The year's best new restaurants. Spend your holidays here. As for me, I'm off to make tamales!
DINNER FOR TWO:
¢ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than $10!
$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10-$20
$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20-$40
$$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ¡Eres muy rico!
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 sphihas, a kind of Lebanese New York-style pizza: a 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. ¢BOULANGERIE PIERRE & PATISSERIE
Many of the elderly Vietnamese who make up the morning crowd walk out laden with crunchy baguettes, but the younger afternoon clients prefer Boulangerie Pierre's other confections. The croissants are the antithesis of the baguettes: fluffy, flaky, light, some gooey with a peppery cheese baked inside. Boulangerie Pierre's best sweet bet, though, is the baba au rum: a rum-soaked, fruit-topped mini-cake and not a mistranslated Who song. 14352 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 418-9098. ¢
Corner Broiler is the sort of intimate neighborhood steak house that fell years ago to the nationwide chains but is rightfully, slowly staging a comeback. True to its name, Corner Broiler specializes in revered American meat cuts: mountainous rib-eyes and porterhouses, nicely smoked barbecued chicken, blackened salmon or halibut fillets. The steak-and-potatoes entrées complement the restaurant's hushed, humble décor. 24301 Muirlands, Ste. Y, Lake Forest, (949) 581-1289. $$
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. ¢
There are so many dosas at Dosa Place—crammed with goat, stuffed with cheese, oozing with curried potatoes—that you'll probably overlook the rest of the platters. Don't. Once in a while, scan over the South India portion of the menu and devote a lunch to the idli, two rice-flour dumplings touched with a molten chile powder, or an uttapam, a flour Frisbee that the menu advertises as a pancake but is really more of a veggie-gorged omelet. 13812 Redhill Ave., Tustin, (714) 505-7777; www.dosaplace.com. $
HWANG HAE DO BBQ
Hwang Hae Do is the Orange County outpost of an Artesia restaurant famed for its mandoo—delicate dumplings native to North Korea that are a bit bigger than the five knuckles of your hand bunched together and bloated with herbed ground beef and snappy zucchini bits. But Hwang Hae Do also prepares other Korean favorites: chicken, pork or beef shavings (bulgogi) doused in soy sauce and brought out on a skillet with almost-caramelized onions; eggy seafood pancakes engorged with grilled octopus, buttery clams and some viciously pickled house kim chi; noodles of various temperatures and consistencies with strewn vegetables. 9448 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 590-1588. $
Small though it is, Kappo Suzumaru is really two restaurants—a fast-paced sushi bar with comforting (California) and confounding (fermented soybean?) rolls, and a leisurely main dining room separated by paper lanterns and banners stitched with slogans in katakana and kanji script. At some point, get the ochazuke: rice plum soup that's hearty but viciously tart—something that will comfort and enthrall you the rest of the day. 17292 McFadden Ave., Ste. B, Tustin, (714) 665-1300. $$
KOCHEE KABOB HOUSE
Kochee Kabob might lack decorative charm and a relaxed ambiance, but its grilled meat is, well, hard to beat—eight kinds of kebabs, each paired with flurries of long-grained, nutty basmati rice and a salad that can't quite measure up. Kochee Kabob's meats are flavorful enough without condiments, but there are two available: sour chile powder and a green hot sauce that's a fusion of a mint chutney and emerald Tapatío. 4143 Campus Dr., Ste. 195, Irvine, (949) 854-0206.
It advertises itself as a South African restaurant, but Mozambique best excels in its preparation of meat—pork chops, steaks, seafood and the great Durban curry, a dusky lamb dish that will warm you up wherever you may be. 1740 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 715-7100; www.mozambiqueoc.com. $$
Gourmet American food in Stanton—who'da thunk it? The whole stuffed chicken, covered in pan drippings, is as fatty as a marbled pork chop and stuffed with a whipped concoction of creamy mashed potatoes and spinach you couldn't pay us not to eat. 11200 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 901-4400; www.parkavedining.com. $$
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. $
This is the first non-Illinois outpost for a legendary Chicago chain that specializes in Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago dogs. Neither disappoints: both are succulent, delicious, yum. And the chocolate cake, like their commercials say, really is to die for. 8390 La Palma Ave., Buena Park, (714) 220-6400; www.portillos.com. $
14354 Brookhurst St.
Garden Grove, CA 92843
4530 E. Chapman Ave.
Orange, CA 92869
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