This Week in Good Chains

The Orange County Register's “Best of Orange County” issue arrived last Friday, and it's no surprise the restaurant section reads like a blowjob for everything corporate rather than an actual survey of the county's fine eateries. Really, Reg—Pizza Hut as the best pizza in the county?! How bad are those knees hurting for those Sunday glossy ads?! That said, not all chains are Wal-Mart evil. Consider the following list: all delicious, all chains, and almost all Orange County-born and –run.

DINNER FOR TWO: ¢ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Less than $10! $ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $10-$20 $$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $20-$40 $$$ . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ¡Eres muy rico!CEDAR CREEK INN

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; 384 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-8696; 26860 Ortega Hwy., San Juan Capistrano, (949) 240-2229. $$


Liquid refreshment makes up most of the extensive menu, and the high point may be the lilac-hued, creamy taro-milk tea. Even the food features notes of tea. The subtle tea-flavored minced pork and the tender, stew-like, tea-flavored beef are served with rice and vegetables. 4187 Campus Dr., Ste. M-173, Irvine, (949) 725-0300; 5720 E. Seventh St., Long Beach, (562) 668-5100. $

Chris N Pitts

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. $

Claro's Italian Market

Claro's is a third-generation family business with a passion for food as big as the 600-pound loaves of provolone they are known to display during winter. Besides a huge selection of imported groceries, Claro's houses a stellar deli and bakery. 101 W. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 690-2844; 1095 E. Main St., Tustin, (714) 832-3081. $

The Crab Cooker

This is an institution you can take your out-of-town relatives to sample moderately priced seafood cooked on skewers in cramped booths next to goofy fishing-themed artwork. But first you have to stand outside and wait for your table because this is a first-come, first-served place. 2200 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, (949) 673-0100; 17260 E. 17th St., Tustin, (714) 573-1077. $


This is where you can learn to love the Cobb salad, an orchestrated event of chicken, tomatoes, avocado, bacon, blue cheese, scallions, egg, and romaine and iceberg lettuce mixed in a creamy Italian dressing. Also features American comfort food—don't miss the meatloaf—prepared at its highest level. 2636 Dupont Dr., Irvine, (949) 474-2223; 957 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 644-2223. $$


Owner María de Jesús Ramírez ensures that El Carboneros Nos. 1 and 2 use the same recipes of her hearty native cuisine, the primary reason why the county's pioneering guanaco restaurant persists while so many other Salvadoran restaurants disappear. Imitate the regulars and order at least one pupusa, the masa griddle cake that Salvadorans consume from crib to crypt. And El Carbonero's horchata, heavy with cinnamon and toasted rice, makes Mexican horchata taste like a Tijuana gutter. 9304 Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-4542; 803 S. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 542-6653. $


Hipster Orange County's favorite place to ogle progressive waitresses. The menu is filled with an eclectic collection of healthy post-hippie sandwiches, and the décor of both locations is almost identical, from the earthy walls to the funky art. 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 549-7012; 125 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 835-8840. $

JUGOS ACAPULCO Jugos Acapulco makes tacos, tortas, even enchiladas. But the jugos and licuados here are so filling and nourishing that to order an actual entrée would be pure gluttony. The 19 different jugos span every one of nature's candies, from such standards as horchata, tamarind and grapefruit to more obscure choices (pulpy guanávana, sour alfalfa and beet juice). The beet jugo is exceedingly bitter and burgundy, but it mysteriously ranks as one of Jugos Acapulco's top sellers—Latinos disregard the root's acrid taste for its iron-packed wallop, apparently. 745 W. 19th St., Ste. A-B, Costa Mesa, (949) 722-8513; 307 E. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-1965; 2003 W. First St., Ste. A, Santa Ana, (714) 558-1414. $ KNOWLWOOD

The place serves scrumptious one-third-pound burgers as big as your head. What else needs to be said? 5665 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 779-2501; 150 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 879-7552; 14952 Sand Canyon Ave., Irvine, (949) 857-8927; 28061 Greenfield Dr., Laguna Niguel, (949) 831-1593; 2701 E. 17th St., Santa Ana, (714) 541-05255. $


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, the service at Lee's is so outstanding you'll quickly be savoring the most outlandish deal ($1.50 for a huge, 10-inch, delicious sandwich) in the world. 1028 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-2989; 13991 Brookhurst, Garden Grove, (714) 636-2288; 9261 Bolsa Ave., Westminster, (714) 901-5788. Friggin' ¢


Sam Madain's family owns the 50-year-old Long Beach restaurant and another of the same name that's been on Katella Avenue in Anaheim for about 20 years. The garlic bread are French rolls baked on the premises topped with a spread made of fresh garlic and spices. Whip me 40 times with a wet linguine for any previous snobbery. 1194 W. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 533-1631; 6436 E. Stearns St., Long Beach, (562) 596-5771. $$


If you've ever been to the South, then you know what a po'boy is. Take a bite of this catfish po'boy sandwich, lean back in your patio chair, and close your eyes. You'll swear it isn't traffic along busy Bristol or Main street you're hearing, but rather a lazy river. 2920 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-7685; 201 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 564-1064. $$

Steer Inn

“Get the 'small but mighty,'” my friend counseled. “It's the best.” This steak is more mighty than small. The meat has enough texture to create a tooth-gnashing gusto reserved for Discovery Channel feeding frenzies, yet no steak knife is required to cut the beautifully seared surface. 444 N. Lakeview Ave., Anaheim, (714) 974-5321; 801 S. Tustin Ave., Orange, (714) 639-2434. $$


Taquería de Anda makes fine tacos, but its real specialty lies in 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. 1505 E. La Palma Ave., Anaheim, (714) 956-9359; 221 S. Magnolia Ave., Anaheim, (714) 821-4055; 308 W. Valencia Dr., Fullerton, (714) 871-4211; 1029 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 558-0856; and pretty much any city with a Mexican section. ¢

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