This Hole-in-the-Wall County
Holes are our friends and, these days, so very necessary. One must protect one's holes against attack—gas mask, lead underwear. One is advised to have a hole to retreat to and, hopefully, another hole to retreat to and eat. The latter would be a hole-in-the-wall. Now everyone has a definition of what constitutes a hole-in-the-wall—they're all wrong. Some consider the Vietnamese bánh mì chain Lee's Sandwiches hole-in-the-wally, but no true dive has 18 locations across California. Others maintain that Felix's Continental Cuisine in Orange qualifies, but can a restaurant really be hidden in a location as prominent as the Orange Circle? Or how about Dragon Phoenix Palace, where few speak English and the dim sum carts rattle against each other as if engaged in some sort of culinary Daytona 500? Maybe, but no hole-in-the-wall costs you half of Cambodia's GNP in one sitting.
No, my definition of a hole-in-the-wall is simple: hard-to-find locales/cuisine, super-cheap grub, and damn great dining. Holes-in-the-wall exist in storage rooms and hang from cliffs; they offer salted crickets as finger foods, hawk the cuisine of nether-countries such as Romania, Bolivia and Lithuania and there are hundreds of them in Orange County. It would take a small phone book to list all worthy of haunting. Here's but 74 of them:
1 Mariscos Licenciado #2sells Sinaloan seafood but lies landlocked in the same decaying Anaheim 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. But the main reason you're here at Orange County's best restaurant (go ahead, start the letter writing) is the aguachile, one of the more remarkable seafood combos harvested from the deep blue. It's ceviche writ amazing: scores of shrimp, cucumbers, red onions and tomatoes crammed onto a large molcajete—the mortar-and-pestle contraption used by Mexicans since before Jesus that gives aguachile an earthy tone rare to marine cuisine. The crustaceans are pale, swollen by the soup's lemony broth. Aguachile is an incredible contradiction: light yet debilitating, intensely sour but curiously cooling, burrowing itself into the recesses of the palate yet its redolence remaining immediate. 1052 N. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 776-3415.
2 You'll no doubt endure a Disneyland-long line at the 61-year-old Crystal Cove Shake Shack, but you'll hear nary a complaint. After about a half-hour in line—on the sagebrush-bearded cliff above stunning Crystal Cove—fill your gullet with a cold-cut roast beef sandwich and the Shack's creamy, intense date shake. While dining, gaze westward toward the majestic Pacific; no one wants to acknowledge the synthetic Newport Coast development at their backs, across PCH, a project that eradicated some of the most beautiful hills God ever formed to make way for…Starbucks?! 7703 E. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-9666.
3 The best drink in Orange County is also the least advertised. The Vietnamese candy shop Nuoc Mía Vien Tây in Garden Grove sells an ambrosial sugar-cane juice profiled in the New York Timesand NPR and renowned throughout the Vietnamese diaspora. A deep sip reveals its greatness: frothy but smooth, the sugar cane's earthy sweetness is tempered with the citric candor of tangerine and kumquat squirts. It is patient, it is kind—it's the I Corinthians 13 of the beverage world. 14370 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 531-9801.
4 Though African-Americans continue to number in the single-percentage points in this county, the small community in Santa Ana keeps Burrell's BBQ alive and smoking. This iconic shack in the middle of a Latino neighborhood smells like a slab of the Deep South, as longtime and first-time customers content themselves on picnic tables covered with hot links, self-stuffed sausages and peach cobbler. If more Atlanta natives knew about the Burrell's pulled-pork-shoulder sandwich, they'd start a second Great Migration. 305 N. Hesperian, Santa Ana, (714) 547-7441.
5 Orange County's original hole-in-the-wall, the La Palma Chicken Pie Shop, is where hipsters go to eat like their grandparents—sometimes with the aforementioned coffin dodgers. This place is so ingrained into the county fabric that when current owner Otto Hasselbarth bought it nearly 30 years ago, the restaurant was already a landmark, having operated for two decades. And as for those pies…the only thing I miss about my high school sweetheart is how she would bring me those flaky, steaming chicken pies daily after completing her shift at the Chicken Pie Shop bakery. I still think about her when forking into those pies—and like her lips, they're wonderful. 928 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 533-2021.
6 Seemingly half of Anaheim's Little Arabia district visits Kareem's three times a day, taking comfort in one of the few Orange County Middle Eastern restaurants to offer distinctive breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Owners Mike and Nancy Hawari are the sole employees of the tiny place, and the waiters/cooks/ hosts coddle their customers from entrance to exit with wondrous pine-nuts-and-beef hummus and a smile rounder than a pregnant woman's belly. And then there are their falafels—moist emerald-green interiors encased in a crunchy outside. Orange County's—quite possibly the world's—finest. 1208 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 778-6829.
7 Foodies aching for the bulky, gently spiced pleasures of the central Mexican state of Puebla are limited to one local outlet: Cemitas Poblanas, a rickety lunch truck that shudders to a halt every morning outside a recently opened Northgate Supermarket in Santa Ana. Although tacos, tortas and burritos are sold here, concentrate on the cemitas (epic sandwiches with multiple layers of everything from avocado to chipotle peppers) and tacos árabes (a mestizo pita sandwich), two foodstuffs so fanciful and wondrous their existence seem best explained by a chapter in Chariots of the Gods. On the corner of Sycamore and Cubbon sts., Santa Ana.
8 Philly cheesesteak houses dot the county like drunks at the recently blowed-up Veterans Stadium, but John's Philly Grille is the Independence Hall of the lot. If the meat were any juicier, it'd be a fruit. Add a squeeze of cheese and many peppers inside a firm loaf. Thank owner John Carpenter for bringing along the cheesesteak's authentic zest from his native Philadelphia along with banners and jerseys of its various professional- and college-sports teams while leaving his city's beer stench back home. 1784 S. Euclid Ave., Anaheim, (714) 491-2733.
9 Soccer, wine and beef are the heartbeats of Argentina, and Regina's doles them out from a tiny strip of Garden Grove's Westminster Boulevard with the same abundance as international courts raining criminal charges against disgraced former Prime Minister Carlos Menem. Television screens—there's one in the restroom!—broadcast soccer matches from across the globe; men and women alike scream their side toward victory while clinking glasses of Regina's impressive selection of South American wines. And the parillada, five different beef cuts along with an entire chicken, would calm the gut of the surliest gaucho. 11025 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-9595.
10 José "El Cuatro" Martínez's method of preparing chicken at his Surfin' Chicken is miraculous, soaking 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 until crisp, the lemon and powder fusing onto the chicken and seeping through the tender meat to the bone. The result is mysterious: soft, slightly smoky and exuding a sour/spicy crackle that's nearly radioactive. 71 Via Pico Plaza, San Clemente, (949) 498-6603.
11 You're tolerating the brusque customer service and sole rickety table at Bánh Mì Cho Cu 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. Barbecued pork is charred to a ruddy crispness yet moist. Meatballs are densely herbed and juicy, not bitter like those found at so many other bánh mi shops (we're looking at you, Lee's). And Cho Cu's breakfast bánh mì includes the perfect scrambled egg, oozing just enough yolk to liven up your morning. 14520 Magnolia St., Ste. B, Westminster, (714) 891-3718.
12 Each Mexican state has its unique version of the curry-like mole, and the undisputed king is the state of Oaxaca. El Fortín offers four stunning varieties of the royal family—the chocolate-derived mole negro; a fiery coloradito; so-so amarillo; and the estofado, awash in olives, raisins and chiles that'll haunt your dreams for weeks. El Fortín offers other Oaxacan favorites such as tlayudas, manhole-sized flour tortillas smeared with black-bean paste and crisped until it looks like wrinkled paper. And no meal is complete without a finger bowl of salted, chile-powdered grasshoppers. 700 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-4290; also 10444 Dale Ave., Stanton, (714) 252-9120; www.restaurantelfortin.com.
13 E-San Rod Sap specializes in 78 dishes of Isaan cooking, the sour-and-spicy cuisine of northeast Thailand that's exotic even inside the Southeast Asian kingdom. Most diners order from a buffet near the kitchen, where a stern-looking woman in a milk-colored hairnet lords over entrées that constitute the $5.50 three-items-plus-rice combo. Choices vary from hour to hour and include a spicy Laos-style vegetable soup redolent of pumpkin, fiery green curry smoky with eggplant chunks, and fried catfish that crackles loudly across the dining room. 1719 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 999-0563.
14 Ferdussi, which translates from Farsi to English as "things from Paradise," battles for attention in a strip mall against a Krispy Kreme and Baskin Robbins. But it manages to effectively re-create the splendor of the Peacock Throne with photos of ancient Persian treasures, high ceilings and a luxuriant soundtrack to please the ears. And the victuals? Merely smelling the fessenjoon, a thick pomegranate-and-walnut sauce poured over chicken and basmati rice, is like entering, well, paradise. 3605 S. Bristol St., Ste. D, Santa Ana, (714) 545-9096.
15 The South Indian food served at Rasthal Vegetarian Cuisine ain't your Green Party fund-raiser spread of bland samosas and lukewarm lentil broth. Rasthal is the type of dive where kaju karela—a peppered, unctuous mush combining cashews with coconut oil and bitter gourds—is among the more conservative dishes, where a chile-laced farina called upma is celebrated with the reverence with which a Punjabi restaurant serves up tandoori chicken. An adjoining snack shop sells chat, the dry Gujarati snacks that are the subcontinent's Chex Mix. 2751-2755 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-3800.
16 Abel Salgado has been keeping the challah coming for 40 years, the past five of them at his eponymous Abel's Bakery, one of Orange County's few Jewish bakeries. Trays buckle with rugala, small cookies moist with chocolate chips, and the holy hamantashen, a fruity triangle-shaped turnover sold by the thousands during the festival of Purim and by the hundreds the rest of the year. 24601 Raymond Way, Ste. 7, Lake Forest, (949) 699-0930.
17 Gina's Pizzais one of the few redeeming values of the wretched Balboa Fun Zone, a family-run Peninsula institution where the thin-crust New York-style pizza doesn't contain a lot of sauce or bread—just like it's supposed to be—and the slices are as big as a page of the phone book. 309 Palm, Newport Beach, (949) 673-8516.
18 "Irie" means "cool" in Rastafarian lingo and is also the name of Orange County's supreme—okay, only—Jamaican restaurant, a tidy Trenchtown in Cypress. Bob Marley hovers over everything at Irie—portraits of him peer from seemingly every corner—but then appears culinary ganga: tangy oxtails, pungent ackee and salt fish, and a jerk chicken that'll do to your sweat glands what Jimmy Cliff did to his enemies in The Harder They Come. 9062 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 484-0661.
19 Pupusas are the standard of every Salvadoran restaurant, those sturdy masa-based griddle cakes gorged with salty cheese and other native pleasures that Salvadorans consume from cradle to deathbed. But the pupusa preparation at Pupusería San Sivar reaches toward the celestial—not greasy, slightly toasted, perfect. 1940 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-2952.
20 Sisig Grill is perhaps the only county Filipino restaurant specializing in the dishes from the province of Pampango, a cuisine so renowned that no less an authority than the Philippines Department of Tourism declares it "the culinary center of the Philippines." On Tuesday, order a couple of glistening longsilog (greasy-good sausages that taste like a more elegant chorizo) along with the chicken curry and ginataang kalabasa na sitaw, and you have a three-item combo for about five bucks. They also scoop out a prototypical halo-halo: a harvest of sweet beans, figs, mango, pineapple and coconut shavings; jelly cubes; condensed milk; crushed ice; and a scoop of ube (purple yam) ice cream. Topping all of this is an epic portion of flan. 2622 W. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 761-2258.
21 From the bicultural background of namesake owner Masanori Oshiri—born in Japan, raised in Peru, speaker of a sonorous Spanish that would make Cervantes proud—comes Nory's, the county's truest Peruvian eatery. Oshiri presents an Andes of variety reflecting Peru's multicultural reality, with fried rice snuggling comfortably amongst spaghetti and a weird Velveeta-covered potato slab called papas à la huancaina that's served chilled. And his towering rendition of ceviche—replete with corn kernels, midget octopuses and an entire sweet potato—is Machu Picchu on a plate but without the stones or UFO vibe. 933 1/2 S. Euclid, Anaheim, (714) 774-9115; also 6959-63 Cerritos Ave., Stanton, (714) 761-3332.
22 In the battle for Hindustani dollars, Laxmi Sweets and Spicebeats its fellow Tustin Indian bazaar India Sweets and Spices by a couple of gulab jamuns. The produce—everything from Bollywood CDs to filmed versions of the Bhagavad-Gita to instant chutney—is fine, but Laxmi also lays out many Indian snack foods. Get the thali, a platter of two vegetables, a yogurt dish and fresh naan. And get the Indian spinach and eggplant for your two vegetables. And if you don't want the buffet, their dosas are killer. 638 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-4671.
23 The county's sole Brazilian emporium, Amazon Churrascaria, is an all-you-can-devour slaughter of every species and cut: rubbery chicken hearts, delectable rabbit, an alligator sirloin salty with seawater, even the Homer Simpson fantasy of bacon encircling turkey sausage. Mmm…burkey. 1445 S. Lemon St., Fullerton, (714) 447-1200.
24 Imagine a Domino's in Beirut, and you have Al-Sanabel Bakery, which tosses up the pizza-esque Lebanese snack sphiha in a stool-sporting parcel that looks like a Brooklyn counter, circa 1950. Flat, circular, split into four parts and covered with Lebanese-favored toppings such as labneh (a mild cream cheese) and the garlic-and-oregano-heavy condiment zaatar, Al-Sanabel's sphihas are light and enjoyable, like breezes filtered through cedars, but not as prickly. 816 S. Brookhurst Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 635-4353.
25 This county grew fat on the hamburger microwaved by chains such as Anaheim-bred Carl's Jr. and McDonald's. In a way, then, thank Atkins that Gordo Mellony's operates but one location in the Liechtenstein of Orange County, La Habra. Gordo—which, by the way means fat in Spanish…just saying—pats together normal burgers, cheeseburgers, chili cheeseburgers and bacon cheeseburgers. But your digestive system will never secrete properly again after ordering the King Kong Suicide: more tower than comestible, with three kinds of cheese and four patties rising 12 gluttonous inches, held vertically aloft by a skewer. 430 W. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 694-4456.
26 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. And everyone should imbibe the tej, a furtive honey wine that is one of the oldest boozes brewed by man. 2801 W. Ball Rd., Ste. 5, Anaheim, (714) 826-8859; www.geocities.com/merhabana.
27 Named after a Michoacán rancho that has sent thousands of its residents to Orange County, Taquería El Granjenalmakes the best tacos in the county. They deviate from taco protocol by using full-sized corn tortillas and piling on chunks of your choice of grilled meat. The salsa is extraordinary, a dark-red lava extract whose burn factor is unknown outside Paricutín. El Granjenal keeps two locations, but visit the original in Costa Mesa, as it has outdoor seating and blasts cheesy sonidero music throughout the eve. 899 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-4964; also 140 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 836-9300.
28 Vietnamese cuisine includes a proud tofu tradition, and the menu at Van Hanh Vegetarian Restaurant 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 lots of rice dishes. The best way to experience the place is with their multiparty combos—the more people in your group, the more entrées the Van Hanh folks include. If you come with a party larger than 10, expect mad love. 9455 Bolsa Ave., Ste. D, Westminster, (714) 531-4661.
29 You probably won't go to Win Thai for its cheesy Asian-pop background music, but you will return for the deep sweat its spicy dishes stimulate. As the flagship business in Anaheim's Thai Corner, Win Thai draws the most customers by concocting more than 100 items, ranging from traditional rice dishes to more exotic fare such as the spicy green mussel salad. And if you return enough times, cheerful owner Sue Pirompramate will greet you by name, complementary lemonade in hand. 1151 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 778-0940; members.aol.com/bwinthai.
30 There's not much glamour in the presentation at Pacific Coast Hot Dog, which is nowhere near the beach but instead floats between the asphalt gulch that's Chapman Avenue and a Blockbuster-anchored shopping plaza. Accouterments don't stray from the roll call of hot dog standards—saccharine relish, freshly sliced onions and tomatoes, even some sauerkraut for the Teutonic among us. Try the namesake special, which features as many apparent conflicts as an episode of The O.C.: cumin-spiked chili fights with bitter mustard and zingy onions for domain over your palate, you bastard! 3438 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 744-1415.
31 Far away from the familiar confines of Little Saigon, Kim Loan prepares boiling cauldrons of pho that could sell from a Da Nang street corner tomorrow. Their hearty pho brims with noodles upon which juts a promontory of rare beef that you can dip into the bubbling, anise-flavored broth for a well-done finish, or you can leave it be if you like meat undone. Throw crisp bean sprouts and mint leaves into the pho, along with a dab of tart hoisin sauce, and the madness of Bolsa vanishes as the pho gently overwhelms your senses. 1651 & 1653 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-0374.
32 Al-Waha BBQ looks like how Norm's would play in Damascus: a family-style cafeteria/hookah lounge complete with arcade games, big-screen TV and a private praying room slanted toward Mecca. Because of this, Al-Waha goes beyond the hummus-and-shawerma parade of other Middle Eastern establishments to present regional faves. Bamia is an okra-and-beef stew native to Iraq, tasting equal parts Mesopotamia and Mississippi. Better is molokhia, a vegetarian Egyptian soup as regal as the Sphinx. And Jordan makes an appearance with mansaf, yogurt-dunked lamb sprinkled with almonds and pine nuts. 9562 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 539-0656.
33 Grandma's Chicken House is the county's place to worship the gnarled splendor of broasted chicken, the criminally underappreciated cooking style that dominates the Red States and is better than any other fried meal you'll ever taste. Grandma's prepares its birds just like they do it in Omaha, by patting down wings, breasts, thighs—even gizzards—with piquant seasonings and batter, then tossing the pieces inside one of many steel pressure cookers. A volley of pops heard around the tiny dining area announces their rising temperature, sounding like some of Santa Ana's rougher neighborhoods come nightfall. 6072 Lincoln Ave., Cypress, (714) 527-3162.
34 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, the county's only restaurant specializing in Islamic Chinese cuisine, a type of 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 the sesame bread, a Frisbee of flour speckled with scallions. 2512 Walnut Ave., Tustin, (714) 838-3522.
35 The namesake owner of Esther's Place, Esther Kim, shows off a daily sartorial elegance—she wears heels and dresses to work every day despite operating a sandwich shop within a health-food store—that's topped only by her sandwiches, made from organic veggies and better than anything Mom ever packed for lunch. Make sure to top any hoagie off with one of her frosty health shakes. 6789 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 841-4266.
36 So Los Cotijas sports a racist Mexican logo—their little man is fat, sports a sombrero and peasant huaraches; a stereotypical hat trick!—but what Mexican dinner dive doesn't? Ignore self-hatred in favor of fish tacos: soft fish encapsulated by the battered coating from heaven snuggled within corn tortillas that abuelita couldn't mimic even if she didn't have arthritis and a hearing aid. 11951 Euclid St., Garden Grove, (714) 636-3944.
37 Though best known for its barbecue, Koreans also do a brisk business in tofu stews, and the spiciest outside Seoul bubbles at Chong Ki Wa Tofu Restaurant. The tiny eatery offers nine different tofu-centric soups, ranging from tofu and oysters to their namesake house specialty. I prefer the tofu with pork and beef, served boiling-hot and similar in taste and texture to fagiole. At your request, the server will crack an egg in it, giving the tofu a yolkier taste. You can order any tofu dish on a sliding spice scale to give it an even better seasoning, ranging from one (white, clear broth) to five (hydrochloric acid). 5238 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 562-8989.
38 Orange County's Armenian Quarter—honestly, just Sarkis Pastry (2424 W. Ball Rd., Anaheim, 714-995-6663) and Zankou Chicken (2424 W. Ball Rd., stes. S & T, Anaheim, 714-229-2060)—lies ignored in the middle of Anaheim's Little Arabia enclave. Gnaw on Zankou's famously ferocious garlic-slathered chicken, and you'll look less cynically at your fellow humans. And so much joy erupts from the several trays of Sarkis Pastry that it would take many root canals to try all of its Middle Eastern confections. All that needs to be said about the kol-wa-shkor is that it translates from Arabic as "taste and give thanks to heaven."
39 The nacho cheese steak—a U-boat of a sub, parts Philadelphia and East Los Angeles—is the main attraction at Toober's Chips, Dips, and Cheese Steak, a clean-kept Huntington Beach hoagie haven that, in a moral world, would exist on the beachfront rather than the asphalt river that is central Beach Boulevard. Make sure to get an order of chips: shaved on the premises from massive potatoes, lightly fried so the skin is crisp while the chip's thin-as-tissue body is nearly translucent and salted just enough to accentuate the tuber's earthy charm. 19092 Beach Blvd., Ste. T, Huntington Beach, (714) 968-2299.
40 Sausage is but one appetizing aspect of Globe European Delicatessen, which has been hawking German, Dutch and other European produce from the same address for more than three decades. There's beer, jams, chocolates, even wafers that taste like fruit. Load up on these and other goods—if you're a sucker for pickled herring, the fine liberal German weekly Der Spiegel or cheese wheels large enough to fire from mortars, Globe European Delicatessen is your lollipop. 1928 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-3784; www.europeanfoods.com.
41 Subsequent American migration over the past century has cursed Hawaii with some truly hellish eats, with the Spam musubi at L&L Hawaiian BBQ reaching a demonic apex. It's torture for the eyes—seaweed and rice draped around a frightening Spam block that's more preservatives than pig—but its scrumptious consistency is a reminder that there were some positive aspects to Manifest Destiny. 5633 Lincoln Ave., Cypress, (714) 761-9530; also in Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Irvine, La Habra and Long Beach.
42 Naan & Kabob should be renamed Rice & Kabob, since the Tustin Persian eatery prepares the latter platter 36 different ways. Rice with lamb kebab. Rice with fish kebab. Rice with beef, chicken and shrimp kebab. Rice with a type of falafel kebab. Redundant? No: regal. 416 E. First St., Tustin, (714) 66-KABOB.
43 Hawaiian staples such as manapua (steamed pork buns) and boiling saimin noodles are fine at Aloha BBQ, along with a Korean-skewed side menu filled with bimimbap and complimentary kimchi. As great as those are, the most impressive meat meal is the spicy pork ribs. Most rib places content themselves with giving patrons a couple of twigs, but Aloha BBQ carts over four massive things that appear to have been torn from a hippopotamus. 24000 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. 4, Mission Viejo, (949) 581-0976.
44 The pleasures at Il Ghiottoare simple ones, like the house salad or the gnocchi in a hearty marinara or the fact that the handsome young attendants remember your name. 136 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 447-0775.
45 Located in Little Karachi—itself in the midst of Little Saigon—Noorani Halal Tandoori offers Pakistani and Indian soul food at reasonable prices and ecstatic flavors. The Indian selections are admirable—the sour minced-beef shish kebab in particular would make a desi nostalgic for the Punjab—but first-time Noorani patrons should indulge instead in the specialty of one of the county's few Pakistani restaurants. The haleem in particular—a sticky concoction of lentils, shredded wheat, ginger, dried chiles and beef so mashed it's not immediately discernable enmeshed in the goop—is the tasty oatmeal Americans can only dream about. 14178 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, (714) 636-1000.
46 At Genghis Khan Mongolian BBQ, customers consume much like Genghis Khan did and Mongolians continue to do through the primordial directness of Mongolian barbecue. Grab your choice of animals and vegetables from trays and pass it along to the chef, who spills the bowl's contents onto a colossal cast-iron grill and burns it to a shriveled, glistening joy. The stir-frying transforms the Mongolian barbecue into a time warp as the brusque force of the Mongol Empire rampages anew across the palate. 333 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 870-6930.
47 Beckoning you to Sahara Falafelis the fragrance of cooked beef and chicken. Inside, you will discover its origin: two constantly rotating monster spits, essential to Sahara's pursuit of shawerma, the fabulous Middle Eastern technique of meat preparation. Each bite of Sahara's shawerma greets your mouth with the simple joy of good. 590 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 491-0400.
48 A couple of Thai buffets offer Laotian soups and beef jerky, but the county's remaining Laotian diner is the curiously titled Dee Dee, where the roselle juice's narcotic spell reminds slurpers why Laos' inclusion into the Golden Triangle arose in the first place and the curries come garnished with peanuts and fat onion slices. 311 S. Brookhurst, Anaheim, (714) 956-2997.
49 Lou's Oak Oven Barbequetakes nearly fat-free beef and relentlessly lathers it with a black-pepper-and-garlic rub as it rotates over burning oak logs. The meat is great as an entrée—oily pinquito beans accompany such an order—but stick to the tri-tip sandwich, a toasted garlic-buttered roll that grips the thinly sliced tender tri-tip roast as if it were a mother protecting her first-born. 21501 Brookhurst St.,Ste. D Huntington Beach, (714) 965-5200; www.lousbbq.com.
50 Q's Tortas 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 bloated with meat and cabbage that are only slightly smaller than the King James Bible. 220 N. Bradford Ave., Placentia, (714) 993-3270.
51 They don't make places like Niko's Café & Restaurant anymore, and maybe that's a good thing—too many portraits of John Wayne in various states of determination and drunkenness, for one. But Niko's mid-1950s design instincts and culinary emphasis on country make it a must for anyone with a soft spot in his gut for Norm's-style grandeur, but with larger, cheaper, tastier portions and a smidgen less grease. Oh, and the Wagon Wheel Pancakes are 14 inches in diameter. 1240 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 879-9858.
52 Filipino Fast Food Expresshas restored the art of fast food to its original intention: serving grub as quickly and tasty as possible. Choose from more than 20 different entrées such as adobo and lechon, but all are so delicious it's really a matter of deciding which one you want spilling over the Styrofoam plate it's served on. 4544 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 739-4479.
53 Swedish stoicism confronts American capitalism in the Lingonberry Café, the food court buried within the IKEA apocalypse in Costa Mesa. The $5.95 manager's special is a smorgasbord direct from Stockholm—meatballs, gravy, red potatoes, lingonberry jam, your choice of soup or salad, roll or crisp bread, and a fountain drink (mandatory choice: lingonberry juice)—as efficiently pleasing as a Volvo. 1475 South Coast Dr., Costa Mesa, (714) 444-4532.
54 They flip 15 different whoppers at the Yellow Basket, a burger place that dates to the time when Santa Ana had white people living south of 17th Street. Now, it's mostly Latino high schoolers from Century and Saddleback who order a triple cheeseburger that could out-$6-burger Carl's any day at only $4.60. 2860 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 545-8219; www.yellowbasket.com.
55 Have a friend who isn't a brave eater yet? Then introduce them to the wonders of Cha Thai, which also keeps things adventurous enough for hardened Thai veterans. The yellow-curry selection at Cha Thai is optimal for those who sport the same color on their bellies, so be brave and step up a spice level to the red curry. Its marvelous mixture of bamboo shoots, bell peppers and coconut milk will give you the sensation of having had sex for two hours in a sauna. 1520 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 978-3905.
56 There are pies meant for the rich, pies meant for nourishment, and pies meant for throwing. Then there's the Cornish pasty wrapped at the Pasty Kitchen,a dish riddled with mystery meat and wrapped in a tasty enigma. It's a turnover filled with what is described as "paste"—piles of meat, vegetables and whatever else is lying around that's chopped together and folded into a delicately sublime crust dating back to the Cornish miners who gave their life to the Crown so that Queen Victoria could grow obese. 3641 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 431-9747; pastykitchen.com.
57 Jugos Acapulco makes tacos, tortas, even enchiladas. But the jugos (fruit juices) and licuados (fruit shakes) here are so filling and nourishing that to order an actual entrée would be pure gluttony. The 19 different jugos span every one of nature's candies, from such standards as horchata, tamarind and grapefruit to more obscure choices such as pulpy guanávana, sour alfalfa and beet juice. Licuado options are similarly varied but come blended with a couple of egg yolks along with whole milk and a Ross Shelf of ice. When your licuado is ready, the Jugos Acapulco folks place the blender on your table; it's your call to either drink the frothy, frosty delight straight from the blender or pour it into a Styrofoam cup. 307 E. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-1965.
58 We once had a date with a rather pretty lady over the butter-pecan ice cream at Hans' Homemade Ice Cream. She was rather nice but just too obstinate for my taste. My tongue still licks strong and long at this ice cream parlor, however, where Hans Biermann carries some 55 delectable flavors. 3640 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 979-8815.
59 Most every county hot-dog cart advertises Chicago dogs, but Chicago Harv's is among the few places that does it befitting the South Side. They ship in bulky Vienna sausages directly from the Windy City, stuff 'em into a poppy-speckled bun next to dill-pickle slivers, and squirt the mess with stinky-but-super quarts of relish and mustard. 410 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-0491.
60 Sholeh zard—a rice pudding brilliantly yellow and so peppery it'll leave you gasping—is but one of the side dishes at Assal Pastry, a chic bakery in Irvine's Little Tehran enclave. But the primary attraction here is cookies: dozens of just-baked trays that rely on different types of flour and infinite pistachio presentations rather than sugar for their sweetness. Purchase a pound of any cookie for a cheap $6. 14130 Culver Dr., Ste. H-1, Irvine, (949) 733-3262.
61 The fish 'n' chips stuffed into brown bags at Londondale Fish 'n' Chips hold their own against what they hawk across the pond. The Chinese lady who owns this most British of establishments dunks triangular slabs of cod as large as a medium-sized pizza slice into a puddle of batter and fries it into crunchy, dun-colored skin that doesn't overwhelm the flaky cod. The chips, once finger-thick, are now a bit too thin for my liking but remain as rubbery, brown and greasy as a true U.K. fry. 1780 S. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 776-0211.
62 What Higher Power deemed it apt for the Philly cheesesteak to originate from Philadelphia? At Frank's Philadelphia, you can experience how the fave is so reflective of the City of Brotherly Love—bulky as Mike Schmidt's bat, the juicy meat-and-cheese goo eventually settling into your stomach with the subtlety of a Chuck Bednarik tackle and brilliant as an Iverson crossover dribble. 2244 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, (949) 722-8725.
63 Sipping the salty, black-bean porridge atol blanco at Santa Ana's Tikal Tienda y Restaurante is the liquid equivalent of a backpacking trek through Guatemala: earthy, steamy, a bit overwhelming at times but eventually addicting. This boutique also stocks jars of packaged vegetables; children's songbooks; and a curious orange-colored empanada baked with almond flour and injected with custard, a remnant of Chinese migration to Guatemala during the late 1800s. 1111 S. Main St., Santa Ana. (714) 973-8547.
64 Someone should check out the claim by Nick Zampino over at Nick's Deli that his family brought into this world that most-favored of Mexican breakfasts: the breakfast burrito. Don't look at me—I'm too tied up shoving his boast into my mouth. And as each ingredient settles into my taste buds—wonderfully congealed egg, slightly salty chorizo, snappy bacon and the heartiest potatoes outside the Andes—I also buy Nick's version of culinary history. 223 Main St., Seal Beach, (562) 598-5072.
65 Pina's Bistro is the type of Italian joint you envision in a mountainside village, with women squishing out Pina's intoxicating wines à la I Love Lucy, where namesake donna Pina Ercolamento squeezes the teat of the cow whose milk she will use to prepare a veggie-intensive Neapolitan-style pizza. The baked-that-day table bread Pina provides, when dipped in a pool of olive oil, will be the best thing you can do to your senses this month. 640 W. First St., Tustin, (714) 730-5442.
66 Gotta love a place like the Chicken Box that sells boysenberry punch—a supertart, purple elixir probably mixed nowadays only in one other concern, Knott's Berry Farm, and then probably only as a tourist curio. But the Chicken Box is the only reason to visit La Habra outside of Gordo Maloney's and maybe that strip club the City Council been trying to ban for about a decade. Consider the incarnations of its star, the humble chicken: broasted until it drips grease or accompanied by soft grains of rice in a soup. 330 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 691-1701.
67 At the Moscow Deli, produce is the primary reason the doorbell jingles throughout the day—Armenian rose-petal preserves, buttery Slovenian cheese, bubbly Ukrainian apple soda and a funky Georgian caviar. Cool matryoshka dolls, too! 3015 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 546-3354.
68 There's but one Costa Rican restaurant in California, maybe even the entire United States, and it's in Anaheim at the appropriately titled Costa Rica Restaurant. While this dimly lit nightclub specializes mostly in different versions of the national dish gallo pinto (black beans cooked with rice and eggs), stick to the weighty wonder that is the tamal tico. Wrapped in a canopy-sized banana leaf, this Costa Rican staple requires hiking boots to maneuver through its myriad flavors. Start at the pointy sweet end, studded with raisins and dates, then hack through the wet masa toward pork, red peppers, peas and carrots; a sprightly olive demarcates the sweet/spicy divide. 2500 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-2010.
69 Most of the people at Graffitea are college students from the equidistant Orange Coast College, Santa Ana College and UC Irvine campuses desperate for nightlife, attracted to Graffitea by its 2 a.m. last call and sleep-staving espressos. Teas are liquid defibrillators; the smoothies and snow bubble drinks are remarkably flavorful, from nutty almond and zesty lychee to hearty mango and strawberry. 3030 S. Bristol, Costa Mesa, (714) 436-5798.
70 Señor Big Ed in Cypress is the best pedacitoof Puerto Rico around; validate it yourself with the alcapurria, a banana fritter crammed with minty ground beef that immediately boogaloos across your senses. 5490 Lincoln Ave., Cypress, (714) 821-1290.
71 Dunarea, one of two Romanian restaurants in Southern California, serves delicious sarmales: cabbage rolled up to contain peppered, minced beef and carrots, exhibiting hints of Mediterranean, Slavic and Middle Eastern conquests. 821 N. Euclid Ave., Anaheim, (714) 772-7233.
72 Hungary's only gift to world culture besides the Rubik's cube and the expression "honky"—what African-American steelworkers called their Hungarian counterparts in the early 20th Century—is kolbász, a spicy sausage the Teglas clan stuffs by the hundreds of pounds at International Meats and Deli. Cured and seasoned with imported Hungarian spices, then smoked until the fire inspector gets antsy, kolbász comes mild or spicy but should always go down as it does in Budapest: spread out on a table with bread, cheese, beer and another pyramid of kolbász links. 10382 Stanford Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 539-6334.
73 The 32-year-old Larry's Pizza and Sports Parlor is a North County icon, a place where kiddie athletes celebrate after a victory—or, conversely, drown their losses in pitchers of pink lemonade—while their coaches knock back beers with parents and watch the big leaguers duke it out on television. Larry's pizza is utilitarian: slices thick as pocket Bibles, prepared with fragrant mozzarella and provolone cheese, toppings sprinkled over the pie rather than baked in so that picky kids won't goo up their fingers trying to discard unwanted salami. 926 W. Orangethorpe Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-3484; www.larryspizza.net.
74 Beba'sis Bolivia without the (Klaus) Barbie: shrill flute-intense Bolivian music on the radio, a television that's always screening dancers in indigenous dress and a menu little changed from Incan times. Partake of puffy salteñas (a sweet empanada housing ground beef, olives and raisins) and potato platters with as many different types of tubers as there are jokes about Lake Titicaca. 630 Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 973-4928.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.