Grub Guide

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The bakery makes only two dishes: pita sandwiches and sphiha. Within this simplicity, though, lies culinary greatness. More than half of the sphihas are strictly veggie affairs, but not the expected roughage-heavy dishes. Instead, the main ingredients are spices—and not the spicy kind. Foreign-to-American-cuisine seasoning like pomegranate sauce is the principal player in Al-Sanabel's sphihas. 816 S. Brookhurst Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 635-4353; ¢CORTINA'S ITALIAN MARKET
Only the Italians remain from Anaheim's Old Europe guard, and they're the ones who keep the business bustling at Cortina's Italian Market, a cozy landmark that's been baking and slicing since 1963. The emporium consists of three rooms: a bazaar stocked with Italian produce (imitation Alka-Seltzer!), a side deli slapping together some of the heftiest subs outside Little Italy, and a dining room to enjoy said goods and grub. 2175 W. Orange Ave., Anaheim, (714) 535-1741; $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. 3070 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 821-5228. $ZANKOU CHICKEN
An Armenian take on poultry. Although non-poultry products are available, eschewing chicken here is like going to Laguna Beach without going to the beach. The chicken itself is cooked piping hot with a crisp golden skin that puts every other chicken skin we've eaten to shame. 2424 W. Ball Rd., Stes. S & T, Anaheim, (714) 229-2060. $BREAGAUCHO GRILL
Here's what you need to know about Argentine food as it relates to Gaucho Grill: meat. Lots of it, most of it beef, served many ways. The ultimate meat-eater's special is the plato mixto, a beast of a dinner including a half-chicken, a skirt steak, chorizo, morcilla (a black sausage) and mollejas (grilled beef sweetbreads—and a sweetbread is a hypothalamus gland, kiddies). 210 W. Birch St., Ste. 102, Brea, (714) 990-9140. $$BUENA PARKBISMILLAH HALAL TANDOORI RESTAURANT
The karahi lamb will blow your mouth into a new orbit. Prepared with a dictionary's worth of herbs and spices, the taste is an unbelievable medley of flavors. And the nihara's beef is so tender it's like butter. 8901-D Knott Ave., Buena Park, (714) 827-7201. $CANYON CITIESDOVE CANYON STEAK HOUSE
Practically a helicopter ride from most of Orange County, the Dove Canyon Steak House is worth the ride. The menu is beautifully simple: steaks, seafood and a couple of pasta dishes to go along with appetizing appetizers. 31911 Dove Canyon Dr., Trabuco Canyon, (949) 888-8477. $$$

When you get hungry in the backwaters of OC, turn that skiff around and motor over to this café. They offer supersatisfying breakfast burritos and always-fresh Farmers Bros. coffee that can be packed for boat or car. 4621 Santiago Canyon Rd., Silverado, (714) 649-9111. $


Fancy, fancy, fancy but good, good, good. 3201 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 673-3524. $$$


Small and claustrophobic, but they clear all the red tape as far as being authentic. There's lots of off-the-menu shit: conch, tuna cheeks, abalone—you know their shit's good when they got abalone. 675 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-2696. $$

Former baseball player Doug DeCinces focuses his menu on pan-Southern fare like sausage, pulled pork, chicken, brisket and ribs—no regional styles yet, although the off-the-menu pork taquitos hint at what Southerners can expect as more Mexicans settle in Dixie. I'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 houses a wonderful mix of juice, spice and pork. 1676 Tustin Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-RIBS; $$


A guy named Shark once sent a Weeklywriter a lengthy, hand-written testimonial recounting the glories of this tiny noodle shop, and after a few chopsticks of the ramen, it's easy to see why this is Shark's favorite place for a feeding frenzy. 750 Saint Clair, Costa Mesa, (714) 545-3331. $



Ignore bustling Lincoln Avenue outside, and you can almost imagine Puerto Rico transplanted to this pedacitoof Orange County's industrial-park northwest. Many grand borinquenappetizers, but Señor Big Ed's plato de resistance is the canoa de plátano maduro, a banana bloated with so much ground beef and melted Cheddar cheese that it looks like a quesadilla for Horatio Sanz. 5490 Lincoln Ave., Cypress, (714) 821-1290. $


This restaurant at Dana Point Harbor specializes in mesquite-broiled seafood that's mixed with a variety of flavors, including Cajun, Italian and Southwestern. (Speaking of a variety of flavors, the martini menu boasts nine of them!) 34499 Golden Lantern, Dana Point, (949) 240-1416;$$


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 on their almost entirely vegan-friendly menu. 16563 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 418-0658; $$



Mulberry Street, Fullerton's best East Coast-style bar, has plenty of seafood augmenting its Italian menu, and you can't go wrong with what locals tout as Mulberry Street's specialty: the steamed clams. In the words of one longtime patron and master of rhetoric, they are "to die for." 114 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-1056; $$


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 intestines. 12546 Valley View St., Garden Grove, (714) 890-0198. $


A Korean palace—beautiful tables, chandeliers, grand piano—where folks grill their meat or chow through cold noodles or seafood pancakes. Don't bother with ordering cake for dessert, though: the sweet hereafter is a wonderful cinnamon drink with floating pine nuts to rinse the garlic from your breath. 8295 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 530-5388. $$HUNTINGTON BEACH

Everyone from surfers in damp trunks to families celebrating special occasions feels welcome at this restaurant inspired by the Islands and the Pacific Rim. 317 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 374-6446.$$


Wise diners will go for the three-bucks-and-change combo No. 1: chow mein with just the right amount of grease, steamed or fried rice, and one selection from the steam table, all piled so high you can barely shut the foam tray they serve it in. Combo No. 2 comes with an extra steam table selection. You'll be breakfasting on leftovers for many a sunrise. 19077 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 596-3908. ¢IRVINE

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; $$

Gulliver's prime rib is the 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. $$

At the Melting Pot, it's hard to eat a full meal, with dessert and drinks, without leaving at least a C-note behind, but the spent Franklin is worth it. Such a cost gets you a bowl of cheesy fondue, fine salad, French-influenced meat entrées and a dessert that's flambeauxed in front of ya. 2646 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 955-3242. $$$



A tiny room that always seems packed, Chicken Box fries up all the bird parts you'd expect with just enough grease to keep things tasty, as well as ribs, batter-fried fish and reasonably healthy stuff like salads. And you gotta love a place that sells boysenberry punch—a supertart, purple elixir probably mixed nowadays only at Knott's Berry Farm, and then probably only as a tourist curio. 330 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 691-1701. $


The restaurant has a modern décor 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. $


This South Laguna landmark anchored Aliso Pier until the pier's 1999 demolition but remains unchanged since its 1972 opening save for the prices, and a wooden menu dating back to the start shows that even those aren't dramatically different. The wait is always long, but don't hold it against owner Barbara Perry—she's usually the only person working. She no longer makes the funnel cake that seared itself into many lingual memories, unfortunately, so salve your disappointment with a sip of a powerful banana shake and a surprisingly tasteful chicken gyro. 31131 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 499-6811. ¢

The décor might be Southwestern/northern Mexican-light, but the hulking burritos doused in salsa and stuffed to bursting with real steak strips and the deep-fried cove chicken surrounded by heaps of mashed potatoes make up for it. All this and Coke in a bottle! 31621 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 499-4033.$$

Orange County seems just too spick-and-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. $

Located in the La Casa de Camino Hotel in beautiful Laguna Beach, the restaurant is run by executive chef Brad Toles, captain of Team California in the International Culinary Olympics. He melds Asian and European cooking with a New Age flair. You can have your Brie and pad Thai here, and you'll like it. 1287 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-9718; $$$

At 3 a.m., when most Orange Countians are halfway through their slumber, Solomon Dueñas leaves Aliso Viejo and begins the 15-minute commute he's made nearly every morning since 1988 to his Jewish bakery. Glass displays at Solomon's are clean, highlighting all the favorites of the Jewish-pastry galaxy—stomach-stuffing babkas; fruity hamantaschen; crumbly rugelach available in chocolate, raspberry and apricot. Even better is a Dueñas original that he calls an apple-raisin bran, a block of caramelized flour so decadent that customers drive in from San Diego and even Washington state just for a sniff. 23020 Lake Forest Dr., Ste. 170, Laguna Hills, (949) 586-4718. $


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


The Spanish-styled brocheta vegetariana isn't like any bruschetta we're used to. The bread is replaced with corn tortillas and 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. $$

Egg Heaven would be Rockford'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 egg—including more styles of omelets than there are stars in the Andromeda Galaxy—except the chicken. Now that we think about it, they have chicken sandwiches and salads too. Truly is heaven here. 4358 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 433-9277.$

Ask the folks at M & M to comment on the peach-hued walls, lowered ceilings and general bunker-like atmosphere (livened up only by an animatronic James Brown doll and a display case full of dolphin-shaped oil burners for sale), and they'll decline. Wisely so. But the food—perfectly grilled short ribs, snappy okra with nary a touch of sliminess, nummy peach cobbler, amongst others—they'll praise with the intensity of a Sunday-morning gospel choir. 5400 Cherry Ave., Long Beach, (562) 422-8395. $


A Tommy Burger tribute stand, but worth the wait in a teen-infested line that snakes all the way across the street to Los Al High. The chili is mandatory.3652 Cerritos Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 430-6004. $



Matthew 20:16 taught us that the last shall be first, and that's the best way to describe Santora's Pizza, Subs & Wings, a dank tavern just down the street from the sterile opulence of the Shops at Mission Viejo. Santora's pizza is passable; the subs nothing a Togo's drone can't slap together in three minutes. But Santora's Buffalo wings are the gourmand Gospel manifest: the Good Word transubstantiated into fleshy appendages ready to burn through your alimentary canal like the fires of Gehenna. 28251 Marguerite Pkwy., Mission Viejo, (949) 364-3282. $


Perfect for kitschy late-night dining, with booths covered in ancient nautical signs and models. The Wednesday night all-you-can-eat chili special is ideal: steaming bowls filled with a thick, sumptuous chili drowning in diced onions and cheese. 102 McFadden Pl., Newport Beach, (949) 675-7991. $

Styled after traditional Eastern steak houses, Fleming's offers an à la carte menu of appetizers, salads, side dishes, "red meat and white meat," and seafood. The steaks are cooked in a superheated gas flame to "seal in the juices," as the publicity goes. It does. A little salt is added to the cut before cooking. 455 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 720-9633; 1300 Dove St., Ste. 105, Newport Beach, (949) 222-2223. $$$

Despite its location—in a storefront across from Newport Beach City Hall—Pescadou manages to impart a south-of-France feel with vibrant colors and eclectic table settings. You'll find traditional French dishes—frog legs and coq au vin—as well as such bistro fare as rib-eye steak, bouillabaisse and a variety of fish dishes. 3325 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 675-6990. $$


Allegro has a mind-blowing osso buco: veal shank simmered for four hours in fresh garden vegetables and a rich assortment of herbs. The meat is so righteously tender you don't need a knife. Perhaps best of all, there is plenty of tasty, soft marrow in the bones waiting to be scooped out. 1160 N. Tustin, Orange, (714) 639-7921. $$


Brooklyn 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. An anthropomorphic pizza on the menu boasts that The Orange County Registerdeemed Brooklyn Pizza Works the county's best pizza parlor. The pizza doesn't mention that the daily bestowed this honor in 1981 and 1992. But the designation still applies. And the calzones are even better! 1325 Imperial Hwy., Placentia, (714) 524-1260; $


Waffles with the circumference of chessboards, topped with coconut, rife with pecans or drowned in maple syrup—fine and all. But have you ever chomped on the burger at the Waffle Lady? The certified-Angus-patty burger? The burger with a crescent of avocado, sinewy red onions and just-perfect mild salsa? You haven't? You just like the waffles here? Good for you—but eat the burger someday. 107 Via Pico, San Clemente, (949) 361-9132. $


The favorite Mexican restaurant of el PresidenteRichard Nixon. Stop by the presidential booth, and order the President's Choice (guacamole, chile relleno, chicken enchilada, beef taco, Spanish rice and refried beans). 31891 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 493-1163. $


Benjies is mostly about big, meaty food served quickly. After chucking any hopes of swimsuit modeling, the Francheesy may be for you: grilled knackwurst with bacon and American cheese just oozing off the sides. It's angioplantastic! 1828 N. Tustin, Santa Ana, (714) 541-6230.$

Where 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.$

Lurking 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 menu—dense mole poblano, pale goat menudo and guilotas, a chewy type of quail so region-specific that it's not even listed in most Spanish dictionaries. 1221 E. First St., Ste. C, Santa Ana, (714) 834-9004. $


Pangea has operated a modest little shop in Santa Ana's Artists Village for two years now and just three months ago started serving dinner Thursday through Saturday. But we love Pangea best because it delivers. Indulge in their sandwiches: a hibachi-grilled Atlantic salmon filet served with a zesty ponzu glaze, a fresh Artists Village turkey wrap or the Malaysian curry chicken breast sandwich—really, any of the fusion-style globalness that Pangea rocks out with its cocks out. 211 W. Second St., Santa Ana, (714) 834-0688; $$

Ricas Tortas Ahogadas offers no seating except a shade-free street curb where it parks on Santa Ana's Fifth Street, next to a host of auto shops. But this lunch truck is a barrio culinary school: the guys inside slap out hellacious tortas ahogadas, the Guadalajara specialty involving luscious carnitas, crispy French rolls, cold onions and a pool of salsa: the best burn since Chris Rock ragged on his own kind. On the corner of Fifth and Townsend sts., Santa Ana. ¢


Nick 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. ¢


If white people go in here, they get glared at—it's an all-Korean clientele. But they have these really great $5 milkshakes—they're small, but so good. They're a little bit bigger than a shot glass, and we don't know what's in there, but they're very creamy. Go with an Asian friend, preferably a Korean, and preferably a Korean who speaks Korean. 12860 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 379-2575. $


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. $$


For the superlative paella, a couple of days advance notice is needed, but for good reason. You won't find a more complex, beautifully presented or better-tasting dish in OC. The scrumptious leftovers made for the 10 people in our party weighed at least a pound each. 303 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 544-6060; $$

Drones 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 restaurants specializing in Islamic Chinese cuisine, a 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 sesame bread, a Frisbee of flour speckled with scallions. 2512 Walnut Ave., Tustin, (714) 838-3522. $$


Go 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., Villa Park, (714) 998-2961. $


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, when French elegance and Vietnamese refinement waltzed tenuously. 7360 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 890-9711. $

The menu is either eclectic or scattershot, depending on your point of view, with everything from pizza to kung pao. But there's no denying each entrée's inherent tastiness. The Shanghai tacos? Quite the treat, coming in the form of a large bowl filled with chicken ground to the consistency of hamburger, stir-fried with water chestnuts and shredded carrots, and accompanied by a plate of iceberg-lettuce leaves. 16310 Beach Blvd., Westminster, (714) 500-1140; $$

The jellyfish salad is quite tasty, and if you think of it as Chinese pasta, you won't squirm. The family dinners are fabulous with interesting choices, including an entire steamed fish. 8566 Westminster Ave., Westminster, (714) 893-3020. $$


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. $$


Low 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; 15975 Harbor Blvd., Fountain Valley, (714) 775-7311. $

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 have disappeared. 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; 9304 Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-4542. $


It's hard to ignore a joint that boasts WORLD FAMOUS PASTRAMI in big block lettering on the sign out front. This is the Hat's first OC eatery, and if you're into the sort of cuisine that would make a vegan's head spontaneously combust (like the Hat's specialty—the pastrami dip sandwich, a frightening cacophony of red and brown meat stuffed tightly into a roll), this is cholesterol Nirvana. 1210 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 257-9500; 23641 Rockfield Blvd., Lake Forest, (949) 586-9200; $


The 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; 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. $

An industrious little Japanese fast-food kitchen full of huge rice cookers and meats sizzling on the grill. The sake-tinged teriyaki sauce is made on the premises and served over rice and chicken, beef or pork. The bowls are filling and cheap. 1008 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 772-8543; 221 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 835-8288. ¢


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