The following are summaries of recent Times restaurant reviews.
Crocodile Cafe in the Brea Marketplace, 975 E . Birch St., Brea . (714) 529-CAFE. Open seven days 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., till 12 on weekends.
Greg Smith is doing more than just promoting the new American cuisine; he’s making it into a populist movement at this small, laughably inexpensive cafe. Enjoy wonderful hamburgers grilled over smoking embers of oak, wood-fired pizzas with designer toppings, and trendy homemade pastas like fettucine with roasted Pasilla chili and ancho-cream. Sit under the thirty foot vinyl crocodile sipping boutique wines. You can bet your Beamer that this restaurant is a good value.
Almagreb, 23700 El Toro Road, in the Saddleback Valley Plaza, El Toro. (714) 859-9393. Open Tuesdays through Sundays 6 to 10 p.m.
Almagreb, a Moroccan restaurant in El Toro, has one of the most dramatic dining areas anywhere: clustered tent canopies among a maze of mirrors with an almost mystical dimension. Meals are taken in the traditional style, with no utensils, and are finger-licking good. Among the better offerings: b’stilla (a sugar-dusted chicken pie), couscous (cracked semolina wheat in a savory vegetable stew), and Tanya, belly dancer extraordinaire. The Arabic music accompanying her is deafening.
Thien Thanh, 5423 W. 1st St., Santa Ana. (714) 554-7260. Open weekdays 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., weekends till 3 a.m.
Thien Thanh is more than just one of the area’s best restaurants: It is a crossroad of Vietnamese and American culture: The crowd is as diverse as the menu. Cua rang muoi (cooked salted crab) and bo dam (garlic centered beef) are two dishes not to miss, but lighter appetites can indulge in more than 50 noodle dishes. While away the day listening to Asian pop music, gawking at the new wavers and sipping filter coffee and tropical freezes made from durian and jackfruit.