IRVINE — Her friends raved about the Indian potato and pea-filled pastries they were devouring, but Julie Dohan of Newport Beach concentrated on her kung pao shrimp and chicken as thousands around her darted from one food booth to another.
"Now that's fantastic," Dohan said, savoring each bite. "It's a good deal, too."
Dohan was just one of an estimated 30,000 visitors at the Irvine Spectrum Saturday for the Taste of Orange County, sampling and critiquing various ethnic foods on sale by 35 area restaurants, as live music blared in the background.
Braving long lines and the blazing sun, people of all ages and diverse backgrounds strolled from booth to booth, inquiring about ingredients, watching chefs cook on open grills and sampling a few of more than 100 food items for sale, at prices ranging from $1 to $5.
Restaurants participating in the food festival served up Thai, Indian, Persian, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese and Italian cuisine.
"It's definitely a little bit of Orange County," Cynthia Miranda said in between bites of her \o7 bruschette\f7 , a slice of toasted Italian bread topped with chopped Roma tomatoes, fresh garlic, basil and virgin olive oil.
Miranda of Torrance and her boyfriend spent more than two hours in traffic Friday to attend the festival's opening and catch some of the live music. She returned Saturday with three friends.
"I enjoyed it so much, I returned and drove the hour here so my friends could experience it," she said. "The traffic is worth it because once you get here, you've got so many other options other than your typical hot dogs and hamburgers."
Visitors ate as they walked, and shared bites with friends. Vacant seat were quickly taken as festival-goers offered tastes to virtual strangers. Bite-sized samples were passed around, as the proud purchaser directed the hungry to buy favorites.
The curious eyed foods as strangers walked by with their Thai \o7 pahd \f7 noodles or Indian lamb \o7 seekh kebabs. \f7 Often overheard were hearty endorsements and recommendations.
Restaurant workers were more prepared for the masses Saturday, a result of Friday's surprisingly large turnout.
Festival organizers estimate 25,000 people showed up Friday, almost doubling last year's first-day attendance, setting a record for the most people in the festival's seven years.
Vija Khosla, a partner in a chain of four Indian restaurants, said he sold out of 5,000 \o7 samosas \f7 within seven hours Friday.
"All the workers in the chain, we all got together Friday night and worked through the night, making more," Khosla said. "It was fun."
The \o7 samosas, \f7 vegetarian pastries containing spicy potatoes and peas, were a crowd favorite. Two pastries were sold for one ticket. Tickets cost a dollar each.
Also selling at a maddening pace Friday was Tutto Mare's crab cakes with spicy tomato sauce.
"This place was so crowded, we didn't even know there was a curb until this morning," Frank Licata said, pointing at the curb in front of his booth.
Bonnie MacDonald, a producer of the event, said the record turnouts were a result of the improvements made to this year's festival and the wide range of offerings, besides the ethnic cuisine.
Sitting on 15 acres, the booths are surrounded by bands playing live music throughout the day. Also included is a stage with a comedy group and a chef's pavilion where cooking demonstrations are conducted and recipes are handed out. But the most popular addition is the Discovery Toys Pavilion, where children age 6 and younger can play.
"This is great place to take your family," said Santa Ana resident Maria Perez. She sampled foods while watching her 3-year-old play in the pavilion.
The Taste of Orange County reopens at noon today and ends at 10 p.m., with a fireworks display at 9:30 p.m. Admission, which includes the musical entertainment, is $6 for adults and $3 for children ages 3 to 12. Children 2 and under are admitted free.