Four classic Orange County restaurants will wow you too

Persnickety customers, temperamental chefs, and food fads that veerfrom nouvelle to comfort to Atkins-friendly. Running a successfulrestaurant has never been an easy business, yet a number of OrangeCounty eateries have managed to thrive over the decades, some formore than 50 years. Why? Because, in one way or another, they'rewonderful ― they may be the last places around where you canstill get Hawaiian spareribs or President Richard Nixon's favoritechicken dish. Enjoy a meal at any or all of these four classicOrange County dining spots, and you'll understand.

NEWPORT BEACH

The Crab Cooker. Bob Roubian likes to say that his customersnamed his restaurant. When the avid fisherman and sometime pianistopened a seafood restaurant in 1951, its name was SeafoodVarieties. But nobody called it that. "In front of the restaurant,we had large lobster and crab cookers, and everyone referred to usas the place with the big crab cookers," he says. "So after aboutthree years, I changed the name."

Roubian learned to grill fish over a mesquite-charcoal fire as akid back in the Depression, and that's still the way it's donehere. There's nothing fancy about it. Shrimp, scallops, and chunksof fresh fish, many grilled on skewers, are served on paper plateswith coleslaw and pimiento- and garlic-laden Romano potatoes bysharp-tongued waitresses, some of whom have worked here for morethan 35 years. $$; lunch Mon-Sat, dinner daily. 2200 Newport Blvd.;949/673-0100.

ANAHEIM

Mr Stox. When Harry Fahnestock (the restaurant's name is anabbreviation of his surname) opened this Anaheim eatery in 1967,the signature dish was cheese fondue. "A big deal at the time,"says Chick Marshall, who, along with his brother, Ron, and hiswife, Debbie, purchased the business 10 years later. The Marshallsbid adieu to the fondue, but another popular original item, cheddarcheese soup, is still served every Wednesday.

Mr Stox has a reputation for hanging onto both customers andstaff: Many of the latter have been working here since therestaurant opened. Others, like chef Scott Raczek, "have only beenhere 17 years or so," says Chick. Along with the cheddar soup,specialties include Maryland crab cakes and gourmet breads likekalamata olive and rosemary. The restaurant also has an impressivestone wine cellar stocked with more than 20,000 bottles. $$$$; lunch Mon-Fri, dinner daily. 1105 E. Katella Ave.;714/634-2994.

DANA POINT

Olamendi's. As with any good restaurant that has been aroundawhile, part of Olamendi's charm is its venerable decor, includingseashell necklaces hanging from iron chandeliers and the display ofgold-framed photos, most taken more than 25 years ago, ofOlamendi's famous customer, Richard Nixon. In 1973, when Olamendi'sfirst opened, the Western White House was just a few miles down theroad. The former president is gone but not forgotten at Olamendi's.In addition to the photos, there's pollo a la Veracruzana ―chicken sautéed with onions, herbs, and jalapeño ―a dish said to be his favorite.

Olamendi's is a family affair; Jorge Sr. is here most days,chatting up customers, as is his wife, Maria, and one or more oftheir five children. They happily explain the specialties of thehouse, which come from all parts of Mexico, from the chiles ennogada ― stuffed chiles in walnut sauce, a delicacy fromPuebla ― to the classic mole Oaxaqueño. $; lunch and dinner Tue-Sun. 34660 Pacific Coast Hwy.;949/661-1005.

LAGUNA BEACH

Royal Hawaiian. This Laguna landmark, with tiki statues andpalm fronds framing its entrance, opened in 1947, a year afterpresident Harry S. Truman urged Congress to grant statehood toHawaii. Under a thatched roof, you could sip a mai tai and dig intoHawaiian spareribs ala moana.

The grass mats on the walls and the old, stylized Polynesianpaintings ― with coconut trees and sarong-wearing fishermenin outrigger canoes ― were probably a lot more exotic in the'50s. These days the decor seems a little corny, but it's still aretro attraction for the legions of customers who hang out here,particularly on weekends. Order an Island Special (fruit juice,rum, and anisette), and giggle over the little green ceramic tikilamps. $$; dinner Tue-Sun. 331 N. Coast Hwy.; 949/494-8001.

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