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Critics' Choices : Our reviewers cook up a short list of their favorite area restaurants

June 15, 1995|Norm Chandler Fox

At last, I can forget all the snooty headwaiters, goopy sauces and heartburn while concentrating on culinary epiphanies.

Guadalajara Mexican & Seafood Restaurant transports me to the glistening beaches of Mexico, where the seafood always tastes as if it were just pulled out of the briny deep. Owners Andrea and Enrique Ruelas do triple duty as chef, bartender and serving staff; they work so hard and are so likable that I can't resist their outstanding food.

Start with a giant seashell bowl of shrimp, abalone and octopus topped with a piquant gazpacho-like sauce, or the chiles rellenos stuffed with cheese, crab and shrimp chile sauce. For delicious drama, order the parillada de marisco , a raised grill carrying a mountain of charbroiled shrimp, crab legs, squid and halibut along with fried sweet plantains and roasted potatoes. Eating my way through this seafood, I can almost hear the surf lapping on Baja beaches.

* Guadalajara Mexican & Seafood Restaurant, 2891 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks, 497-0070. Dinner for two, food only, $15-$40.

****

Siam Cuisine. Thai restaurants seem to pop up faster than dandelions in Southern California, but so many of them serve anemic copies of the tongue-tingling food I have eaten in Bangkok. At this unpretentious spot in Simi Valley, the Sirivisut family (dad and son wait tables while mom cooks brilliantly) does a phenomenal job in making Ventura County's most authentic Thai cuisine.

Start with crunchy mee krob , shredded green papaya salad and tangy fish cakes. Then, it's a difficult choice from among the fiery chicken in green curry, pineapple shrimp curry, barbecued chicken with its anise-flavored coating, deep-fried bean curd and flat noodles with beef and broccoli.

For a dessert as true to Thailand as Bangkok's floating market, don't miss the sweet sticky rice with fresh mangoes.

* Siam Cuisine, 1960 Sequoia Ave., Simi Valley, 581-5526. Dinner for two, food only, $18-$30.

****

LoCAL NoCHOL in Thousand Oaks is a tiny, clean place that serves the most delicious low-fat, healthful food. Owners Loren Bell and her former husband, Bob Bell, have devised some astoundingly flavorful dishes that should keep your physician a lot happier.

Begin with spicy turkey and adzuki bean chili served over brown rice or a Mediterranean salad topped with grilled squash and eggplant mixed with couscous. Or consider a baked potato topped with ancho chiles and red peppers, a grilled salmon burger with tingling horseradish, or a middle Eastern roll-up sandwich of chapati filled with lentils and veggies in a tahini dressing.

My favorites are moist turkey meatloaf studded with raisins or the succulent un-fried chicken with its miraculously crunchy crust, accompanied by yummy garlic potatoes.

Only the desserts suffer: They dazzle the eye but disappoint the taste buds.

* LoCAL NoCHOL, 30869 Thousand Oaks Boulevard, Westlake Village, 818-706-7706. Lunch or dinner for two, food only, $10-$25.

PERSONAL FAVORITES

Oak's Korean BBQ in Simi Valley is so good that it saves me the drive to Los Angeles' Koreatown when I need a fix of char-grilled marinated meats, seafood and kimchee (spicy pickled cabbage). The Yi family (parents in the kitchen and kids waiting tables) serves up such highly flavorful items as spicy shredded beef soup, barbecued beef, panbroiled squid with chilies and broccoli, and a delectable caldron of clams, shrimp, squid, crab, snapper and scallops in an herb-scented broth.

We all go to restaurants for different reasons. I go to Los Robles Inn in Thousand Oaks to bring back happy memories of my childhood when our family went out to dinner at the local country club.

The inn serves enormous portions of well-prepared American food. Although this is not a private club, it overlooks a public golf course and provides that casual, friendly feeling of membership clubs.

And it has the same flexible menu all day, which means I can have a big steak for lunch and a sandwich or tostada for dinner, choose from the varied salad bar or lean rack of barbecued pork ribs or juicy grilled jumbo shrimp.

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