisdeli.com. $$

MANGIA MANGIA

If you've sworn off beef and pork but still eat birds, Huntington Beach's venerable Mangia Mangia is your kinda place. For nearly 20 years, Sicilian-born brothers Giuseppe and Pietro Cefalu have served herds of veal, poured vats of meat sauce over their homemade pasta, and earned a solid rep for fresh seafood, calamari fritti and outta-this-world eggplant dishes. But the house specialty remains their chicken "Mangia Mangia," An ample chicken breast beaten flat is sautéed with ginger, shallots, asparagus and red bell peppers in white wine to produce a near-breaded, scaloppini effect, with veggies, spice and vino then spooned over the bird. 16079 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-8887; www.mangiamangiarestaurant.com. $$

PERUVIAN KITCHEN

The folks at Peruvian Kitchen don't dumb it down for the city'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. 17552 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 847-7555. $

IRVINE

CASPIAN RESTAURANT

The owners of Caspian Restaurant named their business after the world's largest landlocked body of water for a reason, and their seafood servings—jumbo shrimp subsumed in onion juices, for instance—live up to the sea's salty character. The shirin polo, rice studded with baked orange peels, pistachios and almonds, would persuade Bush to remove Iran from his Axis. 14100 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 651-8454; www.caspianrestaurant.com. $$

CHAKRA

You can imagine Bollywood goddess Aishwarya Rai filming some steamy-but-chaste dance scenes in the confines of Chakra's opulent set. But, thankfully, Chakra owners Ravi and Sunita Koneru invested money not only in the décor but also in chefs capable of embarking on a trek through India's major foodie provinces not found in any other Orange County restaurant—Gujarat, Kerala and even Hyderabad. 4143 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 854-0009; www.chakracuisine.com. $$

WHOLESOME CHOICE

Wholesome Choice is the most diverse supermarket in Orange County—maybe Southern California—a garden of produce delights where Armenian cherry preserves, Polish kielbasa, Middle Eastern cream cheese, organic eggs and Tapatío 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 HABRA

CAT & CUSTARD CUP

La Habra's toniest (read: priciest) restaurant—nothing on the dinner menu is less than $16.50. We can't actually afford to eat here, but it's been around for years, and people are always raving about it, so it must be good. Fancy-prepared American food in an English-pub setting (though it's quite a bit larger than a real English pub). 800 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 694-3812 or (714) 992-6496. $$$

LA PALMA

JOHNIE'S JR. BURGERS

It's ham, cheese, onions and green peppers—hold the nonsense—stuffed into a three-egg pillowcase; presented alongside a nest of crispy, lush, hashed-brown potatoes and two slices of sourdough toast; and gobbled down between a couple of cups of coffee. It's nothing fancy, which means it fits right in at this converted Taco Bell with decals of the Fat Boy—a too-close-for-comfort cousin of the late Big Boy—plastered across the table at every booth. 7811 Valley View St., La Palma, (714) 228-0464. $

LAGUNA BEACH

FIVE FEET

It's no secret why snazzy Ritz-Carlton guests in Dana Point head north to Laguna Beach each night. For more than a decade, chef/owner Michael Kang has ranked among the most creative in California. Particularly popular is the whole catfish in hot braised sauce or the pan-roasted scallops. Reservations are a must. 328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-4955. $$$

 

FRENCH 75 BISTRO AND CHAMPAGNE BAR

The most beautiful bar in Orange County—with prices to match. The resonant thunk of champagne corks popping will be the only competition for the jazz piano as you savor the basil-fed escargot and langoustines with Black Forest ham swimming in herb-garlic butter. 1464 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8444. $$$

HUSH

Hush is a wonderful eyesore, an anomaly among the run-down boutiques and faceless office buildings cluttering the southern portion of Pacific Coast Highway. Elegance also is prominent in Hush's menu, a New American take on standards such as rack of lamb, salmon and pork tenderloin that reminds me why people would ever plunk down $50 for a dinner. But when you just gnawed on chicken from heaven, with port wine slowly soaking through your soul, racial and class warfare tends to dissipate like the sun into the Pacific. 858 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-3616; www.hushrestaurant.com. $$$

LAGUNA HILLS

KOSHER BITE DELI

Orange County seems just too spic-n-span Christian to host a real New York-style Jewish deli, but try telling that to the folks at Kosher Bite in Laguna Hills, a cluttered room where the air conditioning is three ceiling fans on their last wobbly rotations, potato-and-barley soup is boiled daily, the Sabbath means rest and the menu—knishes, matzo ball, pastrami on rye—is as stubbornly Borscht Belt as Carl Reiner. 23595 Moulton Pkwy., Ste. H, Laguna Hills, (949) 770-1818. $

LAGUNA NIGUEL

THAI DINING

Start 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 scale—and it'll make you sweat. 28051 Greenfield Dr., Ste. J, Laguna Niguel, (949) 643-5521.$

LAKE FOREST

BIAGIO'S

Order the Sicilian-style linguine with basil, oregano and anchovies blended into a marinara sauce and poured over a healthy serving of flat spaghetti. And you'll also find delicious the accompanying salad and warm, crusty, homemade bread. 24301 Muirlands Rd., Ste. H, Lake Forest, (949) 837-3850. $

LONG BEACH

THE BLUE NILE CAFÉ

Blue Nile isn't just a place to soak up the spins with a sandwich or a great latte. It's like the best friend you don't deserve: stumble by late at night and get a sandwich so homemade (and healthy) you'll think of your fourth-grade brown bag days. The (soon-to-be-popular) chicken wrap—chicken, the usual veggies, whatever bizarre fetish items you wanna add—are great cold or warm, bulging like flexed biceps in their tortillas. 438 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 435-6453. $

BUBBA GUMP SHRIMP CO.

The inheritor to the dumb Forrest Gumpfranchise actually fries some good seafood—shrimp, steaks, fillets with stupid names. Guaranteed to please are the Shrimpin' Dippin' Broth, a half-pound of spicy steamed shrimp served with dippin' bread for dippin' and coleslaw, and Forrest'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. $

LOS ALAMITOS

MUSTARD'S

Mustard's is a haunt for all artifacts Chi-Town: yellowed Tribune front-page celebrating da Bears' Super Bowl XX victory; a picture of former mayor/god Richard Daley; and the bold yellow slogan for Vienna Beef, the brand with which Mustard's makes its bulky, peppery Chicago dog, complete with tooth-blackening poppy-seed bun, leprechaun-green relish, gritty celery salt and a giant dill pickle. Great Italian roast beef as well, with as many folds as a Cubs pennant run. 3630 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 598-1662. $

MISSION VIEJO

LA MAISON GOURMET

Every Friday, 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 it's also a bona fide gourmand'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 BEACH

BISTRO LE CRILLON

A quaint, Provençal-themed restaurant named after the village in Provence from which chef Chantal Berton's family hails. The cassoulet c'est magnifique, a hearty mixture of flageolets blancs (white French beans), confit of duck and three types of sausage. Simmered and baked for days on end, the result is a mildly tangy bouquet of flavors. 2523 Eastbluff Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-8181; www.bistrolecrillon.com. $$$

BLUE BEET CAFÉ

This restaurant is a steak oasis, where the meat is aged for about one week to break down the sinew—that's what makes it tender—while being marinated in head chef Jorge Guttierez's secret marinade before being charbroiled to delectability! 107 21st Place, Newport Beach, (949) 675-2338. $

 

SEJOUR

Fancy place in Newport's Lido district with fusion cuisine and an atmosphere that recalls the British Empire as the sun finally set. 3400 Via Lido, Newport Beach, (949) 675-9800; www.sejour.us. $$$SOL GRILLNew Orleans feel, Mediterranean taste: The kung fu shrimp and blackened ahi are excellent, but the jambalaya over fettuccini will leave your innards glowing. 110 McFadden Place, Newport Beach, (949) 723-4105. $$ORANGE

COSTA AZULEverything at Costa Azul—great empanadas, spicy enchiladas, delicious chocolate-dipped alfajor shortbread cookies—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 Azul's asado—just pure, monumental beef. 121 N. Lemon St., Orange, (714) 628-0633. $DAIRY TREETAcross the street from Chapman University, it's advertised as the oldest burger stand in OC (est. 1949). Get those burgers and also the smoothies and shakes. Don't get thrown off by the katakana script above the ordering window: that's for Chapman's large Japanese student population. Poor student's special: 99-cent burger. 292 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 538-5904. ¢DARYAIf the delicacies on the Persian menu are in unfamiliar combinations of letters strung together with hyphens, just leave it to the waiters. You will love it. 1998 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 921-2773. $$$PLACENTIA

BROOKLYN PIZZA WORKSBrooklyn Pizza Works celebrates a disappearing way of life, a shrieking 1970s family-style pizzeria aesthetic that's going the way of the Elks. The time warp here continues with the food—big pizzas for kids and their parents. 1325 Imperial Hwy., Placentia, (714) 524-1260, Placentia; www.brooklyn-pizza-works.com. $SAN CLEMENTE

THE FISHERMAN'S RESTAURANTLocals tend to disparage the cuisine and long summertime waits for a table, but the mesquite-grilled seafood is usually quite good. Fresh catch of the day is always a good choice, and save room for the best desserts in South County: a slice of the peanut-butter pie or the mud pie, which is mammoth. 611 Avenida Victoria, San Clemente, (949) 498-6390; www.fishermansrestaurant.com. $SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

BAD TO THE BONE BBQBarbecue sandwiches are usually messy affairs, but Bad to the Bone's house sausage sandwich is as austere as it is sumptuous. A lean, sweet pork sausage speckled with pepper bits and accompanied by sautéed onions and bell peppers, it strikes several notes, the wonderfully bitter distinct from the sweet and salty. The crunchy French roll lends a taste of honey. 31738 Rancho Viejo Rd., Ste. E, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 218-0227; www.badtothebonebbq.com. $$SANTA ANA

CHINA OLIVEOne of the few Chinese buffets 'round town that won'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. $ColimaWhere else can you dine on tender barbecued goat in a smoky sauce and swaddled in steaming tortillas made on the premises? The only thing I like better is the house specialty: a mild white fish filet stuffed with shrimp, mushrooms and mixed vegetables. 130 N. Fairview, Santa Ana, (714) 836-1254.$EL CURTIDOThe casamiento is a vegetarian's delight combining black beans and rice with eggs, avocado and cream, plus a piece of really salty cotija cheese on the side. We suggest you chase that down with a big cup of Salvadorian horchata. 300 W. Fifth St., Santa Ana, (714) 973-0554. $PROOFHere is a bar where the food is actually good—chicken bites, breaded with butter crumbs and accompanied with a sweet-sour Thai sauce; pickled cucumber and carrots; and other appetizers from the next-door Pangea. Stay clear of the Proof martini unless you want to spend the next day in hung-over bliss. 215 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 953-2660. $$SANTA ANA FARMER'S MARKETThis Wednesday-afternoon farmer'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 it's black and crispy. Every Wednesday on the corner of Third and Birch, Santa Ana; www.grainproject.org.SEAL BEACH

NICK'S DELINick Zampino has no evidence, no proof, no corroborating facts or photographs, but he swears he knows in his heart that his family originated that most delicious and conveniently held of early morning victuals: the breakfast burrito. After tasting these apotheoses, you'll be inclined to agree. 223 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 598-5072. ¢STANTON

MAD GREEKReasons to go to the Mad Greek: this place began the zucchini stick "craze"; the Greek salad comes in Herculean portions; uncouth vegetarians have proclaimed the falafel sandwich as "Fuckin' radness"; and anything on the menu above $6 you won't be able to finish yourself. 12120 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 898-5181; www.themadgreekrestaurant.com. $SUNSET BEACHCAPTAIN JACK'S

Opened June 25, 1965, this steak and seafood restaurant supposedly serves 53,000 pounds of Alaskan king crab per year—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 "Super Well," 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. $$TUSTIN

INDIA SWEETS AND SPICESIt's a sweet shop and a produce vendor, a place to rent videos, buy Urdu-edition newspapers, and get a home-style meal in a pop-culture mini-bazaar that caters to your taste for Indian soul food. 14441 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-2910. $JAMILLAH GARDENDrones at the industrial park at the corner of Tustin Ranch and Walnut welcome the noon hour with joy. Like an oasis in the Gobi lies Jamillah Garden, one of the county's two restaurant specializing in Islamic Chinese cuisine, a type of dining tradition combining Middle Eastern opulence with the austere tastes of Northern China. Corporate types crowd into the restaurant in a sort of hunger haj throughout the day, drawn by the affordable lunch specials; curry chicken; and the sesame bread, a Frisbee of flour speckled with scallions. 2512 Walnut Ave., Tustin, (714) 838-3522. $$VILLA PARKROCKWELL'S CAFE AND BAKERY  

This neighborhood café and bakery is an ode to Norman with Rockwellian gilt-edged plates and prints covering the bathroom walls. Besides the interior-design salute, Rockwell's serves many great versions of eggs Benedict, all with hollandaise sauce made from scratch. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, (714) 921-0622; www.rockwellsbakery.com. $

WESTMINSTER

CHEZ ROSE

The back-and-forth between French and Vietnamese décor at this vegetarian restaurant gets dizzying, even a bit annoying. But bickering soon dissipates under the brotherhood of great food, hybrids that you can imagine indulging along the banks of the Seine or Mekong. And as Edith Piaf begins to sing "La Vie en Rose"—for some serendipitous reason, the CD player always plays her torch song around dessert time—and you sip on a second order of coma-eradicating coffee, you can feel the world revert to a pre-Dien Bien Phu era, where French elegance and Vietnamese refinement waltzed tenuously. 7360 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 890-9711. $

COFFEE FACTORY

To get the full range of Vietnam's jolting coffees, pull up a table at the Anglo-named, French-themed Coffee Factory on the edge of Little Saigon. Sip slowly on the ca phé sua nong, which is as black as Larry Agran's heart (and just as shudder-inducing) or some ice-cold ca phé den da, complete with black tapioca pearls. 15582 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 418-0757. $

PAGOLAC

Pagolac will show you another side of beef—seven, to be exact. "Bo 7 Mon," the restaurant sign's subtitle, is Vietnamese for seven courses of beef, the restaurant's specialty. Ungodly slabs of sirloin are transformed into wisps of flavor-packed beef. 14580 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 531-4740. $$

TAI BUU PARIS BAKERY

Order a bánh mì ga at the takeout counter, and you'll get a shredded-chicken sandwich. If you sit down and order cari ga bánh mì off the menu, though, a waiter will carry out a bowl of chicken curry stewed in turmeric-scented coconut milk; the bread comes as a half-baguette. Make sense? No? Ah, just chomp on the bánh mì thit nuong, barbecued pork seasoned with a restrained hand. 9039 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 101, Westminster, (714) 895-6114. ¢

THANH MY

Westminster's Thanh My offers not just a palate-expanding, belt-popping introduction to Vietnamese cuisine, but a veritable graduate course in it. With nearly 200 menu items, you could eat here for months without repeating a meal. 9553 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 531-9540. $$

YORBA LINDA

LA BETTOLA

Delicious 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 LOCATIONS

ATHENS WEST

Many 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 with—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 West'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. $

 

BIRRIERIA Y PUPUSERIA JALISCO

Whether you order Mexican or Salvadoran food at Birrierías y Pupusería Jalisco, make sure to mix and match condiments, if only in the name of Latino solidarity. Add curtido (the Salvadoran slaw that accompanies pupusas) to Birrierías' bottle-sized burritos—enjoy the contrast between the garlicky, pickled curtido and the unspiced beans-rice-and-meat simplicity of the burrito. Spread the chilled, citrus-tinged house salsa on the pupusas to tweak the hearty appetizer. 404 N. Grand Ave., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 836-4409; 17292 W. Mcfadden, Ste. D, Tustin, (714) 573-1586; 6999 E. Cerritos Ave., Stanton, (714) 826-3382; 2525 N. Grand Ave., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 288-8931; 1212 S. Bristol Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 662-7400. $

CEDAR CREEK INNThe various Cedar Creeks offer similar menus featuring prime rib, rack of lamb and homemade desserts. The Brie-and-pecan-stuffed chicken breast comes with a creamy pear-sage sauce that draws out the fine, nutty flavor of the pecans. The large butterflied scampi is served with capers and diced Roma tomatoes. And the pot roast is a tribute to hearty Midwest German-American cooking. 20 Pointe Dr., Brea, (714) 255-5600. Also at 26860 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-2229, and 384 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-8696; www.cedarcreekinn.com. $$CHRIS & PITTSLow prices and macro-brew vibe bring the teeming masses, who scarf on outrageously meaty beef and pork short ribs slathered in industrial-strength barbecue sauce. If you notice how much Chris & Pitts is like the Claim Jumper, don't be surprised—Mr. Jumper got the idea for his chain while growing up and eating here. 601 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 635-2601. Also at 15975 Harbor Blvd., Fountain Valley, (714) 775-7311. $CLAR'S ITALIAN MARKETClaro's is a fourth-generation family business with a passion for food as big as the 600-pound loaves of provolone they are known to display during winter. Besides a huge selection of imported groceries, Claro's houses a stellar deli and bakery. 1095 E. Main St., Tustin, (714) 832-3081. Also at 101 W. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 690-2844. $LEE'S SANDWICHESBased out of San Jose, the shop specializes in bánh mì, the Vietnamese sandwich that is an appetizing post-colonial amalgamation. Though the always-endless lines seem imposing, Lee's service is so outstanding that you'll quickly be savoring the most outlandish deal ($1.50 for a huge, nine-inch, delicious sandwich) in the world. 9261 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 901-5788. Also at 13991 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 636-2288; 1028 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-2989; 4127 Campus Dr., Irvine, 949-509-9299; www.leessandwiches.com. friggin' ¢MOTHER'S MARKETThis organic mini-chain is an Orange County institution: a place that, along with the Gypsy Den, hipped up vegetarian eating in Orange County years ago. They offer an extensive breakfast-through-dinner menu, but constant is their remarkable soyrizo—chopped up with onions, tomatoes and a bit of salsa instead of prepared in greasy, crispy cylinders hours after being removed from a pig—but this soyrizo is lean, hearty and even a bit spicy, and all-vegan. 2963 Michelson Dr., Irvine, (949) 752-6667; also at 225 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 631-4741; 19770 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-6667; 24165 Paseo de Valencia, Laguna Woods, (949) 768-6667; www.mothersmarket.com. $LILY'S BAKERYLily's primarily concerns itself with wedding cakes and pastries à la the original locale but it also slaps out a fine bánh mì, layering meats and vegetables into an eye-pleasing sandwich. The best choice is the bánh mì jambon, thick slices of boneless pork leg cured with black peppercorns and a mild vinegar tang. The pork fat gels during curing, adding a curious, slightly rubbery textural contrast to the rich ham and sharp black peppercorns. 10161 Bolsa Ave., Ste. 109B, Westminster, (714) 839-1099; www.lilysbakery.com ¢ORIGINAL PANCAKE HOUSEThe restaurant's massive mascot looming over Lincoln Avenue at Original Pancake House—a grinning two-dimensional cook in a poofy hat flipping flapjacks—is a city icon as reassuring to Anaheimers as the Big A. And so are the pancakes—wheels of flour soaked with any number of syrups and gobs of butter. Chase them down with coffee. Good morning! 1418 E. Lincoln, Anaheim, (714) 535-9815; also at 18453 Yorba Linda Blvd., Yorba Linda, (714) 693-1390; 26951 Moulton Pkwy., Aliso Viejo, (949) 643-8591; www.originalpancakehouse.com. $PACIFIC WHEY CAFÉ & BAKING CO.You start your day with breakfast, and even though the prices may be on the high side ($9 for pancakes with fruit?), what you get in return here are freshness and quality. Dinner selections are limited, but they do offer a mix of intriguing vegetable dishes and steamy pot pies and stews for foggy nights. 2622 San Miguel Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 644-0303; also at 7962 Pacific Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 715-2200; 25672 Crown Valley Pkwy., Ste. G-1, Ladera Ranch, (949) 542-7744; www.pacificwhey.com. $$PASTA CONNECTIONIf you haven't dined at this Italian-Argentine chain, you're at least familiar with its logo—a picture of a howling toddler with spaghetti dripping from his head, an Orange County advertising icon as beloved as Mickey Mouse or the Spanky's guy. As the name suggests, Pasta Connection likes to prepare pasta—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. $EL POLLO NORTEÑOEl Pollo Norteño whole-cooks chickens on a spit that spins and spins over a fire. Once in a while, they'll squirt lemon and chile powder. What more could you ask for? 1525 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-9097; also at 202 N. Grand, Santa Ana, (714) 542-0779. $STEER INN"Get the 'small but mighty,'" my friend counseled. "It's the best." This steak is more mighty than small. The meat has enough texture to create a tooth-gnashing gusto reserved for Discovery Channel feeding frenzies, yet no steak knife is required to cut the beautifully seared surface. 801 S. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 639-2434; also at 444 N. Lakeview Ave., Anaheim, (714) 974-5321. $$TACO MESAYou'll love everything about Taco Mesa, especially their calamari taco. Wrapped in a steaming flour tortilla, the thick, juicy slabs of chile-coated calamari-steak strips are among the tenderest sea creatures that will ever touch your lips. 3533 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 633-3922; also at 647 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-0629; 22922 Los Alisos Blvd., Ste. P, Mission Viejo, (949) 472-3144; 27702 Crown Valley Pkwy., Ladera Ranch, (949) 364-1957; www.tacomesa.net. $


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