This Week in the Real Cheap OC

Let's just give up hope that our beautiful, multicultural county will ever get an accurate photoplay treatment. But can't The O.C. and Laguna Beach at least feature grubberies other than upscale places most of us Central Countians can't afford even after selling that second kidney? To their credit, The O.C. has included re-creations of the Crab Cooker and Sugar 'n Spice, but here are some other lower-end-but-delicious places within their Aryan wonderlands for producer consideration.

DINNER FOR TWO: ¢…….………………Less than $10! $………………………..…..$10-$20 $$…………….…….……$20-$40 $$$……………….¡Eres muy rico! ALISO BEACH SNACK BAR

This South Laguna landmark anchored Aliso Pier until the pier's 1999 demolition but remains unchanged since its 1972 opening, save for the prices, yet a wooden menu dating back to the start shows that even that isn't dramatically different. The wait is always long, but don't hold it against owner Barbara Perry—she's usually the only person working. Unfortunately, she no longer makes the funnel cake that seared itself into many a lingual memory years ago, so salve your disappointment with a sip of a powerful banana shake and a surprisingly tasteful chicken gyro. 31131 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 499-6811. ¢


Great gourmet pizza in plate-sized discs of bread loaded with just about everything. If you have a preference for all things ham and pineapple, try the Maui. They have a great cheeseless pizza, too. 223 Marine Ave., Balboa Island, (949) 675-4070. $$


You'll no doubt endure a Disneyland-long line here, but no argument from anyone, what with its location on a sagebrush-bearded cliff above stunning Crystal Cove. After about a half-hour in line, fill your gullet with a cold-cut roast beef sandwich and the Shack's creamy, intense date shake—best use of the fruit outside the Holy Land. While dining, gaze westward toward the majestic Pacific; no one wants to acknowledge the synthetic Newport Coast development at their backs, across PCH, a project that eradicated some of the most beautiful hills God ever formed to make way for . . . Starbucks?! 7408 N. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-9666. ¢


This family-run, unpretentious restaurant boasts chili-cheese in all its forms: almost everything from omelets to hot dogs to hamburgers is doused with it. 829 Harbor Island Dr., Newport Beach, (949) 673-4110.$


Their Sicily pizza sets the standard for the thin-crusted set. The size of a smash-ball paddle, it has a wafer-like crust with all the brittle fragility of the plaster plates they bust over your head in Greek restaurants. 930 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 574-0202. $


You've zoomed past Gallo's many times, ignoring its pastel-blue exterior and fenced-off parking lot. Its hangdog appearance is as beach shack as Corona del Mar gets. The thirtysomething-year-old deli is little more than counters, chips and sodas—which is to say, it's perfect. 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. $


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 cardamom-scented rice pudding is tasty, too. 285 Legion St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-7029. $


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


This plain-folks restaurant's best dish is as plain as you can get: fish and chips. Fit to satisfy Ishmael's cravings, the fish is soaked in a thick batter that seals in the flavor just like the fish and chips you can get around London. 400 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-3137.$


Pete's sells thin-crust New York-style pizza—not a lot of sauce or bread, but the slices are huge. This is true summertime beach fare. For four bucks, you get two slices and a small drink. 701 E. Edgewater, Balboa Peninsula, (949) 675-4771. ¢


Feeling a cold coming? Phone Royal Thai and place an order for the po tak soup. It's a yummy clear chicken/seafood broth with New Zealand green mussels, scallops, calamari, shrimp and fresh green chiles. It'll make your eyes tear up and clear your head better than any over-the-counter sinus meds. And that's just smelling the stuff. 1750 S. Pacific Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8424. $


It's 2 in the morning, and you're stumbling out of some bar at the Newport Pier. Nothing soaks up the booze like a nice warm croissant stuffed with ham and Cheddar cheese. A few bites of this, and you can kiss your fears of alcohol poisoning goodbye. 2108 W. Oceanfront, Newport Beach, (949) 675-2533. ¢


Truth in advertising: the Stand is little more than wood, like, 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 tamari-doused vegetables hints at new fusion possibilities for Mexican cuisine, Sino-Sinaloan. 238 Thalia St., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-8101. $


You can feast for cheap without the insult of fast-food taste. Whether it's the delicious à la carte Mexican food or the cheap prices, this place is constantly swarming with the beautiful surfing crowd. 640 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-1635. $


Nestled in a small building next to the library, the “bros” are open till 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Their tom kha soup has a rich broth exploding with lemongrass and coconut milk. It's warm, medicinal and just the way Mother would have made it if she had belonged to some kind of weird midnight fraternity from Siam. 238 Laguna Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 376-9979. $


The lasagna is a great example of why meat—or, rather, the absence of it—is a non-issue here. A mixture of ricotta, ginger, shallots, garlic and spinach is lavished between the noodles, making it rich and filling. Served on a soft bun with all the trimmings, the vegetarian Zinc burger imparts that certain meat-lust satisfaction few meatless burgers do. 350 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach, (949) 494-6302. $

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