This Week In Choo-Choo Chow

One unintended benefit of the CenterLine's supposed demise is that the slew of taquerías along its proposed Bristol Street path will no longer face demolition. But fans of train whistles alongside their appetizers need not worry: Orange County is blessed with many yummy dives along railroads, from Fullerton's Train Depot and its slew of trendy eateries to the shacks and adobes beside the Pacific Surfliner in South County.







The favorite Mexican restaurant of el Presidente Richard Nixon. Stop by the presidential booth, and order the President's Choice (guacamole, chile relleno, chicken enchilada, beef taco, Spanish rice and refried beans). 31891 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 493-1163. $


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 addictive 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. $


Locals tend to disparage the cuisine and long summertime waits for a table, but the mesquite-grilled seafood is usually quite good. Fresh catch of the day is always a good choice, and save room for the best desserts in South County: a slice of the peanut-butter pie or the mud pie, which is mammoth. 611 Ave. Victoria, San Clemente, (949) 498-6390; $


On those lazy afternoons, choose from one of the 119 beers on tap and order a bucket of steamers: Little Neck clams in a chardonnay broth with tomatoes, celery, onions, carrots and lemon. A basket of crusty French bread is the perfect accompaniment. 125 W. Santa Fe., Ste. 128, Fullerton, (714) 738-4356. $


The French/Belgian restaurant L'Hirondelle is a San Juan Capistrano landmark, 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, juicy plum skins mixed in, lending a bittersweet taste. 31631 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 661-0425. $$


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. ¢


After Burrell's and a couple of Santa Ana Mexican taquerías, Ramos House is probably the only restaurant left in Orange County that operates in a living, noisy neighborhood. Its southern-fied breakfasts—fried green tomatoes topped with goat cheese is the most imaginative spin—are a Capistrano Valley institution, the bitter Bloody Mary Orange County's best. But it's the comforting cinnamon beignets that make the long Saturday-morning drive and the one-hour wait all worth it. 31752 Los Rios St., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 443-1342. $


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. A rule of thumb about ordering at any beach dive is 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 the last Labor Day. 250 Ave. Calafia, San Clemente, (949) 498-6484; 615 Ave. Victoria, San Clemente, (949) 492-8335. ¢


Located across from the San Juan Capistrano Mission, the restaurant leaves one question in your mind: Did Pedro build a taco stand by the mission, or did the mission settle down next to Pedro's? Your food will arrive in a time period best measured in geologic terms, but the tamales are damn good. You'll swear each one was schlepped over the border by burro. 31721 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 489-7752. $


Though Cortés vanquished the Aztecs centuries ago, their taste for sweet and searing lives on in El Sombrero Plaza Dulcería, a Mexican candy store on the outskirts of Fullerton's rough Tokers Town barrio. The hellish equivalent of Willy Wonka's wonderland, the dulcería is an expansive, adobe-style building—it looks like the manse of a Gabriel García-Marquez protagonist. You'll find chile-centric candy in dozens of improbable combinations here but also such sweets as the neon-tinted alfajor de coco—so rich a single nibble per hour is the recommended consumption rate. 415 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 992-5441. $


A steakhouse that co-owner Craig Voorting says is “all about the steak,” Stubrik's features the best damn steak this side of a factory town and a pretty decent selection of white meat and seafood. 118 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 871-1290; $$


All the mainstays of the Guatemalan diet are available at the county's only Guatemalan produce store—pork, chicken or chipilín (mint) tamales wrapped in banana leaves, the equivalent of corn Jell-O, plus chile rellenos stuffed with carrots, onions, potatoes and ground beef. Tikal truly excels in the soup business, though. Foremost among the broths is hilacha, a brick-red boiling stew sharp with tomato, shredded-beef strands and about three different squashes bobbing in slow circles. 1002 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 973-8547. ¢


A place where Mexican Mexican food is served with items not found at Taco Bell. Try the mole with the texture of ketchup, made up from the sweetest ingredients on earth or spices harvested from Satan's flower garden. 111 W. Santa Fe, Placentia, (714) 528-8515. $$


Taquería de Anda makes fine tacos, but its real specialty is its burritos. Especially alluring is Anda's beef-tongue version, which the always-working cooks prepare so exquisitely you'll want to confess to your priest that you thought for a fleeting moment you were Frenching a cow and liking it. 300 W. Valencia Dr., Fullerton, (714) 871-4211; 1029 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 835-7010; ¢

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