Grub Guide

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Most of Caraz Dulzura's menu traces its origins to China, even though the restaurant serves Peruvian cuisine. The arroz chaufa dishes are really glorified fried rice, here served with chunks of chicken or beef and with a bit more spice. The saltado platters, available as seafood or chicken, are soy-soaked stir-fries familiar to any lover of Cantonese food. And the long noodles called tallarín I've previously identified in this paper as a bastardized spaghetti? My bad—The New York Times revealed tallarín is really lo mein. 880 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 808-8302. $ESPN ZONE
Their buffalo wings, considering the faux-everything atmosphere in Downtown Disney, are shockingly tasty. The 10-piece “Pound of Buffalo Wings” appetizer won't burn a hole in your stomach (sadly) and, at $9.99, is pricier than similar platters at other restaurants. Nevertheless, the steep cost is well worth it for the chicken's deliciously juicy (read: not formerly frozen or mass-produced) texture. Best of all, the accompanying ranch dip is wonderfully thick—a bonus for those weary of the runny ranch dressing that restaurants so frequently attempt to pass off as dip. 1545 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 300-ESPN. $$LUIGI'S D'ITALIA
Besides the tried-and-true Italian classics (hey, that's a spicy meatball sub!), this mom-and-pop restaurant boasts one of OC's better selections of seafood. 801 S. State College, Anaheim, (714) 490-0990. $$WIN THAI CUISINE
You probably won't go to Win Thai for its cheesy Asian pop background music, but you should go for the deep sweat its notoriously spicy dishes stimulate. Win Thai offers more than 100 items, ranging from traditional rice dishes to more exotic fare such as the spicy green mussel salad. 1151 N. Euclid St., Ste. D, Anaheim, (714) 778-0940. $BREARENAISSANCE BISTRO
As the name probably 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., Brea, (714) 256-2233; $$BUENA PARKALOHA CHICKEN
The soy sauce-fueled sizzle of meat slapped upon a grill is a constant at Aloha Chicken—that and a powerful punch-in-the-palate scent, the collective odors of thousands of chicken lunches and acrid macaroni salads gobbled within the restaurant's tiny premises. The chicken/macaroni smell is about as showy as Aloha Chicken gets; the rest of the place is a paragon of the Spartan setup characterizing the best Hawaiian restaurants—Spam musubi, loco-moco, and don't forget the poi! 10488 Valley View Ave., Buena Park, (714) 826-6672. $CANYON CITIESIRVINE LAKE CAFE
When you get hungry in the backwaters of OC, turn that skiff around and motor over to this café. They offer supersatisfying breakfast burritos and always-fresh Farmers Bros. coffee that can be packed for boat or car. 4621 Santiago Canyon Rd., Silverado, (714) 649-9111. $


The thirtysomething-year-old deli is little more than counters, chips and sodas—which is to say, it's the perfect beach shack restaurant, even if it's on PCH. Request the Gallo's combo; the server will no doubt reply (as he once did to me), “Are you sure about that?” When he grabs sausages and begins hacking off massive slices, you'll understand his skepticism—the sandwich is bigger than most house cats. 3900 E. Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 675-7404. $


The creation of Pascal Olhats, whose Pascal Restaurant in Newport Beach is consistently rated among the best in the county, the café allows you to treat yourself to his signature light, Provençal fare at a fraction of the restaurant price. The prosciutto panini—a flattened baguette stuffed with the aforementioned as well as cheese and tomatoes—is an effeminate calzone. It's terrific. 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-4911. $



Since you can't afford to eat here anyway, skip the entrées and head straight for the toasted ravioli, a main-dish-worthy appetizer. Lightly toasted ravioli filled with ricotta and dusted with Parmesan and Romano cheeses ring a bowl of tasty marinara sauce. Order it alone with a glass of wine and a side salad, and you're dining in style and on the cheap. South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., Ste. 2802, Costa Mesa, (714) 708-2582. $$$


A great pizza is a strapping saucer of bread covered with a heated blanket of gooey mozzarella, crispy shards of breaded eggplant, minced garlic and oil-marinated peppers. 1500 Adams Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-8777. $


The choices for family dining are voluminous, and everything from the calamari to the lasagna to the shrimp—especially the shrimp—to the tiramisù is outstanding. The portions are huge, making us Americans the luckiest bunch of pigs this side of Charlotte's Web. 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 546-9550. $$


Screw the hippy-dippy milieu: Native Foods is about chow as welcoming for your senses as it is for your health. Sure, Native Food's mission statement—”a prosperous lifestyle in harmony with the balance of nature and its energy through the wonders of food”—might be as hopelessly New Age-y as the menu and environs. Unlike most vegan mavens, though, chef Tanya Petrovna doesn't ditch the flavor while thinking of invigorating ways to fool flesh fanatics or improve your aura. 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 751-2151; $


“Family-style” before the phrase meant “Norm's,” Dalton's has gabby servers with odd hairstyles, a mostly older clientele, hearty extra-large egg breakfasts served all day, and a menu dominated by meat and fried stuff. 9575 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 229-8101. $


Try the tuna melt sandwich and bottomless iced tea, delivered by genial servers who understand you don't have all day to wait for the check. 34111 La Plaza, Dana Point, (949) 488-0121; $$


Dubbed a Japanese pub restaurant, Kappo Honda serves the holy trinity of Japanese beer—Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo—as well as Bud and Bud Light for some reason. The beer serves as amniotic fluid to some very solid, excellent food. 18450 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley, (714) 964-4629. $$



Most every county hot-dog cart advertises Chicago dogs, but Harv's is among the few places that do it better than the South Side. They ship in bulky Vienna sausages directly from the Windy City, stuff 'em into a poppy-speckled bun next to dill pickle slivers, and squirt the mess with stinky-but-super quarts of relish and mustard that'll leave your lips a yellow-green color as vibrant as a 1970s Notre Dame football uniform. 410 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-0491. ¢

The Matsunoya special roll: salmon with cucumbers and a special sauce—maybe it's part mayonnaise? Regardless, this roll is the reason the Fullerton sushi icon has been around for more than 20 years. 1307 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 447-1612. $

This charming café, right in the center of Fullerton's ever-expanding downtown bar life, might capitalize on the needs of the health-starved—it's a vegetarian joint, opening daily at 7 a.m. with an almost entirely vegan breakfast menu—but in a home-cooked, motherly, it's-good-for-you-because-I-say-so way. Owner Sandy Sauers excels with small touches, such as a feta cheese and sun-dried tomato dressing that sits lightly on the portobello mushroom burger, adding a freshness to the dusky fungus, or almonds and golden raisins on a surprisingly zesty coleslaw. 108 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton, (714) 525-5111; $


No matter where the Vietnamese diaspora might take people, they return to Little Saigon for Brodard's hallowed BBQ pork rolls, a culinary beacon that attracts legions with its ruddy meat and the sweet sauce of heaven. There's other meals here, but everyone is focusing on those pork rolls, and you should too. 9892 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 530-1744. $$

A Pennsylvania-based chain, Joe's Italian Ice has just one West Coast location, this one in Garden Grove, from which the company has hawked its namesake product to the heated hoi polloi for two years. (They also offer such soda-shop standards as ice cream cones, sundaes and root beer floats.) You can order the Italian ice as is, but it's infinitely better as a Joe Latti: your choice of Italian ice crowned with a Babel-esque tower of velvety vanilla ice cream, each frosty product retaining its charm until uniting inside your mouth to create the most pleasant brain freeze of your life. 12302 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 750-1076. ¢

Taquería del Amigo only roasts its barbacoa (barbecued lamb) on weekends, and even then they're out of it by midday. But each teeny-tiny barbacoa taco is worth the seven-day wait—stringy, juicy throughout and embellished Hidalgo-style, meaning the taco men follow the renowned barbacoa tradition of the central Mexican state by roasting their ewe with maguey leaves (the plant from which tequila is distilled) that contribute an intoxicating glow to the lamb's mellow charm. 11915 Euclid, Garden Grove, (714) 537-8740. $




Make Gallagher's your fish-and-chips home away from home. Icelandic cod served amid skin-on steak fries made from real potatoes awaits you under beer batter that's really beer batter! And the tartar sauce is smooth and garlicky—a perfect complement. 300 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 113, Huntington Beach, (714) 536-2422; $

There's a lot to work through in the menu, and of the pastas, you should be particularly partial to the gnocchi. The linguine pescatora is a close cousin to Paolo's cioppino, brimming with mussels, shrimp, clams, salmon and calamari. Old World Village, 7561 Center Ave., Ste. 37, Huntington Beach, (714) 373-5399. $$


Munch down their vegetarian spring rolls, made special off the menu, or try the pad Thai noodles with shrimp and chicken and stir-fried vegetables—not too heavy or greasy. 19690 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 964-1151. $


You can imagine Bollywood goddess Aishwarya Rai filming some steamy-but-chaste dance scenes in the confines of Chakra's opulent set. But, thankfully, Chakra owners Ravi and Sunita Koneru invested money not only in the décor but also in chefs capable of embarking on a trek through India's major foodie provinces not found in any other Orange County restaurant—Gujarat, Kerala and even Hyderabad. 4143 Campus Dr., Irvine, (949) 854-0009; $$

Coffin dodger and whelp alike enjoy a sterling menu prepared by executive chef Yves Fournier, one in a long line of dazzling Chanteclair chefs that includes Pascal Olhats. Fournier maintains Chanteclair's multiyear tradition of Zagat listings with such items as his eponymous filet mignon, a dish that drips with enough blood to qualify as a Red Cross donation. Also lustrous is the steak Diane, a perfect compromise between no-frills meat fans and nuance-demanding foodies. 18912 Macarthur Blvd., Irvine, (949) 752-8001. $$$


Nostalgia for the homeland resides in all immigrants' minds, and the Chinese cuisine and Chinese versions of Western dishes are a hit among the Chinese diaspora in Orange County. Any dish here will be as authentic as the dialects spoken in the restaurant. 14805 Jeffrey, Ste. H, Irvine, (949) 559-5888. $



First served up by Rosa Bórquez in 1923 in LA's original El Cholo Café (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 offer a snappy alternative to the sweet corn. 840 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 691-4618. $$


It's ham, cheese, onions and green peppers—hold the nonsense—stuffed into a three-egg pillowcase; presented alongside a nest of crispy, lush, hashed-brown potatoes and two slices of sourdough toast; and gobbled down between a couple of cups of coffee. It's nothing fancy, which means it fits right in at this converted Taco Bell with decals of the Fat Boy—a too-close-for-comfort cousin of the late Big Boy—plastered across the table at every booth. 7811 Valley View St., La Palma, (714) 228-0464. $


A sweet little restaurant perfect for l'amour. The food is billed as French/California hybrid, but that is selling it short. 470 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-8903.$$

Gauranga's has outdoor, ocean-view seating where you can enjoy a large salad bar, spicy yellow-lentil soup and cauliflower fritters. Sweet hibiscus tea is Krishna hooch, and the cardamom-scented rice pudding is tasty too. 285 Legion St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-7029.$

When we come here, we consume like Newport housewives armed with gold cards at Fashion Island. The best way to enjoy the sushi is to ask about the specials. Each time we've entrusted ourselves to their culinary knowledge, we've been rewarded with something tasty beyond imagination. 250 Beach St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-9109. $$

Hush is a wonderful eyesore, an anomaly among the run-down boutiques and faceless office buildings cluttering the southern portion of Pacific Coast Highway. Elegance also is prominent in Hush's menu, a New American take on standards such as rack of lamb, salmon and pork tenderloin that reminds me why people plunk down $50 for a dinner. But when you've just gnawed on chicken from heaven, with port wine slowly soaking through your soul, racial and class warfare tends to dissipate like the sun into the Pacific. 858 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-3616; $$$


Orange County seems just too spick-and-span Christian to host a real New York-style Jewish deli, but try telling that to the folks at Kosher Bite in Laguna Hills, a cluttered room where the air conditioning is three ceiling fans on their last wobbly rotation, potato-and-barley soup is boiled daily, the Sabbath means rest, and the menu—knishes, matzo ball, pastrami on rye—is as stubbornly borscht belt as Carl Reiner. 23595 Moulton Pkwy., Ste. H, Laguna Hills, (949) 770-1818. $

Truth in advertising: the Stand is little more than wood hammered together in the shape of a tropical roadside inn: outdoor seating; walls plastered with handwritten menus (key adjectives: “zesty,” “crisp,” “sumptuous”) advertising a Christmas list of salads, Mexican-influenced plates and a few fresh soups; famished birds twittering and hopping around for crumbs. The Special Oriental Burrito's ginger- and tamarind-doused vegetables hint at new fusion possibilities for Mexican cuisine, Sino-Sinaloan. 238 Thalia St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8101. $


El Paraíso prepares sit-down platters as well: aromatic soups of chicken, beef or cow's foot with about four different squashes and potatoes; nicely grilled meats; and yucca sancochada, a golden and chewy version of the tuber doused with lemon. But no matter who's ordering what or working where, everyone who comes to El Paraíso forks through at least two chewy, sweet pupusas, the Salvadoran griddle cake that's the sole unifier of the fractious Central American nation. If there's a better pupusa in South County, you're eating a gordita. 25252 Jeronimo Rd., Ste. B, Lake Forest, (949) 770-2775. $


Babette's Feast is a boulangerie/patisserie par excellence, laying out a spread of delectable, mouthwatering delights that makes you thank heaven above for the gift of taste buds and these ungodly desserts. 4621 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 987-4536. $

Someone once said, “Simplicity is the spice of life.” Snicker all you want, but they must have been referring to the Bolero crepe at La Crêperie Café. This sorta-Provençal café offers perfection drenched in butter and sugar with a twist of lemon. C'est bon!4911 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 434-8499. $$

The food here is some kind of gustatory incantation; the dishes awaken taste buds that have been asleep since birth. The babaghanoush alone will take command of your senses, overwhelming them with the deep, smoky flavor of eggplant marinated in pungent olive oil and garlic. 5215 E. Second St., Long Beach, (562) 621-1698. $$


Mustard's is a haunt for all artifacts Chi-Town: yellowed Tribune front page celebrating da Bears' Super Bowl XX victory; a picture of former mayor/god Richard Daley; and the bold yellow slogan for Vienna Beef, the brand with which Mustard's makes its bulky, peppery Chicago dog, complete with tooth-blackening poppy-seed bun, leprechaun-green relish, gritty celery salt and a giant dill pickle. Great Italian roast beef as well, with as many folds as a Cubs pennant run. 3630 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 598-1662. $


Hawaiian staples such as manapua (steamed pork buns) and boiling saimin noodles are fine at Aloha BBQ, along with a Korean-skewed side menu filled with bimimbap and complimentary kimchi. As great as those are, the most impressive meat meal is the spicy pork ribs. Most rib places content themselves with giving patrons a couple of twigs, but Aloha BBQ carts over four massive things that appear to have been torn from a hippo. 24000 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. 4, Mission Viejo, (949) 581-0976. $


Spelt is the ancient health-imparting grain on which half of Caffé il Farro's pastas and risottos are based, but if you prefer the kind of pasta that gives your blood-glucose level a boost, try the homemade heart-shaped ravioli. 111 21st St., Newport Beach, (949) 723-5711.$

There are bagels and muffins and, a friend swears, “killer” breakfast burritos in the morning at Newport Beach's ritzy Hoag cafeteria. In the refrigerated case, you can get a grilled chicken caesar salad or a roast beef horseradish panini. Want sushi? They've got vegetarian rolls for $3.75 and spicy tuna cut rolls for $4.15. Newport Beach class at cafeteria prices. 1Hoag Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 645-8600. $

Roy's is all about Hawaii—from the “Aloha” you get when you come in the door and the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole playing over the speakers to the blah, blah, blah about Tokyo-born founder Roy Yamaguchi, whose childhood visits to Maui, we're told, indelibly shaped his palate (and his palette). Whatever: Yamaguchi has been fusing ever since, and with great success; he is now the Wolfgang Puck of some 31 eponymous restaurants in North America with such entrées as rib-eye or wild Scottish salmon. 453 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 640-7697. $$$



The Orange institution looks, smells, tastes and sounds like the French eateries your grandparents frequented, the type of elegant dining experience that once required pearls, a dining jacket and an irony-free martini. All the French entrées Americans endlessly stereotype are here—duckling a l'orange, frog legs, pâté, escargot and the like. But La Brasserie also stays true to its rustic Alsatian roots by preparing nine different types of veal, each consisting of young cow slices cut into large portions, battered with egg and nearly floating over myriad tasty sauces. 202 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 978-6161. $$$


It's a permanent tailgate at Hollingshead's, and not just because of the Green Bay Packers garb for sale hanging from the ceiling or the pickled eggs and pickles kept in chilled brine. Hollingshead's is one of Orange County's premier booze barns, stocking drafts, ales, Hefeweizen and other brands from across the world (with a special focus on Deutschland and the former Soviet Bloc). The limited menu is stubbornly heartland: deviled eggs, boldly pungent macaroni salads and the sweetest baked beans this side of the Lambeau Field parking lot. 368 S. Main St., Orange, (714) 978-9467. $


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., Placentia, (714) 993-3270. ¢


The Cuban and Mexican proprietors, a husband-and-wife team, are friendly, and they run their spotless store with the precision of a naval vessel. Take my advice: come for the Lotto ticket, but stay for the steak sandwich. 156 Ave. del Mar, San Clemente, (949) 492-3663. $


Café Mozart brews an impressive array of beers that ease its German-Austrian menu well down one's gullet. Bavarian bread dumplings—made of three different kinds of bread and flecked with bacon—come two per order, sit in a brown pool of wild mushrooms and exhibit the same luscious levity of Eine kleine Nachtmusik. 31952 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-0212; $$$


Thong “Chim” Johnson, owner of Bangkok Taste, knows how to pack heat into her torrid Thai creations, like her luscious green curry and her garlic shrimp; no other Thai place I know of makes its own ice cream. 2737 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 532-2216. $

Orange County's sizable Bolivian community packs Beba's for such hard-to-prepare plates as the divine ají de papalisa (beef simmered in an intoxicating ají sauce with three types of potato) and the addicting thimpú (a slab of lamb covered in a yellow sauce). Order at least one salteña, a meat pie that's more wondrous with each nibble. 630 S. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 973-4928. $

Santa Ana's finest used to crack down on Latinos who would cruise around this quasi-1950s diner, but why drive around slowly in circles? Inside is Bristol's Monster Burger: three patties topped with buttery avocado, fatty bacon, crunchy lettuce and onions, and two slices of Cheddar. Make sure to top off the burger with splashes of Tapatío and pickled jalapeño slices. A close rival is Bristol's pork tamale covered in sweet chili beans, a surprisingly appetizing combination of spice and sweetness and warmth. 2640 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 241-7166. $


Al pastor (spiced pork spun on a spit) is the name of the juego at Tacos Neza, a particularly divey taquería down the street from The Orange County Register'soffices. Marinated in the manner of Texcoco—ain't diversity great? Now we have Mexican restaurants that specialize in the food of Mexican city neighborhoods—it's orange with pork grease, spicy with salsa and just saliva-inducing. 1320 N. Grand Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 834-1292. ¢


Even in the Brobdingnagian world of Reubens, Tommy's version eclipses all local competitors—Everest to everyone else's Santiago Peak. Grab Tommy's jumbo Reuben with your hands, and half of the meat and sauerkraut immediately plops onto your plate. More meat and sauerkraut falls forth when you finally take a chomp. This process repeats itself with each bite—and still the sandwich, like Jesus blessing fish and loaves, offers even more meat. More sauerkraut. More bread. By the time you finish, there's enough on the plate to feed a class of ravenous kindergartners. 3751 S. Harbor Blvd., Ste. B, Santa Ana, (714) 540-2700; $$


Koi's menu is uncomplicated, authentic and relatively easy on the wallet. For a starter, I adore their famous crunchy rolls made from shrimp tempura, a Japanese root called gobo and smelt egg. I know sea bass is politically incorrect these days, but what can you do? If you're an environmentalist, avoid it. If not, dig in! 600 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., #100, Seal Beach, (562) 431-1186; $$



The Golden Steer is what a family restaurant used to be—not just inexpensive enough to feed a family, but tasty and wholesome enough to feed it well. It also hearkens back to the time when a family meal meant meat-meat-meat. The place is crowded, but good acoustics keep it from sounding like a mess hall and incredible service keeps that growl in your stomach from turning into a bad mood. 11052 Beach Blvd., Stanton, (714) 894-1208; $


This 24-hour diner is a local institution that serves consistently good food. As it's incredibly popular with the late-night crowd, be prepared to wait for a table. 16341 Pacific Coast Hwy., Sunset Beach, (562) 592-5404. $


Christakis' beautiful setting separates the eatery from its local Greek brothers-in-grub, but what truly catapults the place into Orange County's high-class dining strata are the platters of its late eponymous founder, Joanne Christakis Wallace. You'll find the standards of Greek restaurants: bitter spanakopita spinach pies, starchy moussaka casseroles, lamb prepared in more ways than there are actual lamb cuts and a thorough selection of seafood. More impressive is an array of pasta dishes that suggests an Italian influence at some point in Christakis' seven-year existence. 13011 Newport Ave., Tustin, (714) 731-1179. $$

The Tustin Japanese joint continues to be a county chowhound phenomenon more than a decade after its opening, one of the precious few Orange County restaurants with a daily past-midnight closing time and a 150-plus-item menu that necessitates hours-long pilgrimages just to dent it. Per the izaka-ya tradition, Honda-Ya is all about time and placement: different sections that provoke a different feel and warrant a different menu at different hours. You'll find it all: noodles, sushi, yakitori and tiny bowl-meals sautéed with enough butter to make it pancake-spread worthy. 556 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 832-0081. $$


Villa Park's answer to Cheers, the Coffee Grove is a place where you can chat with the locals or read the paper while they whip up your favorite coffee drink. 17769 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, (714) 974-2650. $


To get the full range of Vietnam's jolting coffees, pull up a table at the Anglo-named, French-themed Coffee Factory on the edge of Little Saigon. Sip slowly on the ca phé sua nong, which is as black as Larry Agran's heart (and just as shudder-inducing) or some ice-cold ca phé den da, complete with black tapioca pearls. 15582 Brookhurst St., Westminster, (714) 418-0757. $

A funky little place to eat lunch—traditional Chinese, great dim sum, but we usually go for lunch specials like sweet and sour pork, broccoli beef, and kung pao chicken. Weeklings like this place because you can mix and share food so easily, and because we're cheap bastards. 10526 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 554-6261. $

Mì rice noodles are actually Chinese, but many Vietnamese places have incorporated them into their menus. Funny how 1,000 years of colonization can do that. Mì La Cay is consistently one of the most popular restaurants in the genre of mì cookery. Bring your appetite, and order a heaping bowl of mì la cay dac biet (the house special). 8924 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 891-8775. $

Top Baguette trumps its independent competitors primarily because of its care with ingredients. Their bánh mì heo nuong, ruddy and strongly flavored with hoisin sauce, tastes almost like a moist pork jerky. A meatball bánh mì is tender and cooked in a savory gravy subtly flavored with nuoc mam, the fish sauce Vietnamese pour onto their food like other Asians use soy sauce. For breakfast, Top Baguette even offers a bánh mì of two eggs over easy with pickled carrots, daikon, jalapeño and sprigs of cilantro. 9062 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 379-7726. ¢


Their oval-shaped thin-crust pizzas have deceptively healthy names like Triathlete, Iron Man and Gymnast (it is pizza, after all, but they claim they're all very low in fat). Either way, they taste good. 18246 Imperial Hwy., Yorba Linda, (714) 993-5421; $


The various Cedar Creeks offer similar menus featuring prime rib, rack of lamb and homemade desserts. The Brie-and-pecan-stuffed chicken breast comes with a creamy pear-sage sauce that draws out the fine, nutty flavor of the pecans. The large butterflied scampi is served with capers and diced Roma tomatoes. And the pot roast is a tribute to hearty northern Midwest German-American cooking. 20 Pointe Dr., Brea, (714) 255-5600; 26860 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-2229; 384 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-8696; $$



If you have a hankering for Persian food, try the lamb shank, a huge leg of lamb complete with bone marrow and fat. It's served as a stew, and the meat rivals Jell-O for tenderness. Kebabs are good too! 1112 N. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 991-6060; 24000 Alicia Pkwy., Ste. 28, Mission Viejo, (949) 768-0122. $$


You'll enjoy the granite-and-neon splendor of this teppan house, and I don't remember shrimp ever being as succulent or steak being as tender at Benihana's. These dinners come with soup, salad and a shrimp appetizer. 1061 E. Main St., Tustin, (714) 505-6738; 3957 Irvine Blvd., Irvine, (714) 508-1668.$$

There's not much glamour in the presentation at Pacific Coast Hot Dog, which is nowhere near the beach. Accouterments don't stray from the roll call of hot dog standards—saccharine relish, freshly sliced onions and tomatoes, even some sauerkraut for the Teutonic among us. But in this simplicity, there's a summer's worth of love, heat, fireworks and heartache. Try the namesake special, which features as many apparent conflicts as an episode of The O.C.: cumin-spiked chili fights with bitter mustard and zingy onions for domain over your palate. 3438 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 744-1415; 300 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 106-A, Huntington Beach, (714) 969-8799. ¢

It's Industrial Revolution-hectic at Thach Chè Hiên Khánh, partly because of the space's prime nook just beyond the imperial gates of Westminster's T&K Food Market, but primarily because of its reputation within the Vietnamese diaspora for its homeland's desserts, furtively sweet confections virtually unknown to the Western palate. Specifically, Thach Chè Hiên Khánh specializes in the alchemy of xôi (steamed sticky rice) and chè (sugary porridge). Combine the super-Slurpee chè ba màu with any chè or xôi, and you'll never need Snickers again. 9639 Bolsa Ave., Ste. A, Westminster, (714) 839-8143; 9784 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 537-5105. ¢

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