In the following capsule reviews, dollar signs indicate the average price of a meal for one, without beverages.
$: under $10.
$$: up to $20.
$$$: up to $30.
$$$$: more than $30.
FINBAR'S: One of the most engaging restaurants to come down the pike in quite a while, this New York-style Italian restaurant boasts great pizzas, outstanding homemade bread and lusty, slow-simmered red sauces. Owner Joseph Barbara is from Bensonhurst in Brooklyn, and his marinara, called Sunday gravy, is worth the trip. Don't miss BLT pizza, the sausage-and-pepper sandwich or the delicious Key lime pie.
* 550 Pacific Coast Highway, Seal Beach. (562) 430-4303. Daily 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. $$
PCH GRILL: A Wolfgang Puck wannabe with many surprises and proof that Disney is finally coming around to changing American tastes in food. The restaurant is decorated with kinetic sculptures, white tiles and colorful kites. Food is an eclectic Pacific Rim mix of wood-fired pizzas, Japanese inspired-grilled seafoods and beautiful boutique desserts.
* 1717 S. West St., Anaheim. (714) 956-6755. Daily 6:30 a.m.-11 p.m. $$-$$$
MANGIA MANGIA: Sicilian-born chef Pietro Cefalu cooks from the heart in a mini-mall storefront notable for the best low-priced Italian food in the county. A simple dish of spaghetti and homemade meatballs ($8.95) is a treat here, but there are upscale preparations too, the toothsome northern Italian appetizer vitello tonnato ($6.95), terrific veal and chicken dishes and even the chef's version of timpano ($13.95), the filled pasta drum featured in the 1996 film "Big Night."
* 16079 Golden West St., Huntington Beach. (714) 841-8887. Lunch, Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.; dinner, daily 4-10 p.m. $$
LAFAYETTE: A big, dimly lighted place that recalls the halcyon days of French dining in the Southland. Old chestnuts such as escargots, pate maison, veal and pepper steak jump right off the menu, but the restaurant's real raison d'etre can be found in navarin of lamb, confit de canard and beef a la bourguignon (each $21), farmhouse dishes that veteran chef Edmund Sarfati keeps around for die-hards.
* 12352 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove. (714) 537-5011. Lunch, Monday-Friday 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.; dinner, Monday-Saturday 6-10 p.m. $$$
CASABLANCA BISTRO: Few things are more sensuous than a good Moroccan dinner, a parade of hot, sweet and pungent dishes eaten with the fingers. Hassan Haddouch, longtime chef at Marrakech, has opened an informal bistro where you can eat b'stilla ($5.95), the piping hot, sugar-dusted chicken pie; lamb shank with honey and almonds ($8.95) and the magnificent poulet m'chermel ($8.95), chicken with green olives and preserved lemon that comes to the table perfumed with exotic flavors.
* 1520 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach. (949) 646-1420. Daily 4:30-11 p.m. $$
TODAI: Something for everybody, a mind-boggling Japanese buffet at terrific prices. A daily-changing selection of sushi is made fresh before your eyes. There's a nice cold section of seafood, pickles and composed salads and a hot section for teriyaki beef and good fried rice. Save room for the huge dessert buffet, which includes tiny apple pies and frozen bananas in chocolate.
* 17041 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach. (714) 375-0390. Lunch, daily 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; dinner, Monday-Thursday 5:30-9 p.m., Friday 5:30-9:30 p.m., Saturday 5-9:30 p.m., Sunday 5-9 p.m. $-$$
BURRELL'S: Pit master Fred Burrell is back at his original Hesperian Street location, and his food is better than ever. His meat, mostly fork-tender, is slowly smoked with hickory and red oak. Come for the crumbly, full-flavored homemade hot links, possibly the Southland's best, and also for terrific side dishes like dirty rice, made with a secret ingredient called pot likker.
* 305 N. Hesperian St., Santa Ana. (714) 835-9936. Open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday. $.