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Report: Seven faves in and around OC

Cookingthebooks Jan 7, 2008 08:02 AM

On a recent visit to Huntington Beach, I visited (or revisited) seven favorite places... Thanks to Chowhound regular and blogger Elmomonster for some good new recommendations! Here's a little report:

Enrique’s
Don’t be scared away by the strip mall. Family owned and operated, Enrique’s serves some of the best (if not the best) Mexican food in Orange County. Everything is fresh, fresh, fresh from the Mahi Mahi fish tacos (grilled over charcoal), the grilled sea bass served with sauteed spinach, their sides of savory red rice and black beans, and the highlight: a whole pork shank in tomatillo sauce, the meat braised until fork-tender in a tangy yet delicate green sauce. It’s huge and delicious and we’re still sad that someone threw away our leftovers. Be prepared to wait for a table during lunch or dinner — Enrique’s is very popular, for good reason. (6210 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach, CA 90803; 562-498-3622)

Mangia… Mangia
Another strip mall special, and also family-owned and operated, this time by two Sicilian brothers, one the host, the other the chef. The Cooking the Books family has been coming to Mangia…Mangia for Italian-Sicilian food since it opened in 1987. Favorite dishes include the linguine alle vongole, with briny, sea-fresh clams and a garlicky white wine sauce, penne arriminati, its tomato sauce enhanced with broccoli, pine nuts and raisins, a special of spaghetti and fish meatballs studded with raisins. Everything is fresh, everyone is friendly, you’ll want to mangia… mangia (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Expect to wait for a table at dinner. (16079 Goldenwest St., Huntington Beach, CA 92647; 714-841-8887)

Dosa Place
A new discovery (thanks Elmomonster!), we zoomed over here after a bit of post-holiday consumerism at South Coast Plaza. Yes, it’s also in a strip mall (what isn’t?). But upon entering, we made the cheering discovery that we were the only non-Indians in the restaurant. We tucked into the elaborate lunch buffet; favorites included a spicy peas and potato dish, and braised chicken in a highly spiced sauce featuring cloves, cinnamon, chilies. Low points: naan, tandoori chicken (Dosa Place specializes in southern food, after all), idli were disappointingly stiff and cold, the masala dosa was soggy. The highlight: andhra pesaratthu, a moong flour dosa served with upma. What’s upma? A savory, spicy, hot mass of cream of wheat cooked with onions, chilies, peanuts and peas that must surely be South Indian comfort food. (13812 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, CA 92780; 714-505-7777)

MAWL Wine
Not an eatery, but a boutique wine shop that’s the gem of its strip mall location, MAWL – which stands for music, art, wine, love – has a friendly, artsy, neighborhood atmosphere. Oenophiles will love the weekly tastings, offered Friday and Saturday nights, which feature five thoughtfully selected wines. At $10 per person, they are an inexpensive way to sample new varietals. Cheese samples are free. (12752 Valley View St., Garden Grove, CA 92845; 714-893-7000)

Walt’s Wharf
Delicious grilled fish at this casual Seal Beach mainstay, where the key is avoiding the exotic sides and sticking to the basics: the freshest fish, grilled over an oak wood fire, with a baked potato on the side. Other highlights include: the oak grilled artichoke, and oak grilled caeser salad, half a head of romaine quickly grilled and drizzled with a tangy dressing. Very popular; expect a wait at dinner. (201 Main St., Seal Beach, CA 90740; 562-598-4433)

Stanton Mexicatessan
Not really a restaurant, though they do have a few self-serve tables. Instead, we come here for tamales, which are made fresh, on the premises. Wrapped tightly in corn husks, and featuring tender, light, delicate masa and spicy, savory pork, beef, chicken or cheese filling, these tamales freeze well, making transport across the country (or ocean, or to any tamale-free zone) easy. At Christmas and New Year’s the line for tamales snakes around the block. (7440 Cerritos Ave., Stanton, CA 90680; 714-828-2111)

In-n-Out
How could a city eating guide of Orange County go without mention of the pride of Southern California, beloved fast food enterprise In-n-Out? Oh, cheeseburger, how do we love thee? We love your modest size, gooey American cheese, tangy sauce, squashy bun, and fresh accoutrements of tomatoes, onions and lettuce… Healthier appetites will appreciate the double-double. Burgers are cooked to order, so expect a wait of at least 10 minutes; we spent the time watching the staff (all so fresh faced!) cook fries, which are cut from fresh potatoes, soaked, spun dry and fried in small batches. We forgot to make a note of prices, but lunch for two, including a drink, fries and two burgers was well under $10, making this a So Cal steal. (Locations abound, but for a true Cooking the Books experience, visit 6292 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, CA 92683)

For next time…
We didn’t make it to these two restaurants, but our sources have raved about them and we hope to try them on our next journey behind the Orange curtain. Oaxaca Mio, which serves its eponymous fare, including a luscious, complex mole negro (1169 E. 10th St., Long Beach, CA 90813; 562-599-7212). And Santoka Ramen, which is in a Japanese food court at the Mitsuwa Marketplace in Costa Mesa. It must be good because when we tried to eat here on a Saturday, there was nary an empty table to be found, while the line for ramen was about forty-deep, with a sign proclaiming a wait of 20 minutes! (665 Paularino Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626; 714-557-6699)

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