Self-explanatory, no? Just don't let the PCH traffic drive you nutsoid, porfavor.
You can be right in the middle of your daily routine and jump in the car and drive over to Café Lafayette and order . . . oh, mozzarella caprese and steak au poivre and swordfish and cream of lemon chicken soup and a nice fresh house salad. Yep, you can do that. 330MainSt.,Ste.F,(562)598-9566.$$
Mahe offers a delicious meeting of sushi and meat as God and Stewart Anderson, in their mercy, intended. Besides the raw stuff, the house special is the filet mignon stuffed with blue cheese and wrapped in bacon. Kill you? Sure. But it tastes damn good. 1400PacificCoastHwy.,(562)431-3022.$$$
Loved more for its Googie-gone-Mary Poppins design than its greasy-spoon grub, Seal Beach's Parasol is in constant danger of meeting the toothy end of a bulldozer. Do the owners a favor and stage a sit-in for breakfast, lunch and dinner—the food is good, but wacky restaurants like the Parasol are going the way of Kona Lanes. 12241SealBeachBlvd.,(562)598-3311.$
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Sorry: Mapquest does not recognize this strip of PCH as a city, so neither will I. Cute boats, though!
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The folks at Caravana Chicken, a Huntington Beach Peruvian rotisserie shack, 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 and intensely meaty, the best offal in the county. 17552BeachBlvd.,(714)847-7555.$
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. 19077BeachBlvd.,(714)596-3908.¢
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. 301MainSt.,Ste.107,(714)374-3033;WWW.MOSBBQ.COM. $
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Located inside the beautifully kept Dunes RV Resort, this is an egalitarian waterfront-dining alternative. The New England clam chowder is one of the best chowders in OC, rife with clams, tuna, shrimp and bacon. 1131BackBayDr.,(949)729-3863.$$
The Ritz: where suited lawyers and PR flacks take their dates to spend the equivalent of a Toyota Corolla on dinner. Exquisite cuisine: if there's a place claiming to better pair filet mignon and lobster tail, both proud avatars of their race, they're lying. 880NewportCenterDr.,(949)729-1144;WWW.RITZRESTAURANT.COM. $$$
A many-roomed space, the Spaghetti Bender is like a home with its dark carpets, tiny candles and flowery wallpaper. Their gnocchi, an Italian potato dumpling, is the industry standard for good. 6204W.CoastHwy.,(949)645-0651.$$
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CORONA DEL MAR
In the interest of fair insults, Corona del Mar technically isn't a city either, so no listings here. Feel better, Sunset Bitchers?
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If you're into seafood, go for the jumbo-sized swordfish. Expect to empty your wallet or purse—but Café Zoolu is one of the few places in OC worth every penny. 860GleneyreSt.,(949)494-6825.$$
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! 31621S.PacificCoastHwy.,(949)499-4033.$$
At Romeo Cucina in Laguna Beach, the carpaccio appetizer—a large platter caked with carpaccio—is preposterously delightful and, at $11.95, a steal of a meal. Both shaved and chunky, the soft morsels are complemented by zingy lemon and capers, fresh-shaved Parmesan, artichoke hearts and salad bits. Other Italian platters are excellent, but the carpaccio is like a beef-flavored Listerine strip for the gut. 249Broadway,(949)497-6627.$$
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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 varieties!) 34499GoldenLantern,(949)240-1416.$$
Try the tuna melt sandwich and bottomless iced teas, delivered by genial servers who understand you don't have all day to wait for the check. 34111LaPlaza,(949)488-0121.$$
When friends come to town, the first thing I do is take them here. King crab legs, calamari and steaks are specialties of the house, served in generous proportions at reasonable prices. It always tastes great in an ambiance of SoCal beach hedonism. 34699GoldenLantern,(949)496-6500.$$$
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Beachfire is what a neighborhood restaurant should be—a mini-gallery featuring hometown artists (appreciate the colorful boats of Chico Dias), goofy theme nights from MondayNightFootballto Palate and Palette Thursdays, live bands, kid's specials and booze. Lots of booze. But it's the seafood that ultimately impresses the most—particularly the macadamia-nut-crusted mahi. 204Ave.delMar,Ste.D,(949)366-3232;WWW.BEACHFIRE.COM. $$
So authentically Cajun they hand out beads to patrons, Iva Lee's is a haute cuisine take on the Big Easy's grime. Crawfish cakes are topped with a dollop of saffron aioli here, and the pan-fried pork chops are thick and juicy, and not overcooked. The chicory coffee crème brulee is so tasty, it's like eating crack pudding. 555N.ElCaminoReal,(949)361-2855.$$$
José "El Cuatro" Martínez's method of preparing chicken is as miraculous as Mass. He soaks his hens in lemon butter before slapping them onto the open-fire grill. He then shakes tremendous amounts of chile powder onto the meat and grills them until crisp, the lemon and powder fusing onto the chicken and seeping through the tender meat to the bone. The result is sublime: soft, slightly smoky, and exuding a sour/spicy crackle that's nearly radioactive. 71CalleDeIndustrias,(949)498-6603.$