This Week in College Chowing

Poor college students looking for cheap eats, I know your dilemma well. I also was once a starving scholar: in fact, while a student at Orange Coast College during the late 1990s, I once shared a bag of Reese's Pieces for lunch with my best friend. A big bag. The aftermath I would not wish on my worst enemy. Following, then, are affordable grubberies segmented by their school.

DINNER FOR TWO: ¢ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than $10! $ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10-$20 $$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20-$40 $$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ¡Eres muy rico!CHAPMAN UNIVERSITY (MY ALMA MATER!) CHA THAI

Between this wonderful Thai restaurant and Felix's (discussed below), I ate gourmet and affordable for my two years at Chapman. The yellow curry selection is optimal for those who sport the same color on their bellies, so be brave and step up a spice level to the red curry. Its marvelous mixture of bamboo shoots, bell peppers and coconut milk will give you the sensation of having had sex for two hours in a sauna. 1520 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, (714) 978-3905. $


Across the street from Chapman, it's advertised as the oldest burger stand in OC (est. 1949). Get those burgers and also the smoothies and shakes. They used to have a menu written in Japanese katakana script above the ordering window, a nod to Chapman's large Japanese student population. Poor student's special: 99-cent burger. 292 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 538-5904. ¢


One of OC's finest Cuban joints, Felix's is on the Orange Circle, the only thing that qualifies as a hangout for Chapman students—and they stay away save for this restaurant and the next-door Diedrich. Lunches run more than $5, but you'd be foolish to nix the chicken embajador when dining on the patio on a warm afternoon. 36 Plaza Square, Orange, (714) 633-5842. $$


With all the development going on right now at Chapman, I wouldn't be surprised if Papa Hassan's is gone in a couple of years. A shame, since this is easily one of Orange County's finest Middle Eastern restaurants. The lamb shawerma pita is an ungodly delicious bargain at $4.50. The almost-as-good falafel pita is $3.50. 421 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 633-3903. $


Right across the street from Fullerton College, next door to the used-book store where every smart Hornet purchases their textbooks, Harv's is among the few places that does Chicago Dogs 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. $


In a shopping plaza where an Indonesian Christian theology school operates, El Fortín is one of two county restaurants specializing in the famous moles of the Mexican state of Oaxaca. I won't even bother describing the house mole, as my tongue cannot possibly articulate this creation—only eat. 700 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, (714) 773-4290. $


Just south of Cal State Fullerton, Genghis Khan's stir-frying of various frozen meat shavings transforms the Mongolian barbecue into a time machine—the brusque force of the Mongol Empire rampages anew across taste buds. There are other choices besides the Mongolian barbecue, but the restaurant offers it as an all-you-can-eat option for a reason. 333 N. State College Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 870-6930. ¢


Thai-Rama exists in a shopping plaza where Cal State Fullerton students make cheap with their books. Making tempura is a delicate process, but when it's cooked right, it's better than Jesus. And this quaint little restaurant offers a vegetable tempura—lacy, golden, spot-on perfect with fresh vegetables, cooked to a slight snap, and coated in a batter so light it floats—that walks on water. 2500 E. Chapman Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-0777. $$


The side dishes (two per entrée) are as big as appetizers—and appetizers constitute a month's worth of courses in some sub-Saharan nations—at Brea's hottest spot, just over the hill from Cal State Fullerton. But these servings are mere crumbs when measured 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. $$


Located within the Orange Coast College campus and run entirely by OCC's culinary students, the Captain's Table is the supreme example of students loving their homework. The menu changes from week to week, but all the entrée/main course/dessert meals are under $10. Their take on Thai and New England lobster is spectacular. 2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-5835, ext. 4. $


When a City of Brotherly Love exile laments OC's glaring lack of real Philly cheesesteaks, march him/her over to Frank's, which is down the street from Orange Coast. Not only do they serve the real deal (and other mouth-watering sandwiches), but also the walls are adorned with memorabilia from championship Eagles, Flyers, Phillies and 76ers teams. 2244 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, (949) 722-8725. $


Based out of San Jose, the shop specializes in bánh mì, the Vietnamese sandwich that is an appetizing post-colonial amalgamation. Though the always-endless lines seem imposing, Lee's service is so outstanding that you'll quickly be savoring the most outlandish deal ($1.50 for a huge, nine-inch, delicious sandwich) in the world. They're supposed to open their fourth Orange County branch at University Town Center before the school year begins. 1028 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-2989; 13991 Brookhurst, Garden Grove, (714) 636-2288; 9261 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 901-5788. friggin' ¢


Liquid refreshment makes up most of the extensive menu at Cha for Tea, and the high point may be the lilac-hued, creamy taro-milk tea. This tea brings Anteaters out from under their physics homework and allows them to breathe for a bit. 4187 Campus Dr., Ste. M-173, Irvine, (949) 725-0300. $


El Rincón Chilango in Santa Ana is Orange County's best re-creation of Mexico City, and not just because the street-side restaurant features the megalopolis' iconic Angel of Independence statue as its logo nor because its marquee screams “100% D.F.” Mexico City favorites are in order here: wonderful potato tacos with the shells fried until they shine like the Stanley Cup; supersyrupy sodas such as Jarritos and Boing; and the tlacoyo, a foot-long gordita bloated with earthy bright-yellow fava beans and splattered with diced onions and a tangy green salsa on the outside—the heartiest meal you'll eat until Thanksgiving. 1133 W. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-5096. $


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's taboo, cornbread greasy as Dave Garofalo's palms, and black-eyed peas that are soft and plump and just the proper earthen hue. Eatin' at Ruth's Place is like dinin' and goin' to heaven. 1236 Civic Center Dr. W., Santa Ana, (714) 953-9454. $


Tito's La Especial is the master of the tacos al vapor format, the gloriously fatty style that steams tortillas and shredded beef together until it's almost like an ice cream sandwich. Ignore the drunks outside the nearby bar in the Harbor location, and they'll ignore you back. 503 W. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 543-2900; 701 N. Harbor Blvd., Ste. D, Santa Ana, (714) 554-9871.

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