Step inside Alhambra's modern dining room to relax amid comfortable tangerine and chocolate furnishings and feast on fresh Moorish- and Spanish-inspired dishes illuminated by cool cerulean glow. Executive chef James Canter bills the restaurant's menu of tongue-ticklers "New Mediterranean" and "cuisine with a conscience," as dishes are prepared using fresh ingredients from local and organic farms. Warm up your palate with hot small plates like the crispy avocado ($7) or crispy calamari with goat cheese fritter ($9), or extinguish swallowed firecrackers with a cold platter of Persian tuna tar-tar ($12). If you fill up on appetizers before embarking on a house specialty, like the Moroccan chicken tagine ($24), top off your taste buds with airy and fruity flavors in Alhambra's hookah lounge.
Kolache Factory sates handheld cravings with its sweet and savory sachets stuffed with more than 25 flavorful fillings. The pastry purveyor's innovative bakers put a tasty twist on the traditional fruit-and-poppy-seed kolaches that originated in Eastern Europe, packing them with delectable stuffings, such as pepperoni and mushroom ($1.65 each, $17.82/dozen), bacon, egg, and cheese ($2.19 each, $23.65/dozen), and sausage, jalapeño, and cheese ($1.45 each, $15.66/dozen). Greet the slowly receding swirling darkness of morning with nibbles of sausage and gravy kolaches ($1.69 each, $18.25/dozen), or take a bite-size break with one of seven fruit options ($1.09 each, $11.77/dozen).
In addition to re-creating traditional recipes from across the border, Costa Messa Restaurant's chefs occasionally inject a bit of American flair into their menu of Mexican home cooking. This leads to time-honored classics—including chicken enchiladas topped with mole sauce and queso fresco and crispy flautas stuffed with shredded beef—appearing alongside Tex-Mex dishes, such as chalupas, rice, and beans served in the shape of a Longhorn.
Ever since originally opening in 2002, the restaurant has remained unwaveringly devoted to these distinctive flavors, adding spicy chipotle sauce to chicken fajitas, loading corn or flour tortillas with everything from pork to sirloin, and serving whole, ranchero-style red snappers. As a demonstration of its support for the community, Costa Messa Restaurant spends Mondays donating 10% of the proceeds from diners' checks to various charities.
Since John Galardi opened the first Wienerschnitzel location in 1961, the brand has become something of an icon in parts of the country, boasting one of the earliest drive-throughs, partnering in an ad campaign with Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson, and sponsoring popular dachshund races in various cities. But even as Wienerschnitzel has grown to more than 300 locations, the menu has remained charmingly simple. Its "world-famous" hot dogs include versions heaped in chili, wrapped in bacon, and topped with sauerkraut. Guests can customize their dogs with Angus beef franks and pretzel buns and order combo meals that pair them with chili cheeseburgers or corn dogs. Since 1999, the brand has been partnered with Tastee Freez, so it also serves that institution's famous ice-cream treats.
Claiming a slew of awards, including Best Chicken Dinner by the Orange County Register, El Pollo Loco fills stomachs on the go with a menu of flavorful poultry inspired by Mexico's kitchens. Enjoy the rich tastes of a four-piece combo ($7.99)—including breasts and wings marinated in herbs, spices, and citrus juices—entouraged by two sides from an expansive selection, including spanish rice, barbecue black beans, corn cobbettes, and mac 'n' cheese. For a more portable lunch during parkour breaks from the office, wrap your chicken in the warm tortilla blanket of a twice-grilled burrito ($5.99). El Pollo Loco's innovative salsa bar can tickle to your tongue until milk comes out its nose with fresh varieties of avocado, chipotle, and pico de gallo.
Anthony Russo, a first-generation Italian, spent years in the kitchens of his parents and other Italian chefs learning authentic Italian recipes for sauces and pastas. He eventually drew on his experience kneading New York–style pizza to open his own chain of coal-fired pizza franchises. Exposed bricks surround the burning embers at the core of the oven, which bakes thin-crust specialty pizzas, such as escargot with pesto, alongside heart-healthy pies with fresh spinach and artichokes. After sliding out golden-crusted pizzas and singed fairy-tale witches, chefs fill ovens with calzones and flatbreads. A full wine list supplies bold cabernets and crisp pinot grigios.