Some people live for the thrill of the hunt, others for porcelain cats, still others for the ritualistic cleansing of the human race—now let's agree never to speak of Uncle Lomas again. Then there are those who live for food. Not just the eating of it, but also the preparing, marketing, policing, serving and feeding of it to the world's largest rodents. Food. This is their life. So who better to address the very simple yet illuminating question: If you could eat at any restaurant in Orange County, money no object, which restaurant would you choose? AND if you were really hungry and, looking into your wallet, found you had only 10 bucks, where would you go to eat? Their answers reveal hidden nuggets, guilty pleasures, old standards and, for lack of a better term, Red Lobster.
Photo by James Bunoan
CURATOR OF ANIMALS, SANTA ANA ZOO
Whenever there's a bungle in our jungle, we call the lovely, charming Michelle Claud, curator of animals at the Santa Ana Zoo who has overall responsibility for feeding some 300 animals in her care. And, hey, not all of them are Republicans—ba-dum-pah! But seriously, folks, if you think feeding your own brood of rugrats is rough, try keeping a capybara happy. Known as the world's largest rodent (beating out Bob Dornan by a snout hair), it devours a five-gallon drum of yams, corn on the cob and carrots each day. Then there are the snakes that eat dead rodents, monkeys that eat crickets and worms, and the various tropical birds such as toucans and ibises that eat everything from fish to plantains and mangos. No wonder Claud's workplace smells like, well, a zoo. Yes, at the end of a long day of animal husbandry, Claud likes to peel off her khakis, kick off her grungy work boots, and let Calgon take her away. But before she does that, she might grab some grub at one of the following locales. UNDER $10: "There's this little Vietnamese/Chinese place at Newport and Walnut called Golden Chopsticks," says Claud. "It's kinda greasy, but that's what makes it taste so good." Claud suggests their vermicelli with steak and shrimp. 14430 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 838-6856. UNLIMITED: When Claud's feeling sinful, she and her hubby stop by Captain Jack's in Sunset Beach. "Even though snow crab is listed on the 'proceed with caution' list given out by the Aquarium of the Pacific for marine animals [that are being overharvested], Captain Jack's makes really great snow crab, and that's what I'd get, having unlimited funds." Michelle, you're a naughty curator! 16812 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-2514.MOHAMMAD ABDALLA
BUTCHER/OWNER, AL-HUDA MEAT & DELI
That an order for a shank of lamb takes longer at Al-Huda Meat & Deli than at a local supermarket simply means it'll be more delicious. See, Abdalla follows halal guidelines, a preparation tradition derived from the Koran that ensures meat is fresh and free from any contaminants. The results can be tasted in the various beef, chicken and lamb cuts—no pork: that's haram(forbidden) for Muslims—the native of Palestine prepares. 518 S. Brookhurst St., Ste. 6, Anaheim, (714) 776-4252.UNDER $10: Close to Al-Huda is Al-Zahra's Restaurant. "It has a daily dish that ranges from lentil soup to a falafel plate," says Abdalla. "They also have this lamb shish kebab made with fresh lamb and served with a giant portion of jasmine rice. It's all very convenient and cheap, and you can either dine in or take out." 611 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 774-7999.UNLIMITED: "When I want to feel important, I like to go to Five Crowns," says Abdalla with a chuckle. "The atmosphere, understandably, is very rich, but so is the food. They have some pretty delicious appetizers like fried zucchini and Buffalo wings. But I always make sure to get their steaks. New York, T-bone—it doesn't matter; they're all great. 3801 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 760-0331.
SWEETS SELLER, A HEAVENLY AFFAIR
Gail Allen owns and runs—and hardly ever leaves—A Heavenly Affair, the Cypress confection shop that for the past 12 years has specialized in custom-made sweets. She's rightly proud of the business she has built, but she's rather self-conscious about how much time she still spends building it. "I don't get out much, which is kind of sad, I guess, in a way, although I don't mind—so what I'm saying is that I really don't know how much help I can be recommending restaurants to anybody else," Allen says . . . well . . . sweetly. 5115 Ball Rd., Cypress, (714) 952-1444.UNDER $10: "I like the Claim Jumper on Beach and La Palma," Allen says. "I like everything about it—the food is great, the atmosphere is good, the service is attentive and friendly, and whatever you order, you always get enough to take something home. My favorites range from the chicken and noodles to the Frisco burger. But maybe my top choice is a bowl of their potato cheese soup." 7971 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 523-3227.UNLIMITED: "I went to the Fish Co.in Los Alamitos last night. That's a wonderful place. I had the orange roughy, but I also like the halibut. Whatever I have, I get it with the mashed potatoes. They are tremendous. Like I said, I don't get out much." 11061 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-4553.
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DEAN, CONSUMER & HEALTH SCIENCE DIVISION, ORANGE COAST COLLEGE
Ballinger's job is akin to simultaneously advising policemen and criminals. The graduate of Orange Coast ('78, Neurodiagnostic Technology) oversees the college's muy-comprehensive food department, which offers courses in everything from cooking and restaurant management to food science and child nutrition. He also oversees OCC's muy-comprehensive health department, which cures the obesity the OCC cooking students unleash on our fat-food nation. UNDER $10: "I have to recommend the Captain's Table, which is located on campus. Our culinary students prepare the food, the restaurant-management students coordinate menus, and our hospitality students ensure eaters have a good time. It's open only on Thursdays during the semester, and people have to make reservations. The menu varies every week, focusing on a different style of cuisine. They'll offer a choice of four entrées, four main courses and four desserts—all under $10! Their take on Thai and New England lobster is spectacular." 2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-5835, ext. 4.UNLIMITED: "I'm a simple guy, but I do like to go to the Golden Dragon," Ballinger says. "It's a pretty small restaurant, the type of place where you can be in and out within an hour. I always get the Szechwan chicken because it's spicy, and I like spicy food. But the best thing about Golden Dragon is an older lady who meets and greets everyone. If she knows you, she'll give you a big hug. And every time you leave, she says, 'I'll see you tomorrow!'—as if she knows you will." 2023 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-7162.JUAN BONILLA
CO-OWNER, EL TORO MEAT MARKET
A mural outside El Toro Meat Market in Santa Ana depicts a bucking bull that would make Wall Street nostalgic, along with the slogan "El Que no Conoce El Toro no Conoce Santa Ana" (He Who Doesn't Know El Toro Doesn't Know Santa Ana). If such bravura seems ridiculous, then you haven't met Bonilla, who along with brothers Sergio, Joe and Rubén and sister Irma have created a mecca to masa here and in Costa Mesa's El Toro Bravo. Originally from Fresnillo, Zacatecas, the Bonillas have seen their operation grow in the past 20-odd years from a solitary meat market to a place that hawks produce from all over Latin America. Dawn at the two locations always shines on gluttonous riots, as Latino OC clamors for the day's masa, carnitas and other earthy delights. 1340 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-1393; also 745 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 631-4464.UNDER $10: "I eat Mexican food every day and love it, but you have to vary your diet!" booms the towering Bonilla. "So I like to go to Osaka Kappo in Tustin. It's not too fancy or too run-down, and the sushi is great. I also get the tempura and teriyaki. No sake, though." 13681 Newport Ave., Ste. 9, Tustin, (714) 730-7051.UNLIMITED: "It costs money just to park and to get in, but my wife and I like to go to the Blue Bayou Restaurant next to the Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland," Bonilla says. Disneyland for haute cuisine? ¡Sí, como que no! "The ambience is really weird because boats full of tourists pass you by while you're eating, but the food is superb. I always get the filet mignon; it's really juicy and comes with great vegetables and potatoes." 1313 S. Harbor, Anaheim. (714) 718-3463.SCOTT BREZNOCK
BREWMASTER, OCEAN BREWING CO.
Hello, God? Yep, we've decided. We want to swap lives with Scott Breznock, brewmaster at Laguna Beach's raucous, beer-lovin' Ocean Brewing Co. You know, that place with all the foxy chicks who act like they just stepped out of a Girls Gone Wild video? The place where that blonde let you lick Jäger shots off her bare feet for a free pass to paradise? Now you remember. Anyway, Breznock is the dude responsible for developing all those suds county boozers love to guzzle by the boatload: Red Sunshine, Ocean Pale Ale, Dragon Spit IPA, etc. Seems when Breznock, a classic-car nut, isn't cruisin' PCH in his red '65 Mustang or his '71 charcoal-gray Camaro, he's dreaming up new brews, like his Belgian White Ale, which includes coriander and orange peel. Is that awesome or what? 237 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-3381; www.oceanbrewing.com. UNDER $10: For his low-budget feast, Breznock chooses the Mexican standard Javier's Cantina in Laguna Beach, where he digs the enchiladas. "They're always crowded," he says of the spot known for its massive margaritas and finger-lickin' guacamole dip. "And the food is always good." 480 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-1239.UNLIMITED: When money's no issue, the brewmeister likes to sip a little vino and nosh an entrée of duck or venison at Grand Californian Hotel's Napa Rose in Disneyland. "They have this appetizer there I love—sautéed scallops with lobster sauce—and they have an excellent wine list. Last time I was there, I had a glass of their Silverado '98, which was superb." 1600 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 635-2300.
Photo by James Bunoan
OWNER, CLAY OVEN, IRVINE
Bansal is a man of many worlds—left his native India in the mid-1970s to study the restaurant business in Innsbruck, Austria; managed in the late 1970s what was then the largest Indian restaurant in New York City; is perhaps the only man in the county who can say he was royal caterer to the Sultan of Oman. Now he caters to the more modest sultanate of Orange County at Clay Oven, the soft-lights-and-white-tablecloth Indian restaurant he owns with his wife, Geeta. 15435 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 552-2851.UNDER $10: Bansal says he was guided to Thai Nakorn in Buena Park by the crowd of Thais who frequent the place ("You look around, and all you see around you are Thai people," he says, "so you know it's got to be good") and by his search for culinary heat. "I like spicy food—I like it a lot," which is why he's likely to indulge in the hot-and-sour soup; the vegetables, tofu and curry; or his favorite, the pan-fried whole fish. The restaurant is "a dive, but the food is great." 8674 Stanton Ave., Buena Park, (714) 952-4954.UNLIMITED: Bansal wants you to understand something critical about Hinduism: the famous proscription on cow killing? Because Hindus regard cows as sacred? The bovine ban applies to cows, city boy. In India, steer is fair game, may as well have bull's-eyes on them—and, come to think of it, do. If he's not counting his cash, Bansal says he likes a filet mignon "or a nice pork chop" at Mr. Stox in Anaheim. After closing time at Clay Oven, he's also likely to grab dinner at Villa Nova, the Newport Beach eatery famous for its prime cuts, "because you know how Orange County is, and this is one of the few places open late at night." We know. Mr. Stox, 1105 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 634-2994; Villa Nova, 3131 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 642-7880.TONY CORKE
HEAD CHEF, THE WHITE HOUSE, LAGUNA BEACH
Known locally as the chef of the venerable White House restaurant, where one can swap oxygen with celebs who show up to chow down on Cajun crab cakes, shrimp etouffe, or seared ahi tuna—all while grooving to live reggae and sipping a Cuba Libre! Ah, that's the life! But talk to Corke now, and he's full of enthusiasm for his new venture, Chaparosa Grill and Spirits in Laguna Niguel, which he likes to call "the culinary equivalent of a tropical vacation." Chaparosa's specialties include chicken-tequila lime pizza, ribs in mango barbecue sauce, and salmon in a passion-fruit beurre blanc. Originally from Brighton, England, with an accent to match, Corke has worked in France and Italy and has eclectic tastes, as his menus indicate. 340 S Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8088.UNDER $10: "For that amount of money, I'd probably go to Natraj Cuisine of India in Laguna Hills," says Corke. "They have a buffet for $6.95, which would leave me just enough left over for a beer." 24861 Alicia Pkwy., Laguna Hills, (949) 581-4200. UNLIMITED: "I'd rent out Aubergine in Newport Beach for my family and friends. It's a nice little restaurant. I love their foie gras and their veal cheeks." Yes, Tony, but the thing about those veal cheeks is you never know where they've been. 508 29th St., Newport Beach, (949) 723-4150.JOSE "PEPE" ESCOBAR
LEAD SERVER, THE PACIFIC CLUB, NEWPORT BEACH
What's the secret to being a really great server? According to the ever-affable Jose "Pepe" Escobar, lead server at Newport Beach's ultra-exclusive Pacific Club, it's all about getting in "the zone," if you will. "No matter what's going on in your life, you have to leave all of your problems at home and give your best to the people you're serving," says Escobar. "That's the most important thing, I think." Escobar, 35, speaks from experience. A native of Zacatecas, he came to America while in his early 20s and soon found a job as a busboy at the Pacific Club. Since then, he has worked his way up the ranks to lead server and would like to be a manager one day, either at the Pacific Club or elsewhere. UNDER $10: Pasta Bravo beat out No. 2 Taco Mesa and No. 3 Baja Fresh for the affections of this monarch of maitre d's. For though Escobar tells us he loves all types of food, Italian is one of his favorites. "They have good pastas and salads there, and you can get a pasta dish with some meat and a drink for less than $10." 13786 Jamboree Rd., Tustin, (714) 731-0700.UNLIMITED: "I'd probably choose Macaroni Grill. I go there about four or five times a year, usually to celebrate a friend's birthday. I'd have their veal or a pasta with seafood. For wine, I like Duckhorn cabernet or Silver Oak Merlot, if I was having the veal, of course." 13652 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, (714) 508-7990.AZMIN GHAHREMAN
EXECUTIVE CHEF, THE ST. REGIS MONARCH BEACH RESORT & SPA, DANA POINT
Azmin Ghahreman is the sort of fellow you'd expect to find in charge of the victuals at a posh resort like the St. Regis, where current and former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton or such stars as Sela Ward and Selma Blair might stop by on a slow day. Born in Iran and raised in Switzerland, Ghahreman studied at the prestigious College du Leman in Switzerland, where he earned an international diploma in Culinary Art, and also at California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. He has plied his trade at an impressive list of five-star hotels, such as the Four Seasons Hotels in Wailea, Maui, and Singapore; the Regent Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia; and the Regent Sydney in Australia. Ghahreman tells us the importance of great cooking is coaxing the best flavors from the food he's preparing rather than attempting to transform its essence, a practice he sums up with the maxim "Never kill a fish twice." UNDER $10: "Taquería Y Tortillería in San Juan Capistrano because for $10, you eat like a king. It is great authentic Mexican cooking. I would order menudo, goat burrito or tongue burrito." 31921 Camino Capistrano, Ste. 15, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-3141. UNLIMITED: "Fleming's Prime Steakhouse in Newport Beach because they serve great steak and great wine—the best. I'd order one of the dry aged steaks—they are all good—and a good bottle of wine." 455 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 720-9633.CATHERINE GRAZIANO & JOE ONGIE
OWNERS, GYPSY DEN, COSTA MESA AND SANTA ANA
Okay, we admit it: the Gypsy Den makes us long for girls in Birkenstocks, tree sitting in Humboldt County with Julia Butterfly Hill, re-reading The Hobbit, and feminist semiotics. That's right, whenever we feel the urge to play hacky sack or get in touch with our inner Earth Firster—about three times a day, probably—we drop by the Gypsy Den for a bowl of their roasted-eggplant soup or maybe one of their casseroles, and it's like Ralph Nader won the presidency in Y2K and all is right with the world. Granola pin-up girl Catherine Graziano and her hubby, Joe Ongie, own and operate these little bits of Berkeley in Costa Mesa and Santa Ana, and it was Graziano who gave us the low-down on why they're probably the toughest couple to feed in OC. "My husband has these food phobias, so he doesn't eat many foods," she explains. "Like, he's never eaten a banana, strawberries or lettuce. In fact, he's almost never eaten at our restaurant. He might have a grilled-chicken sandwich, which we have at our Santa Ana location, and just eat the chicken and the bun, but that's it." As you might expect, this severely curtails any restaurant-hopping by the duo. "We eat like bachelors. I cook for myself, and he cooks for himself." Sounds like her husband mostly survives on fumes. 3930 Bristol, Costa Mesa, (714) 549-7012; also 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 835-8840. UNDER $10: Answering for herself, Graziano says she likes Wahoo's Fish Taco at Bristol and Baker, where she specifically gets the No. 2 combo with two tacos. 3000 S. Bristol Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 435-0130. UNLIMITED: "We almost never eat out, so this is really a tough one, but I'd probably say Felix Continental Caféat the Orange Circle," says Graziano, referring to the Cuban mainstay. "It has a good atmosphere if we're just going to hang out. It's messy, fun and lacking in any pretense. I don't eat meat, but I'd probably eat whatever fish special they have." 36 Plaza Square, Orange, (714) 633-5842.
Ted Atkins and Jay Tompkins
Photo by James Bunoan
TED ATKINS AND JAY TOMPKINS
OWNER AND GENERAL MANAGER, RESPECTIVELY, FULLERTON RESTAURANT EQUIPMENT
Atkins is the owner and Tompkins the general manager of Fullerton Restaurant Equipment, which has been providing area restaurants with everything from the $1 signs identifying men's and women's restrooms to $20,000 walk-in refrigerators for 25 years. Atkins is the affable one; Tompkins is gruffer than Donald Rumsfeld to solicitors but extremely helpful to customers. UNDER $10: Tompkins tries to go to Los Sanchez 2 once a week for lunch. "It's a chain, but at least it's family-owned. They have this lunch special of three small tacos with stringed beef, cilantro and onions with a soda pop for about $4. And the sauce is always fresh and not too spicy. Nothing beats it." Atkins agrees with the ethnic cuisine choice but not the place. "Anita's is not your typical Mexican place. It deals specifically with Southwestern food, which is more nuanced than Mexican is. The best thing there is a sopilla stuffed with chiles that have been marinated for 24 hours." Los Sanchez 2, 907 W. Orangethorpe, Fullerton, (714) 738-3415; Anita's New Mexico-Style Mexican Food, 600 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-0977.UNLIMITED: "I don't eat out that much, but if I do, I go to Il Ghiotto," shares Tompkins. "The waiters are pleasant, and the owner always introduces himself to anyone who might enter. I couldn't name any of the dishes; I always give the waiter my menu so they can select the dish. They've never gone wrong." Atkins likes to go with his wife to the five-star Cellar. "I could go in there and eat their dessert as a dinner. The lobster is divine, and I understand the wine list is one of the most extensive in the country." Il Ghiotto, 136 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 447-0775; The Cellar Restaurant, 305 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-5682.TIM HILL
OWNER, CHAIN REACTION
Hill's in charge of feeding bands at Chain Reaction. "We just recently developed a deal with a pizza place—they come and bring five large pizzas," says Hill. "But sometimes we just cater ourselves—my wife goes to Ralphs and buys all the deli junk. Most of the time, the bands are vegan." So it's like, "Here's a pizza crust—have a good time"? "Well, when Ron [Martinez] buys them, he goes to Trader Joe's and shops for them. Gets the peanut bread and all that crapola. And the hummus. You gotta have the hummus. But I've gotten some pretty wild requests. Shit you know they just put on there. Like 'twelve horny girls.' You don't cater to that. It sounded good to me, though." UNDER $10: "Moreno's is killer, killer Mexican food," Hill says. "I kinda mix it up every time I go there. You can eat inside, or you can eat outside, with like 100-year-old olive trees. And it's really reasonable. Just get whatever you normally get at a Mexican restaurant. It's all really authentic, and it's really reasonable—and you know all the rich people in OC? This is where they go, too." 4328 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 639-2181.UNLIMITED: "The Benihana in Anaheim, man—it's my favorite place! I'm the weekly guy—I go there once a week, usually have the steak and lobster, upgraded to filet. Usually they have, like, eight people at the table—I've met people who are really cool, seen some crazy shit. You know, they're there once a year for their anniversary; they have a few drinks; they get kind of funny!" 2100 E. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 774-4940.FRANCISCO "PANCHO" LOPEZ
On weekdays, the native of Sahuayo, Michoacán, sweats it out as a construction worker. Weekends find him running a successful catering business that creates anything your palate requests, from fiery chicken wings to buttery mashed potatoes to tacos of every meat and salsa. Lopez used to cook at the ultra-exclusive Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach but got out of the business because, as Lopez succinctly puts it, "there's more money in construction. But the passion for cooking never went away." The catering business can be notoriously fickle, so how does Lopez know if his customers like him? "If they call back after I've catered an event for them, I know that I'm doing well." He gets many calls back. For catering info, call (714) 390-2645.UNDER $10: Lopez has a passion for chicken the way some people do for religion, and to him, the place to worship cheap chicken is El Pollo Norteño in Santa Ana. "They whole-cook chickens on a spit that spins and spins over a fire. Once in a while, they'll squirt lemon and chili powder. I really like the legs because they're less dry—not that the rest of the meat is dry, mind you." 1525 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-9097; also 202 N. Grand, Santa Ana, (714) 542-0779.UNLIMITED: Lopez makes no apologies for selecting Red Lobster as his unlimited pick. "Their lobsters are simply awesome," Lopez enthusiastically opines. "Real fresh, with great sides. I get nothing but lobster there. And I always make sure to have a cervezita with it." Located in your nearest decrepit shopping plaza.PAT MARKLEY
SPOKESWOMAN, OC HEALTH CARE AGENCY'S FOOD PROTECTION PROGRAM
DIRECTOR OF FOOD SERVICES, UC IRVINE
We're sick to report this—just freakin' sick—but Alan Moloney, UC Irvine's director of food services, swears college-cafeteria food fights are pretty much a thing of the past. "People tend to be a little more respectful these days, I think," says Moloney. "Plus, if you get caught, you have to pay for the cleanup." (Isn't that what parents are for?) Fortunately, some classic campus capers, like tipping the candy or soda machine, endure. "It still happens at least once a year," he says. "Thing is they're top heavy, and at 1,800 pounds, one of those things could kill you." True, but then there's all that free candy and the fun of impressing coeds with your manliness. Just don't do it while Moloney's around. Poor guy is responsible for feeding 23,000 students, 5,000 faculty and staff, and 5,000 visitors on any given day. That's 33,000 yaps he has to fill. UNDER $10: "I'd eat at any Baja Fresh," says Moloney. "They have consistency of product, and the service is quick. I like everything they make. Another big thing for me, since I'm in food service, is their open kitchen, where you can watch everything being prepared." Moloney says he's also a big fan of Baja's salsa bar, where the "brown and the green" are his faves. Located where Mexicans aren't.UNLIMITED: When it comes to shelling out bucks, Moloney goes for atmosphere, and according to him, Splashes at Laguna's Surf & Sand Hotel has it up the yin-yang. "They've got this dining room almost at sand level, and the view is gorgeous. The setting is intimate and cozy. I've never had a bad experience there." Though he hasn't paid a visit in about six months, he remembers a delicious lamb shank and a Chateau Montelena '94. Located in the Surf & Sand Hotel, 1555 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-4477.PAOLO PESTARINO
OWNER, PAOLO'S RISTORANTE
If Paolo Pestarino looks like the sort of fellow who has been all over the world three or four dozen times, that's because he has. The rugged, voluble former chef of Newport Beach's chic Issay restaurant, where his cuisine earned raves from all and sundry, left his home in Genoa, Italy, at age 15 to join the kitchen on a cruise ship. After about 18 years and Jove knows how many ports o' call, he disembarked in San Pedro to win the love of a lady, and the rest, as they say, is nautical history. "I spent a year in each department of the cruise line's kitchen," Paolo tells us. "That's the way to learn. School is good, but experience is the best teacher." Who are we to argue, especially after sampling Pestarino's pastas? Crikey, his capellini tutti gusti and penne arrabiata inspire even the tone-deaf to start spoutin' Puccini at the top of their lungs. In Old World Village, 7561 Center Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 373-5399. UNDER $10: "Chinese Gourmet is just this little takeout place near Baker and Harbor. They only have four or five tables, but I like to go in and have either their chicken or beef." 1420 Baker St., Ste. C, Costa Mesa, (714) 754-6888. UNLIMITED: "I'd probably choose Antonello at South Coast Plaza. I know the quality of the food, and I've known the chef for years. Everything there is excellent—the steak, veal chops, sea bass, everything. So I'd probably just have whatever I'm in the mood for." 3800 Plaza Dr., Santa Ana, (714) 751-7153.
Porter "Paul" Campbell
Photo by James Bunoan
PORTER "PAUL" CAMPBELL
COOK, NORMS, ANAHEIM
Before you curse Norms for its toxic taste, eat a meal prepared by Campbell. The humble 63-year-old has been cooking with Norms for the past 40 years, and anyone who has been lucky enough to buy dinner during his Tuesday-to-Saturday, 2 p.m.-to-10 p.m. shift knows that eating a Campbell-prepared meal is like listening to Van Cliburn at Sing! Sing! Under Campbell's watchful eyes, all ingredients are fresh, and meals are prepared only when they're ordered. He's also sensitive to the crowd he caters to on a particular night. "I get a lot of senior citizens on my shift," Campbell says, "so I make sure that the food I prepare during that time doesn't have too much salt or spice." Health-conscious food at Norms? Norms' management is so grateful for Campbell's visionary cooking they recently gave him a $10,000 bonus. 1125 N. Euclid, Anaheim, (714) 776-3663.UNDER $10: "There used to be this great restaurant right next to Anaheim High in a vintage red house," Campbell says. "Had a fabulous meatloaf and a German chocolate cake to die for. But that closed a while back, so I take my cheap cuisine to Chili's. Their ribs are something else, especially the sauce." Ask 'NSync where the nearest Chili's is.UNLIMITED: Campbell goes to Long Beach's biggest sitting duck for fancy food. "The atmosphere at the Queen Mary is very fancy, and so is their food. I especially like to go to Sir Winston's. They have a lobster that just reeks of garlic—delicious. But before I order that, I make sure to get the boursin cheese salad. It's made with real boursin cheese—not the fake kind so many restaurants use—and has lots of tomatoes and cucumbers." 1126 Queensway Dr., Long Beach, (562) 499-1657.ANURADHA PRAKASH
PROFESSOR OF FOOD SCIENCE AND NUTRITION, CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY
Besides writing papers for academic food journals (a recent publication was "Effects of Low-Dose Gamma Irradiation and Conventional Treatments on Shelf-life and Quality Characteristics of Diced Celery"—and you thought celery was boring!), the multitalented Prakash doubles as Chapman's physical sciences department chair. In her free time, she teaches classes such as food chemistry and food politics (a course she's currently teaching in Costa Rica as part of Chapman's study-abroad program) for the school's food science department. "Once a student takes my course, they learn to read the labels on all products," says the friendly Prakash. "Most change their dietary habits permanently." Prakash's status as a food scientist also makes her privy to what foods are especially susceptible to contamination. "Sprouts of any kind are virtually lethal because they're grown in shallow water," the good professor says with solemnity. Thanks for the info, Prof: we've been searching for an excuse to avoid Brussels sprouts since we were three. UNDER $10: Prakash is vegetarian, but that doesn't stop her from frequenting Tacos Jalisco. "They make pretty good potato tacos, but I always get Laurita's Special. It's a bean-and-rice burrito with a mole sauce full of multiple notes that you taste the minute you put it in your mouth." She also recommends Laxmi, an Indian store in Tustin that also sells food. "They make a lot of Indian snack foods. I get the thali, a platter of two vegetables, a yogurt dish and fresh naan. I'm very fond of the Indian spinach and eggplant." Tacos Jalisco, 480 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 771-5819; Laxmi Sweets & Spices, 638 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-4671.UNLIMITED: "I'm living on a professor's salary!" Prakash says with a laugh, but she nevertheless haunts some fancy digs. "Ebisu makes a shredded-yam soba soup that has the slightest sweetness, served piping-hot and perfect for a cold day," Prakash professes. "It's comfort food for me." She doesn't care for the belly dancers at Marrakesh, but their veggie plates are another story. "They have a lot of marinated and grilled vegetables and an amazing couscous. But the thing to get there are grapes that emit this beautiful rose perfume. The taste is even better." Ebisu Japanese Noodle Restaurant, 18924-A Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 964-5993; Marrakesh, 1976 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-8384.MYRA SELBO
OWNER, THE MELTING POT, IRVINE
Bust out the lava lamps and the shag carpeting, all you Leisure Suit Larrys; fondue is back, baby, so let the gratuitous sex and drug use begin! What? Oh, it's 2003, not 1973? Still, thanks to Myra Selbo and her clan, there's fondue a-plenty in Irvine. See, Selbo; her hubby; and their daughters, Dana and Tara, loaded up the truck one day in Scottsdale, Arizona, and headed to Irvine with a mission: to make it okay to dip your food in cheese again. This they have done with their Melting Pot franchise, currently the only one in California. 2646 DuPont Dr., Irvine, (949) 955-3242.UNDER $10: "I've gotten better service at Pickup Stix than at some upscale restaurants," confides Selbo. "Their prices are very reasonable. I like their House Special Chicken, which has really good flavor." 30461 Avenida de las Flores, Ste. A, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 589-0522. UNLIMITED: "My daughter Dana, who's also my general manager, took me to the Napa Rose for my birthday in October, and it was wonderful. We had something called Seven Sins of the Sea, with all these different seafoods, and we drank champagne. Our server was great, and my daughter had flowers and a cake brought in." Jeez, and all we got our mom for her B-day was a carton of Salems and a 12-pack of Old Milwaukee. Of course, that's what she asked for. . . . Located in the Grand Californian Hotel, 1600 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 635-2300.Asking Pat Markley where to eat in OC is a little like asking the local library lady to recommend a racy novel. Instead of Fanny Hill, you're likely to get Little Women, and we mean Louisa May Alcott, bub, not the Larry Flynt version. What do you expect from a gal who has to spend her days on outings with the county's 54 food inspectors hunting for rodent feces, rotten food and cockroach droppings in any of the 15,000 facilities under their jurisdiction? Seen in that light, her choices seem understandably yawn-inducing. UNDER $10: To eat "in the safest and healthiest way possible," Markley would scout the closest grocery store and buy a sealed plastic bag of triple-washed greens, a small can of tuna, low-cal dressing, a piece of fruit and bottled water. "Not only is this sanitary," she explains. "But it'd also help me shed some of those ugly holiday pounds." UNLIMITED: Department policy doesn't allow Markley to endorse any particular spot. But in true Goody Two Shoes fashion, she insists she'd look for a fancy-schmancy restaurant that had been granted the agency's Food Facility Award of Excellence, for those eating establishments that have had no "Category A" violations (the worst there are) in the past year. The current list, which is organized by city and includes both expensive and non-expensive eateries, can be accessed by the public at www.ochealthinfo.com/regulatory/food_program/foodaward.htm. "That way, I'd know they have a clean bill of health," she chirps. "After all, the places that take the most pride in their cleanliness also tend to be the ones with the best food." We're not sure we agree, Mizz Markley, but we'll not argue the point as long as you folks stay away from the chop suey joint down the street from us.