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Eating Out: A Weekend in Southern California

May 12, 2006  Native OC beach babe...and food fanatic!
4.0 of 5 stars based on 6 votes

What's your idea of a perfect weekend? Mine always seems to involve food!

Whether you're visiting town or a local looking for new noshing adventures, here's an insider's scoop on some truly unique southern California dining experiences that are close to local attractions and, best of all, won't break the bank!

Visit a couple of these dining destinations over your weekend to add some excitement to the predictability...or, for a true gustatory adventure, hit up all of these eateries and indulge your (thrifty) inner foodie!

  • Explore locations featured in this Trip List: Los Angeles, Costa Mesa
  • Category: Perfect weekend
  • Traveler type: Culture, Never been before, Repeat visitors
  • Appeals to: Business travelers, Couples/romantics, Honeymooners, Singles, Families with small children, Families with teenagers, Large groups, Seniors, Students, Budget travelers, Active/adventure, Tourists
  • Seasons: Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall
  • 1. Pink's Hot Dogs
    http://www.pinkshollywood.com/

    Yes, yes, we know you've heard of it, but it's not all talk -- this family-owned hot dog stand is truly a gem, to both tourists and locals.

    Since 1939, the original Pink's Hot Dogs has been serving customers of all ages and backgrounds. Here you can find anyone, from famous faces to your average Joe Blow, patiently standing in the perpetual ordering line.

    What makes Pink's so good? Many say it's the delicious hot dogs that snap when you bite into them. Others say it's in the nostalgia of the retro hot dog stand, while still others enjoy Pink's extensive and innovative menu items, such as the Ozzy Osbourne, a spicy Polish dog with nacho and American cheeses, grilled onions, guacamole and chopped tomatoes. Practical ones will say that the price (the most expensive dog is about $5) and availability (open until 3 a.m. on weekends) are the winners. But why don't you find out for yourself?

  • 2. Diddy Riese Cookies

    What'll a buck buy you in trendy Westwood Village? Not much -- but, thanks to Diddy Riese's, a buck can now get you a fistful of nirvana.

    Inside the bright, clean cookie store, you'll find delicious, freshly-baked, melt-in-your mouth versions of your favorite homemade cookies, such as chocolate chip, peanut butter and a killer snickerdoodle. More sophisticated flavors, such as chocolate white chocolate and macadamia nut, are also delicious. And, at only $.49 cents per sweet, buttery cookie, how can you resist?

    Well, it gets better! For just a dollar, Diddy Riese's will make you your own custom ice cream sandwich with your choice of ice cream and two cookies. When you taste the cold, creamy ice cream melded into those warm, chewy discs, you'll happily realize that you really can buy heaven!

  • 3. Empress Pavilion
    Empress Pavilion, Los Angeles, California

    Los Angeles' Chinatown is one of the biggest cultural hubs for the Chinese outside of China. A stop to LA's Chinatown wouldn't be complete without a proper Chinese feast of dim sum.

    At Empress Pavilion, the selection is overwhelming. You'll find steamy bamboo trays laden with countless dumplings, savory morsels enveloped in translucent rice coverings, and even roasted chicken feet, for you adventurous ones. On a grey LA morning, the superhot rice congee, flecked with scallions and ginger, will warm your stomach.

    Come hungry, because you'll want to try one of everything!

  • 4. Catch 21 Downtown

    Catch 21 Downtown, not to be confused with Catch 21at the Beverly Center, is an honest-to-goodness hole-in-the-wall, complete with offbeat decor and gritty picnic tables.

    It's located in a sketchier, not-so-glamorous part of town, but if you're in the neighborhood and looking for a quick, inexpensive bite, this is the place to go.

    Here, you can find plates overflowing with generous portions of seafood -- from crispy calamari to thick fillets of various fish, to heavy skewers of shrimp wrapped in bacon, to gigantic Mexican-style shrimp cocktails. Your seafood is prepared fresh and however you like it: breaded in a light batter and fried, grilled with various spices, or blackened with Cajun-style seasonings. If you're not a seafood fan, the teriyaki chicken is meaty and superb, and you can also get great burgers. Combo plates include a gigantic side of fluffy, flavorful rice or warm French fries. Ask for half and half, and you'll get the best of both worlds.

    An entire meal will cost you less than $10. Be prepared to pay cash. Service is minimal but friendly, and amenities are spare but functional.

  • 5. Blue Nile Cafe & Lounge
    http://WWW.bluenilelb.COM

    Rarely do food and scene shine under one roof. However, at Blue Nile Cafe, you can find a thriving alternative hip-hip vibe along with a delicious cup of organic coffee or a tasty chicken wrap. In addition, the Blue Nile Cafe features a pretty outdoor patio that allows to you take advantage of that California summer sun.

    Open from 8 a.m. to midnight, Blue Nile Cafe is a great visit any time of day. Visit evenings and you can even find live entertainment.

  • 6. Roscoe's House of Chicken & Waffles
    Roscoe's House of Chicken & Waffles, Los Angeles, California

    Fried chicken and waffles? Don't knock it til you've tried it!

    Roscoe's popular local chain of restaurants brings a touch of Southern guilty pleasure to the health-conscious SoCal geography.

    Not only can you find the unusual combination of chicken and waffles here (brave ones try it smothered!), but you can also find soul-food favorites such as creamy grits, salty collard greens, macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. On a hot summer day, nothing is more perfect than a flavorful chicken breast, scoop of potato salad and Arnold Palmer. Visit on a Saturday night and you might even be able to catch a jazz or blues act.

  • 7. Garcia's Juices
    http://www.anaheimoc.org/member_details/member_detail.asp?memberID=304...

    Garcia's Juices is adjacent to La Casa Garcia, one of Orange County's most beloved Mexican restaurants. Towering tortas (Mexican submarine sandwiches) and specialty jugos (fresh fruit juices) fill the menu at Garcia's Juices.

    If you don't have time for a sit-down meal, Garcia's Juices is the place to go. Try one of the tasty tortas, but leave room for the main attraction: the jugos!

    Choose from a myriad of sweet, fresh flavors from apple to watermelon and everything in between. Or, try mixing your own concoction -- my personal favorite is strawberry, pineapple, and mango. If you're feeling adventurous, try one of the house specialties, which combine several different types of fruit and vegetable juices for an energizing beverage. You can also choose fruits & juices to blend into smoothies. Watch as they whip real chunks of coconut and pineapple into a decadent pina colada -- so indulgent, you won't miss the alcohol.

  • 8. S Vietnamese Fine Dining
    http://www.sfinedining.com

    Southern California is home to a thriving Vietnamese population, and this restaurant, named after the lazy "S" formed by Vietnam's curvy shape, is a fine testament to the vibrant Vietnamese culture and cuisine.

    The dishes here are exotic and exquisite. You can find your requisite egg rolls, fried rice and chow mein, but this is your chance to experience more authentic, indigenous dishes. Start with the delicate goi cuon, spring rolls with delicate fillings wrapped in translucent rice paper. And you can't go wrong with the skewers, grilled and accompanied by tasty dipping sauces.

    The soups and salads are all well-prepared. On weekends you can order the Goi Ca, a cool fish ceviche served in a martini glass that you scoop with crispy shrimp chips.

    The entrees are overwhelming, as there are so many different dishes to try. If you're in the mood for seafood, you won't be disappointed, especially if you order the Ca Nuong La Choi, a generous fillet baked in a banana leaf with a cilantro pesto. For a taste of French Colonial Vietnamese, try the Ga Nau Ruou, a unique interpretation of Coq Au Vin. Filet Mignon with Prawns is a great beef dish, as well as the Bo Luc Lac - a "shaken beef" dish with a deliciously sweet sauce. There are also tasty vegetarian dishes and a children's menu, and a wine list.

    Leave room for a hot cup of tea and dessert. The unique tea menu offers a variety of different flavors of green tea, served piping hot. Desserts are all delicious -- you won't go wrong. The Kahlua flan, berries frangipan and apple tart are exquisite and large enough to share.

    The warm months allow for great patio dining, but stay inside to experience the zenlike ambience and live music that takes place on Saturdays and Sundays. Call ahead for reservations; this gem is becoming a buzzworthy dining destination for many.

  • 9. Marrakesh
    Marrakesh Costa Mesa, Costa Mesa

    This isn't your typical Sunday dinner at Grandma's house!

    Marrakesh is an exciting Morrocan dining experience, where guests sit on low cushions and stools on the ground, eat with their hands and dance alongside bellydancers.

    With its lush decor, dimmed lighting and finger-friendly cusine, Marrakesh is a great romantic adventure for couples. There's no menu; rather, just order the complete dinner, and platter after platter of unique, finger-friendly foods will be brought out to you. You may use utensils, of course, and hot hand towels are provided for your convenience. During most evenings, there's live entertainment, including music and dancing. Don't miss out on the party at Marrakesh!

  • 10. Al Sanabel Bakery
    http://www.ocweekly.com/food/feature-review/the-accidental-vegetarian...

    One of Orange County's hidden gems is Little Gaza, an area of Anaheim with strong Arabic roots.

    If you happen to be in the neigborhood, you must pay homage to the sphiha, or flatbread pizza, at Al Sanabel Bakery.

    Half pita, half pizza pie, the sphihas come hot and made to order. Toppings run the gamut from a simple yet intriguing oregano to the zippy combo. These paper-wrapped flatbreads will set you back just a few dollars, allowing you to sample the lemony spinach-filled pastry as an appetizer or sweet spun-sugar birds' nest for dessert.

  • 11. Cortina's
    http://cortinasitalianfood.com/index.htm

    We all have our favorite Italian restaurant. But what do you do when you want to cook an authentic Italian meal yourself?

    Cortina's keeps it real with the authentic, high-quality ingredients you'll need to make that perfect Italian meal, from imported cans of tomatoes to obscure cheeses that I can't pronounce. Their deli cases offers row after row of assorted meats, including a whisper-thin prosciutto that melts in your mouth.

    You won't find any gourmet pretentiousness here -- just real, quality ingredients and friendly people, the way Mama's kitchen was. Best of all, if Cortina's marketplace and deli gets you jonesing for some hearty Italian cuisine, you can hop on over to the adjacent pizzeria, where piping-hot pasta and delicious, fat Italian sandwiches are also served.

  • 12. Korea House Barbecue Restaurant
    http://www.letseatoc.com/korean.htm

    All-you-can-eat barbecue? You'd better believe it! And there's no better way to indulge yourself than with Korean barbecue, the sweet, flavorful short ribs that Korea House does so well.

    When you enter, a hostess will seat you and start up the built-in grill in the center of your table. You will fill platters with meats of your choice, including chicken, pork and seafood, and grill as desired. Then, enjoy your freshly-grilled meat with the various vegetable and rice side dishes, including an addicting Korean chow mein and pungent kim chi. Rice, soup, salad are also available, as is a soft-serve ice cream machine for dessert.

    Dress casually, as you will probably smell a bit smoky and barbecue-y after your meal. Price is around $20 per person for all the meat you can eat!

  • 13. Taco Mesa

    There are those who seach for UFOs...then, there are those who search for healthy Mexican food.

    And they'll be happy to learn that healthy Mex definitely does exist, especially in Southern California! The brothers behind Taco Mesa, a local chain, emphasize that Mexican can be fresh, fast and healthy. At the colorful, festive restaurant, you can see the philosophy in action starting with the menu. Only here can you order blackened chicken breast or fish in your burrito, or a taco salad with watercress and a vinaigrette dressing.

    The food quickly arrives, and, with one taste of Taco Mesa's declicious fare, you'll realize that "healthy" and "Mexican" truly belong together here. The meats are fresh, lean and flavorful, the vegetables always crisp and generously portioned, and the salsa bar can't be beat. Check out the daily specials -- there are always creative and tempting dishes on the blackboard that will take your taste buds to new places.

    Your meal won't be complete without the house sangria or margarita, and wine and beer is also available. Don't forget the cream cheese flan for dessert!