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High School Students Tell What Makes a Spot Cool for Grabbing a Bite Before the Big Dance


Congratulations, high school students. Most of you who attempted it made it through the homecoming dance without smashing the corsage, having your date ditch you at dinner or looking lame in the photos.

Care to try again?

Winter formals and proms are just around the corner and along with finding clothes that make you look older, you've got to find a place to eat beforehand that will handle the size of your group, impress everyone who isn't there and not dig too deeply into your college fund.

We're here to help. We can't stop your mom from videotaping your every move or ask your dad if you can borrow his '68 Barracuda, but we can tell you where other students go to chow down before the big dance.

In our informal survey of Orange County high school students, the most popular restaurant was Maggiano's Little Italy in Costa Mesa, where dinners average $20 per person. Easier-on-the-wallet places such as Denny's and Ruby's also racked up votes.

Angelo's & Vinci's Ristorante in Fullerton saw almost 200 teens on one Saturday night during the homecoming season.

"There's an extra energy in the air because of the festive atmosphere," said Cynthia Peck, co-owner of the nostalgic pizza parlor. "It's formal but not stuffy."

Because most students are used to driving all over map, the distance between home, the restaurant and the dance didn't seem to matter. Good food, friendly service and a fun atmosphere are what teens are after.

"We're not so much concerned about geographical location as we are about the quality of food and a comfortable environment, both inside and outside of the restaurant," said Kimanh Nguyen of Santiago High in Garden Grove. "We tend to go out of our way for cozy quality, not convenience."

Before you book your reservation--yes, it's necessary--weigh your options. Will the restaurant of your choice seat a party of 14 or more? Are there vegetarian dishes on the menu? And can you afford it without pawning your CD collection?

"High school dances are exciting and full of wonderful memories in the making," said Ashley Gardner of Estancia High in Costa Mesa. "But the places to 'be seen' don't really matter that much. A few classmates drive through McDonald's. It doesn't matter where one goes, but how much fun one has on that special night."

Here's what other Orange County teens had to say:

Doug Nickey, Foothill High, Santa Ana:

* Maggiano's Little Italy, Costa Mesa: "The food tastes great and the portions are well more than we need, even for football players. The service is fast for a crowded restaurant, and the waiters don't write down the order but memorize it and never mess up. The Frank Sinatra music and dim lighting make it a semi-fancy place for dinner, but it's a place you can still have fun with your friends."

The yearbook staff, Mater Dei, Santa Ana:

* Benihana, Newport Beach: "The setting, which allows for a larger party than most restaurants, is as unique as the food. The Japanese-style cooking is an excellent choice of food before a big dance. It leaves you pleasantly filled without feeling overfed. And it's reasonable for a teenager's budget."

Ashley Gardner, Estancia High, Costa Mesa:

* Gulliver's, Irvine; Maggiano's Little Italy, Mimi's Cafe and Newport Rib Co., Costa Mesa: "All of these restaurants have a healthy and fun atmosphere. The classier, more expensive restaurants--Maggiano's and Gulliver's--have the best food and friendly service. The food scents at Maggiano's are overwhelming. It's like being in heaven. And Gulliver's has the best shrimp scampi salad and the best creamed corn. It has a Claim Jumper feel but is classier with beautiful dining sets and neatly decorated tables."

Ariane Mohamadi, Cornelia Connelly High, Anaheim:

* Duke's, Huntington Beach: "It has really good food and atmosphere. It is on Pacific Coast Highway at Main Street, which is a great social location. The price is not cheap, but it is not super expensive. It also has a beautiful view of the pier and the beach. It is a great place to go with a romantic date or just a group of friends."

Peter Kim, Valencia High, Placentia:

* Buca di Beppo, Brea: "The Italian food is delectable and the staff is very friendly, but Buca di Beppo is distinct because of its atmosphere. The pictures and photographs on the walls, the decorations and the color, and the authentic, family-sized entrees make one feel like he's been transported to another place. Uniqueness includes a giant menu on the wall and a path through the kitchen to get to the dining tables. The atmosphere is also very festive."

Stacy Lee, Esperanza High, Anaheim:

* Olive Garden, TGI Friday's and BJ's Pizza & Brewery, Brea: "These restaurants offer good food, a good staff and a fun atmosphere."

Jessica Glaser and Katherine Morisseau, Newport Harbor High, Newport Beach:

* Cheesecake Factory, Newport Beach: "We like the cheese-and-spinach-dip appetizer. The restaurant overlooks the ocean and is fancy but has good prices--most courses range from $5 to $15. You can make reservations or walk in."

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