Tag Archives: orange county

Orange County’s Ultimate Mexican Food Guide

0213MexicanFoodCover

Apropos of Orange Coast‘s previous look at the best Asian food in Orange County is my somewhat belated recognition of the magazine’s guide to the county’s best Mexican food. Many fantastic tacos, tamales, chilaquiles and pounds of carnitas were consumed for this, but I know I (and I trust fellow writer Gretchen Kurz) would surely do it again. Read more here.

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Global Diner Recap


PHOTO by PRISCILLA IEZZI / ORANGE COAST

The good eats for Orange Coast Magazine keep on coming. There’s ramen in the column’s future, but here are three recent looks at Orange County’s ever-fascinating international food scene.

First, grab a slice of pizza-like manakeesh in Anaheim’s Little Arabia. Then belly up to a bowl of bibimbap, the Korean rice classic. Finish up with the constellation of Indian small plates called a thali.

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Orange County’s Ultimate Asian Dining Guide

There could be a dozen dissertations on the various Asian cuisines of Orange County, a topic so vast that it’s all but impossible to condense it into a single magazine feature. But for this month’s issue of Orange Coast, I (along with longtime Orange Coast writer Gretchen Kurz) embarked on just that task. What resulted is, I think, a pretty impressive accomplishment–a definitive guide to old-school pho joints, rare Okinawan izakayas, Taiwanese dessert parlors and so much more. Pick one up today.

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Leftovers: Del Tomate

Argentine-Italian comfort for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by ALLEN J. SCHABEN / L.A. TIMES

There’s a kind of heartland excess at many Argentine restaurants, palaces of meat that offer as good a lesson in bovine anatomy as any abattoir. But Del Tomate doesn’t indulge in steakhouse gluttony. Instead, the 2-month-old Tustin restaurant busies itself draping ribbons of prosciutto and kneading handmade pastas, the essentials of a streamlined and simplified Argentine-Italian cafe.

Del Tomate’s cooking is a South American invention, a hybrid cuisine that evolved after waves of Italian immigration to Argentina. It’s a cross-cultural heritage shared by owners Guillermo and Susana Giacobbe, the husband-and-wife team who one minute might be streaking butter across spongy Argentine white bread and the next piping dulce de lechemousse into delicate profiteroles.

The restaurant is an all-day affair. Warm your morning first with a cortado (an eye-widening espresso cut with a measure of milk) or mate cocido (toasted yerba mate steeped like herbal tea). Those who start sweet can linger over one of Susana’s wonderful pastries while others fill up on Del Tomate’s substantial tortilla Argentina, the egg and potato frittata localized and assimilated into the Argentine diet.

Of course, there are always empanadas. They’re objects of admiration here: Shells that shine with the luster of burnished pine, braided edges that barely contain their contents.

Read the rest here.

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Leftovers: Chili Chutney

Afghan cuisine arrives in Orange County. For the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by MARK BOSTER / L.A. TIMES

There’s chutney everywhere: streaked across piles of rice, dabbed on crisp flatbreads, blotted up by grilled kebabs. Jars of the stuff — gleaming containers of pure verdant green and sticky maraschino red — are on display. At Chili Chutney, a months-old Afghan restaurant in Lake Forest, the condiment is elevated to a cornerstone.

Owner Shalah Wadood’s cilantro and jalapeño chutney stings with herbal heat, its texture like that of a pesto pounded just to the point of cohesion. But it’s the bell pepper chutney that inspires addiction. The alluring balance of capsaicin-spiked sweetness wouldn’t be out of place on a carefully composed cheese plate. Both are already being sold at the restaurant, but soon, Wadood says, they’ll be stocked on the shelves of local Middle Eastern markets.

The restaurant operates under Wadood’s ambassadorial vision, one that helped introduce Orange County to Afghan cuisine at her family’s shuttered Stanton restaurant, Arya. Chili Chutney is a scaling back in scope — the six-table space doesn’t approach gilded opulence — but its ambitions are grand nonetheless.

Read the rest here.

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Leftovers: Zait & Za’atar and Wraps Xpress

Manakeesh‘s Orange County moment for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by KATIE FALKENBERG / L.A. TIMES

There’s a moment in a cuisine’s acculturation when a dish morphs into a movement. In Orange County, that moment belongs now to a multinational influx of Middle Eastern flatbreads.

Like banh mi before them, manakeesh have here become the accepted ambassadors of an entire region, pizza-like flatbreads thin as gauzy sheets of vellum. At Zait & Za’atar and Wraps Xpress, restaurants already in the purview of the county’s most seasoned eaters, they’re an herb-rubbed and meat-smeared gateway to the eastern Mediterranean.

Anaheim’s Zait & Za’atar is a big step toward manakeesh modernity. The city’s Little Arabia is already crowded with similarly specialized Lebanese bakeries, but Zait & Za’atar may be the most accessible. It’s a case of aesthetics — brick-red walls and a counter set in stone — but, more important, one of clarity, as the restaurant plainly details every dish.

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Leftovers: Tom Yum Koong

Crossing the border into Laos for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by LUIS SINCO / L.A. TIMES

Thatched baskets of sticky rice arrive alongside tart pork sausages still sputtering from the pan. Papaya salad follows, the strands of green, unripened fruit stained a murky brown from fermented blue crab paste. At Tom Yum Koong in Westminster, among the offal-laden boat noodles and coconut-rich curries of Thailand are the flavors of Laos.

Traffic flows past Tom Yum Koong in a stream of steel and rubber, pouring off the nearby freeway into the concrete delta of strip malls and suburban churches. The restaurant is looked at and looked over. To some, it may look like just another neighborhood Thai restaurant: salads sluiced with lime juice and chiles, broad rice noodles snaking through puddles of soy sauce. But the kitchen maintains a distinct duality, capable in Thai and Laotian cooking.

Tom Yum Koong’s Laotian influence belongs to chef and owner Manivanh Chansmouth. She and her family purchased the restaurant two years ago, restyling it with warm chocolate walls and a constellation of paper lanterns. Owing to her Laotian heritage, Chansmouth retrofitted the menu by adding a concise selection of Laotian specialties and Isaan-style Thai favorites. The latter are Laos-influenced dishes from Isaan, Thailand’s northeastern region that sits just across the Mekong River from Laos.

Read the rest here.

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Leftovers: Dat Thanh

A new nem nuong cuon contender for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by MARIAH TAUGER / L.A. TIMES

In the hyperspecialized kitchens of Little Saigon, where dining by dac biet (a restaurant’s prescribed list of house specialties) is almost a moral obligation, nem nuong cuon is a matter of contention. For every dozen batches of slack, sloppy spring rolls, there are a few that approach brilliance: ruddy pork patties branded by the grill, cucumber spears that snap with farmers-market freshness, dipping sauces derived from equal parts recipe and alchemy.

Consensus has long steered the spring roll-obsessed to Brodard. It’s the restaurant that transformed nem nuong cuon from craving to commodity, an immense place so popular that it staffs an entire assembly line to construct those sheer, swollen rolls. But a newcomer has all but unseated Brodard.

Dat Thanh operates on a much smaller scale. Its tiny, well-kept dining room is so compact it seems a mere outgrowth of the kitchen, as if each seat were arrayed around a chef’s table. The 4-month-old restaurant runs in the family: Hai Nguyen, affable and gracious, mans the front while his parents, who hail from a village near Vung Tau on Vietnam’s southern coast, stick to the stoves. The Nguyens previously owned a larger, otherwise identical restaurant in Little Saigon before selling it six years ago.

Read the rest here.

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Leftovers: Olive Tree

Abu Ahmad’s regional Levantine cooking for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by KATIE FALKENBERG / L.A. TIMES

The fatit hummus at Olive Tree is a dish of geological depth, a dip of distinct strata. Slicked across its top is a layer of yogurt puddled with olive oil and dusted with cumin and paprika. Pine nuts dot the surface like pale pebbles. Embedded in the warm hummus below are fragments of crunchy pita.

It’s an elaborate rendition of the Middle Eastern meze, but not an untraditional one. At Olive Tree, the fatit hummus is both staple and symbol, representative of a certain kind of detailed and familial Levantine cooking lost among the monotony of low-cost shwarma shacks.

Olive Tree isn’t a complicated place. Nor is it a secret to those who regularly bowl down Brookhurst Street, the arterial passage through Anaheim’s Little Arabia. All the dishes you’ve come to love are here — classics soon to be fully absorbed into the American appetite — but owner Abu Ahmad’s 5-year-old restaurant is not one you go to for the familiar.

Olive Tree also explores the underserved and overlooked regional recipes of Palestine, Jordan, Syria and elsewhere. They’re the dishes of weddings and homecomings, celebratory meals delivered here via a set schedule of daily specials.

Read the rest here.

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Leftovers: House of Kabob

Charred kebabs and mountains of Persian rice for the L.A. Times:

The lunch line at House of Kabob in Lake Forest curls out the door, the neck of each prospective diner craned toward the kitchen. It’s a crowd mostly of baby-faced workers from nearby tech firms waiting with ID cards still dangling from their company-issued lanyards. They’re jockeying, however politely, for even a fleeting glimpse of the restaurant’s excellent Persian cooking.

Dishes here are often sights to behold: cubes of meat lapped in flames until they’re transformed into perfectly grilled, tender blocks; mountains of long-grain basmati rice tall enough to teach you a lesson in topography. Still, House of Kabob’s success has been downright quiet. It’s taken simmering, persistent praise and neighborly devotion for the restaurant to outgrow its tiny home.

Yet when the Lake Forest original spawned a second location in an Irvine strip mall late last year, it wasn’t just a matter of expansion — it was culinary mitosis.

Read the rest here.

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