Assimilation is a lie. Even if an immigrant becomes a citizen, speaks English and votes Republican, he'll always maintain a tie to the homeland. And nowhere is this more evident than in the names of restaurants. Many owners christen their eateries with geographical memories of their mother country—a city, state or even lake. Now let's make like Carmen Sandiego and travel the world in our county.
Nestled in the mountains of Michoacán, the city of Uruapán is renowned across Mexico for its preparation of carnitas, the gloriously greasy pork bits that please the palate as much as they clog the aortas. This tiny carnicería sells a pound for $5.25 and wraps them in pink butcher paper. Your job: wrap the carnitas in a tortilla, eat, enjoy. Geographycheatsheet:Read my blurb again, porfavor.1150N.HarborBlvd.,Anaheim,(714)535-7723.
The owners of Caspian Restaurant named their business after the world's largest landlocked body of water for a reason, and their seafood servings—jumbo shrimp subsumed in onion juices, for instance—live up to the sea's salty character. The shirin polo, rice studded with baked orange peels, pistachios and almonds, would persuade Bush to remove Iran from his Axis. Geographycheatsheet:The world's largest inland body of water. Aren't you reading the blurb?! 14100 Culver Dr., Irvine, (949) 651-8454; www.caspianrestaurant.com. $$
For the best Mexican lunch in Fullerton, call ahead of time. The lunch lines are usually so long that they are reminiscent of the toilet paper lines in the good ol' Soviet Union. Vegetarians can rejoice in the potato taquitos! Geographycheatsheet:The trail created by Father Junipero Serra to connect the California missions. 303N.EuclidSt.,Fullerton,(714)447-3962.¢
Where else can you dine on tender barbecued goat in a smoky sauce and swaddled in steaming tortillas made on the premises? The house specialty: a mild white fish filet stuffed with shrimp, mushrooms and mixed vegetables. Geographycheatsheet:A northern Mexican state. 130N.Fairview,SantaAna,(714)836-1254.$
Slurping zinc-laden raw oysters at Costa Brava brings out the bravado in its loyal patrons. Try the superpopular coctel de camarones; the flash-fried whole catfish and red-snapper filet with garlic sauce are also done up right. Geographycheatsheet:The coastal region of the tropical Mexican state of Guerrero. 727W.19thSt.,CostaMesa,(949)650-8272.$
Over the course of colonized centuries, the Romanians picked up cooking tips from each—grilled kebabs and searing coffee from the Turks, unctuous beef Stroganoff from the Russians, goulash and paprika from the Hungarians, and the sarmales, reminiscent in their pungency of Mediterranean stuffed grape leaves. All are present at Dunarea, and all are magnificent. Geographycheatsheet:The Romanian name for the Danube River. 821 N. Euclid Ave., Anaheim, (714) 772-7233; www.dunarea.us. $
This restaurant is a sleek ramen mecca that serves miso ramen, a curative soybean-flavored elixir, poured over a tangled cake of supple noodles rife with bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, hard-boiled-egg halves and scallions. Geographycheatsheet:A Tokyo prefecture. 18924BrookhurstSt.,Ste.A,FountainValley,(714)964-5993.$
Jugos Acapulco makes tacos, tortas, even enchiladas. But the jugos and licuados 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 (pulpy guanávana, sour alfalfa and beet juice). The beet jugo is exceedingly bitter and burgundy, but it mysteriously ranks as one of Jugos Acapulco's top sellers—Latinos disregard the root's acrid taste for its iron-packed wallop, apparently. Geographycheatsheet:A favored Mexican resort town for gabachos.307E.FirstSt.,SantaAna,(714)836-1965;alsoat2003W.FirstSt.,Ste.A,SantaAna,(714)558-1414;745W.19thSt.,Ste.A-B,CostaMesa,(949)722-8513.$
Khyber Bazaar carries 4,500 Bollywood videos, along with Pakistani dramas and Afghani movies. It also sells Hindi, Pakistani and Afghani music. Oh, and the Bazaar also packs in two aisles of Afghani/Pakistani/Indian/Middle Eastern groceries like eight types of lentils, numerous types of rice, and hard-to-find Afghani snacks. Geographycheatsheet:Refers to the Khyber Pass, the legendary link between Pakistan and Afghanistan. 10810WarnerAve.,FountainValley,(714)962-8879.¢-$
Kitayama's fans say it's as close to fine Japanese dining as you can get without flying to Tokyo. We're talking savory steak and seafood dishes and unbelievable sushi and sashimi. Geographycheatsheet:A tiny Japanese village. 101BayviewPl.,NewportBeach,(949)725-0777.$$$
The belly dancers at Marrakesh can get a bit distracting, 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 here are grapes that emit a beautiful rose perfume. The taste is even better. Geographycheatsheet:Morocco's "Pearl of the South." 1976NewportBlvd.,CostaMesa,(949)645-8384.$$
When tandoori-style cooking is done right, it's among the most delicious you can find, and you'll find no greater example of it in Orange County than at Punjab. It is solid, delicious and affordable. You'll get flavor flashbacks thinking about the lamb boti kebab masala. Geographycheatsheet:Region straddling northern India and Pakistan; traditional homeland of Sikhs. 18687BrookhurstSt.,FountainValley,(714)963-6777.$$
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The hole-in-the-strip-mall takes special care with its pupusas, which have a crispy yet malleable crust encasing thick, sticky cheese. Meanwhile, an oily, impossibly sugary plantain lying alongside refried beans is like a battle between the lush tropics and the Spartan plains of El Salvador on the tongue; a side of sweet sour cream negotiates a tasteful truce. Geographycheatsheet:A town in El Salvador. 1940HarborBlvd.,CostaMesa,(949)650-2952.$
Named after a Michoacán rancho that has sent thousands of its residents to Orange County, the colorful restaurant makes the best tacos in the county. They deviate from taco protocol by using full-sized corn tortillas and pile on chunks of your choice of grilled meat. The salsa is extraordinary, a dark-red lava extract whose burn factor is unknown outside Paricutín. Geographycheatsheet:Mexican village. 899W.19thSt.,CostaMesa.(949)645-4964.$
An open-minded place with a sense of adventure. The ribs rule here, coming in a broad range of styles from traditional to Cajun to Caribbean. Geographycheatsheet:Oklahoma backwater where, on May 31, 1921, the largest race riot in the history of the United States occurred. 954N.TustinAve.,Orange,(714)633-3760.$$
View our complete dining guide at www.ocweekly.com/food.