The following are summaries of recent Times restaurant reviews.
Caliente, 1910 Main St., Irvine. (714) 975-1220. Open 7 days 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., till 11 on weekends .
Caliente is Spanish for hot, and that is exactly what this stylish new restaurant is. It’s the latest jewel in the El Torito crown, and its modest adobe exterior conceals a stunning design--a faint red, ‘80s-chic motif complete with dramatic lighting, an open kitchen, and a comal , the high-tech version of a stone tortilla cooker. The restaurant smokes its own meats, and you can wash them down with premium margaritas made from vintage tequila. Desserts, such as burnt cream and apple crisp, are wonderful.
Rutabegorz, 211 N. Pomona Ave., Fullerton ((714) 738-9339) and 158 W. Main St., Tustin ((714) 731-9807). Open 7 days, 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
The Greenery Natural Kitchen, 119 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton ( (714) 870-0981 ) and 323 S. Magnolia Ave., Anaheim ((714) 761-8103). Open Monday through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. , Saturdays 10 to 5.
Rutabegorz in Fullerton looks like it belongs on a college campus; the food they serve does too. Best avoid the frozen poultry casseroles in favor of the meatless dishes like stuffed squash or veggie lasagna. Desserts like carrot cake and apple pie are reminiscent of a church bake sale.
The Greenery is a modest, unadorned storefront restaurant with homey, health-conscious fare. Best dishes are the lentil burrito, with guacamole, and the unburger, made from ground nuts and brown rice.
Both restaurants are inexpensive, with few dishes over $5.
Five Feet, 328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach. (714) 497-4955. Open Mondays through Thursdays 5 to 10 p.m., till 11 Fridays through Sundays.
Owner Michael Kang has some of the most compelling art around decorating this restaurant’s somber, post-modern walls, and he serves plates of food very nearly as artful. Dishes of pot stickers or steamed dumpling are no better than you would get in any Chinese restaurant, but the eclectic lamb, scallop, and catfish entrees demonstrate Kang’s flair. The catfish is particularly fine.
Crocodile Cafe in the Brea Marketplace, 975 E . Birch St., Brea . (714) 529-CAFE. Open 7 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 30-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.
Felix Continental Cafe, 36 Plaza Square, Orange. (714) 633-5842. Open 7 days from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.
You can smell the garlic for blocks around this European-looking, Cuban-style cafe in the old downtown of Orange. The menu abounds with exotica. Papa rellena , a potato and egg croquette rolled in bread crumbs, is about the best appetizer. Roast chicken Cubano, a crispy half chicken with bitter orange peel added for extra dimension, is definitely the best entree. Save room for dessert--it is the best course here. Pineapple-raisin bread pudding, a soft, buttery suspension of rum, eggs, flour and fruit, is good enough to make Betty Crocker blush.