Tag Archives: Orange County

Ethnic Eats in the OC

As the weather progresses further into fall here in Philly, I still find myself backed up on blog posts and reminiscing about summer meals in warmer climates.  But fear not readers–this will be my last summer installment and I will finally be caught up on writing.  (Eating faster than blogging is certainly a flaw of mine. )

As a native Los Angelino, I never spent much time in Orange County.  My perception of the region was less than flattering: suburban sprawl, Real Housewives, and chain restaurants.  But after spending more time there over the summer, I realized there is much more to the OC than meets the eye.  Hidden among the generic strip malls and bland chain eateries are terrific ethnic restaurants serving interesting cuisine worth driving for.  Here are 3 of my favorites.

Del Tomate

Located in a sleepy Tustin strip mall, Del Tomate gained some buzz after the LA Times gave it a rave review.  My boyfriend and I stumbled upon it when we were looking to grab a late lunch on a lazy Sunday afternoon.  It was one of the few places open that day, and boy, were we glad to have found it.

The allure of Del Tomate is in the attention to detail.  Owners Guillermo and Giacobbe, the husband and wife team behind the restaurant, don’t cut any corners when it comes to their rustic Argentinian-Italian fare.  Pastas are all handmade and made to order.  Empanadas and desserts are baked on the premises.  And the Argentinian style sandwiches are packed with fresh ingredients and high quality meats.

Del Tomate’s attention to detail is highlighted in the complimentary bread.  Crusty on the outside, light and fluffy on the inside, the bread is served with homemade chimichurri that is best slathered on.  Bright, tangy, and punchy, I could literally eat a whole bowl full on my own.

Next, we tried the empanadas, baked daily at the restaurant.  Both the chicken and the eggplant empanadas were flaky, flavorful, and fresh–and a steal for $1.60 each.

For our mains, we tried one dish each from the Italian menu and the Argentinian menu.  I couldn’t resist the cannelloni alla Rossini ($13)–homemade cannelloni wrapped around ground beef, argentinian sausage, bacon, ricotta cheese and spinach, topped with  a spicy pomodoro and bechamel sauce, and baked until it is melty and divine.  It was definitely cheese overload, but in a fantastic way.  The quality and care put into the ingredients really shined through, as all of the flavors were well-balanced and greaseless.

The finale of our meal was the Entrana sandwich ($9).  Thin slices of smoky grilled skirt steak piled on top of the freshest lettuce and tomato you could imagine, all sandwiched between a fresh baguette smeared with mayo and that amazing chimmichuri.

Needless to say, we were waaaay too full to eat dessert–though we were certainly tempted by the full dessert case, displaying homemade cakes, cannolis, and cookies.  We’ll definitely return to Del Tomate to try these, and for the rustic and refined Italian-Argentinian cooking.

137 W. Tustin St. Suite A
Tustin, CA 92780
(714) 731-1738
Del Tomate on Urbanspoon

Siam Taste of Asia 

It takes a lot for me to be impressed by a Thai restaurant, especially when Jitlada (of Jonathan Gold acclaim) is just a few blocks from my house in LA.  But Siam Taste of Asia, tucked in yet another generic strip mall in Santa Ana, is turning out reasonably priced, fiery Thai cuisine that rivals its more famous counterpart.

The restaurant’s most popular dish is its deep fried tofu ($6.95), which even the staunchest of carnivores rave about.  Crisp on the outside, light and airy on the inside, the dish shows deep frying at its best, transforming otherwise bland cubes of tofu into bite-sized nuggets of joy.  And don’t forget to dip them in the garlic chile sauce, which adds a subtle sweet-spicy note to the dish.

Siam Taste of Asia also executes classic Thai dishes well.  The chicken basil ($7.95) gradually built up heat, eventually making my eyes water in that pleasantly spicy way.  My favorite, however, was the tom yum goong soup ($8.95).  The soup arrives at the table steaming hot and fiery red, and looks like it will literally set your tongue on fire.  That it does, but the spiciness is also tempered by earthy lemongrass, fresh scallions, cilantro, and the occasional shrimp, making the flavor profile more sophisticated and layered.  Served with a refreshing salad topped with a mint dressing and rice, the tom yum goong will certainly satisfy any spicy food craving.

3520 W. 1st St.
Santa Ana, CA 92703
(714) 418-9678
Siam Taste of Asia on Urbanspoon

Dx Peruvian Restaurant 

Peruvian food is so hot right now in LA, but the cuisine has held steadfast in the OC for years.  Dx Peruvian Restaurant, located in (of course) a strip mall across from South Coast Plaza, offers classic Peruvian dishes in a surprisingly intimate setting.

One of the most well-known Peruvian dishes is lomo saltado ($14.95), and Dx serves up a quite tasty version.  The classic dish reflects Peru’s history as a destination for Chinese immigrants, melding Chinese and Peruvian cooking techniques and ingredients.  Lomo saltado is thinly sliced steak, onion, and tomatoes, stir fried with soy sauce and french fries, and served over rice.  Though it sounds like a strange combination at first, the ingredients actually work quite well together; think of it as Peru’s version of meat and potatoes.

Another classic Peruvian dish is aji de gallina ($12.95): shredded chicken slowly cooked in a blended bread, milk and walnut sauce.  Though not the most visually or texturally pleasing dish, the flavors were earthy, mild, and satisfying.  It was quite a large portion, so I would recommend sharing this with someone.

Finally, don’t miss out on the homemade lucuma ice cream ($6.00).  Lucuma is a sub-tropical fruit native to Peru, and tastes similar to maple and sweet potato.  The ice cream is pleasantly fruity and subtly sweet, with a unique flavor that I’ve yet to taste elsewhere.

Dx Peruvian Restaurant offers a relaxing atmosphere that will rejuvenate hungry shoppers and give a tasty introduction to Peruvian cuisine for foodies and novices alike.  So next time you are near South Coast Plaza, forego Maggiano’s and head to Dx!

3930 S. Bristol St. Suite 108
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(714) 424-0014
DX Peruvian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Ode to Baja Fish Tacos

One of the things that I miss most about Southern California is fish tacos.  Before leaving the West Coast, I thought fish tacos could be found everywhere in the US, or at least on the East Coast as well.  But, after countless fruitless searches, I soon realized that fish tacos were a purely SoCal specialty, and on every trip home to Los Angeles,I  have made sure to satisfy my craving.

I’ve always been a faithful Senor Fish girl, but when my boyfriend mentioned that he’d found an even better fish taco place in Santa Ana, I hesitantly decided to try it.  Since then, fish tacos have never been the same for me.

Baja Fish Tacos is located in a strip mall, just down the street from South Coast Plaza.  This unassuming spot always has a line out front, no matter what time of day.  And yet, service is always friendly and efficient, as a seemingly endless number of diners place their orders at the counter.

After placing your order, take a seat either in the surprisingly spacious indoor seating area, or if it’s a sunny day, at one of the outdoor tables.  While you’re waiting, help yourself to the fresh salsa bar, featuring 3 different types of salsa, sliced limes, peppers, and onions.

It doesn’t take long for the food to come out, always served hot and fresh off the grill.  My go-to order at Baja Fish Tacos is the two taco combo ($7.60), with one carne asada taco, one blackened fish taco, rice, and black beans.  The carne asada taco is excellent: tender steak cooked lovingly on the grill, topped with freshly chopped romaine lettuce and pico de gallo salsa.

But the real star of the show is the blackened fish taco.  Marinated in a killer spice rub, the fish is bold yet subtle, slowly building up heat in your mouth.  As the heat builds, take a bite of the fresh cabbage on top to cool you off.  Or, if you’re a spice addict like me, add some more salsa and Cholula hot sauce for a more fiery effect.  Either way, it’s delicious, and better than any fish taco I’ve eaten before.

With fresh ingredients, affordable prices, and a friendly atmosphere, it’s no wonder why Baja Fish Tacos is so popular, and has people singing its praises all over town.

Baja Fish Tacos
3664 South Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92704
(714) 641-4836
Other locations throughout Orange County, CA

Baja Fish Tacos on Urbanspoon

Peter’s Gourmade Grill: A Real Gastropub

It’s been a while, readers.  Last time I wrote, I was just getting to know Philadelphia, scouting the city for the best cheesesteaks and farmers markets.  And then, being a first year law student finally got the best of me–finals period.  Fortunately, many frozen dinners (gasp!) and late nights at the library later, I’m happy to say that I survived.   After a much needed and well deserved Christmas break at home in Los Angeles, I am back in Philadelphia, in the midst of my second semester.

Looking back over the past couple months, one meal in particular stands out and proves that good food can come from the most unlikely of places.  I’m talking about Peter’s Gourmade Grill, located (literally) at a gas station convenience store in Tustin, CA.

I’ll admit that I was skeptical at first.  When my boyfriend and I pulled up to the gas station, it looked pretty deserted except for one other parked car.  The car’s windows were up, and completely black, but I could hear laughter and voices coming from inside.  Thinking this could not possibly be a good sign, I beseeched my boyfriend to leave and find somewhere safer to eat.

Fortunately, for both of us, he declined my desperate pleas.  We walked up to the window, where a very affable and pleasant waitress took our order.  When we couldn’t decide between the gyro fries and the sweet potato gooeys, she generously threw in an order of the sweet potato gooeys on the house.  As we waited for our food, we could see Cordon Bleu-trained chef Peter Stavros deftly navigating the tiny kitchen, carefully flipping burgers on the grill and slicing fresh tomatoes and lettuce.

Our food was ready in no time and we hurried home to eat while everything was still hot (Peter’s has no tables, so most customers either take out or eat in their cars–hence, the sketchy parked car full of people we saw on our way in!).

We started with the sweet potato gooeys: crispy sweet potato fries topped with marshmallows and maple syrup, all of which become caramelized and, well, gooey after a quick spin in the broiler.  Though the dish sounds like it would be overwhelmingly sweet, it somehow managed to remain perfectly balanced.  The sweetness of the marshmallow, saltiness of the fries, and caramelization of the maple syrup added up to a surprisingly sophisticated take on a classic dish.

Next, we tackled the gyro fries.  My boyfriend and I harbor a strong love for gyros (as evidenced by my first ever blog post), and this dish shamelessly catered to our every desire.  Tender gyro meat, chopped tomatoes and onions, cool cucumber tzatziki, and a generous pinch of oregano all sit atop a mountain of fries.   It was well-executed, flavorful, and will convert even staunch gyro haters.

Finally, we moved on to the main event of the meal: our ABC burgers, named for the star ingredients of avocado, bacon and cheese.  What struck me most about this burger was not so much the flavor (which was excellent), but the quality of the ingredients.  The bacon was thick cut and crisped to perfection, the avocado creamy and ripe, and the tomato fresh and juicy.  It was certainly much higher quality than anything I’d ever expect to find at a gas station.

That’s really the beauty of Peter’s Gourmade Grill: it reminds food snobs like me that good, quality food and talented chefs can be found anywhere, especially at gas stations.

Peter’s Gourmade Grill

16851 McFadden Ave.

Tustin, CA  92780

(714) 599-3866

Follow their Twitter account for updates: twitter.com/gourmadegrill

Peter's Gourmade Grill on Urbanspoon