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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

KAPIT BAHAY

Here are just some of Kapit Bahay's game pieces: about four or five different fish deep-fried until the bones become jelly; pork and chicken adobo marinated long into the day in a murky broth of soy sauce, ginger, vinegar and garlic; sweet-sour viscous soups bumpy with rice, cucumbers or baby squids; beef minced with vegetables and covered in raw onion hoops or stabbed by a skewer; purple eggs called balut that contain a two-week-old duck embryo you're supposed to slurp whole. Even better desserts! 615 N. Euclid, Anaheim, (714) 635-4400. $

MARISCOS LICENCIADO #2

Mariscos Licenciado #2—#1 is in the 909—sells Sinaloan seafood but lies landlocked in the same decaying commercial pocket JC Fandango calls paradise. Nevertheless, a coastal breeze flows through the simple eatery. It starts somewhere in Mazatlán, sweeps past the tiled counter where men in tejanas sit and curse at televised soccer matches, and cools giant vats of boiling octopus and shrimp with a salty Sinaloan soul. 1052 N. State College, Anaheim, (714) 776-3415. $

MATIKI ISLAND BARBEQUE

Whether tucked between two bread slices or served alongside rondures of rice and macaroni salad, the beef at Matiki Island Barbeque is among the most memorably delicious pieces of cow you'll ever chew: ruddy, soft, not burnt at all, a veritable luau on your palate. That beef and other entrées are the sole enticers here—no need for Polynesian bric-a-brac when the food is a slice of the island alongside two scoops of rice and one of macaroni salad. 3070 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 821-5228. $

MERHABA RESTAURANT

You're probably the second non-African to visit Merhaba after me, so the female owner will be extra attentive and repeatedly ask if you enjoy her East African recipes. You will. East African cuisine sticks mostly to stews: chewy cubes of tibisy beef; lamb ribs battling with furious peppers for control of your tongue; the famous Ethiopian doro wat, spicy chicken cooked in butter, hot like the pits of hell. The vegetarians in your party will content themselves with the shiro, an Eritrean chickpea mush similar to hummus. 2801 W. Ball Rd., Ste. 5, Anaheim, (714) 826-8859. $

BREA

TAPS FISH HOUSE & BREWERY

Located in the desperately fine-dining-deficient Brea, this place has everything—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

NANCY'S PUPUSERÍA RESTAURANT

Customers at Nancy's wait with patience, and so should you—as Sunday school taught, patience is a virtue, and its reward is the pupusa. Namesake owner Nancy Funes' namesake Salvadoran pupusas are grilled discs o' plenty, bubbling with slightly salty cheese and not too greasy, as they are in so many other county pupuserías. Her pupusas de calabasa—brimming with fresh zucchini bits within the pupusa's cheesy morass that don't compromise the zucchini's natural, juicy snappiness—is a minor miracle, maybe not on the level of Fatima but at least Medjugorje. 8111 Knott Ave., Buena Park, (714) 995-2086. ¢

CORONA DEL MAR

FIVE CROWNS

With ferociously delicious food that destroys the stereotype of British cuisine, you can't go wrong with the Beefsteak Neptune (filet mignon topped with crab legs, asparagus and Béarnaise sauce) or the Jamaican "jerked" pork chop. One warning: prom-goers love this place—be afraid. 3801 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 760-0331. $$$

COSTA MESA

FRANK'S PHILADELPHIA

There are no frills at Frank'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 peppers 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. $

 

PINOT PROVENCE

Unlike other posh joints, where the idea of comfort is to make average folks feel uncomfortable, Pinot is nothing but inviting. The French-Californian cuisine and atmosphere manages to be classy without being stuffy, and the roasted-lamb noisette is one of the best cuts of lamb around. The Westin South Coast Plaza Hotel, 686 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 444-5900. $$$

PLUM'S CAFE

Plum's Café is the county's premier place to enjoy the timber-soaked flavors of the Pacific Northwest. It's also what independent dining should be about: a spare design, gallery-deserving artwork, plus owner/chef Kim Jorgenson's ever-evolving experiments. We like the apple-infused pancakes, salmon platters redolent of the Chinook, and the marionberry cheesecake that forever elevates marionberry to our favorite obscure fruit—barobo, take a hike! 369 E. 17th St., Ste. B, Costa Mesa, (949) 722-7586. $$

CYPRESS

IRIE JAMAICAN RESTAURANT

This mom-and-pop place serves an excellent ackee and salt fish that is a must-have. But you might be remiss if you passed on some of the other fine dishes, including oxtail, cow foot, curry goat or jerk chicken. 9062 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 484-0661. $

DANA POINT

BEACH CITIES PIZZA

There's sweet spaghetti, wonderful breadsticks and a terrifying garlic sauce with thin, crispy strands of garlic that will actually numb your lips. But order yourself one of the gourmet pizzas—try the Newporter, a sweet mix of meaty prawns, juicy sun-dried tomatoes and a tangy pesto sauce glued onto a thin crust by a milky cheese. 34473 Golden Lantern, Dana Point, (949) 496-0606. $$

FOUNTAIN VALLEY

KAPPO HONDA

Dubbed a Japanese pub restaurant, Kappo Honda serves the holy trinity of Japanese Beer—Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo—and Bud and Bud Light for some reason. The beer serves as amniotic fluid to some very solid excellent food. 18450 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 964-4629. $$

FULLERTON

AMAZON CHURRASCARIA

This Brazilian beef barn ignores the multicultural influences predominant in most Brazilian dishes for the straightforward flesh diet of the sertão. 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. $$

ANGELO'S AND VINCI'S

This restaurant is a work of art. Never mind the monster wine cellar; it's like the Piazza Fantasia inside. You can't go wrong ordering pizza, so try the quattro formaggio that comes with tangy goat cheese. 550 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 879-4022. $

BEVERLY'S BEST BAKERY

In an era in which restaurant chains focus-group everything to manufacture a sense of Grandma, Beverly's Best is hominess with a brownie. The macaroons are chocolate-dipped coconut dreams: rich, light and fluffy, a guaranteed late-night craving. The holiday-themed sugar cookies—haunted houses, Christmas trees, Guy Fawkes (kidding)—are beautifully, deliciously, detailed pieces of art. And chocolate-chip cookies fresh out of the oven (Carmela's admitted favorite) will make you discard Mrs. Field's as if they were a mere carton of Chips Ahoy! 3020 Brea Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 529-3989. $

GARDEN GROVE

AZTECA

As far as Azteca goes, there are two words to keep in mind: "garlic" and "taco"—beef tacos with the usual fixings, but flavored with fresh garlic-and-vinegar dressing and lime. The garlic hits first, but it's the citrus that finishes each bite. 12911 Main St., Garden Grove, (714) 638-3790. $

BÁNh MÌ Che Cali

If you want to know what a thousand years of Chinese domination and a half-century of French colonization with dashes of Polynesian influence taste like, go for the bánh mì dac biet. Stuffed with pâté, pickled carrots and Chinese-style ham, this sandwich is the house specialty. 13838 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 534-6987. ¢

MAHINA HAWAIIAN BBQ

Mahina serves an array of delicious standards: shredded kalua pork so thin it looks like fabric; teriyaki beef and chicken grilled to succulent zeniths; breaded shrimp, pork and chicken platters that crumble in your mouth like a rain of soft butter; bowls of steaming, succulent, soy sauce-slathered meat. But it's the Spam musubi—the supreme example of the island's mishmash diet of indigenous, Japanese and postwar Americana cuisine—that will never leave your mind. Or, perhaps, your intestine. 12546 Valley View St., Garden Grove, (714) 890-0198; www.mahinabbq.com. $

HUNTINGTON BEACH

BODHI TREE VEGETARIAN CAFÉ

Deciding what to eat at Bodhi Tree–there are more than 100 mock-meat choices–involves the same deliberation needed for a koan. The tofu-drop soup, bobbing with meaty chunks of bean curd, bamboo shoots and cilantro, is free. Not free but worth the somewhat-pricey $3.50 is the chicken-satay baguette sandwich full of faux fowl, tomatoes and so many julliened carrots it could be classified under the salad portion of the menu and mislead no one. 501 Main St., Ste. E, Huntington Beach, (714) 969-9500. $

 

SEBASTIANI'S ITALIAN BISTRO

Owner Pablo Benavente references his Peruvian roots during lunch and Italian dinners. Before you chow through an extensive, expensive gustatory tour of Southern Italy—highlights include powerfully herbed cannelloni, filling risotto and multiple chicken dishes—Benavente trots out a thimble of ají, the deceptively spicy Andean condiment, for your bread-spreading pleasure. 6078 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-3619; www.sebastianis.net. $$

SILK THAI

Munch down their vegetarian spring rolls, made special off the menu, or try the pad Thai noodles with shrimp and chicken and stir-fried vegetables—not too heavy or greasy. 19690 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 964-1151. $

SMOKIN' MO'S

A tour of barbecue traditions within the confines of a gleaming Surf City development, Smokin' Mo's redeems the red states from which it pulls its stuff. Tennessee shines with vinegary, massive, great pork ribs, Louisiana appears with hot links that please like a boat ride through the bayou. Better than that, we love its pig mascot—wide-eyed, holding a massive wooden spoon, grinning at the thought of eating its brethren, the happiest cannibal since that weird gay German guy. 301 Main St., Ste. 107, Huntington Beach, (714) 374-3033; www.mosbbq.com. $

SUPER HERO'S

After two years of drunken bar talk, co-chefs Dan Gauna and Jeff Johnson have opened a sandwich shop where every sandwich is an adventure for the young, hip and hungry. 714 Adams Ave., #101, Huntington Beach, (714) 536-1188. $

IRVINE

6IX PARK GRILL

The 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. $$$

DIHO BAKERY

The Japanese are the creators of nikuman, the world's cutest sandwich which consists of a candied, spongy flour wrapped around gingered meats and vegetables. At Diho Bakery, nikuman-type sandwiches are elevated to an art form on par with calligraphy. The taro, in particular, is a pleasant surprise—not your tiki party's dull, watery poi paste, but instead a jam waiting to be copyrighted by See's. 14130 Culver Dr., Ste. J, Irvine, (949) 857-6415. $

GULLIVER'S

Gulliver's prime rim is primest of prime. El Primo de Ribbie Ribozo! Un Primen de Ribentrop! What else is there to say? It's succulent, it's pink, it's thick, and it's delicious. You'll be saying Voulez-vous le Ribby de Prim! I surrender. 18482 MacArthur Blvd., Irvine, (949) 833-8411. $$

LA HABRA

ARTHUR'S COFFEE SHOP

"Best Breakfast in Town," proclaims the sign out front, and they probably don't hear too many arguments. While the food's good, the atmosphere is even better, like scenes from an unwritten Tom Waits song. Waitresses sport "OKIE SPOKEN HERE" T-shirts as they take orders from Korean War vets who have axle-grease stains on their well-worn Dickies. Arthur's serves real food for real people. 1281 E. La Habra Blvd., La Habra, (562) 691-7793. ¢

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

230 FOREST AVENUE

230 Forest Avenue's (it's both the address and the name of the restaurant) starter plates give you plenty to decide among, including wild-mushroom strudel wrapped in phyllo with dark garlic sauce; roasted-artichoke crab dip with warm herb-pita crisps; and salmon and mussel stew with white beans and applewood-smoked bacon, slow simmered in a vegetable fish broth. 230 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-2545; www.230forestavenue.com. $$$

LAS BRISAS

Sometimes you've gotta choose: the kid's college education, or another round of margaritas? Ah, but at Las Brisas—perched above Laguna Beach's Heisler Park, granting you a luxurious after-dinner view of the sun setting over Catalina, the seafood and booze are so good as to make temptation irresistible. 361 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-5434. $$

 

MADISON SQUARE & GARDEN CAFE

Topped with berry-infused butter, the ginger and lemon-perfumed ricotta pancakes are creamy and moist. Also, try the Shanghai chicken salad; it's a towering bed of gourmet greens, shredded carrots, rice, noodles, won tons and chicken. 320 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-0137. $

 

LAGUNA HILLS

ONAMI SUSHI & SEAFOOD RESTAURANT

Here, you can partake of as much sushi as you want. You can gobble down transparent globules of ikura (salmon roe) like popcorn or tiny particles of masago (smelt egg) as if they're, well, tiny particles of masago. 24155 Laguna Hills Mall, Ste. 1301, Laguna Hills, (949) 768-0500. $$

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

EMPANADA MAN

Empanada Man prepares its steaming eponym upon order, so it'll be a while before you can start debating whether to order a fourth or fifth one for the journey home. Chicken and beef empanadas are mini-stews of joy, the meats moist and accompanied by corn kernels in the former, hard-boiled egg slices in the latter. The spinach and potato selections are the edible equivalent of Argentina's gold-medal-winning Olympic soccer squad: rough, earthy, at first unimpressive but ultimately a winner. And the tangy dance the ricotta cheese empanada stomps upon your palate is worthy of a Gardel croon. 20761 Lake Forest Dr., Lake Forest, (949) 855-9257; www.empanadaman.com. ¢

LONG BEACH

ALGERÍA COCINA LATINA

The Spanish-styled brocheta vegetariana isn't like any bruschetta we'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. That's right—tofu! 115 Pine Ave., Long Beach, (562) 436-3388. $$

BUBBA GUMP SHRIMP CO.

The inheritor to the dumb Forrest Gump franchise 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. $

COCO RENO'S

Coco Reno's, adjacent to its tattooed hipster sister bar the Reno Room, serves what can only be described as delight on a platter. Better known as carnitas, the cooks will even make 'em to order for those who are carb-challenged. Cancel the rice and beans, smother the succulent pork in cheddar cheese, slop on the sour cream and guac, and cheat just a little with a toasty tortilla. 3400 E. Broadway St., Long Beach, (562) 438-9381. $

LOS ALAMITOS

THE ORIGINAL FISH COMPANY

Both restaurant and market and far from the sea, the Original Fish Co. is where you can chomp through swordfish as a sandwich, on a skewer, as a fillet, mesquite-smoked or combined with a hunk of beef. Its other seafood platters are rightfully popular, but don't forget their accompanying sourdough rolls: slightly bitter, around the size of an enlarged orange and brilliant. 11061 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-4553; www.originalfishcompany.com. $$

MISSION VIEJO

LA MAISON GOURMET

Every Friday for the past couple of 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 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, is 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. $$$

THE LIDO SHIPYARD SAUSAGE CO. AND SABATINO'S FAMILY RESTAURANT

The meals begin like an explosion at the back end of a cornucopia. The sausage is made on the premises and is meaty, clean and flavorful. The stuffed pasta is also incredible. 251 Shipyard Way, Newport Beach, (949) 723-0621. $$

TACO ROSA

It's not just the wide swath of Mexico—Mexico City, Oaxaca, even the Yucatan—that makes Taco Rosa one of the few truly successful gourmet Mexican restaurants. Taco Rosa succeeds because its few tweaks are Mexican-based and surprising. Ask for the aguas frescas and instead of horchata, waiters will recommend a frosted, freshly squeezed cup of cantaloupe or melon—¡delicioso! 2632 San Miguel Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 720-0980. $$

YI DYNASTY KOREAN BBQ

With a BBQ promising such exotica as honey-corn tripe, black pork bellies, barbecued bone marrow, wild boar and stingray, Yi Dynasty is sure to placate even the most demanding gourmand. Korean cooking protocol—panchan, DIY meat cooking, feuding tastes in your mouth—is in effect at all times. 1701 Corinthian Way, #E, Newport Beach, (949) 797-9292; www.yi-dynasty.com. $$$

 

ORANGE

LA BRASSERIE

The Orange institution looks, smells, tastes and sounds like the French eateries your grandparents frequented, the type of elegant dining experience that once required pearls, a dining jacket and an irony-free martini. All the French entrées Americans endlessly stereotype are here—duckling a l'orange, frog legs, pâté, escargot and the like. But La Brasserie also stays true to its rustic Alsatian roots by preparing nine different types of veal, each consisting of young cow slices cut into large portions, battered with egg and nearly floating over myriad tasty sauces. 202 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 978-6161. $$$

EL PORTAL DE VERACRUZ

Most people pick their El Portal meal from a buffet that surprises hourly. Sometimes you'll find fried bananas sidling against pork ribs slathered in a citrusy green salsa spiked with smoky cactus strips. Or you can go veggie and load up on grilled jalapeños, cheese-sprinkled refried beans and moist rice. But no meal at El Portal is worth eating without at least one masa-based Veracruzan snack: potato-y garnachas, lightly fried picaditas or fluffy chicken tamales. 4530 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 538-1660. $

SALAMAT MARKET & DELI

Salamat is more than just a takeout deli serving great kabobs, stews and soups. The tiny store stocks a surprising array of goods imported from Iran: traditional Persian cheeses and figs; oils, jams and spices; and Persian breads ranging from pita to lavash to the massive sangak, a 2-foot-long flatbread thing that looks like a miniature bed sheet—there's even something called Armenian cracker bread, which is wrapped in butcher paper but feels and weighs like a military-grade pretzel. 1718 N. Tustin St., Orange, (714) 921-0153. $

PLACENTIA

Q TORTAS

Q's is unique because it's one of the few restaurants in la naranja exclusively devoted to the torta-making trade. And the local landmark, having been there for nearly a quarter-century, does not disappoint, turning out juicy monstrosities only slightly smaller than the King James Bible. 220 S. Bradford Ave., Placentia, (714) 993-3270. ¢

SAN CLEMENTE

MOLLY BLOOM'S IRISH BAR AND RESTAURANT

Molly Bloom's interior has the standard Irish pub features: low lighting, Guinness posters and bricks. Lots of bricks. Both bar and restaurant offer sizeable menus featuring traditional Irish dishes such as fish and chips, bangers, beans and mash (a surprisingly tasty combination of sausages, baked beans and mashed potatoes). 2391 S. El Camino Real, San Clemente, (949) 218-0120. $$

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO

L'HIRONDELLE

The French/Belgian restaurant L'Hirondelle is a San Juan Capistrano institution, used as proof by residents that their city offers more than Fr. Serra this and swallows that (although the restaurant's name is French for "the swallow"—guess one can't fly too far from the nest). The lapin à la liégeoise (rabbit) is perfect, tasting like a duskier, moister turkey, with a plum wine sauce lending a bittersweet taste, and juicy plum skins mixed in. 31631 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 661-0425. $$$

SANTA ANA

50 FORKS

50 Forks, the student-run restaurant of the Art Institute of California's Orange County campus, is the final test for the school's culinary arts students before they can graduate with a bachelor's degree, the classroom where years of theory and strategies get flambéed and presented to salivating, discriminating eaters who grade by pats to the gut and big tips. It's also one hell of a restaurant, with great, inventive platters, and its more than affordable—probably the only place in the county where you can dine like Newport Beach at Santa Ana prices. 3601 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 429-0918. $$

NEW PANDA CHINESE FOOD

Combo C: fried rice, chow mein and any three items. God love 'em, they'll most likely give you four just for the hell of it. And all for, like, $5—if you can beat that, you must be in China. 3814 S. Bristol St., Ste. B, Santa Ana, (714) 540-2238. ¢

NEWPORT SEAFOOD CHINESE RESTAURANT

Lobster lovers come from all over for these crustaceans heavily dosed with pepper that could make you reach spice heaven. It comes with dessert, including green beans and ice-cold oranges, that balance the meal out nicely. 4411 W. 1st St., Santa Ana, (714) 531-5146. $$$.

LA NUEVA REYNA DE MICHOACÁN

If you get lost in the bustle of Santa Ana's Fourth Street on a hot day and need salvation, just follow the ice cream drippings toward La Nueva Reyna de Michoacán, a veritable Baskin Robbins en español. La Nueva Reyna's ice cream is velvety, like a lover's tongue on yours—except for the wonderful chunks of fruit. Go for the harder-to-find flavors—sultry mango, bitter plum, luscious coconut and the fleshy aroma of guayaba (sadly a seasonal fruit, available only in fall). 300 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 835-0394. ¢

 

SANTA ANA FARMER'S MARKET

This 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

CREMA CAFÉ

Crema is a good place to take a balmy window seat and nurse a newspaper as the beach people bounce along outside while you enjoy omelets and crepes filling enough for a man but tasty enough for gourmands. 322 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 493-2501. $

STANTON

THE GOLDEN STEER

The Golden Steer is what a family restaurant used to be—not just inexpensive enough to feed a family, but tasty and wholesome enough to feed it well. It also brings back the times 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 BEACH

Harbor House Café

This 24-hour diner is a local institution that serves consistently good food. As it's incredibly popular with the late-night crowd, be prepared to wait for a table. 16341 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-5404; www.harborhousecafe.com. $

TUSTIN

HK FOOD MARKET

Like most ethnic grocery stores, the Korean-centric HK Market functions more like a Costco, a capitalist wonderland where jewelry stands abut gumball machines, and towers of bags swelling with rice are visible from the counter where a cute girl sells designer purses. The most enjoyable feature here, however, is the aisle stands where you can sample its produce, from fat Korean sushi rolls to an infinite number of kimchis. 14551 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-6801. $

HONDA-YA

The Tustin Japanese joint continues to be a county chowhound phenomenon more than a decade after its opening, one of the precious few Orange County restaurants with a daily past-midnight closing time and a 150-plus-item menu that necessitates hours-long pilgrimages just to dent it. Per the izaka-ya tradition, Honda-Ya is all about time and placement: different sections that provoke a different feel and warrant a different menu at different hours. You'll find it all: noodles, sushi, yakitori and tiny bowl-meals sautéed with enough butter to make it pancake-spread worthy. 556 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-0081. $$

VILLA PARK

ROCKWELL'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

BÁNH MÌ CHO CU

You're tolerating brusque customer service here for the 10 choices of bánh mì, the foot-long sandwich that is one of the most delicious robberies in the gustatory world at $1.50 per stickup. Barbecue pork is charred to a ruddy crispness, yet moist. Meatballs are densely herbed and juicy, not bitter like those found at so many bánh mi shops. And a breakfast bánh mì includes the perfect scrambled egg, oozing just enough yolk to liven up your morning. 14520 Magnolia St., Unit B, Westminster, (714) 891-3718. ¢

CAJUN CORNER

Cajun Corner is the latest in a rash of Little Saigon restaurants that attract mostly young Vietnamese looking for Louisiana seafood favorites like crab and crawfish, beer, and a messy dinner—bibs and butcher paper on your table at Cajun Corner are gospel. The special is a whole Dungeness crab, brought out in a plastic bag heavy with chile rub, awaiting your cracking to reveal soft, buttery meat. 15430 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 775-7435. $$

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. $

DRAGON PHOENIX PALACE

Get your chopsticks ready for the weekend dim sum because in minutes, you'll have a tableful of sizzling pork and shrimp pot stickers, savory dumplings, won-ton soup, and wonderful salt-and-pepper squid. 9211 Bolsa Ave., Stes. 201-208, Westminster, (714) 893-1976. $$

KIM SU

A funky little place to eat lunch—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 we're cheap bastards. 10526 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 554-6261. $

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. $$

SAIGON BISTRO

The place has an interior seemingly boxed up and mailed from fin-de-siècle 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. $$

VAN HANH VEGETARIAN RESTAURANT

Vietnamese cuisine includes a proud tofu tradition, and Van Hanh's menu represents its full, finest flowering. No limp kung pao and imitation orange chicken here. Instead, you'll find biting papaya concoctions drenched in chile powder and lime juice, noodle selections studded with tasty tofu and veggies, and more rice plates than in Uncle Ben's wildest dreams. 9455 Bolsa Ave., Ste. D, Westminster, (714) 531-4661. ¢

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. $

CALIFORNIA FISH GRILL

California Fish Grill is one of those middle-class mini-chains common to Orange County—fancier than Knowlwood's or Natraj but a step below Sage or the Daily Grill. The massive charbroiled fillets feature deep grill marks and shine thanks to a powerful garlic-butter coating. All should also order the grilled zucchini and its juicy, smoky innards. 10569 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 252-0001; Also 5675 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 777-5710; 3988 Barranca Pkwy., #B, Irvine, (949) 654-3838; www.cafishgrill.com. $$

CEDAR CREEK INN

The 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. $$

CLARO'S ITALIAN  MARKET

Claro'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. $

THE DAILY GRILL

This is where you can learn to love the Cobb salad, an orchestrated event of chicken, tomatoes, avocado, bacon, blue cheese, scallions, egg and romaine and iceberg lettuce mixed in a creamy Italian dressing. Also American comfort food—don't miss the meatloaf—prepared at its highest level. 957 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 644-2223. Also at 2636 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 474-2223; www.dailygrill.com. $$

EL CARBONERO

Owner María de Jesús Ramírez ensures that El Carbonero #1 and #2 use the same recipes of her hearty native cuisine, the primary reason why the county'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 Carbonero'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. $

 

THE GYPSY DEN

Hipster Orange County's favorite place to ogle progressive waitresses. The menu is still filled with an eclectic collection of healthy post-hippie sandwiches; and the décor is almost identical, from the earthy walls to the funky art. 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 835-8840. Also 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 549-7012; www.gypsyden.com. $

GYRO KING

It'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 gyro'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. $

PASTA CONNECTION

If 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. $


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