Eat Cheap


EXPENSIVE Tired of the same old American fare of sandwiches and salads? Sick of eating chicken and steak day in and day out? Then don't go to the fabulous Daily Grill, where chicken, sandwiches and salads are all they sell. Of course, they're sold at tremendous prices, but that's probably because they taste tremendously good. Those arriving after appearing on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? might want to try the New York strip steak sandwich ($14.50). The turkey sandwich (weighing in at a stunning $8.50) is a massive meal. When topped with a slab of fudge-brownie pie with ice cream ($5.95), a bottomless glass of lemonade ($2.50), tax and tip, you're pushing $20 for lunch alone. The prices, albeit expensive, do reflect the high quality. And the Daily Grill is also one of the rare places that serves authentic cobb salads ($9.50, or $11.95 for a dinner portion). (AP) 2636 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 474-2223; 957 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 644-2223.MIDRANGE Who wouldn't love a restaurant housed in a building at the Newport Beach pier that dates back to Woodrow Wilson's term in the Oval Office? Of course, any building as old as the Blue Beet Cafe must be haunted, but the restaurant staff assured us the ghost rarely makes an appearance before 2 a.m. The best way to wait till then is by trying the blackened-chicken or swordfish sandwich ($6.95). Both monster sandwiches are served with a nice helping of Cajun-spiced French fries. For dinner, drop by on Wednesday, when the special is a rack of pork ribs ($7.95) that's cooked so tender the meat actually falls from the bone; it's served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The prime rib ($9.95) served Sunday nights is great, too. There's also live music seven nights a week, from 8 to 11 p.m. (AP) 107 21st Place, Newport Beach, (949) 675-2338. CHEAP There are few restaurants left in the county—or on planet Earth —that capture so beautifully the brown vinyl booths and mustard-colored walls that make up classic Eisenhower administration décor. La Palma Chicken Pie Shop is one of those places. Not only do the walls and furnishings and waitresses scream 1955 (at the very latest), but the prices also barely top those Ike himself must have paid. The menu is diverse, but those looking for cheapest and best in Swanson-style fare should stick to the restaurant's namesake special. For a paltry $3.95, you get a chicken pot pie chock-full of chicken, vegetables and chicken-flavored ooze (mmmmmm . . . ooze); mashed potatoes; salad; and a roll. It's all good. It's all cheap. For dessert, wander into the bakery on your way out and sample one of the big cookies they sell for mere pennies. (AP) 928 N. Euclid, Anaheim, (714) 533-2021.

bakery EXPENSIVE Zov's Bakery, located behind Zov's Bistro, is a sleek café with recessed lights, slate floors and brushed-metal display cases. This is a place for serious, upscale baked goods. Zov's is known for its artisan breads, which range from an olive-rosemary bread to jalapeño cheese bread, apricot-walnut bread, crusty baguettes and fragrant sourdough bread. Their pastry chef also makes a variety of cakes:_basic butter, flourless chocolate and more. But what is truly special at Zov's are the pastries. The fresh berry Danish looks like a miniature work of art. The cinnamon pastry is topped with slices of baked apple and a mixture of blackberries, boysenberries and raspberries, all sitting on a light custard and glazed with apricot jam. For a switch from the traditional sticky sweet roll, try the cinnamon streusel roll, a sweet bread made with pieces of pecans and topped with brown sugar and cinnamon. Order one and sit back on the patio with a café latte and a good book. Pastries range from $2 to $5.50, breads start at $3.50 per loaf, and cakes average $50. (SM) 177440 E. 17th St., Tustin, (714) 838-8855.MIDRANGE The small Manmi Bakery in Garden Grove has some of the most luscious whipped-cream cakes imaginable. Their most famous is a confection of two layers of yellow cake filled with a rich custard, kiwi fruit, pineapple, peaches, cherries and grapes and topped with a whipped-cream frosting. While Manmi offers a case of traditional pastries (like cream puffs and eclairs), the exotic (unless you're Korean) Korean specialties are more enticing. A sweet-potato pastry is made with sweet, soft bread and filled with mashed sweet potatoes, sugar and cinnamon. How often do you have a chance to try a cinnamon-and-sugar doughnut with a red-bean-paste center? (It's better than you might think.) The rolled cakes are made with light sponge cake filled with a variety of flavors and sliced into spirals. Try the coffee roll cake, which is soaked in a bit of espresso. The best thing about their goodies is that they are not overly sweet. Pastries run from 50 cents to $1 each, and cakes start at $15. (SM) 8942 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 537-4955. CHEAPWhen I was a little girl, my grandparents used to take my brother, my sister and me to Solvang on car trips. The Danish community, located about 45 minutes north of Santa Barbara, had some of the most amazing pastries. Walking into Poul's Danish-American Bakery in Orange reminds me of those trips. The cases are filled with memories of my childhood: sweet rolls, Danishes, twists and cookies are piled high, and the smell of sugar and cinnamon greets you at the front door. The old-fashioned coffeecakes are wheels of sweet dough with cream-cheese, lemon and raspberry fillings. Danishes come in countless flavors. My favorite is the apricot Danish with the almond-paste filling, or maybe the cheese Danish with cream-cheese-and-sugar icing. If you're looking for a lower-fat alternative, try Poul's bagels (especially the raisin bagels) or any of the great breads and rolls. The bakery has been a tradition in Orange since 1960, and it's easy to see why: two Danishes and coffee are only $2. (SM) 770 N. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 532-5101.barbecue EXPENSIVE I've spent time in Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee—each a vegetarian's nightmare. Southern cooks seem to soak even lettuce in pig-intestine broth. But now I've been to Mossville, where Aunt Rejoice runs the kitchen. And when I read the menu, rejoice is exactly what I did. A garden po'boy sandwich: a veggie patty on a toasted French roll with melted cheese and tomato with a choice of side dish. They offered macaroni and cheese—large, flat macaroni cooked al dente. I also had the corn bread, which tasted like cake, and a side of mashed potatoes that was the perfect consistency. For the readers, I tasted my friend's food; for the readers, I say. Louisiana red beans (that must have been slow-cooked all day) and rice mixed with collard greens topped by a hoecake, a kind of corn pancake, to scoop it up. We washed it down with fresh-squeezed lemonade and Muddy Water, Mossville's yummy iced-tea-and-lemonade concoction. And they have meat here, too, if you like that sort of thing. I've heard raves about the smothered pork chops, the catfish and the ribs, but you'll have to try those yourselves. I can only do so much for you. The most expensive dish is the Daddie-Macs Combo, which delivers ribs, meat loaf, chicken and two sides. Take your choice of candied yams, Creole corn, corn-bread dressing with gravy, or others. This is expensive barbecue—it just doesn't show up on the bill. Life felt like it slowed down a little while we damsels in deadline distress took time out for lunch. I experienced the same calm as when I used to eat my grandmother's cooking, and everything I ate made me feel warm with love. (AO) 1327 E. Fourth St., Long Beach, (562) 495-3100. MIDRANGE Here's the deal: after Mongolian Bar-B-Que Pan Asia's very friendly owners find you a table in this tiny hole-in-the-wall, order dinner meal No. 2 ($5.50). A few minutes later, you'll get a generous bowl of frozen beef shavings. Mmmmm . . . shavings. Anyway, squash down the shavings, and head to the buffet up front. Then ladle on whatever oils, sauces and spices you want, as well as lettuce, parsley, onions and sprouts. Don't forget the sesame seeds! Then hand your now-heaping bowl of vegetables, oils and frozen beef to the guy behind the counter, who promptly spills it onto a massive grill. A few minutes later, you have a bowl of sizzling beef and vegetables. Now go back to your table, where you'll find a plate of rice and a basket of biscuits. Slice open the biscuits and fill them with as much rice and beef as you want. Now feast. (AP) 369 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-4644. CHEAPMerely finding Burrell's Bar-B-Que can be tough. Owner Fred Burrell picked a hell of a place for his now 19-year-old barbecue haven: the end of a Santa Ana residential tract, across the street from Carver Elementary School in what looks like an old house. Try not to let the screen door bang shut when you walk up to the counter, and be sure to order the Bar-B-Que Beef sandwich ($3.95). Yes, the menu has lots of yummy items like baby-back ribs, chicken, homemade sausage links, barbecued ham and thick, mouth-watering Louisiana gumbo, but real barbecue demands beef. And beef you get—an inch-thick collection of beef chunks dripping with sauce on a bun just big enough to hold the sandwich together. Now add a side of baked beans or collard greens ($1 extra with the sandwich) and a slice of tangy apple pie ($1.95). (AP) 305 N. Hesperian, Santa Ana, (714) 547-7441.chinese EXPENSIVE Newport Seafood Chinese Restaurantis usually a cheap or moderately priced restaurant—unless you pick the most expensive dish, like I did. Lobster lovers come from all over the Southland to taste the greatest dish at this Chinese restaurant run and staffed by Chinese from Vietnam. Southern Californians are drawn here not by its décor but by its great food. We've seen Haing Ngor (whose tragic tale inspired The Killing Fields) and Vietnam War figure Nguyen Cao Ky and his entourage sup there. You can't miss the green lobsters (claws trussed like a slave in an S-M tryst) peacefully dozing in the algae-spawn tank, unaware of their fate. On our last visit, assured that our lobster from the Boston Bay area would be the smallest, we heartily dug our teeth into the huge, succulent, spicy chunks of lobster meat—with heavy doses of pepper to make one reach spice heaven. The “small” lobster wasn't that small; at 31/4 pounds, the crustacean cost more than $40! We also added wor won ton (just $6.95), a hearty bowl of soup filled with won tons, bok choy, tofu, and assorted seafood and meats. Free desserts came at the end: green beans (a nice balance to the spicy lobster) and very juicy, ice-cold oranges. (DCT) 4411 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 531-5146.MODERATE Koki's Shabu Shabu, despite its name, is actually a Taiwanese restaurant offering a Sinicized shabu shabu (the term refers to the swishing action in this normally Japanese cuisine) with a bilingual (English/Chinese) menu. This is a variation of the Mongolian hot pot. Perhaps in line with Irvine's clean-cut image of cookie-cutter townhouses, the place (which opened shortly after the new millennium started) is spanking-clean and very bright. Instead of butane-gas flames (“Too dangerous!” opined our waitress), there's a pristine “Mr. Induction,” an intriguing electric contraption that heats the stainless-steel pot atop it up to a reputed 440 degrees. It's a far cry from how I used to have hot pot at home in Hong Kong, with real chunks of coal burning under a clay pot—a definitely dangerous indoor habit. At Koki, the food is preprocessed: slices of frozen and thinly sliced mutton, shrimp dumplings that are actually rolled up, and pieces of fish balls (sliced neatly in half). All of this is unceremoniously dumped into the pot, which is neatly demarcated into two, one side with clear broth (and bok choy), the other spicy broth with tofu. Add rice and more raw entrées that you cook yourself, and smother it in the spicy brown sauce. Each dish is usually about $3 or $4, but since you need half a dozen or more of each to fill up, the price can add up. The most intriguing dish is a bun that has been deep-fried—beneath that crispy browned crust is soft, pure white bread. It's the perfect balance to spicy food. (DCT) 5408 Walnut, Irvine, (949) 853-0758. CHEAP Peking Restaurant, again despite its name, is another Taiwanese restaurant. The Taiwanese are known for their “little eats” (i.e., appetizers that actually fill one up). And this tiny restaurant next to a Chinese bookstore serves some of the best in Orange County. My lunch partner (fluent in Mandarin) and I order mostly vegetarian dishes, although we can't resist their trademark kuo tieh (pork pot stickers). They do have vegetarian dumplings (chiao tze), but we focus on their intriguing list of “Chinese-style” appetizers. The jellyfish salad is quite tasty, not too salty like the ones offered at dim sum restaurants. (Think of it as Chinese pasta and you won't squirm.) The tastiest dish we tried featured chunks of tasty beef wrapped like a mini tortilla. The firm and textured pieces of dried bean curd (tofu) also tasted wonderful. And the cool cucumber slices in the cucumber salad were just the right dish for a sweaty day. You'll also want to try their fabulous “family dinners,” which, unlike the boring items in column A and column B in some Chinese-American restaurants, actually offer decent choices, including an entire steamed fish. We got four dishes for just $26.50! (DCT) 8586 Westminster Ave., Westminster, (714) 893-3020. cuban EXPENSIVEIt is the ambiance you'll fall in love with first at Habana. Dark woods, muted colors and constellations of candles give Habana an intimate feeling, making it the perfect date restaurant. The Nuevo Latino menu leans toward Cuban dishes but mixes in Jamaican, Mexican and other Latin flavors. One of the most popular menu items is the tamale pie: the corn-masa crust is filled with pulled pork and cooked with oregano, garlic, onions and spices. The black beans are made with a spicy sauce of garlic, onions, tomatoes, green peppers and jalapeños. If you don't have time for a full meal, stop in for a drink and a plate of empanadas. Habana's bar serves some of the best sangria around, and the lemon-drop martinis are near-legendary. The empanadas are filled with spicy beef, saffron chicken or roasted vegetables. Desserts at the restaurant are all about chocolate, from the warm chocolate bread pudding with a hint of cinnamon to the café Cubano, a chocolate-espresso mousse in a chocolate cup with a rich chocolate-truffle base. (SM) 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-0176.MIDRANGE Rafi's Cuban Café's new dining room is painted in deep reds, oranges and an ocean blue. But what gets your attention when you walk in the door is the smell of garlic, onions, roast pork and platanos, a kind of fried banana found in Caribbean cuisine. Rafi manages the Tustin eatery, but his mother runs the kitchen, and you'll be glad for the division of labor. From her simple chicken soup to the more intricate shrimp in mojo sauce, she serves up some of the best Cuban food in the county. I have a friend who swears by the arroz con pollo, but I've tried a variety of dishes, including the pork tenderloin with mojo sauce and bistec empanizado along with the shrimp and the soup. The pork tenderloin is marinated in lemon and garlic and served with mojo, a lemon and onion sauce. The shrimp are broiled in the same sauce. The citrus flavor and shrimp mix nicely with the onions and taste great over white rice. The bistec empanizado, or breaded steak, is pounded thin and fried. The crisp crust is tasty, especially with a little lemon. Most dishes come with rice and red or black beans. Leave plenty of room for coffee and dessert. The key-lime pie is tart and not too sweet, and the café con leche is just like the one my mom used to make. Entrées range from $7 to $12, and desserts start at $1.75. (SM) 425 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 505-4071. CHEAP Felix's Continental Cafe is one of the best people-watching restaurants in Orange County. Located in the Orange Circle, the Cuban eatery has an extensive sidewalk patio and a menu geared toward value. You can find traditional Cuban and Spanish favorites like arroz con pollo, beef picadillo, paella and tortillas de platanos. But Felix's best offerings are the simplest, like the pollo criollo. This chicken dish features a chicken breast pounded flat, marinated in a lemon-and-garlic sauce, and then grilled. Rice and black beans accompany the meal; the black beans are in a thick sauce with bits of onions and green peppers and an occasional bay leaf. You also have your choice of ripe, sweet plantain bananas, called maduros, or the crisp, salty tostones, which are made from green plantains. The dinner special of the pollo criollo adds a house salad, with a creamy Parmesan dressing that will make you swear off ranch forever. You also have your choice of rice pudding, tres leches cake or vanilla pudding. All this for less than $7. (SM) 36 Plaza Square, Orange, (714) 633-5842.delicatessensEditor's note: A deli is a deli. There are no inexpensive onesmake that good inexpensive ones—since a good one serves quality meat. And, gratefully, there aren't any really expensive ones, either. Prices at the three presented here are about the samesandwiches for $6 to $8so we decided to just call them allMIDRANGE Benjies has been around since 1967—and looks it. And we mean that in the good way. It's the kind of place where the male customers still wear “slacks” and women still wear hair constructed every Tuesday afternoon at the beauty parlor. In fact, one of the place's real charms is a trip to the restroom, during which you can peek into the adjoining cocktail bar—and all the way back to a time when people smoked indoors. Sound appetizing? It is. Really appetizing, especially if you're in the mood for breakfast or lunch. Benjies is more of a daytime thing. It's not fancy, and it's not surprising. You're going to want to try the pastrami, whether straight-up or in the Benjies sandwich (pastrami, coleslaw and Thousand Island dressing on rye). You're going to have to delve into the brisket and corned beef as well as the triple-decker sandwiches and melts. There are salads, but Benjies is mostly about straightforward, big, meaty food served quickly. When you decide to chuck any hopes of swimsuit modeling and give yourself over to that, the Francheesy just may be for you: grilled knackwurst with bacon piled on top and American cheese just oozing off the sides onto the plate. It's angioplantastic! (SL) 1828 N. Tustin, Santa Ana, (714) 541-6230. Kaplan's Delidoesn't have what you'd call that authentic deli look from the outside; I think the building it inhabits used to be a Denny's or something. But once you get inside, you can see it's the real deal. The place vibrates, whether it's the bar, the bakery, the kitchen or the dining area. If you don't like being confronted by life —wuss!—Kaplan's probably isn't for you, especially around peak breakfast, lunch and dinner times. Actually, the bustle works to the restaurant's advantage since Kaplan's is freeway-close, and by that, I mean it's an easy wind sprint from the offramp of the southbound 405. But you'd never know that once you get inside. Besides the general clatter, you'll also be sent into sensory overload while checking out the sky-high sandwiches passing by. Then there is the menu, which not only features all-day breakfast service but also more than 50 burgers and sandwiches, as well as such other deli staples as latkes and hash. And the food is big. Big and delicious—and that goes for the salads, too. The Kaplan, for example, features not just eggs and and lettuce but also pastrami, salami and roast beef. (SL) 3211 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 557-6611. Katella Deli is all over the map—thankfully. It's a place where you can get great potato pancakes—crispy on the outside, creamy potato and onions on the inside—and great matzo and kippers and lox and stuffed cabbage and hot sweet-and-sour meat borscht and brisket of beef with a red horseradish sauce. You can make the trek to the bakery—and given the place's stadium-like size, a trek it is—and peruse the cakes and cookies or order some rye or zucchini bread or bagels, and we're talking the crunchy kind. But it's also a place that, for whatever reason, was built with that roller disco feel. There's neon, and plenty of it. There's a lot of pink and teal. And on the menu, there's chicken Parmesan, beef stir-fry, and bologna and eggs. Still, if the quality of the other items is any indication, the latter three probably kick ass, too. Did we mention that besides being big and funky, Katella Deli is wicked good? The food is big and delicious—kind of this category's theme—and the service is fast and friendly. Possibly the only thing that doesn't recommend the place is its location, which is next to a truly monstrous, double-decker strip mall. Keep your eyes on your food and your mouth open—except when chewing—and you'll be just fine. (SL) 4470 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-8611. english EXPENSIVEThe English pedigree of Corona del Mar's Five Crownsis impeccable, and the exterior is a faithful reproduction of Ye Olde Bell, England's oldest inn (1135 AD), located in Hurley-on-Thames, just outside London. The greenhouse room inside overlooks an English garden, and on cold nights, a fire roars in the big fireplace. The décor? All from jolly old England. But what saves Five Crowns from being a mere museum is ferociously delicious food that destroys the stereotype of British cuisine. There are continental European touches on the menu, but the real stuff—the roast duckling served with a compote of apples and prunes, the English rib chop and the King Henry VIII cut (extra thick, natch) prime rib served with Yorkshire pudding—that's why you come here and leave lots of money behind. But you can't go wrong, either, with the Beefsteak Neptune (filet mignon topped with crab legs, asparagus and Béarnaise sauce) and the Jamaican “jerked” pork chop (double-thick cut with a rum-molasses-glazed pineapple chutney—say that three times fast). If you're a Sunday-morning-meetin' kinda gal, stop by for brunch and delight in the strawberries and cream and the roast beef hash. One warning, though: prom dates love this place—be afraid. (TV) 3801 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 760-0331. MIDRANGE Old joke: in hell, the Germans are the police, the Italians are the generals, and the English are the cooks. If that's true, there are a few culinary demons in training at the Olde Ship Pub N Restaurant in Fullerton, as authentic a British pub as you'll find anywhere in the county. But contrary to the legend of the Brits' bland palates, the food is damn fine. Sure, pub cuisine doesn't express the flair of a country where the sun shines a great deal, but the food is hearty, filling and damn tasty in its own right. There are no surprises on the menu for anyone who has ever set foot inside a pub: fish and chips, corned beef and cabbage, steak-and-kidney pie, Cornish pasty, cottage pie, Scottish bridie. Everything is made on the premises, and most entrées are $8.95. There are also lots of other artery-heartening pub grub, such as sausage rolls, pork pies, and—for those who truly love to fry—the British breakfast, which includes fried bread, bacon, eggs, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans. Not the type of meal you want before running a marathon but perfect for any upcoming three-month sea voyage. (JB) 709 N. Harbor, Fullerton, (714) 871-7447.CHEAP The English pasty is a dish riddled with mystery meat, wrapped in an enigma. In fact, it's a meaty turnover filled with what used to be described as a “paste” —a pile of meat, vegetables and whatever the hell else is lying around chopped together and folded into a delicate, sometimes even sublime crust. And while there are few who would drive miles to eat one, those few have made the diminutive Pasty Kitchen a kind of shrine to the little sandwich that fueled a century of coal miners. And cheap? Lunch for three with Cokes in the can and a table along the banks of the mighty Katella set me back eight bucks and change. In a concession to the narrower American palate, these pasties are predictably, solidly good—far better than the surprising, sometimes terrifying ones you run across in the U.K.; those are like culinary grab bags, unnamable mélanges of you-don't-wanna-know-what organ meats, unidentifiable seedy things and God only knows what else. Enigmas, indeed. (WS) 3641 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 431-9747. filipino EXPENSIVE If you want to experience the Philippines without actually leaving the county, Kapistahan (it means “to party”) is the place, from the Filipino décor to the food. I'm not one who makes a habit of experimenting with different Filipino restaurants, but I was drawn to Kapistahan for its décor. There's bamboo everywhere, which would remind me of a bahay kubo(small hut), except that the servers sport barongs, Filipino formalwear. Not many Filipino restaurants will serve their dishes à la carte andin an authentic manner. For an appetizer, begin with Shanghai lumpia (mini egg rolls) or sitcharon bulaklak (deep-fried pork raffles—otherwise known as pig intestines). Follow that with such traditional favorites as the peanutty kari-kari presented in a traditional palayok (clay pot) or pinakbet (mixed Asian vegetables with shrimp and pork). And don't forget to explore the wonderful world of rice—six kinds! Now you're ready to party. (MF) 6514 E. South St., Lakewood, (562) 804-7373. MIDRANGE Mangga Grill's menu illustrates how Spanish rule, Chinese influence and 50 years of American occupation can shape a nation's cuisine: Spanish dishes like paella, a rice dish traditionally served with only seafood, are zested with spicy sausages; Chinese-inspired egg rolls are filled with pork instead of vegetables; and the grill makes a mean chop suey just like Nanay and Lola used to make. The crispy pusit (fried calamari), served with a lemon-juice dressing, was interesting, but we loved the tahong, a baked-mussel appetizer drowned with buttered garlic and topped with a soft white cheese. But before you even consider food, a fruit smoothie is a must; if only life could be as sweet as a Mangga Grill melon shake. Fresh cantaloupe is diced and blended with ice and cream; it's very light and refreshing, but at $3.95, it's still a pretty steep drink. (VN) 341 E. First St., Tustin, (714) 730-1332.CHEAP As far as I can remember growing up, I never stepped into a Filipino restaurant, maybe because my mother owned two. It's still rare for me to eat at Filipino restaurants, but when I do, Pinoy Pinay Filipino Fastfood is one of them. Located in the epicenter of Cerritos' multi-Asian community, Pinoy Pinay is what Filipinos call a turo-turo (point-point) restaurant:, you point at what you want for your combination plate. For $3.90, you get rice and two choices among 30 entrées ranging from multinutritional aptritada (chicken or beef stew) to crispy lechon kawali (deep-fried pork belly). Pinoy Pinay offers convenience to their customers who don't want—or don't know how—to cook the authentic dishes. The downfall is there are too many meat dishes—five to one vegetable dish! But you can't leave Pinoy Pinay without having their famous halo-halo supreme: sweetened coconut meat, jackfruit and assorted sweetened beans topped with crushed ice and evaporated milk. (MF) 11900 South St., Ste. 108, Cerritos, (562) 402-6682. french EXPENSIVEIt's hard to believe that there could be a better French restaurant in Orange County than Pascal, but along came Tim and Liza Goodell to assume the throne. The husband-and-wife team opened Aubergine in 1995 in a quaint Lido Village location, and it has quickly gained a reputation as one of the best French restaurants in the country. From the chilled foie gras you spread on toasted bread and the opening cheese course to the Colorado lamb rib-eye steak and fallow venison, everything here is as perfect as you'll find in a French restaurant. Instead of offering a menu, the Goodells feature a series of prix fixe menus centered on the best ingredients they could find that day—each visit is different. The three-course meal costs $55 per person, and the five-course sets you back $75 apiece (a vegetarian one is set at $55). But the recommendation here is to pay the $90 for the chef's nine-course tasting menu, which starts with drool-inducing appetizers and works through to a drop-dead-delicious dessert. The Goodells scrimp on nothing—and you shouldn't either. Pay the 90 bills, and experience the best meal in Orange County. And better yet, it's never the same twice. (TV) 508 29th St., Newport Beach, (949) 723-4150.MIDRANGE Ferme means farm, and at night—when outdoor lights flood the greenery just outside its windows—La Ferme can make you forget you're in a strip mall at the back end of Mission Viejo. But while the food—the carrots and beans, the meats, pastas and salads—suggests rustic freshness, the cuisine itself is very, very haute. At La Ferme, I have eaten things I would touch nowhere else: garlicky, buttery mollusks; duck; veal; and sweetbreads. And great rivers of good wine. One recent evening, we figured on something more pedestrian: the pork chop with mango chutney. But it turned out to be a surprising sweet-and-sour dish, served as it was with a mild sauerkraut (when it comes to food, apparently, the French are willing to forget 1870, 1914 and 1939). In presentation alone, the chicken was unforgettable: a tender breast was rolled around tangy sun-dried tomatoes, peppers and leafy herbs, the roll sliced and fanned in cross sections around little hats of pasta (isn't that what they'd call them in France?). French pasta is boiled till al dente, then cooked further in whatever comes to hand, in this case a superb sauce based on the oils left over from the tomatoey-peppery-herby chicken filling. There's something like culinary Pointillism involved in this sort of cooking—little subtleties unremarked upon if I employ my usual bolt-and-belch style of consumption. Here, I let my tongue become like an eye examining a Seurat; I am rewarded for lingering. (WS) 28451 Marguerite Pkwy., Mission Viejo, (949) 364-6664. CHEAP Babette's Feast is a boulangerie/ patisserie par excellence, laying out a spread of delectable, mouth-watering delights that make you thank heaven above for the gift of taste buds. You'll surely put them to good use at this charming spot, where beautiful pastries, cakes and cookies are lovely, drool-inspiring works of art. The towering St. Honoré is a cross between a Napoleon and a cream puff, with petite puffs pumped full of pastry cream artfully attached with crisp caramelized sugar to a monstrous whipped-cream-filled puff. Dusty truffles and cloud-like meringues melt on the tongue, and the crème brûlée, a velvety custard infused with Grand Marnier, is a creamy heaven on Earth. The truffiere is a masterpiece: a pastry crust filled with raspberry preserves and topped with tall peaks of bittersweet ganache as lovely as the spires of Notre Dame. And that's not even the lunch items, which include an array of homemade soups (everything from potato-leek to French onion), a magnificent vegetarian torte, spinach crepes and a variety of sandwiches. For a sampling of the myriad flavors possible at Babette's, try my favorite light lunch: a cup of creamy mushroom soup with a perfect French roll and butter (a mere $2.50), a fruity iced tea or Orangina, and—of course—a fancy, ungodly dessert. (LL) 4621 E. 2nd St., Long Beach, (562) 987-4536.german EXPENSIVE Located in Anaheim's German-American Phoenix Club, the Loreley Restaurant is not what you might expect from a German restaurant. No oompah band, no boars' heads on the wall. It's a relatively quiet dining area with clean white tablecloths and a menu that will open your mind a bit about German cuisine. Wiener schnitzel, it turns out, is not a 59-cent hot dog smothered in something brown and chunky (mmm . . . brown): it's a tender, lightly breaded veal cutlet that I was told—I don't eat veal, not that that makes me better than you. Wait, yes it does—is delicious. Being so conscientious, I of course dug right into some delicious pig meat, what they call schweine filet—it's as if those Germans have a different word for everything. Served with a mild paprika sauce, it was really good, as was the spaetzle on the side. If you've never had spaetzle, it's kind of a German version of gnocchi. If, on the other hand, you've had sauerkraut from a supermarket shelf and sworn off it as evil, try, try it again at the Loreley. Sauerkraut, prepared fresh by someone not standing on an assembly line, can be delicious and work with the rest of the food on your plate, instead of putting it in a culinary hammerlock. If all this is new to you, I suggest the Phoenix combination: Polish sausage, bratwurst, veal loaf on a bed of kraut, and terrific whipped potatoes ($7.50 each). (SL) 1340 Sanderson Ave., Anaheim, (714) 643-4166.MIDRANGE Gustav's Jagerhaus might be more of what you'd expect in a German restaurant. It's bright and manly, with paintings that scream Fatherland and a menu that includes duck, elk and wild boar. If that sounds rather off-putting, it's not. The staff could not be nicer, and the service could not be more attentive. And the food! I get pretty much the same thing every time (sauerbraten), and it kicks ass. Tangy, tender and juicy, it goes great with a potato pancake on the side to sop up all the sauce—all for $9.75. I've gone to this place many times with people who get other dishes and have similar reactions. But what do I care? Sauerbraten rules! Now, I want to talk to you parents. You know how after you've endured a day with your kids at Disneyland, they start whining, “I don't want to leave yet,” and you want to hit them with something heavy? Well, see, Gustav's is, like, 10 minutes from Disneyland, so what you do is leave Disneyland around dinner time, head over to Gustav's, and ask to be seated in “The Pit.” The Pit is a back booth with high wooden walls so your demon spawn won't bug diners noshing on Bambi's dad. Then you order yourself a tall Spaten beer, which comes with a wedge of lemon, and breathe. (SL) 2525 E. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 520-9500. CHEAP I always go to Mattern Deli on a Saturday morning, and it's always the same thing. People standing shoulder to shoulder, clutching their numbers like plane tickets for the last flight out of some snowbound hell on an oversold 737. On a recent pilgrimage, a little old lady barged up to the counter, numberless, to plead her case. “Please, I have bad legs,” she offered. The stoic counter staff relented —no Soup Nazis here—but you could tell they were annoyed. Meanwhile, distracted by an old high school classmate's baby, I missed my number and was banished to the back of the line. My reward for waiting it out was an order filled with Teutonic precision. These women know their wurst. I always take home a few pounds of the superfresh made-on-the-premises sausages: spicy, garlicky pork and beef Polish links; veal bockwurst mildly seasoned with fresh parsley; and Nuremberg bratwurst, pork sausage seasoned with onion powder, white pepper and marjoram. The smooth-textured onion liverwurst is as light and fresh as a satiny paté. After doing time in line, I need sustenance in the form of a German salami sandwich or pastrami or corned beef—it's hard to decide. But it's every bit worth the wait. (KvH) 4327 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 639-3550. hawaiian EXPENSIVE Nobody goes to Hawaii for the food alone, which probably accounts for the heavy emphasis on ambiance in Polynesian restaurants. It certainly explains why I arrived for a late lunch in a loud South Seas-themed shirt—and makes it hard to blame the guy who mistook me for a valet. For the most part, however, Duke's hubba-hubba hula-girl paintings, surfboard collection and hanging-from-the-ceiling canoe stay clear of kitschy. The place is more burnished hardwood than little grass shack, and I didn't spot one blowfish. Meanwhile, the head-on bodysurfing portrait of the restaurant's namesake, longboard king Duke Kahanamoku, is positively breathtaking. So was the hand-sized cut of sugar-glazed ahi, seared just deeply enough that there was no confusing it with sushi and set upon a thin bed of lettuce laced with tangy-hot spices. It was so flavorful I was grateful to have opted for a scoop of white rice instead of garlic mashed potatoes. That would have been overkill, especially after a hearty caesar salad that I'd demanded be draped with garlands of anchovies. Before it was over, I slugged down two or three glasses of well-brewed iced tea. My friend, a vegetarian, wanted some noodles-and-veggies thing that she'd had during a previous dinner at Duke's, but it wasn't on the lunch menu and the waiters wouldn't be coaxed into accommodating her. Instead, they tried to sell her on a veggie-burger. Mahalo? More like muy malo! She gamely settled for the veggies, along with a soothing scoop of those garlic mashed potatoes, but she didn't fully recover until dessert, when an apologetic slice of raspberry torte in chambord sauce got the little wahine grinning again. (DW) 317 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, (714) 374-6446. MIDRANGE Craving Hawaiian food? Strapped for cash but in need of a reasonable location to take a date? Aloha Grill is the spot. And, most important, it's a short distance from a walk on the beach, with your date on your right and crashing waves on your left. Their pupus (appetizers) range from smoked-albacore quesadillas (I didn't know that was Hawaiian) to ahi poke. If you're not sure what to try, the pupu platter is a deal, with samples of Maui wowie rolls, Hawaiian drums, calamari, Surf City rolls and chicken-satay sticks. If you don't like the two-scoop rice, then get a Da'Kine burger (a half-pound burger with cheese, Maui onions, tomatoes and lettuce). And if that doesn't work for you, try the O'no ribs marinated in shoyu. (MF) 221 Main St., Huntington Beach, (714) 374-4427.CHEAPThough few in number, OC's handful of Hawaiian restaurants are strategically located. You can get your two-scoop rice and one-scoop salad from Huntington Beach to Cypress. While Jr's Kitchen doesn't have a touristy Hawaiian motif, it resembles the sort of restaurant you really would find in Hawaii: chairs, tables and a counter. It's your basic hole-in-the-wall. One Sunday, I had a craving for some Portuguese sausage, eggs and rice, and I made the mistake of driving out to Jr's, not knowing they would be closed. Monday seemed forever away. They offer a variety of combination plates, from beef teriyaki to laulau. But I really love this place for one thing: they serve “Shave Ice”—snow cones! (MF) 5633 Lincoln Ave., Cypress, (714) 229-0432. indian EXPENSIVEThe elegant Clay Oven definitely lives up to its name, as many of its meats and all of the naan breads are cooked in the restaurant's large clay oven. This oven is the heart and soul of tandoori cooking, a style of northern Indian cuisine that produces some of the tenderest, tastiest meats in the world. But what makes the Clay Oven stand out is the way it uses the traditional tandoori tools to expand upon the cuisine. You will not find a better swordfish in Orange County than the one here. This cut of fish is so tender it flakes apart at the mere hint of a fork. Some of the Clay Oven's innovations include mango-corn soup ($3.95), braised lamb shank with fresh herbs ($17.95), and a southern Indian steamed bread called crab idli ($6.95). Clay Oven looks more like an upscale American restaurant than an Indian one—not very exotic—but the quality and care are worth braving a trip into lightest, brightest Irvine. (TV) 15435 Jeffrey Rd., Irvine, (949) 552-2851.MIDRANGECultivated in a dumpy Mission Viejo strip mall, Natraj Cuisine of India has blossomed into a minichain, with locations in Laguna Hills, Laguna Beach and Long Beach. My first visit here changed my impression of Indian food: flavors exploded in my mouth! The chutneys served with the naan bread produced near-religious experiences, but it's the masala sauce served on tandoori-cooked meats that made me a Natraj slave. This masala is rich with subtle herbs and spices, which adds such life to the creamy tomato-broth sauce that (I am told) most people who eat at Natraj order extra naan to sop up every last drop. The menu leans toward such traditional northern Indian favorites as lamb, chicken and vegetables, with each dish done with the sublime subtlety that makes eating here such a treat. And eating a steaming plate of chicken tikka masala on the patio of their Belmont Shore restaurant is one of the best people-watching gigs outside Venice. (TV) 24861 Alicia Pkwy., Laguna Hills, (949) 581-4200; 998 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-9197; 5262 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 930-0930.CHEAPWith my luck, if I became a Hare Krishna, I'd be put on airport duty, hawking flowers and books while travelers snickered behind my back. Or playing percussion on Laguna's Main Beach in a drafty saffron-colored robe. There's got to be an easier path to enlightenment—like working the buffet line at Gauranga's Vegetarian Cuisineinside the Hare Krishna Cultural Center. Perched on a hill adjoining the temple, the lush, palm-flanked garden has outdoor ocean-view seating among rosebushes in full bloom, as well as indoor tables among the bookracks and Krishna literature. If I won this coveted post, I would urge everyone to sit on the patio so I could graze at the indoor buffet, away from the prying eyes of those meddling non-devotees. The salad bar is terrific—big on veggies, naturally. The golden lentil soup, just one in their repertoire, is creamy and full-bodied. The pakoras—a staple of Indian cooking in the form of spice-doused cauliflower fritters, in this case—are hearty and delicious, crunchy masses of cruciferous heat. I could drink sweet hibiscus tea all day long without anyone being the wiser, except maybe Hare Krishna founder Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, whose creepy, life-size likeness sits in the next room—but I think he'd let it slide. (KvH) 285 Legion St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-7029. $5 donation. italian, pasta EXPENSIVE I had heard good things about Maggiano's Little Italy for some time, but I must admit that given its location—in the South Coast Plaza parking lot, just a hop and a skip from Sears' tool department—I thought it was some kind of high-end Olive Garden . . . whatever that would be. But I finally went with some friends, and the place is great. Sure, a martini will put you out eight bones, and you're probably going to have to wait for a table, most certainly on the weekends, but the place has an energy, an attitude and Sinatra on the sound system. As the menu is considerable, we opted for family dining, which costs $19.95 per person and gives you two choices each of all-you-can-eat appetizers, salads, pastas, main courses and desserts. The choices are voluminous, though I was a bit concerned that the items on the family-dining menu would be the kind of unimaginative, warmed-over fare you get at a Vegas buffet line —bad food and plenty of it. Fortunately, everything from the calamari to the lasagna to the chicken to the shrimp—especially the shrimp—to the tiramisù was outstanding. In fact, the only downside is that the pure volume of food may inhibit you from fully indulging in any one dish for fear you'll be too full to partake of another. Are we Americans the luckiest bunch of pigs this side of Charlotte's Web or what? (SL) 3333 Bristol, Costa Mesa, (714) 546-9550. MIDRANGE Il Ghiotto is the culinary equivalent of Tony Gwynn: an exceptional, though unspectacular, talent. Its strengths don't rely on hitting home runs but rather on doing what is expected very well all the time. The best things about Il Ghiotto are the simple things, like a great house salad and terrific pastas such as the wonderful gnocchi in a hearty marinara. The spaghetti is terrific, as are the linguini and chicken cacciatore. What makes Il Ghiotto so good is that it all tastes as fresh as if it was made just for you instead of sitting in a pot of water for the past day and a half. The tomatoes in that marinara have the look of ones that were cut that day in the kitchen. It's just good food. If that isn't enough, you can always go next door to the Reagan Years retro arcade, where you can play Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Pong. So enjoy. Tell them Tony Gwynn sent you. (SL) 136 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 447-0775.CHEAPRestaurateurs always say they've got restaurants in their blood, but Laura Loya was born in one. The big event took place in her Italian parents' restaurant in Brazil, presumably between courses. She grew up around the same kitchen, making her as at ease now presiding over her 9-month-old restaurant in Orange as she was back in that maternity ward/ eatery of her childhood. This, the second branch of Aldo's (the other is in Lake Forest), is a joint venture with her three sisters. The caesar salad has a garlicky emulsion (available with or without anchovies) that sings with tangy flavor. A high-maintenance matron next to me waved Laura and the waiter over. “This soup isn't hot,” she complained. “The soup isn't hot?” Laura and the waiter said in unison, genuinely alarmed. They apologized and whisked it away, replacing it in an instant with a piping-hot bowl. My soup was plenty hot. The minestrone, full of a dozen colorful, finely diced vegetables, was great paired with the buoyant-textured bread, Laura's mother's recipe. As for a chicken-artichoke-asparagus pasta special ($11.95), it had a rich white-wine-and-marsala demi-glaze that shows the chef's love affair with food. (KvH) 237 S. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 516-1690; 22741 Lambert St., Lake Forest, (949) 472-2272. italian, pizza EXPENSIVE If you're concerned about calories and fat, stay as far away from pizza as possible. So why are there nine pizzas on the menu of the Fitness Grill, a restaurant that lives up to its name by printing nutritional information alongside its menu items? Because they're not your normal pizza pie. Made with whole-wheat crust and low-fat mozzarella (or cheeseless, by request) and featuring a bunch of cool toppings like eggplant, spinach, feta cheese and artichoke hearts, these pizzas taste as (relatively) healthy as they sound. Take the Soccer Player. At 130 calories and 2.5 grams of saturated fat per slice, an entire four-slice pizza fits within all but the most austere diet plans. And it's very yummy, coming with grilled chicken sausage, tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic slices and feta cheese. Sure, naming pizzas after athletic participants is a bit dorky (do boxers really prefer barbecue chicken, mushrooms and red onions on their pies? Do sumo wrestlers prefer chicken breast in spicy ginger-peanut sauce on theirs?), but you can't argue with the taste or the fact that, in this case, you know exactly what your body is getting into. The small pizzas, which are more than enough for one person, are $7.95, with large pizzas topping out at $14.95. (JB) 103-A W. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 672-0911.MIDRANGECruise NYC in a taxi, and you'll find scores of Ray's Pizza shops, some numbered (“Ray's Pizza No. 7”), several claiming to be “Original,” but not one that will acknowledge it's related to another. Ditto, for reasons equally inexplicable, for Arizona, unless, of course, it has something to do with the FBI's Witness Protection Program. Our own Ray's Pizza—with a single, humble location across from UC Irvine and concession service inside Edwards' massive Irvine Spectrum theater—is the offspring of the NYC constellation, where Ray (born Reza) worked in the early 1970s. He came to the U.S. from Iran to learn engineering; he now engineers great pies—simple, solid, blue-collar pizzas with one choice of crust. That one is enough, a sublime, Italianate, bready altar upon which the full-bodied sauce enriches otherwise standard ingredients. One large pizza runs about $12. Ray says his sauce is a secret; the evidence of our mouths suggests he's right. (WS) 4199 Campus Dr., Ste. D, Irvine, (949) 854-5044. CHEAPMore bread for your bread and more dough for your dough. What-a-Lotta-Pizza gives you something no other pizzeria can offer: a large one-topping pizza for $5.45. If you feel like splurging, you can get up to 10 toppings for only $7.45. How does it taste, you ask? Pretty good—the quality is surprisingly great for the price, which for students and people on a budget is what matters. And these people aren't chintzy with the cheese. Add that to the lack of grease found in their pizzas compared with other joints, and you have yourself a winner. The downside: you have to get your lazy ass off the couch and pick it up yourself—they do not deliver. (EG) 1202 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 635-2662 or (714) 534-7064; 9132 Edinger St., Fountain Valley, (714) 848-7077; 7011 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 848-6148 ; 2723 N. Bristol, Ste. D-3, Santa Ana, (714) 568-0305; 8052 Lampson, Stanton, (714) 897-9388. Winter Restaurants continued

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