Grub Guide

Orange County is rich in restaurant diversity, but the following are exceptions—the only representatives of their kind in the county.


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This nondescript Fullerton mock-adobe is one of the few Southern California restaurants emphasizing true New Mexico dietary traditions: thundering pozole bowls and meticulously stuffed chile rellenos that strike the model balance between earthy cheese and mild spice. You can find those entrées at Mexican restaurants, though, so eat American with the sopapilla: Indian fry bread gussied up with honey, a dry sweetness foreign to your chocolate-spoiled mouth but one fantastic enough to linger there for good. 600 S. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, (714) 525-0977. $BOUTIQUE SAMOA
There are many options available at this Polynesian trade store's always sweltering buffet table. Mostly meats—pale, turgid beef sausages with a lean snap; finely sliced povi masima (salted beef) ruddy in color and buttery in flavor; fatty, sweet turkey tails; and a couple of styles of ufi (fish) ranging from bitter to silky to sweet. Make sure to take home a couple of palusamis, baked taro leaves stuffed with onions and coconut milk that are little paragons of bite. 1217 S. Western Ave., Anaheim, (714) 220-9675. $

This modest diner is the only place in OC where you can find authentic specialties from the Great White North. Try the tourtière: a mixture of slow-cooked ground pork and beef seasoned with garlic, onions and cloves that has been turned into a lidded pie crust and baked. 656 S. Brookhurst, Anaheim, (714) 774-8013. $

While this dimly lit nightclub specializes mostly in different versions of the national dish gallo pinto (black beans cooked with rice and eggs), stick to the weighty wonder that is the tamal tico. Wrapped in a canopy-sized banana leaf, this Costa Rican staple requires hiking boots to maneuver through its myriad flavors. Start at the pointy sweet end, studded with raisins and dates, then hack through the wet masa toward pork, red peppers, peas and carrots; a sprightly olive demarcates the sweet/spicy divide. 2500 W. Lincoln Ave., Anaheim, (714) 527-2010. $$


A couple of Thai buffets offer Laotian soups and beef jerky, but the county's remaining Laotian diner is the curiously titled Dee Dee, where the roselle juice's narcotic spell reminds slurpers why Laos' inclusion in the Golden Triangle arose in the first place and the curries come garnished with peanuts and fat onion slices. 309 S. Brookhurst, Anaheim, (714) 956-2997. $


There are so many dosas at Dosa Place—crammed with goat, stuffed with cheese, oozing with curried potatoes—you'll probably overlook the rest of the platters. Don't. Once in a while, scan over the South India portion of the menu and devote a lunch to the idli, two rice-flour dumplings touched with a molten chile powder, or an uttapam, a flour Frisbee the menu advertises as a pancake but is really more of a veggie-gorged omelet. Dosa Place is also one of the precious few Southern California restaurants specializing in the tamarind-heavy cuisine of Andhra Pradesh. 13812 Redhill Ave., Tustin, (714) 505-7777; $


Over the course of colonized centuries, the Romanians picked up cooking tips from each oppressor—grilled kebabs and searing coffee from the Turks, unctuous beef stroganoff from the Russians, goulash and paprika from the Hungarians, and the sarmales, reminiscent in their pungency of Mediterranean stuffed grape leaves.All are present at Dunarea, and all are magnificent. 821 N. Euclid Ave., Anaheim, (714) 772-7233; $

The belly dancers at Marrakesh can get a bit distracting, but their veggie plates are another story. They have a lot of marinated and grilled vegetables and an amazing couscous. But make sure to get the grapes, which emit a beautiful rose perfume. The taste is even better. 1976 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 645-8384; $$


You're probably the second non-African to visit Merhaba after me, so the owner will be extra-attentive and repeatedly ask if you enjoy her East African recipes. You will. East African cuisine sticks mostly to stews: chewy cubes of tibisy beef; lamb ribs battling with furious peppers for control of your tongue; the famous Ethiopian doro wat, spicy chicken cooked in butter and hot like the pits of hell. The vegetarians in your party will content themselves with the shiro, an Eritrean chickpea mush similar to hummus. 2801 W. Ball Rd., Ste. 5, Anaheim, (714) 826-8859; $

This is the only Soviet-centric business for the local Russian community, and the three stout women who run the store ensure their creations don't disappoint. Produce is the primary reason the doorbell jingles throughout the day: Armenian rose-petal preserves to buttery Slovenian cheese, bubbly Ukrainian apple soda and a funky Georgian caviar—when was the last time you heard about Georgia without a mention of Stalin? 3015 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 546-3354. $

For the past four years, Sara's Mercado, a storefront in a section of Westminster Boulevard not occupied by Little Saigon, has imported Colombian produce directly from the homeland. Its three badly lit aisles tower above shoppers' heads with Colombian favorites: smoked oysters, slabs of arequipe (a decadent, silky milk candy), fruity cooking sauces and three different types of salty-sweet fried plantain chips for snacking. Don't forget to gulp down all the sodas! 7134 Westminster Blvd., Westminster, (714) 903-0900. $


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