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Transplanted from LA looking for Best Cheap Eats in Irvine: aka save me from the irvine corp.

  • s

Dear CHer's.

I've recently moved to Irvine from LA, and have been having a lot of trouble trying to figure out where the good non-chain, hole in the wall places are around here. I realize that LA is a very unique and wonderful food place, and the Irvine Corporation has a lot to do with the lack of variety and mom n' pop style restaurants here, but I'm hoping there are some hidden gems out there, yes?

I know there are Chowhounders in Irvine. Do you guys all just travel outside of the city for good food? Other than some of the business travel threads I haven't been able to find much.

Anything good, cheap, and/or ethnic would be appreciated. No chain restaurant. Closer to UC Irvine the better. If I'm going to have to suck it up and go to Costa Mesa or Garden Grove to find food (I've found those threads), then I guess that's that.

But there must be some type of guerrilla foodie operations going on here, right? Anyone with any good places to check out? Or even just favorites--best of the worst--would be appreciated!!!

Yes, I do know about the various restuarants in the Diamond Jamboree shopping center--but is there more stuff out there?

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  1. You might want to try the various food trucks that gather off Michelson and Teller (every Wed 11:30-2p) and Michelson and Harvard (every W 5-??) for some interesting food. I like The Lime Truck and The Burnt Truck.

    Also in Irvine: The Counter (near Sand Canyon and Irvine Blv), Taleo (not bad for upsacle mexican but overpriced IMHO), near Walnut and Culver there are a number of asian eateries including Seafood Noodle House and Mochilato (desserts). Off Walnut and Jeffrey there are a number of asian eateries like Shik Do Rak for korean bbq.

    I hope these recs help. There are more but these are at the top of my head.

    Cheers!

    -----
    Mochilato
    1993 W Malvern Ave, Fullerton, CA 92833

    2 Replies
    1. re: Searching4Dunny

      "Closer to UC Irvine the better."

      Le Diplomat for their chicken sandwich. Get it with tomatoes and artichoke if possible.

      http://www.yelp.com/biz/le-diplomate-...

      1. re: Searching4Dunny

        got a pretty good whole fried fish at seafood noodle house ($7.95) and the lobster noodles ($9.95), which were really good--noodles were chewy, brown sauce was garlicky, coulda done with more bits of lobster though.

        the fried fish came with a nice dipping sauce.

        some people next to us had house special chicken, which looked awesome and a salt shrimp, also looked good.

        there seem to be some more interesting places in this plaza.

      2. I recently moved from West Hollywood to the OC and work in Irvine. I feel you pain. There is an ice cream place in one of the two mini malls on UCI campus called Stricklands. An Ohio based chain that makes fantastic soft serve. It's more like Frozen custard than soft serve. The green tea is fabulous as are most of their flavors. Milk shakes are amazing.

        Here are a bunch of good places that will remind you of LA closer to UCI. There really isn't much to choose from within 5 minutes of UCI. sorry.
        - Pizzeria Ortica, same owner as Comme Ca. Across the street from Mastros by South Coast Plaza. Not as good as Mozza but very good pies.
        - Chicken Maison, similar to Zankou but the skin is not nearly as crispy and the garlic sauce not the same texture. Good lunch deals.
        - Santouka in the Mitsuwa food court. Best ramen in SoCal.
        - DG Burger in Bloomingdales at South Coast Plaza. Good gourmet burger in the vein of a Umami or 25 degrees. The fries and dipping sauces are worth getting too. My only complaint is the size of the bun.

        The Saturday farmers market on the corner of Bridge and Campus is an excellent market with lots of vendors and great selection. Highly recommend.

        -----
        Santouka
        3760 S Centinela Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90066

        Pizzeria Ortica
        650 Anton Boulevard, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

        Chicken Maison
        3901 Pacific Coast Hwy, Torrance, CA 90505

        Mastros Restaurant
        2087 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, CA 91362

        12 Replies
        1. re: js76wisco

          I was really disappointed by Stricklands. While they don't say they serve frozen custard, they are -- at best -- ambiguous about it. Unfortunately their product contains no eggs, and is nothing like the amazing frozen custard I've had from Sheridans.

          On the other hand, Stricklands may be as good as it gets in Irvine.

          1. re: Peripatetic

            Never been to Sheridans but I'll give it a try. I thought the milk shakes were great at Stricklands. We have a group of people at work who prefer Han's and other who prefer Stricklands. I know they are very different products but I think Stricklands is worth a try. To each their own.

            1. re: js76wisco

              To be fair, there's nothing _wrong_ with Strickands. I guess I'm just disappointed that they market an inferior product as something resembling frozen custard. They use Ross frozen custard machines to make their ice cream, but their "commitment" to quality is clear from the ingredients:

              Milk, Cream, Sugar, Corn Syrup, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Whey, Mono &
              Diglycerides, Dextrose, Cellulose Gum, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate, Carrageenan,
              Vanilla, Vanillin, and Annatto Color.

              http://www.stricklands.info/sitempowe...

              BTW, the nearest Sheridan's in just outside of Las Vegas, unfortunately. UPDATE: I just checked and this location has closed. :(

              1. re: Peripatetic

                Yikes that is not a great list of ingredients. Thanks for the heads up. I went to school in Wisconsin and got my share of great frozen custard. I think my standards have probably gone down since then due to the limited choices in SoCal

                It's a bit of a red flag anytime you see multiple ingredients you cannot pronounce.

                1. re: js76wisco

                  I only found out about frozen custard a few years ago from threads on Chowhound. Previously I didn't understand the distinction between frozen custard and soft serve. Finally I got a chance to try it at Sheridan's (in Vancouver, WA of all places!). It was a revelation of Michelangelesque proportions. I tried Strickands in misguided attempt to find something similar closer to home, and was totally bummed. Hence my zealotry about real frozen custard and vitriol towards Strickands.

                  Since you've had the real thing I hope you understand. :)

                2. re: Peripatetic

                  FYI: the Sheridan's in Henderson' NV changed names, but it is run by the same family! I had it about two months ago on a trip to Vegas, and it is still good.

                  1. re: rmb123

                    Thanks for the update. I guess it's now called Mr D's Frozen Custard.

              2. re: Peripatetic

                You should try the custard at Bruxie in Orange then. It has eggs in the mix, and is sourced from a Wisconsin supplier.

                1. re: Professor Salt

                  Thanks for the recommendation. Do you you know whether it's hard packed (like Lucky Devils frozen custard) or served soft?

                      1. re: Professor Salt

                        Thanks for the info. I've been meaning to get here to try their waffle sandwiches. There are some real gems between Bruxie and Filling Station in the area.

                        -----
                        Filling Station
                        201 N Glassell St, Orange, CA 92866

              3. Thanks guys! I'm going to try Seafood Noodle House for lunch now.

                Also, I'm well versed in the Wholesome Choice. Any other rec's for the Asian places off Jeffrey?

                -----
                Wholesome Choice
                18040 Culver Dr, Irvine, CA 92612

                3 Replies
                1. re: scuzm

                  Has anybody been to Liang's Kitchen? It was written up in the OC Weekly a few weeks back. Beef rolls, scallion pancakes, tendon beef noodle soup, fried tofu and some special pork dishes. Whenever I get to that area I usually hit up Chef Chen.

                  If you've been are there long lines during weekday lunch around 12:30?

                  -----
                  Chef Chen's Restaurant
                  5408 Walnut Ave, Irvine, CA 92604

                  Liang's Kitchen
                  227 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                  1. re: js76wisco

                    I had the scallion pancakes there a while ago when I was in the mood for Chinese but had already had a full meal around the corner. There were quite good. Flaky, tasty. I don't have anything local to compare it to, since i just moved here a few months ago, but they were similar to some of the better ones I've had in NYC. I think they could have been just a bit saltier and a stronger onion flavor, but far better than most you get at take out joints. I got it take out and they didn't offer any dipping sauce, so i had to turn around and grab some soy...

                    I like the interior of the place. A cool air force kind of theme. I'm sure there's more to that story...

                  2. re: scuzm

                    A&J Cafe (Walnut & Jeffrey, in the square across the street from Ranch 99) is really good - beef noodle soup (with or without tendon), dumplings, thousand-layer pancake etc

                  3. Great, cheap and ethnic near UCI is tough. Lee's Sandwiches is the only thing that meets all three criteria, and it's not great, just adequate.

                    Head over the Wholesome Choice on Culver & Michelson. It's an international supermarket that you'll come to love. Get: sangak bread straight outta the oven. Cheap produce. Revel in the aisles. Head over to the food court and order from the Persian counter. It's the only section of the food court where things are cooked to order.

                    Good cheap and ethnic is on the other side of town, closer to the 5 freeway. Irvine Chinatown is centered on Jeffrey & Walnut, although you can expand that to Tri Village further north and Sam Woo further West on Culver & Irvine Center Drive. Easy favorites are Chef Chen's, China Garden, Chong Qing Mei Wei. I also like Thai Cafe, although it's not as cheap as some of the other places. Sam Woo Express is a steam table takeout restaurant adjacent to the sit-down Sam Woo Seafood. SWE is passably ok fast food, and you can get an enormous portion for like $4.

                    On Michelson & Univesity, there's a Pho Bac Ky, part of a local multinunit. It's just ok at best, but it is the closest pho shop to UCI. Personally, I drive to Little Saigon for my pho fix, or if I reallly need to stay south, then Pho Bo Vang in Lake Forest.

                    -----
                    Wholesome Choice
                    18040 Culver Dr, Irvine, CA 92612

                    Sam Woo Restaurant
                    15333 Culver Dr Ste 720, Irvine, CA 92604

                    Chef Chen's Restaurant
                    5408 Walnut Ave, Irvine, CA 92604

                    Tri Village
                    14121 Jeffrey Rd, Irvine, CA 92620

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: Professor Salt

                      instead of Lee's support Le Diplomat above.

                      1. re: ns1

                        New one on me. Thanks.

                        Also - for the OP. If you're working in that area, go to Franco's Pasta Cucina (it's a lunch-only place). Great pasta dishes, if you can get past the strip mall food court setting and the styrofoam takeout containers.

                        -----
                        Franco's Pasta Cucina
                        2222 Michelson Dr, Irvine, CA 92612

                        1. re: Professor Salt

                          I try to go to a place more than once before I write it off, when Franco was still cooking and later when he retired and some woman replaced him in the kitchen, and I never got the love for Franco's.

                          1. re: hobbess

                            It's been a while since I've been to Franco's. Perhaps things have changed?

                            The food is simple, but the pastas and sauces I think are very good, especially considering that the same level of food would pass muster in a more expensive Italian restaurant.

                            1. re: Professor Salt

                              I go to Franco's regularly, maybe twice a month, and the woman chef is there all the time now. For almost every time I've been there, the food is fantastic. Maybe only once in 20 visits was the food just OK.

                              On my last visit, I had the linguini combo, which was served with 2 types of fish (salmon and seabass, I think), and it was fabulous. Great deal for $9 as a lunch combo, that could easily be $18-25 at any sitdown Italian restaurant.

                              For the OP, SW Seafood is one of my favorites for Cantonese food, and is in the same shopping center as Chef Chen and Chong Qing Mei Wei.

                              The Chippy fish & chips place is in the same food court. I just alternate between those two places every week.

                              -----
                              Chef Chen's Restaurant
                              5408 Walnut Ave, Irvine, CA 92604

                              S W Seafood & BBQ Restaurant
                              5406 Walnut Ave Ste A, Irvine, CA 92604

                              1. re: Wonginator

                                what do you get at SW seafood? and what else is good at franco's pasta house?

                                thanks.

                                1. re: kevin

                                  At SW Seafood, I tend to stick to the basics, like won ton soup, chicken chow mein Hong-Kong style, and beef chow fun. They use some big shrimp in the won tons.

                                  At Franco's, I look at their daily specials list first. Went today and had the rigatoni with Italian sausages. Very tasty. They do lasagna every Tuesday, and I tried to get that today, but they were already sold out. A few weeks ago, when we went, a co-worker ordered the spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were almost the size of baseballs. Two were served with the dish, and they looked like too much meat for the meal.

                                  I don't think I've ever ordered off the regular menu at Franco's. Some of the daily special items are on the regular menu, but I always find something on the daily specials menu, which usually has 6-8 things listed each day.

                              2. re: Professor Salt

                                Franco's was okay for what it is, and its not like I was going to return the food because it was bad or something.

                                But, I mean the love for the place seems so disproportionate to the quality of the food. I work in the area and know there's not a lot of good options in that particular area of Irvine, but people rave about the place like it was the second coming of Mario Batali's Po.

                                I tried their linguine with clams, and it didn't strike me as particularly tasty or memorable. This was supposed to be one of the singular best dishes in all of Orange County? This place was better than more expensive Italian restaurants that used fresh clams instead of Franco's canned clams?

                                I tried the same dish again a few months later to see if I first tried it when they simply had a bad day, but I still thought that dish wasn't that great.

                        2. re: Professor Salt

                          I also recommend Chong Qing Mei Wei for Sichuan.

                          1. re: Professor Salt

                            I think the Pho Bac on Barranca in Irvine is better. Obviously, you can get better pho in Little Saigon, but this is really pretty good, and really cheap. Lee's at UCI has decent, but not great, sandwiches (bahn mi). Also, I think that Jerry's wood-fired hot dogs at the Irvine/Tustin Marketplace are pretty tasty. Not expensive, but for a few more bucks there are a few pretty good Persian restaurants in Irvine. I like the one at Culver & Walnut, the name of which I cannot recall.

                            -----
                            Pho Bac
                            4250 Barranca Pkwy, Irvine, CA 92604

                            1. re: josephnl

                              The Persian restaurant at Culver & Walnut you're thinking of is probably Caspian?

                              Caspian is set back all the way at the north end of that rather large strip mall, butted up right against the 5 freeway. The food is ok, not amazing. Nor is it especially cheap eats. You do get a ton of food for the money, but that's typical of most Persian restaurants.

                              1. re: Professor Salt

                                Thanks, Caspian is what I'm thinking about. Haven't been in a while, thought it was pretty good, and portions were huge and easily shareable.

                          2. I can't believe no one recommended Break of Dawn yet, even if it is a tad out of your search area. Taco Rosa is also good, though it is part of a (small) chain and the locations are Costa Mesa and Tustin.

                            The way OC is laid out, you do need to go to the neighboring areas for some good ethnic food. Honda-Ya in Tustin and Kappo Honda in fountain Valley are worth the drives, as is Shin Sen Gumi for Yakatori (it is next door to the Ramen place, but does not come up on its own). There is a lot of excellent Vietnamese in Garden Grove. Further out there is Korean enclave in Fullerton (I like Lighthouse Korean BBQ). There are some interesting African choices in Anaheim, and lots of really good sushi sprinkled about. Maki Zushi in Tustin may be the closest really good one for you.

                            -----
                            Shin Sen Gumi Hakata Ramen
                            18315 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley, CA 92708

                            Taco Rosa
                            22922 Los Alisos Blvd Ste P, Mission Viejo, CA 92691

                            Taco Rosa
                            2632 San Miguel Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660

                            Break of Dawn
                            24351 Avenida De La Carlota Ste N6, Laguna Hills, CA 92653

                            Kappo Honda
                            18450 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley, CA 92708

                            Honda Ya Japanese Restaurant
                            556 El Camino Real, Tustin, CA 92780

                            Maki Zushi
                            1641 Edinger Ave # 101, Tustin, CA

                            Taco Rosa
                            13792 Jamboree Rd, Irvine, CA 92602

                            Lighthouse Korean BBQ
                            1307 S Beach Blvd, La Habra, CA 90631

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: ocshooter

                              Break of Dawn is not cheap.

                              Taco Rosa's happy hour is a good deal.

                              Maki Zushi happy hour, or splitting a dinner bento box two ways is not a bad deal.

                              Honda Ya can be inexpensive if you order carefully.

                              -----
                              Taco Rosa
                              2632 San Miguel Dr, Newport Beach, CA 92660

                              Break of Dawn
                              24351 Avenida De La Carlota Ste N6, Laguna Hills, CA 92653

                              Maki Zushi
                              1641 Edinger Ave # 101, Tustin, CA

                              1. re: jaykayen

                                "Break of Dawn is not cheap"

                                Well, maybe not cheap exactly but certainly not expensive (and for the quality and quantity of the food it's a deal). Ten or Eleven dollars for brunch and they have a 3 course menu for $17.

                                1. re: Servorg

                                  Although I sort of like Break of Dawn, it's not everyone's cup of tea. I've taken several people there thinking it would be a treat, and more often than not, I hear that "it's overly heavy" and nothing special. My "go to" place for a great breakfast either for ourselves or for guests is the Coyote Grill in Laguna. Tasty Mexican style breakfasts, reasonably priced and on a pleasant deck looking out on the ocean.

                                  -----
                                  Break of Dawn
                                  24351 Avenida De La Carlota Ste N6, Laguna Hills, CA 92653

                                  Coyote Grill
                                  31621 Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

                                  1. re: josephnl

                                    Is there another place in OC that has anything like it? I'm talking about both the quality of the ingredients and the creativity shown in the combining of those ingredients.

                                    1. re: Servorg

                                      I don't disagree that BoD serves unique breakfasts using high quality ingredients. I enjoy going there occasionally. Unfortunately, on more than one occasion I've gone there with guests who were not crazy about it, and I sort of agreed with themu that much of the food was quite heavy.

                                      1. re: josephnl

                                        And are these Chowhounds you speak of? I can't even begin to imagine such a thing. ;-D>

                                        1. re: Servorg

                                          We're talking about people who dine out frequently and know good food!

                                          1. re: Servorg

                                            i could see how it's heavy.

                                            when i went i did have the duck confit dish, which may not have even had any eggs. was it heavy? i think so, but it filled me up nicely on the way to SD.

                                            was it mind blowing or incrementally close to mind blowing? most definitely, my friend said it was one of the best joints he had ever been to.

                                            nuff said.