The OC Weekly Book Of Food Lists!

Lists have plagued mankind for millennia, from Alkazar the Irritable's "List of Head-Splitting Rocks" (now available on audio cassette) to USA Today's long-awaited list of "Hot Uses for Excess Kitchen Grease." Why do we read lists? Experts cite three reasons: 1) Piss. 2) Off. 3) An inability to come up with a rational course of action to be taken with kitchen grease. Yes, Americans love lists—though not Franz Liszt, who keel my brotha—and they especially love lists about food … Oh, yes they do. YES THEY DO! SHUT YOUR FILTHY MOUTH! WHY? HOWZA BOUT I LIST FIVE REASONS WHY AND, YES, I'M USING "LIST" AS A EUPHEMISM FOR "FIST" …

So perhaps the question is not why Americans love lists, but why Americans love food. Actually, the question is why Americans love Carrot Top. Then again, who was watching Caroline in the Cityand Dharma and Greg all those years? Am I right? 'Cause it wasn't me, never saw one episode. Like Home Improvement—couldn't tell you one thing about it except that they were brave to cast such a plain woman as the wife. Just Shoot Me? I have no idea. It's like there's this alternative universe with all this crappy TV and somebody is watching but it's not me or anybody I know, so where's your Messiah now?

And that's not the only reason we love food. Did you know that food can stave off death? True story: many living people enjoy food. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin is a noted food eater, as are NASCAR champ Jeff Gordon, Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan and most of the people in Asia Minor. "Where do I sign up for some of that shit?" you're asking. How the hell would I know? Live your own life, flea. My point is that there is a lot of food—well, here—and there are a lot of different ways to enjoy it and one way to properly enjoy it—while staving off death—is to know where you're going and what you'll be getting there.

That's where the lists come in. Come in, lists! Look at the lists. I SAID LOOK!

You'll find lists telling you where to find faux fowl thighs and shawarma and buckwheat blinis and this little joint in Placentia that has belly dancing by the hour and maybe what you can do with that grease (I'd like to tell you what to do with it). The point is you should eat, but before you do, you should read. Then eat. Screw death.

FIVE HANGOVER HUNGER HOSPITALS

You think you're invincible at last call—"Dood! A Long Island? After 10 Coors Light pitchers?! Hit me up, yo!"—but then you wake up in the afternoon to the realization that not brushing your teeth before passing out is the least of your problems. You need a hangover cure, stat! So, grab a pair of sunglasses, a bottle of aspirin, don your hangover hat and let your roommate escort you to one of these hangover hunger hospitals.

SHORE HOUSE CAFÉ, 520 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 960-8091.

ECCOS PIZZAIN-N-OUT BURGER, on a street corner very near you. ROSCOE'S HOUSE OF CHICKEN AND WAFFLES, 730 E. Broadway, Long Beach, (562) 437-8355. THE RED ROOM, 1229 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 432-4241. —Ellen Griley

FIVE MOCK MEATS

While the appetizing Carl's Jr. commercials (slurp!) urge you to sink your teeth (crunch!) into a big burger (smack!), some people put compassion before hunger. From "chicken" to "tendon," herbivores in the know can mack on anything a flesh-eater can, without the fear of gristle. The following veggie Valhallas know their soy so well that they've made great pseudo-carnal grub from the stuff.

VEGI WOKERY, 11329 183rd St., Cerritos, (562) 809-3928. MOTHER'S MARKET AND KITCHEN, 2963 Michelson Dr., Irvine, (949) 752-6667, other locations in Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, and Laguna Hills. AU LAUC, 16563 Brookhurst Ave., Fountain Valley, (714) 418-0658. HOT DOG ON A STICK, 2153 Brea Mall Way, Brea, (714) 256-2602. THE WHEEL OF LIFE, 14370 Culver Dr., Ste. 2G, Irvine, (949) 551-8222. —Angie Driskell


FIVE ALL-AMERICAN DINERS

Ah, for an America when pot roast, hash browns and all the malts of the globe ruled over the palate like some thuggish culinary dictatorship! Where Coke accompanied every meal—even the Coke! That America is now largely extinct, replaced by soulless nostalgia-driven chains that aspire to be the Sputniks of comfort cuisine but crash to the ground like a U-2 spy plane over Moscow. The following five time-warps keep the 1950s alive without Joe McCarthy, segregation and the Cold War.

WATSON'S DRUGSTORE AND SODA FOUNTAIN, 116 E. Chapman, Orange, (714) 633-1050. LIDO DINER, 3461 Via Lido, Newport Beach, (949) 723-8777.LA PALMA CHICKEN PIE SHOP, 928 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 533-2021.THE LODGE, 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-1700.SONIC DRIVE-IN, 1632 N. Lemon St., Anaheim, (714) 992-4500. —Jenille Winder

 

FIVE EPICUREAN ENCLAVES

Most locals still don't comprehend how truly diverse the county has become. Once-decaying sections of cities have morphed into vibrant ethnic enclaves, and of course the best part about this development is the rows of restaurants catering to compatriots and curious Americans alike. LITTLE PHNOM PENH, Anaheim Street between Alamitos and Junipero avenues, Long Beach. LITTLE SAIGON, Bolsa Avenue between Euclid and Beach, Westminster. LITTLE GAZA, Brookhurst Street between La Palma and Ball, Anaheim. LITTLE INDIA, Pioneer Boulevard between 183rd and 187th streets, Artesia.

LITTLE SEOUL, Garden Grove Boulevard between Brookhurst and Beach, Garden Grove. —Gustavo Arellano

FIVE BAKLAVA BASTIONS

Created by the Assyrians in the eighth century B.C., exported to Greece via sailors en route to Mesopotamia, and then spread to the many Mediterranean empires, baklava is claimed by many countries but was historically the snack of the rich. A common Turkish working class saying, "I am not rich enough to eat baklava every day," is a telling example of the dessert's spices-and-honey opulence. In its journey from the Old World to the O.C., however, baklava has become less for the moneyed and more for the masses. A search of county restaurants finds this delicate dessert as affordable as a Mac and fries. PAPA HASSAN'S CAFÉ, 421 N. Glassell, Orange, (714) 633-3903. CHRISTAKIS GREEK CUISINE, 13011 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-1179. ROSINE'S MEDITERRANEAN ROTISSERIE AND GRILL, 721 S. Weir Canyon Rd., Ste. 125, Anaheim Hills, (714) 283-5141.SARKIS PASTRY, 2424 W. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 995-6663. SOPHIA'S GREEK CUISINE, 1390 N. Kraemer Blvd., Placentia, (714) 528-2021. —Drew Farrington


FIVE SHAWARMA SHOPS

Shawarmas are the new burritos: juicy roasted beef, chicken or lamb carved from a rotisserie spit, wrapped in a soft pita and consumed by the politically correct as their prandial protest against Bushie's Middle Eastern fun 'n' games. Variations depend on region or personal taste, but Orange County's ever-growing Middle Eastern community ensures that its many restaurants make shawarmas an appetizing alternative to the fast-food burrito blues.

SAHARA FALAFEL, 590 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 491-0400. BYBLOS CAFÉ, 129 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 538-7180. AL WAHA B.B.Q., 9562 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 539-0656. MAMA'S BAKERY & LEBANESE CAFÉ, 540 S. Pacific Coast Hwy, Ste. 108, Laguna Beach, (949) 376-9904. OPEN SESAME, 5215 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 621-1698. —Vanessa García

FIVE COOL COUNTY CHAINSNot all chains suck. Consider: CARL'S JR. CHARO CHICKEN.RUBY'S DINER.TAQUERÍA DE ANDA.WAHOO'S FISH TACO.—Matt Coker

FIVE BALBOA ISLAND RESTAURANTS

Balboa Island has a few public docks for fishing, though why anyone would want to pull anything living from the bay is beyond me. It's got lots of small shops, but then again, so does Brea. What Balboa Island has that's so special is quiet, even in the hottest summer months, and small restaurants as rustic as they are delicious. Here are five eating suggestions for those who want to take a break from sailboat-gazing. PICANTE MARTIN'S, 320 Marine Ave., Balboa Island, (949) 675-4627. WILMA'S PATIO, 203 Marine Ave., Balboa Island, (949) 675-5542. CIAO, 223 Marine Ave., Balboa Island, (949) 675-4070. PARK AVENUE CAFÉ, 501 Park Ave., Balboa Island, (949) 673-3830.ISLAND MARKET, 500 S. Bayfront, Balboa Island, (949) 673-8580. —Anthony Pignataro

FIVE EAST COAST SWEETS

When the Angels won the American League divisional series in 2002, most of us thought the Yankees would heed the time-honored call to go home. But they and their East Coast chefs keep infiltrating the county with their strangely named desserts from various European-immigrant traditions. At least this invasion is a tasty one.

TINA AND VINCE'S, 221 Del Mar # B, San Clemente, (949) 498-5156.KATELLA DELI, 4470 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-8611.P.J. BERNSTEIN'S, 25211 Paseo De Alicia, Laguna Hills, (949) 472-2266.CORTINA'S ITALIAN MARKET, 2175 W. Orange Ave., Anaheim. (714) 535-1741. ABEL'S BAKERY, 24601 Raymond Way, #7, Lake Forest, (949) 699-0930.—Andrew Asch

Abel Salgado learned how to make babkas, rugalas and a pantry of Jewish treats by joining the Hebrew Master Bakers and Confectioners, Local 453, more than 40 years ago. The union is no more, but Salgado's babkas continue their traditions. His nut babka ($5.95) tastes like it's laced with whiskey, but Salgado promises no liquor in this cake. Rather, it's the ingredients that are so intoxicating: raisins, walnuts, cinnamon, butter and butterscotch filling. 

FIVE EMPANADA EMPORIUMS

REGINA'S RESTAURANT, 11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-9595.BEBA'S RESTAURANT, 630 Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 973-4928.FELIX'S CONTINENTAL CAFÉ, 36 Plaza Square, Orange, (714) 633-5842. PANADERÍA ENSENADA, 431 E. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 558-8231.EL PUPUSÓDROMO, 819 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 542-3001.—Halle Haglund

FIVE HOLY DAY BUFFETS

Ah, Sunday brunch. There's nothing that confirms your faith in a higher power like the sensation of sweet mimosa nectar rushing over your lips while you gorge yourself silly before the church hour. So grab a fork, open wide, and prepare to confess your gluttonous sins! THE RITZ-CARLTON, LAGUNA NIGUEL, One Ritz-Carlton Dr., Dana Point, (949) 240-2000.RAMOS HOUSE CAFÉ, 31752 Los Rios, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 443-1342. EL TORITO GRILL, 633 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 662-2672.LAS BRISAS, 361 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-5434. BAYSIDE RESTAURANT, 900 Bayside Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 721-1222. —Jessica Calkins

 

FIVE PALAK PLATTERS

Despite Max Fleischer's attempts via Popeye cartoons to give spinach an image face-lift, this bitter, leafy, green-as-Kermit vegetable continues to suffer from a bad rep in the United States. Not so in India, where palak (spinach) is such a popular ingredient in dishes that palak recipes constitute pages of many restaurants' menu. Credit must go to talented Indian cooks, who over the centuries have balanced the harshness of cooked spinach with just the right amount of spices and chile to make it seem like a new vegetable altogether. BUKHARA, 7594 Edinger Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 842-3171. MOTHER INDIA, 688 Baker St., Ste. 8, Costa Mesa, (714) 668-9661. TASTE OF INDIA, 8890 Warner Ave, Fountain Valley. (714) 841-6868. CLAY OVEN, 15435 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 552-2851. ROYAL KHYBER, 1621 W. Sunflower, Santa Ana, (714) 436-1010. —Jason Thornberry

FIVE FOOD MEMORIES OF LONG BEACH

I went to Long Beach State. I got my first apartment in Long Beach, I shacked up with my wife in Long Beach, I once got into an accident in Long Beach with an old lady who looked at me and said, "Let's get the hell out of here before the cops come!" Point is, I know Long Beach and have eaten in Long Beach and things have happened around some meals that shouldn't happen to anyone under any circumstance: EGG HEAVEN CAFÉ, 4358 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 433-9277. SHENANDOAH CAFÉ, 4722 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 434-3469.The moment the waitress at the Shenandoah Café suggested I mix the Italian with the bleu cheese dressing. Classy!LONG BEACH STATE CAMPUS. FRANCELLI'S, 3404 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 434-3441. RECENT FRANCELLI'S MOMENTS…—Steve Lowery

FIVE CHEAP CHINESE JOINTS

Elaborate Chinese banquet halls stun with their opulence, but the best strip-mall Chinese joints don't mess around with foofery—booths, signs that light up at night, restrooms—and you, the penny-conscious gourmand, are the better for it. Why spend tens of dollars at the nice Chinese restaurants when the following five vend the same Sino-rific dishes at less than five bucks a combo plate?

HONG KONG BOWL, 19077 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 596-3908. LUCKY CHINESE, 18525 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 962-4221.KUNG PAO BOWL, 217 N. Euclid, Fullerton, (714) 680-9793. NEW PANDA, 3814 S. Bristol St., Ste. B, Santa Ana, (714) 540-2238. CHINA WOK EXPRESS, 4008 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 438-6786. —Chris Ziegler

Not enough S in your MSG? We'll fix that here: China Wok piles on everything bad that tastes so good, cranking out the greasy chow mein that goes down great when you're taking a between-bars break—possibly for exactly that clientele, they're open till 11 p.m.! Even the veggies here seem unhealthily yummy, so skip the sissy stuff and go straight for something you'll love now and regret 40 years down the road.

Come bearing your own take-out tray or—better yet—a spare stomach, because New Panda is the restaurant inflation forgot. A three-item combo—the sacred trifecta of strip-mall Chinese—comes for less than $5 here, and if the tofu is too gooey, the sweet-and-sour chicken makes up for it and more.A little classier than the rest—you know, with more than two tables to sit down at—Kung Pao offers quick and quiet quality, especially when it comes to the veggie chow mein. And yes, the kung pao—chicken, beef, shrimp, whatever—is all good. Lucky Chinese is Fountain Valley's choice for lunchtime on the cheap, so skip the rush and come in at an off hour for your own one-item-plus-rice bowl, a deal so good even the bitterest glutton will come out satisfied. Three dollars will get you plenty here—at Lucky Chinese, it's more bowl for your buck.The Platonic ideal from which all other strip-mall Chinese restaurants derive. The orange chicken is almost always great; get it with steamed rice and the best budget chow mein going and you'll be fed and fat for hours afterward. Being hit on by the fellas while waiting for my Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza at Francelli's and the wife not liking it one bit. Baby, can I help it if the boys likee? Here, have another orange soda. Awww, yeah.

The absolute, can't-miss love-food that is Francelli's Canadian bacon and pineapple pizza accompanied by orange soda. Worked every time enticing lady friends to my smaller-than-a-jail-cell apartment. And when I say every time, I mean I'm pathetic.Really starving at Long Beach State, waiting for hours to get my food from a vendor, then walking around for what seems like hours to find a place to eat it but can't find a place because they accepted too many people into Long Beach State and when I finally find a table outside on the plaza I discover I forgot the napkins or straw or forks or something, so I run inside to get it and when I get back the seagulls are all over my burrito, tearing it apart, fighting over it. So I chase them away and then—and I want to make clear I was really hungry and I had a three-hour lab starting in 15 minutes—I look around then begin eating my burrito. It was then I hear the gasps from behind. They may have been gasps or dry heaves, I don't know: I just started running.

 

Outside the Egg Heaven after a wonderful late night/early morning meal, I see two guys fighting. I move in to help, then find out the guys aren't fighting but having alley sex.Royal Khyber's best spinach sample is its saag daal. Combined with cooked lentils, the saag daal should be lovingly sopped up with the acclaimed restaurant's puffy, unleavened naan—better, a garlic naan. Make sure to specify the spice level of the plate, which they can prepare from mildly wimpy to fucking volcanic.

Mixing spinach with shrimp sounds unusual, but such is the bold experiment this Irvine restaurant has done for 18 years. The seafood tang of the shrimp plays off the earthy, sour flavor of spinach, with each retaining its distinctive character.

While lamb by itself is fine, spinach transports it to the sixth level of nirvana. Taste of India has mastered this transformation by mixing the meat with spinach that hides among cumin, turmeric, ginger, garam masala and chile power. You'll daydream about the leftovers the next day.Many blistering curries, tandooris and masalas are available in this appetite abode, but their first-class saag aloo trumps all. A sauté of creamed spinach with potato bits, it has a taste that is almost tantric, best enjoyed with a mango lassi to sip between bites and a napkin to wipe your brow constantly.Bukhara's buffet offers many choices, but the palak paneer remains the dish many patrons get thirds of. Cooked with cheese cubes, the vegetable has a flavor that literally stays with you—colorful chunks usually wedge themselves between your teeth. Thankfully, there are toothpicks available as you leave, because nothing screams "Run away!" like a spinach smile.

Savory items reign supreme here with unusual dishes like butterflied quail, bacon-wrapped prawns, and venison. The homemade fruit salad with vanilla and mint is just one tasty option on the $22.95-per-person brunch menu. Add some live steel drummers and free-flowing champagne, and you'll almost want to skip salvation.

With its coastline view, attractive waiters and grand feasts, Las Brisas is a necessary cliché in any food issue. The Mexican Riviera brunch includes four courses—Mexican pastries and fresh fruit, soup or salad, one entrée (such as crêpes, omelets or pasta) and flan as dessert. Classy food for an awesome price—$21.95 for adults, $10.95 for kids under 12. Get over the authenticity issues: the promise of homemade tortillas slathered with honey-butter and a bottomless glass of champagne draws even the most militant Chicanos here. Make a reservation if you don't want to wait—this is a bang-for-your-buck deal ($12.95 for adults, half price for children between 3 and 10) and the locals know it.Owner John Q. invites you to relax on his tree-covered patio and enjoy a pomegranate mimosa. But don't ask his bandana-bearing waitresses where the buffet table is. Instead, fork over $25 ($12 for kiddies) and give in to selecting a beverage, starter and entrée from a predetermined menu that can include basil-cured salmon, sweet potato duck hash, and the raspberry buttermilk pie of Mayberry's dreams. Guests enjoy a plethora of traditional items in this expensive buffet ($65), like omelets and fruit, but usually come to eat caviar on buckwheat blinis, sample imported cheeses and listen to in-house jazz legend Art Davis bop his bass. Or do the wealthy come because of the Ritz's dessert room, with its riches of flourless chocolate cake, fruit tarts and cream-filled pastries? Salvadorans also prefer their empanadas sweet, although much heavier than those haughty Mexicans do. El Pupusódromo bakes such a bulky version ($2.25), made with a sugar-sprinkled fried banana dough and a milky filling. A warning, though: you might not be up to the empanada challenge if you partake—and you should—of the restaurant's pupusas. Mexicans prefer their empanadas sweet, and this bakery offers the tastiest—not to mention most affordable (95 cents)—in Santa Ana. Ah, pumpkin empanadas . . . where were all the Mexicans on the first Thanksgiving?Served as an appetizer, the Cuban empanadita criolla ($1.35) was probably what inspired Che Guevara to evolve from Argentine capitalist to Cuban revolutionary. The empanadita's ground beef is seasoned with spices and raisins that could turn even Fidel into a capitalist. Bolivia's version of an empanada, the salteña actually originates from the Salta province of Argentina; no wonder Argentines stereotype Bolivians as thieves. But Bolivians improved on Argentina's spartan empanada vision, and Beba's shows how with its salteña ($2), filled with meat, chicken, raisins, egg and potato and baked in a sweet dough. Easy to miss in Garden Grove's blur of Vietnamese restaurants and transmission shops, Regina's Argentine microcosm offers the empanada ($1.50) in its purest form. The chicken, beef, and ham-and-cheese empanadas present a robust blend of spices, but ignore the humita unless you're a fan of creamed corn.

 

El Sur will rise again! Long before Tony's pizza pockets and Hostess apple pies, countries south of los Estados Unidos were slaving over hot ovens and stoves to create the empanada, a delicious half-moon turnover of mm-mm goodness. Spaniards brought the empanada to Argentina; the Argentines, in turn, transported it across Latin America in its original fist-sized form filled with beef or chicken. Nowadays, it exists in all sorts of bastardized varieties—salty, sweet, hearty, or creamed corn.

Cortina's version of cannoli ($1.49) looks like it's a dry ice cream sundae, what with the mass of chocolate chips and cherries covering it. But their secret is the sweet ricotta cheese filling, which makes no attempt to overwhelm the cannoli's entirety with sugar, allowing the other ingredients to step forth and sparkle. The word mandelbrot doesn't sound nice and perhaps that fits since it's almond bread with a sneer. Crisp and dry, it packs a sweet, flavorful taste whether the ingredients are chocolate chip or—yikes—poppy. PJ's sells them by the pound. Rugala sounds like a cough suppressant, but there's no better bite-size cookie: light, flaky and evaporating in your mouth, leaving you wanting more. This Los Al bakery serves it in seven flavors (72-80 cents) from cinnamon to chocolate. Now where's the campaign to give the treat a sweeter name? The heavy-handed Godfather quip, "Leave the gun, take the cannoli," should have sent this delightful pastry to some trivia limbo forever. But this Italian deli demonstrates why Francis Ford Coppola was obsessed with cannolis. A round wafer shell packed with a cool, sweet ricotta cheese, like an ice cream, Tina and Vince's cannoli takes the sting out of the hottest days.When I was just a young lad and this place was called The Quickie, this burger grill attached to a walk-up window was staffed by what seemed to my barely pubescent mind a dozen beautiful girls every summer. Those girls are gone, but the big messy burgers and fries are just as I remember. Park Avenue Café is the place to sit back and watch whole families of pink-skinned out-of-towners slowly inch their way up Agate Avenue as they wait their turn to drive onto the creaky Balboa Island ferry. Making this pastime enjoyable is divine summer fare: giant handmade burgers with beefsteak tomatoes, roast-beef sandwiches that taste more like sliced filet mignon, and fat steak fries.

A quaint little Italian place for those looking for light and romantic, but the choice items are the plate-sized pizzas. My preference for all things ham and pineapple leads me to the Maui, but others may prefer loading theirs with onions, sausage and grilled eggplant. There's also a great cheeseless pizza.Although it's busy at the day, Wilma's has always been more a breakfast place than anything else. There's nothing like squeezing into a table next to a bunch of tanned locals and socks-in-sandals tourists and waking up over a stack of warm buttermilk pancakes.

There are sandwiches and hot dogs on the menu of this tiny Mexican joint, but I'd stick with the tacos. The chicken tacos are crispy and greasy—exactly where they need to be. But the real treats are the hard-to-find potato tacos, filled with plenty of mashed-potato goodness. A lot of racket concerns how Wahoo's ain't really all that, how other Ensenada-style fish taco dabblers do it much better, how all that's missing from Wahoo's is something called "flavor." Hey, fuck all y'all and the nags you rode in on. The two blackened fish taco combination plate is a meal from the gods—if those gods are of Chinese heritage, like to surf and also own cool bars. Plenty of munchers agree, as the Wahoo's empire has grown to twentysomething joints and counting. For every complainer who knocks Taquería de Anda for serving no beans and way too much grease, there are 50 folks who swear the two-decades-old chain hawks the best carne asada tacos in OC. You can also have your warm corn tortillas filled with chicken, cow's tongue or beef brains. It wasn't until moving here that I learned that the Ruby's at the end of the Balboa Pier opened only in 1980, inspired by a brainstorm that hit owner Doug Cavanaugh as he walked the surrounding sandy beach. Now there are 15 "classic diners" in OC, 19 in locations across the country and three dinettes (Santa Ana's Mainplace Mall, LAX and Vegas). Recent menu additions accommodate the latest dining trends, but fortunately nothing's come along to push out such dependable '40s diner mainstays as thick chocolate malts, realcherry Cokes and gooey chili-cheese fries. If you're an El Pollo Loco regular who's never sampled Charo Chicken, my sympathies. The chain started in 1984 in Seal Beach; there are now 11 Charo restaurants, with two more about to open and plans for 50 in all. Charo does it slower than El Pollo Loco but, like all good food things, better, with the lemon-and-butter glaze alone worth the wait.

 

There are many reasons to hate Carl's—founder Carl Karcher's continued donations of buttloads of cash to some very scary causes; higher fast-food prices; and those radio and television commercials lionizing sexism, voyeurism, ugly Americanism and unhealthy relations with live chickens (the very same causes Karcher supports!). Despite all that, I invariably wind up in a Carl's drive-thru, ordering a Santa Fe Chicken Sandwich, fried zucchini sticks and something carbonated to make a softball-sized lump of grease digestible.Located in Long Beach's Belmont section, Open Sesame is small, beautifully decorated and filled with the aromatic scents of spices, Turkish coffee, and, yes, hookahs! Come for the atmosphere but stay for shawarmas ($5.40) slow-cooked all day on an upright spit and as mouth-watering as any feast found in our soon-to-be imperial playground.

Mama's marinates the beef and chicken shawarmas ($6.99) in seven spices and serves them with vegetables and—inexplicably—more pita bread. Follow with a homemade piece of baklava and rinse with a cup of Arabic coffee, and you'll know why Yahweh deemed Lebanon the land of milk and honey.If traditional shawarmas resemble burritos, then Al Waha's variety ($3.29) are more like soft tacos. Folded within a palm-sized pita, the chunks of spiced beef share equal prominence with a subtle garlic sauce and fresh tomato, parsley, lettuce and pickled turnip wedges. A puff of mango tobacco from one of Al Waha's many argeelas (water pipes) afterwards caps a shawarma but well.

Named after an ancient coastal town near modern-day Beirut, Byblos' warm shawarma ($4.50) is best enjoyed al fresco, where the turn-of-the-century architecture of the Orange Circle never fails to charm.Based in the geographical center of Anaheim's Little Gaza district, Sahara Falafel is a culinary oasis in a strip mall otherwise highlighted by a 7-Eleven and a Wells Fargo ATM. Falafel's shawarma ($3.95) bursts from a toasted pita with sultry spices, a creamy sesame sauce and succulent beef slices. Nice pickled turnips!The Greekiest place in the county—marble busts! Belly dancing on the hour! A soundtrack that sails you to the Aegean!—also offers one of the finest baklavas this side of the Peloponnesian peninsula ($2.75). Filled with pine nuts and pistachios, and awash in honey sauce, it'll have you toasting "ya 'sou!" like a Nia Vardalos character.Choose from 10 varieties of Armenian-influenced baklava, or get all 10 at only $6.50 a pound! Fillings range from walnuts to cashews to pistachios, but the souar-elsitt variety, oozing with honey when you crunch into its sweet exterior, is required. Rosine's baklava comes in two varieties—one cream-based, the other walnut-packed ($1.49 each)—but both are garnished with fresh blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, whipped cream and pistachios. The cream baklava is soft, chewy and chilled, while the walnut portion brags of nutmeg and a massive middle of crushed nuts.

Crushed walnuts and almonds baked into layers of cinnamon-dusted phyllo dough topped with the chef's special rose water make Christakis' relatively expensive portion ($5) a must-devour. Accompany the gooey delight with shake-thick Greek coffee and marvel at the magnificence of the large Yanni painting that greets you at the door.Papa Hassan's fare ($1.50) is representative of Lebanese-style baklava—sharp with pistachios and cashews, spiced lemon-honey syrup flowing within layers of crunchy phyllo dough, and coarse ground nuts throughout. It's the perfect finale to the restaurant's flawless hummus, babaghanoush and kafta kabobs.

Los Angeles' Koreatown gets the global fame, but the county's own Korean enclave has made a good name for itself, hosting over 1,000 businesses in a surprisingly short strip. Auto shops and dentists are fine, but you'll return repeatedly for the fiery kimchi, various cuts of barbecue and the best tofu platters in the world. Artesia is in Los Angeles County, yes, not OC. But Little India is so close to us we should claim it as our own—Artesia sure doesn't give a damn about it, unwilling to give the Indian neighborhood its own freeway marker. A shame, really, since this is where you go to get greasy Gujarati cuisine, the Portuguese-inflected platters of Goa and the veggie miracles of southern India.One of the youngest ethnic enclaves in Orange County, Little Gaza has sprouted up with the last decade's arrival of Middle Easterners. Halal butcheries and grocery shops are now taking hold, complementing wonderfully its many hummus, falafel and shawarma options.

 

The county's Vietnamese community is so large that Little Saigon markers have already sprouted in nearby areas of Garden Grove and Santa Ana. But Bolsa is still the heart of the Vietnamese expatriate imagination—hence the gargantuan Asian Garden Mall on one side, 99 Ranch Market and its 70-some marble statues of wise men on the other, and probably more pho palaces, bánh mì bakeries and sinh to shops than in the real Saigon.

This section of postindustrial Long Beach is home to the largest population of Cambodian immigrants outside of the mother country. Most of the restaurants here are not holes-in-the-wall but ornate halls where guests feast on Khmer cuisine's acerbic salads and some of the best seafood ever concocted by the human mind.

What the name says. Pot roast. Macaroni and cheese. Grilled cheese. Pork and beans. Meatloaf. These are American staples, but the Lodge expands upon them in ways you'd expect from talented owners Tim and Liza Goodell (of Aubergine and Troquet fame)—like a velvety roasted-squash soup, creamy polenta and a lineup of prime, aged steaks. It's pure comfort to know that the same waitresses will serve you the same chicken pot pies year after year. These pies are the size of large talcum-powder puffs and have a flaky, golden-brown pastry crust. It's hard to miss the neon chicken looming over the restaurant's exterior like a Tokyo monster. It might seem like any burger-with-fries hangout, but Lido Diner is designed to highlight "contemporary nostalgia" foods, as the menu proudly announces. Order meat loaf ($9.95) with string hash browns, and grab a lunch box to go for later. Continue your Doris Day Technicolor fantasy by catching a flick at the historic Lido Theatre next door.Here's the setting: 104-year-old pharmacy, with a long diner built in 1957. The best in comfort food: greasy Southern fried chicken, grilled pork chops, a hamburger and fries, and everything joined by a tall malt of any make. Next to the Orange Circle, a slice of Americana so American that films from That Thing You Doto The Man Who Wasn't There used it to give their movies a real dose of White Eisenhower heaven.

A person could feel overwhelmed in this always-crammed eatery, given that there are more than 75 animal-friendly items to choose from. But don't fret: you really can't go wrong, just over budget. Crustacean-lovers can play safe with the $7.95 pad thai featuring salty fake shrimp.While these lemonade-churning chicks and guys do serve the dead stuff, they also peddle awesome veggie corn dogs. And to ensure that you are not ingesting a real wienie, the jockey-hatted crew differentiate their dogs with a green dot on the end of the stick.

This vegetarian restaurant knows its Vietnamese victuals. The Clay Pot "Fish" Sensation is decadently spicy and scrumptious over white rice. Though $8.50 for this no-flesh-fish might seem pricey, just figure you're saving on airfare.

There ain't no porker in Mother's BLT; instead, better-than-it-sounds fermented soybean tempeh, lettuce and tomato sandwich accompany the burger's smoky Fakin' Bacon. Pig out for $5.75 with a veggie side dish, all while making a swine feel fine.

The soy chicken drumsticks, complete with a wooden bone, are served four to an order and come with a sweet-sour Thai barbecue sauce. And while these little faux-fowl thighs for $4.50 come cruelty-free, just beware of splinters—you will be licking the stick.For all you hair-of-the-dog disciples, the Red Room opens at six in the morning to fill your bloody Mary prescriptions. Grab a bowl of popcorn, throw a dollar in the jukebox, and let the fine soothing libation nurse you back to sobriety—for a couple of hours, anyway.Chicken? With waffles? Forget about this seemingly incongruous culinary compatibility and concentrate instead on Roscoe's delectable marriage of salty and sweet goodness. Early morning chicken meals are always a shock to the taste buds, though, so it's best you hit this place only if you're an afternoon riser.

Quite possibly the most integral ingredient in any hangover cure is grease, and In-N-Out's grilled cheese sandwiches are greasier than a 16-year-old's face. Sure, you could always go to the grocery store and buy a loaf of bread and some cheese, but stores don't guarantee speedy drive-thru access, now do they? Don't forget the fries!, 2123 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach, (562) 498-6593.

The rule of thumb for hangover pizza is that it must be served cold—not cold as in "you got so wasted playing drinking games that you left the leftover pizza out on the kitchen table all night" cold, but a "you ordered a pre-party pizza and then threw the rest in the fridge for the morning" cold. Eccos' doughy pie has been the best pizza in Long Beach for years, and, out of the fridge, is coolly complemented by an ice pack over your eyes.

 

This beach city chain's immense menu features just about any food you could crave the morning after a binge. Souses countywide—and I know them all—recommend Shore House's chorizo and eggs with a pitcher of water as the best bet. Remember to eat very slowly; chorizo and eggs ain't the easiest thing to chow down when you're plastered.


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