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Moreno's Has Old World Allure


Contrary to popular belief, Orange, like Rome, wasn't built in a day.

City housing developments (and prices) may be rising, and traffic may be at a standstill most of the time, but when you're sitting on the patio at Moreno's during the afternoon, the only matter of any urgency is, "Should I have a strawberry margarita or a Dos Equis?"

Perhaps Javier ("Harvey") and Nora Moreno foresaw the city's need for a slow-paced Mexican watering hole and restaurant when they bought the place back in 1967, on the site of what had been a Quaker meeting house since 1887.

If the Morenos' mission was to preserve a taste of old-style Mexican hospitality, then they have been famously successful. The restaurant is cozy and spacious, set behind large gates that reinforce the sanctuary aspect. The patio is the best place to sit, under the pepper tree, amid pinatas, birds, a fountain, a panaderia with delicious Mexican pastries, the original church building and a woman perpetually making tortillas by hand. The restaurant's interior is garishly pleasant but should be used only if rain or Santa Ana winds threaten the al fresco experience.

Drink and food contribute further to Moreno's Old World allure. The full bar offers a wide selection of Mexican (and domestic) beer, great margaritas, and such drink specialties as a potent concoction of tequila and Kahlua called El Toro Bravo. The amazingly endless selection of food, served in no big rush by women in period costumes, is both plentiful and mouthwatering. To be savored among the dinners are the chorizo enchiladas, the mole con pollo, the carne asada and the carnitas soft tacos adorned with fresh cilantro.

Whatever brings you to Moreno's--Sunday brunches of huevos rancheros and champagne; loud, if not rapturous, live music on weekend evenings; or (my personal favorite) margaritas and endless amounts of complimentary picante carrots with chips and salsa--you're sure to leave feeling replenished.

Moreno's, 4328 E. Chapman Ave., Orange. Open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, till 11 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. (714) 639-2181.

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