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Orange County Dining

November 22, 2001

In these capsules of recent reviews, dollar signs indicate the average price of a meal for one, without beverages.

$: less than $10

$$: up to $20

$$$: up to $30

$$$$: more than $30.

INDIA COOK HOUSE: One of our more cheerful Indian restaurants, though it holds no real surprises. The best dishes here are the meats and bread cooked in the tandoor, or a cylindrical clay oven. But there are also good chutneys, vindaloos, a few nice vegetable dishes and fine homemade desserts. Don't miss gulab jamun, gold-colored cheese balls served warm in syrup. India Cook House, 14130 Culver Drive, Irvine. (949) 857-4858. Daily, 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m., 5-10 p.m. $$

JAVIER'S CANTINA: This restaurant bridges the gap between taqueria authenticity and the happy-hour chips-and-salsa scene. Familiar Mexican specialties are here, but it's the seafood specials like brocheta del mar and the sweet, powerfully corn-flavored green-corn tamale that make dealing with Laguna Beach parking worth it. Javier's Cantina & Grill, 480 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. (949) 494-1239. Lunch and dinner daily. $$

LEFT AT ALBUQUERQUE: With its blues soundtrack, Southwestern decor and eclectic cooking style, this eatery is a bit of an odd duck. The menu features a variety of mesquite-grilled meats and fish, along with a huge list of premium tequilas. Try the griddled corn cake appetizer, the Asian-tasting grilled Dixon pork. Left at Albuquerque, 3309 Michelson Drive, Irvine. (949) 757-7600. Sundays-Thursdays, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 11 a.m.-11 p.m. $$

LUCIANA'S: Luciana's has been around since the early '80s, but this rustic European restaurant is now managed by a new generation. Chef Brett Young serves a combination of old Italian recipes and more modern spinoffs. Especially good are his fagiolini verdi, fried green beans, tomato bread soup (zuppa campagnola) and delicious double-thick grilled pork chop glazed with balsamic vinegar. Luciana's, 24312 Del Prado, Dana Point. (949) 661-6500. Dinner only Sundays-Thursdays, 5-10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 5-11 p.m. $$$

McCORMICK & SCHMICK'S: There are 40 or more kinds of fresh seafood on this menu, served in nearly 90 treatments. The inventive appetizer menu is highlighted by excellent crab-and-shrimp cakes, and the oyster selection is still one of the best around. The adjacent Pilsner Room brew pub serves an impressive list of microbrews. McCormick & Schmick's, 2000 Main St., Irvine. (949) 756-0505. Lunch Mondays-Fridays, dinner daily. $$

MOSUN: Hip, trendy Mosun, a place of black vinyl booths and House and Trance music dancing Thursday through Saturday, is basically a Pacific Rim restaurant. The food is of mixed quality--stick to the tuna tataki, filet mignon won tons, New York steak basted with mirin and the desserts. Mosun, 680 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Laguna Beach. (949) 497-5646. Dinner Friday-Wednesday. $$

MITSUYOSHI: There's a sushi bar here, but the appetizers are better, especially the baked pike and the potato porridge (yamakake) with chunks of tuna sashimi. Thin-cut pork cutlets (shoga-yaki) come in a tangy ginger sauce, and there's a massive sukiyaki and a festive nabemono soup filled with meats, vegetables and noodles. Mitsuyoshi, 12033 Beach Blvd., Stanton. (714) 898-2156. Lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Sundays. $$

MULBERRY STREET RISTORANTE: A cozy, welcoming setting for robust, old-school Italian food. It's notable for dishes that achieve simple harmony through a deft balance of flavors. For appetizers, try the fried mozzarella and the steamed mussels. Exceptional entrees include the steak Mulberry and the fettuccine Caruso. Mulberry Street Ristorante, 114 W. Wilshire Ave., Fullerton. (714) 525-1056. Lunch Mondays-Saturdays; dinner served daily. Late night menu served Fridays and Saturdays until 12:45 a.m. $$

NICO'S: Sonny Bono's daughter owns an Italian restaurant (Christy's) in Long Beach and also runs Nico's, a contemporary American bistro on Naples Island. Her father, once a restaurant owner himself, trained her well. Nico's is chic and modern with winning decor and fine food. Try the Nico salad and the best bread pudding around. Nico's, 5760 E. 2nd St., Long Beach. (562) 434-4479. Dinner only, Sundays-Thursdays, 5-10 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, 5-11 p.m. $$$

OAK OVEN BARBECUE: The attraction at Lou's Oak Oven Barbecue is Santa Maria-style barbecued tri-tip. But you can also get chicken, pork loin and Portuguese sausage. The food comes on metal camping plates, and drinks, including wine, are served in Mason jars, but it's 200 miles closer than Santa Maria. Lou's Oak Oven Barbecue, 21501 Brookhurst St., Huntington Beach. (714) 965-5200. Lunch and dinner Tuesdays-Sundays. $

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