This week in north North County
In all the newsprint the national media has allotted our fair county these past couple of months—nutball elected in Orange! Anaheim Angels! Laguna Beach, the series!—not a single ink cartridge has been spilt on the Siberia of OC—the tiny towns of Brea, La Habra and Placentia. And really, who can blame them? Save for the Brea High Ladycats, Paul's TV—The King of Big Screen in La Habra, Placentia's City Council-caused $31 million debt hole and the following restaurants, there is nothing remarkable about Orange County's northernmost corner.
DINNER FOR TWO:
¢…….………………..…..Less than $10!
$$$………………………¡Eres muy rico!
Brea's Best Burgers
The perfect non-chain burger, a quarter-pound patty all gussied up with Thousand Island dressing, lettuce, onions, tomatoes and sesame-seed bun. Brea's Best also has sandwiches, hot dogs, tacos, burritos and breakfast fare. You could even eat healthy by ordering an ostrich burger—but why would you? A word of warning: the place gets mobbed during the weekday lunch rush, so plan accordingly. 707 S. Brea Blvd., (714) 990-2615. $
Here's what you need to know about Argentine food as it relates to Gaucho Grill: meat. Lots of it, most of it beef, served many ways. The ultimate meat-eater's special is the plato mixto, a beast of a dinner including half a chicken, a skirt steak, chorizo, morcilla (a blood sausage) and mollejas (grilled-beef sweetbreads—and a sweetbread is a hypothalamus gland, kiddies). 210 W. Birch St., Ste. 102, (714) 990-9140. $$
LUCILLE'S SMOKEHOUSE BAR-B-Q
Sides at Brea's hottest spot—two per entrée—are as big as appetizers, and appetizers constitute a month's worth of courses in some sub-Saharan nations. But these servings are mere crumbs when measured against the feral bulk of a Lucille's barbecue plate. After plowing through one of these, you'd better waddle out fast before the Lucille's owners size you up as ready for a dance on the grill so plump will you be. 1639 E. Imperial Hwy., (714) 990-4944. $$
As the name suggests, Renaissance Bistro serves primarily northern-Italian fare, but the menu is dotted with just enough unexpected items to suggest the chefs aren't unduly locked into convention. 955 E. Birch St., (714) 256-2233. $$
Brea's best Indian restaurant—okay, Brea's only Indian restaurant—is decked out in fancy linen tablecloths and Ganesh water fountains and serving hot plates of tandoori, vindaloo, curry and kebabs at unfancy prices. 705 E. Birch St., (714) 990-8989. $$
LA HABRA CAT & CUSTARD CUP
La Habra's toniest (read: priciest) restaurant—nothing on the dinner menu is less than $16.50. We can't actually afford to eat here, but it's been around for years, and people are always raving about it, so it must be good. Fancily prepared American food in an English-pub setting (though it's quite a bit larger than a real English pub). 800 E. Whittier Blvd., (562) 694-3812. $$$
CAFÉ EL CHOLO
First served up by Rosa Bórquez in 1923 in LA's original Café El Cholo (her grandson Ron Salisbury owns the restaurant group these days), the place's green-corn tamales are a Southern California dining institution. On bites two and three, you'll find oozing sharp Cheddar cheese and Ortega chiles, which combined compete against the sweet corn as a snappy alternative. 840 E. Whittier Blvd., (562) 691-4618. $$
Yes, I included this classic in the Grub Guide two weeks ago, but there's nothing else going on in La Habra! 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 such as salads. And you gotta love a place 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. 330 E. Whittier Blvd., (562) 691-1701. $
Gordo Mellony's has normal burgers, cheeseburgers, chili cheeseburgers and bacon cheeseburgers. Then there are the "special" burgers—stacks of meat so gravity-defying that eating one would make for a good stunt on Fear Factor. Their King Kong Suicide comes with three kinds of cheese and four patties and rises to a height of 12 inches, held vertically aloft by a skewer. 430 W. Whittier Blvd., (562) 694-4456. $
RICARDO'S EL RANCHITO
Go here for three reasons: to watch the tortilla makers do their thing inside a glass booth; to mack out on the light, flaky flour tortilla chips; and to feast on the superb camarones rancheros, a droolingly wonderful dish. 1351 S. Beach Blvd., (562) 943-6020. $
PLACENTIA BROOKLYN PIZZA WORKS
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! 1235 E. Imperial Hwy., (714) 524-1260; www.brooklyn-pizza-works.com. $
Everything at El Farolito, located in Placentia's historic Santa Fe district, is irregular and oversized. Consider the chicken quesadilla: what emerges from the kitchen is something the size of a small hubcap, topped with guacamole and refried beans. Definitely order a side of their sour cream; it has a tart, cream-cheese-like consistency designed to cool the palate after all the salsa and exotic cinnamon coffee they serve. 201 S. Bradford Ave., (714) 993-7880. $
Q's 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 only slightly smaller than the King James Bible. 220 S. Bradford Ave., (714) 993-3270. ¢
REMBRANDT'S BEAUTIFUL CUISINE
Rembrandt's may claim to do "beautiful food," but that translates to hearty, plain fare done to nostalgic perfection: a Brown Derby for our county minus the starlets and that whole wrecking-ball thing. This is truly the little steakhouse that time forgot. It looks like what the Velvet Turtle would be if they'd redone it Spanish-style in the '80s: stark, white walls; huge paintings; chandeliers; and filet mignon to the hilt. 909 E. Yorba Linda Ave., (714) 528-6222; www.rembrandtsrestaurant.com. $$$
Some of the best Greek cuisine in North County. The food is simple and perfect for long lunches in the pretty dining room or the small garden patio. I love their chicken-and-lemon soup. They serve a whole range of roasted meats, including lamb and fresh seafood. And their pistachio baklava tends to be very rich. 1390 N. Kraemer Blvd., (714) 528-2021. $
More dining fun is available at www.ocweekly.com/food.
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.
707 S. Brea Blvd.
Brea, CA 92821