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Irenia’s Filipino dilis elevate a simple appetizer

Irenia’s Filipino dilis elevate a simple appetizer
Dried and fried anchovies are a beloved Filipino snack, served exquisitely at Irenia with a pungent infused vinegar for dipping. (Meg Strouse)

The instructions for making traditional Filipino dilis are simple: Take a bunch of tiny anchovies, dry them, then fry them.

At Irenia, Orange County's contribution to the modern Filipino food movement, this appetizer delivers on its purest luxuries.

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Pristine white ceramic arrives on the table filled with dozens of the whole fried anchovies, plucked straight from the water and warm from the fryer. On the side is something that looks like a shot of water with fresh chiles floating in it, but in fact it's sukang sili, a pungent and spicy infused vinegar that's a Filipino staple for grilled and fried dishes.

Dive the fish into the vinegar, bite, savor, repeat.

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Chef Ryan Garlitos trained under Taco Maria's Carlos Salgado before opening his own California-style ode to his family's food — which means lots of his grandma's recipes made with local produce and cheffy flair. His groundbreaking restaurant is introducing new audiences to the complex and diverse world of Filipino cuisine.

Irenia is at 400 N. Broadway, Santa Ana. For more information, call (657) 245-3466 or visit ireniarestaurant.com.

SARAH BENNETT is a freelance journalist covering food, drink, music, culture and more. She is the former food editor at L.A. Weekly and a founding editor of Beer Paper L.A. Follow her on Twitter @thesarahbennett.

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