Summer Grub Guide

All your American dining needs are below!


¢ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than $10!

$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10-$20

$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20-$40

$$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ¡Eres muy rico!


Barbecue sandwiches are usually messy affairs, but Bad to the Bone's house sausage sandwich is as austere as it is sumptuous. A lean, sweet pork sausage speckled with pepper bits and accompanied by sautéed onions and bell peppers, it strikes several notes, the wonderfully bitter distinct from the sweet and salty. The crunchy French roll lends a taste of honey. 31738 Rancho Viejo Rd., Ste. E, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 218-0227; $$

For years, Fred Burrell has smoked ribs, hot links, chicken legs and more in his beloved shack, his North Carolina-style 'cue still sublime, the pulled-pork sandwich as vinegary as a slow roast in Raleigh, North Carolina. No matter what time of year, lunch at Burrell's picnic-table seating is our communal Fourth of July party. 305 N. Hesperian, Santa Ana, (714) 547-7441. $

Low prices and macro-brew vibe bring the teeming masses, who scarf on outrageously meaty beef and pork short ribs slathered in industrial-strength barbecue sauce. If you notice how much Chris N Pitts is like the Claim Jumper, don't be surprised—Mr. Jumper got the idea for his chain while growing up and eating here.601 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 635-2601; 15975 Harbor Blvd., Fountain Valley, (714) 775-7311. $

The District Lounge's 'cue is serious, and Reverend Morton's Savory Bar-b-que Savior Sauce—a relishy, sweet glop the District crew administer judiciously to all meats—could score a ribbon in a Kansas City cook-off. The tri-tip's middle is pink, its skin charred yet juicy, and it arrives about eight lengths to an order. Ribs plop off easily, and enough chewy meat hangs off the bone to fill you and create a separate hamburger. Chicken wings slap the tongue with their salty, mesquite burn and await a dunking into a thimble of great mustard-ranch dressing. 233 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 639-7777. $$

Lou's Red Oak BBQ Grill is Orange County's original place to knife through Santa Maria-style barbecue, the supremely succulent charcuterie tradition of the central California coast. Whether it's monstrous tri-tips, weighty steaks or divine chickens you're gnawing through, they all retain hints of Lou's red, oak-smoked, rotisserie pedigree. And there's a reason it was once “Lou's Oak Oven Beanery”—their poquito beans side is the ideal hybrid between the pinto bean's gentle bite and the red bean's furtive sweetness. 21501-D Brookhurst St., Huntington Beach, (714) 965-5200; $

Side dishes at Brea's hottest spot—two per entrée—would serve a family for a month in some sub-Saharan nations. But these servings are mere crumbs when weighed against the feral bulk of a Lucille's barbecue plate. After plowing through one of these, you'd better waddle out fast before the Lucille's owners size you up as ready for a dance on the grill, so plump will you be. 1639 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 990-4944; $$

Papa's specializes in Santa Maria-style barbecue, a tradition native to the coastal central California town that dates to the time when Mexico's rule over California wasn't just a MEChA dream. So, like the Californios of yore, the Papa's crew smokes folds of tri-tips and other meat cuts over red oak chips that impart a fragrant, salty flavor. This is also one of the last places in Southern California to order the spicy Portuguese sausage known as linguiça. 10900 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, (562) 594-9251; $


Open here for 11 years, Ruth's Place carries a tough-to-read sign out front advertising Southern-style soul food. You'll always find Ruth here, cooking catfish steamed and piled fist-high, yams sweet as Sade (the singer, not the sadomasochist), cornbread greasy as Pam Houchen's palms, and black-eyed peas that are soft and plump and just the proper earthen hue. 1236 Civic Center Dr. W., Ste. C, Santa Ana, (714) 953-9454. $



A tour of barbecue traditions within the confines of a gleaming Surf City development, Smokin' Mo's redeems the red states from which it pulls its stuff. Tennessee shines with vinegary, massive, great pork ribs, and Louisiana appears with hot links that please like a boat ride through the bayou. Better than that, we love its pig mascot—wide-eyed, holding a massive wooden spoon, grinning at the thought of eating its brethren, the happiest cannibal since that weird gay German guy. 301 Main St., Ste. 107, Huntington Beach, (714) 374-3033; $


I defy anyone to find a finer summer Friday night than the kind you get at Angelo's: a burger-fries-and-Coke combo for six bucks, a girl/boy by your side, nameless kids chucking pickles at one another, buxom waitresses skating without pause, and the half-Latino, half-white crowd communally willing another Vlad Guerrero horsehide bomb into the television sky.511 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 533-1401. $

Santa Ana's finest used to crack down on Latinos who would cruise around this quasi-1950's 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, sweetness and warmth. 2640 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 241-7166. $


The perfect non-chain burger, a quarter-pound patty all gussied up with the Thousand Island dressing, the lettuce, the onions, the tomatoes and the sesame-seed bun. Brea's Best also has sandwiches, hot dogs, tacos, burritos and breakfast fare. You could even eat healthy by ordering an ostrich burger—but why would you? A word of warning: the place gets mobbed during the weekday lunch rush, so plan accordingly. 707 S. Brea Blvd., Brea, (714) 990-2615. $


Bravo's Elvii and Marilyns can get annoying, but people return for the grub. Bravo's burgers are sticky with Thousand Island dressing and buttressed by toasted buns that hold a sublime grilled patty. It's messier (and better) when topped off with Bravo's monumental chili: cheesy, meaty and smoky. Other sandwiches are available—mayo-heavy club sandwich this, greasy bacon burger that, even a game attempt at a chicken gyro—but in this county's proud melting pot, few things approach that icon of culinary fusion, Bravo's pastrami quesadilla. 19102 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 968-9880. $

Across the street from Chapman University, it's advertised as the oldest burger stand in OC (est. 1949). Get those burgers, and also the smoothies and shakes. Don't get thrown off by the katakana script above the ordering window: that's for Chapman's large Japanese student population. Poor student's special: 99-cent burger. 292 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 538-5904. ¢

Imperial Burgers serves many more things besides its Cheddar cheese-heavy pastrami burritos—its burgers, for instance, charbroiled marriages of meat, soft bun, sweet cheese and lettuce. Or standard breakfasts of pancakes, hash browns and sausage. And always sip on ultra-sweet Orange Bang whenever you find this increasingly rare beverage. Everything is good here, really. But La Habra is so far away, and the pastrami burrito is so good—why would you ever order anything else? 241 E. Imperial Hwy., La Habra, (714) 525-1611. $


The place serves scrumptious one-third-pound burgers as big as your head. What else needs to be said? 150 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 879-7552; 5665 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 779-2501; 14952 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine, (949) 857-8927; 28061 Greenfield Dr., Laguna Niguel, (949) 831-1593. $


You can't accuse this joint, located quite obviously in a former KFC, of false advertising. Their trademark is the mega mega burger, a cake-sized burger, served in slices, that is the equivalent of eight hamburgers. Note: if you think a mega mega burger sounds like an eat-alone kind of meal, do yourself a favor—take a good look in the mirror and have your cholesterol checked first. 34122 Pacific Coast Hwy., Dana Point, (949) 488-0849. $

The “Last Word in Fine Food” is cheap, cheap, cheap. Full breakfast—eggs, pancakes and bacon—for $2.19. Burger specials with fries and drink for $3.45. Steak dinner for $4.10. If cholesterol doesn't scare you, see you there. Scary food item: pastrami burrito unearths bad memories of Oki Dog. Sadly, no Charlton Heston sightings. 319 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 532-2022. ¢

In a region still dotted with the mom-and-pop burger dives of yore, Paul's Place is our Mel's, a mini-chain with locations in Buena Park, Fullerton and Anaheim that don't look a day older than 50. Burgers are charred, massive and come sans condiments, the better for you to squirt to your delight. And in a nod to the changing times, there is also a salsa bar to douse their quite-big, quite-tasty burritos and gyros. 1040 N. Magnolia Ave., Anaheim, (714) 761-4351; 7012 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park, (714) 522-5050; 506 S. Euclid Ave., Fullerton, (714) 870-5995. ¢


Though it bills itself as a tribute to Route 66, Roadside is just too good. Its burgers—well-wrapped and slightly bigger and tastier (and more expensive) than your typical burger dive—are a tad too gourmet for true shack consideration. Still, the nostalgia at Roadside is all about the location: across the street is the historic Fox Theater. When that majestic building opens its doors anew, patrons will likely cross the street to share a malt with their beloved, and the curtain will rise on another scene in our American play. Onion rings are extra.513 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 871-0040. ¢

Ruby's remains dedicated to its 1950s-style, burger-and-malt-shop motif but with a few stabs at California cuisine thrown in for good or bad measure. 3333 Bear St., Ste. 120, Costa Mesa, (714) 662-7829; 428 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 646-7829; end of Balboa Pier, Newport Beach, (949) 675-7829; end of Seal Beach Municipal Pier, Seal Beach, (562) 431-7829; and many, many more.$

Where else can you get fine ground turkey and fresh purple onions on a bouncy egg bun, breathe in salt air, and listen to the waves for less than $4? The burger is so fine, you'd never guess it's good for you. The locals aren't quite sure what's in it, but they agree it's the secret sauce that makes the bun and turkey combo shred. 110 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. 10, Huntington Beach, (714) 960-3238; 2119 W. Balboa Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-3438. $

A Tommy Burger tribute stand, but worth the wait in a teen-infested line that snakes all the way across the street to Los Al High. The chili is mandatory. 3652 Cerritos Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 430-6004. $

Eighteen whoppers are flipped at this Santa Ana food-mark, but the best is a triple-cheeseburger that could out-$6-burger Carl's Jr. any day—and at only $4.60. 2860 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 545-8219; $


Most every county hot-dog cart advertises Chicago dogs, but Harv's is among the few places that does 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 lips a yellow-green color as vibrant as a 1970s Notre Dame football uniform. 410 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-0491. ¢

No tables inside—just counters and stools. No air conditioning—that's why there are two tables outside. There's a great Italian roast beef sandwich, a multi-folded pastrami, fries, onion rings and tater tots (more on those in a minute). But people line up five deep for the 11 hot dog varieties, ranging from Chicago to chili-cheese to the Wow! Dog—a blackened kielbasa, sautéed onions and a schmear of thick, gritty mustard worthy of its exclamatory name. 19092 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 378-0364. ¢

While these lemonade-churning chicks and guys do serve the dead stuff, they also peddle awesome veggie corn dogs. And to ensure that you are not ingesting a real wienie, the jockey-hatted crew differentiate their dogs with a green dot on the end of the stick. 2153 Brea Mall Way, Brea, (714) 256-2602. ¢


Not since Boogie Nights has a wiener garnered so much deserved buzz as the yearlong love-in for those steamed at Jerry's Wood-Fired Hot Dogs. Owner and Cleveland native Jerry O'Connell comes from the land where sausage-making is gospel, and his dogs show it: all-beef franks bursting from taut casings; X-rated kielbasas with a vicious, Warsaw Pact bite; and a Jalapeño Hot Link that is proudly inauthentic, but nobody gives a damn as his whining-hole is deep-throating the eight inches. 2276 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 245-0200; 1360 S. Beach Blvd. Ste. C, La Habra, (562) 697-4644; $

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. $


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 Pacific Coast Hot Dog 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. ¢

This is the first non-Illinois outpost for a legendary Chicago chain that specializes in Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago dogs. Neither disappoints: both are succulent, delicious, yum. And the chocolate cake, like their commercials say, really is to die for. 8390 La Palma Ave., Buena Park, (714) 220-6400; $

The two San Clemente Schleppy's are the prototypical beach shacks: tiled roof caked with bird crap; a side business in such curios as seahorse wind chimes; host to seagulls and pigeons that warily eye patrons for the first signs of a tumbling scrap. Rule of thumb about ordering at any beach dive: avoid any hint of the exotic. Order Schleppy's burger combo: a small drink that qualifies as a medium nearly anywhere else, snappy fries bursting with earthy potato pride and a flavorful hamburger featuring some of the finest beef patties grilled since last Labor Day. 250 Ave. Calafia, San Clemente, (949) 498-6484; 615 Ave. Victoria, San Clemente, (949) 492-8335. ¢


Customers cram this cramped emporium not for the pan dulce—which is delicious, by the way—but for raspados, the Mexican version of snow cones made with the vivacious fruits of the country in syrup form. Choose quickly from the 14 options because a line is no doubt forming impatiently behind you, already shouting out their orders. 1509 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 778-2051.¢


This is where Balboa Island locals hang in the wee morning hours before work, munching on their apple fritters while talking about market swings and the goddamned liberals. The donuts are good, but the peppermint ice cream and Balboa Bars are outstanding. Stay away from the frozen bananas, unless you enjoy gnawing on a rock-hard piece of fruit. 318 Marine Ave., Balboa Island, (949) 673-8686. ¢

Delicias de México (Delights from Mexico) is one of the county's precious few neverías: ice cream shops that specialize in resolutely Mexican flavors such as velvety mango, smoky mamey, sour guanábana and many other tropical, luscious fruits. Don't forget to order at least one of their paletas: frosty monoliths of vim, each balanced on a sturdy wooden stick and wrapped in a plastic sheet that requires a sensuous tugging motion to remove. 13466 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove, (714) 636-7163. ¢


Indistinguishable from the gelato shops you find in Italy. Go there now. 2756 E. Pacific Coast Hwy., Corona del Mar, (949) 721-1160. ¢

Hans Biermann likes to make ice cream and carries some 55 delectable flavors. He also serves up real meals, such as the flaky croissant filled with avocado, almonds, lettuce, tomato, Swiss cheese and mayo. 3640 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 979-8815.¢


Island Grill sells Hawaiian food with a Japanese bent, so that means you can get your sushi and bento box fill along with sumptuous teriyaki bowls. But regardless of main course, your dessert should be the shaved ice: a frosty, chilled monolith flavored with fruit and so delicate you could whittle it down with dental floss. 4390 Katella Ave., Los Alamitos, (562) 431-6496. $

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 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 now 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. ¢

If you get lost in the bustle of Santa Ana's Fourth Street on a hot day and need salvation, just follow the ice cream drippings toward La Nueva Reyna de Michoacán, a veritable Baskin Robbins en español. La Nueva Reyna's ice cream is velvety, like a lover's tongue on yours—except for the wonderful chunks of fruit. Go for the harder-to-find flavors—sultry mango, bitter plum, luscious coconut and the fleshy aroma of guayaba (sadly a seasonal fruit, available only in fall). 300 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 835-0394.¢



Bree's is the last place in Orange County where you can take wild game to be, um, processed. You bring all of it in: claws, paws, hooves, snouts, horns, antlers and buckshot. You take it home in chops, steaks, rounds, sausages and other . . . cuts of meat. Good feral hog! 11877 Valley View St., Garden Grove, (714) 892-1115. $$

Only the Italians remain from Anaheim's Old Europe guard, and they're the ones who keep the business bustling at Cortina's Italian Market, a cozy landmark that's been baking and slicing since 1963. The emporium consists of three rooms: a bazaar stocked with Italian produce (imitation Alka-Seltzer!), a side deli slapping together some of the heftiest subs outside Little Italy, and a dining room to enjoy said goods and grub. 2175 W. Orange Ave., Anaheim, (714) 535-1948; $

Like its decade-old predecessor in Redondo Beach, El Gaucho is a geographical warp, a reproduction of Argentina occupying a hectic stretch of State College Boulevard. But you don't need to worship the Newell's Old Boys football club to enjoy the pristine deli connected perpendicularly to the market that prepares brick-sized sandwiches and empanadas, steaming fist-sized triangular pies with flaky crusts straining to hold their meaty interiors. 847 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim, (714) 776-6400. ¢


El Toro Gourmet Meats owner Bob Bacca has created a mecca of high-quality meats and seafood. The carne asada is artfully butterflied open, sliced very thin, and then marinated for one to two days in a mixture of soy sauce, orange juice and, of course, secret spices—one of which Bacca let slip out: red pepper. 23522 El Toro Rd., Lake Forest, (949) 855-0215. $EL TORO MEAT MARKET
Originally from Fresnillo, Zacatecas, the Bonilla clan—four brothers and una hermana—have seen their butcher's shop 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. And this is also the place to purchase an entire freakin' goat's head! 1340 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-1393. $GALLO'S ITALIAN DELI
The 30-something-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. $GLOBE EUROPEAN DELICATESSEN
Sausage is but one appetizing aspect of Globe European Delicatessen, which has been hawking German, Dutch and other European produce from the same address for more than three decades. There are jams, chocolates, beer and even wafers that taste like fruit. Load up on these and other goods—if you're a sucker for pickled herring, the fine liberal German weekly Der Spiegel,or cheese wheels large enough to fire from mortars, Globe European Delicatessen is your lollipop. 1928 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-3784; $HOLLINGSHEAD'S DELI
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 pickles and pickled eggs kept in chilled brine. Hollingshead's is one of Orange County's premier booze barns, stocking drafts, ales, Heifeweisen and other brands from across the world (with a special focus on the Deutschland and the former Soviet Bloc). The limited menu is staunchly 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. $INTERNATIONAL MEATS N DELI
They have about the most authentic Hungarian food to be found without a passport. Try eating as they do in Eastern Europe—smorgasbord-style meats, cheeses and breads—or order some kolbasz, one of six kinds of homemade sausages available. 10382 Stanford Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 539-6334. $KOSHER BITE DELI
Orange County seems just too spic-n-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 rotations, 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. $LUCCI'S DELI AND MARKET
Lucci's offers more than 30 hot or cold sandwiches under $5, not counting the house-specialty torpedoes that go for $2.99 and $5.25. There's pizza, and all the standard Italian dinners like spaghetti, ravioli, lasagna and eggplant, along with classics like linguine with clam sauce and fettuccine Alfredo—all between $6 and $10. Lucci's does catering, too—and even bakes wedding cakes. 8911 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, (714) 968-4466. $$MATTERN DELI
No one said sausage was health food, but if you're in the mood to down a few cold ones by the barbecue, oust the Ball Park Franks and take home a trio of Mattern's links, made on the premises, to sample instead. 4327 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 639-3550. $MOSCOW DELI
This is the only Soviet-centric business for the local Russian community, and the three stout women who run the store ensure their creations don't disappoint. Produce is the primary reason the doorbell jingles throughout the day—Armenian rose-petal preserves to buttery Slovenian cheese, bubbly Ukrainian apple soda and a funky Georgian caviar . . . when was the last time you heard about Georgia without a mention of Stalin? 3015 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 429-5920. $PATIO DINING


Disneyland for haute cuisine? When you're at the Blue Bayou, absolutely! The ambience is strange, in large part to the slack-jawed tourists passing by in the Pirates of the Caribbean boats, but the food is superb. The filet mignon is really juicy and comes with great vegetables and potatoes.1313 S. Harbor, Anaheim. Call Mickey. $$

Okay, so everyone knows about Las Brisas and fills its patio come weekend, even if it's not summertime. But everyone does it for a reason. Besides its terrific take on Mexican seafood, Las Brisas overlooks the Pacific on Laguna Beach's craggy cliffs—a bluff where God no doubt imagines the ideal seaside dinner. 361 Cliff Dr., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-5434. $$


The food is so-so, and the drinks are insultingly expensive. But Café Tu Tu Tango's expansive patio situates itself in that nexus of the Block where the finest himbos and skanks pass by. There's no greater meat market than Café Tu Tu Tango outside of Albertson's. 20 City Blvd. W., Orange, (714) 769-2222. $$

The finest Cuban cuisine in Orange County. The finest (last?) traffic circle in Orange County. The finest neighborhood to take relatives out on a balmy Sunday morning to prove to them Orange County still has buildings more than 50 years old. The finest patio dining in Orange County. Period. 36 Plaza Square, Orange, (714) 633-5842. $


At the Green Parrot, they know how to dish up hospitality instead of an endless bread basket and a maitre d's neglect. The prix fixe, a four course tasting menu, is affordable and comes with a not-teeny blood-orange salad with bleu cheese and walnuts, and even a nicely crusted crème brûlée. Eat it outside in the twinkly-lighted patio or inside their beautiful dining hall.2035 N. Main St, Santa Ana, (714) 550-6040; $$

The ambiance makes this the perfect date restaurant. The Nuevo Latino menu leans toward Cuban but mixes in Jamaican, Mexican and other flavors. The bar serves some of the best sangria around, and the lemon-drop martinis are near-legendary, too. 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 556-0176; $$L'HIRONDELLE
The French/Belgian restaurant L'Hirondelle is a San Juan Capistrano institution, used as proof by residents that their city offers more than Father Serra this and swallows that (although the restaurant's name is French for”the swallow”—guess one can't fly too far from the nest). The lapin à la liégeoise (rabbit) is perfect, tasting like a duskier, moister turkey, with a plum wine sauce lending a bittersweet taste with juicy plum skins mixed in. 31631 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 661-0425. $$$RAMOS HOUSE CAFÉ
Just some of the aural wonders this bistro offers to its patio patrons: the chug-chug of trains barreling down the nearby tracks, the metallic ringing of the mission bells, wind chimes gently clanging against one another and birds chirping without care. And the food? Excellent. 31752 Los Rios St., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 443-1342. $$TAPS FISH HOUSE N BREWERY
Located in the desperately fine-dining-deficient Brea, this place has everything—from steaks, chicken and pastas to an immense oyster bar. Gorge yourself with abandon on such appetizers as tropical shrimp quesadillas or French Quarter egg rolls. 101 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, (714) 257-0101; $$

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