Best of Orange County Under $10 for 2013

This article is part of ShopMoxie's U.S. by Local Bloggers effort. Much Ado About Fooding was invited to be a part of this series along with other bloggers nationwide. This piece also appears on ShopMoxie's website.

Here we go - the BEST restaurants of Orange County! When a lot of people think of Orange County, they might think of glitz and glamour, high fashion, and fine dining. Having grown up on the corner of Koreatown and Little Saigon though, I didn't peek much into that world as much as I did into the multicultural diversity surrounding everyone. You could have your pick of any type of ethnic cuisine and step into places where nary a lick of English was spoken. I grew up eating either food cooked at home or at hole-in-the-wall joints that were family-owned and run.

That being said, though I write about all types of restaurants on Much Ado About Fooding, I really appreciate and try to focus on those by individual business owners trying to make a living by producing amazing food. Even more particular, I wanted to highlight ones for this post that can fill you up for under $10 with great food and a great experience.

Pie-Not | Breakfast | Best Savory Pies
Pie-Not is the newest of all my picks and located on 17th Street in Costa Mesa where restaurant development is booming. More and more eateries are popping up there but they can't compare to Pie-Not's unique specialty: Australian style pies. I've tried almost all of them myself and have had no complaints whatsoever. Started by Jai Snowdon and Ryan Lopiccolo, this well-designed hole-in-the-wall has 26+ items on the menu with fresh pies being baked daily by Aussie Chef Samantha Boxer. Meant to be eaten with your hands, their pies sit in shortcrust pastry shells which clamp down with each bite to seal in the filling and are topped by flaky puff pastries. If you're new to the concept, start with the Dog's Eye meat pie, the most basic and traditional of them all though I also highly recommend the Drunken Cow and Sprung a Leek. Oh and don't forget to wash it down with a cup of organic Australian Bun Coffee!

Mick's Karma Bar | Lunch | Best Burger
Okay, I've called Mick's burger the best burger in Orange County since I first had one BUT before people go up in arms about my claim, they should looked to the 2013 Golden Foodie Awards which awarded him Best Burger as well. Whew. Don't hurt me! Michael Schepers' accolades have certainly been piling up as more and more people discover the little shop hidden at the bottom of high-rise office buildings near the airport. It's hard to find and requires parking in a corporate parking structure but boy is it well worth the adventure. His patties are made from sirloin steaks ground daily and "to order" at about 20 burgers per steak. The Karma Burger put him on the map but what also propels the buzz is his Strawberry Basil Lemonade and enormous social media following. Word of mouth, unsolicited marketing at its best! I recommend the Habanero Burger for those more daring souls.

Shin-Sen-Gumi Hakata Ramen | Lunch & Dinner | Best Ramen
Orange County has a penchant for restaurants that focus on one dish and make it well. Though Shin-Sen-Gumi is not a standalone small business, its Orange County location has that feel and doesn't sacrifice quality for expansion. There is always a wait here even before they reopen for dinner (they close 3-6pm). It's my go-to for ramen in the area because their Tonkotsu is superb and the service spot-on. When you make a broth by boiling pork bones and fat for 15+ hours, you are on your way to an utterly delicious meal. At Shin-Sen-Gumi, diners get the option of choosing their noodle firmness, the intensity of their broth, and the amount of oil in each bowl. That would be the basic bowl (which also comes with chopped scallions, red julienned ginger, and chashu aka Japanese roast pork) that is very much under the $10 price. Your toppings could run you over if you aren't careful but simple seems better sometimes. If you so desire, add more pork, egg, bamboo, garlic, and so on: that's your prerogative! It's the perfect spot for solo diners as well who can sit at the bar and watch the chefs cook as they eat. Tip: the staff always welcomes and thanks customers loudly in Japanese throughout service so don't come here looking for peace and quiet!

Green Tomato Grill | Lunch & Dinner | Best Balance
Now that sounds like a strange "Best" category to write about but there's a reason for it. Green Tomato Grill is a newer restaurant but making amazing food is not new to Chef and Owner Kyle Markt. He would describe his place as having New American cuisine that "pulls inspiration from all over the world, while sourcing products locally." It's a fast casual kind of place but for the person much more conscious of their dietary intake; their menu consists of dishes researched and planned to be under 1,000 calories each and containing a balanced amount of grains, proteins, vegetables, etc. Prepared from scratch daily and using local and organic products where able, Green Tomato Grill's food struck me as being both healthful and hearty. I love how they make just about everything in-house and provide me great portions that will fill me up but not weight me down. There are grill bowls, melts, wraps, salads, soups, stews, and more. I say opt for their Fried Green Tomatoes for a snack before jumping into something tasty like their Red Stew or BBQ Crispy Tofu Bowl.

Pho 79 | All Meals | Best Pho
If you know Orange County well, it is the absolute best place to get authentic Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam (no really - we have the second largest Vietnamese population in the world with the actual largest being the country itself). So it makes sense that we'd also have the best phở, the iconic Vietnamese beef noodle soup. I grew up in Garden Grove, home to Little Saigon, and my favorite place for the meal outside of home is Pho 79. The number indicates when it was first established (1979), and its location is also attributed to its age. The restaurant sits behind a liquor store, hidden from the public eye. You have to drive into a potholed parking lot before putting your name down for a table. The staff is quick to take your order before a steaming hot bowl comes out with fresh vegetables and the meat raw but thinly sliced enough that one dunk into the broth cooks it. You can pick which cuts of meat you want in your soup so everyone's is a little different. I like mine with tripe but the most popular style here is their Oxtail which is limited only to supply per get yours early! The broth made from hours and hours of cooking beef leg bone and marrow is worth it any time and meal of the day.

So there - a small, small list of fabulous places to get your grub on in Orange County without breaking the bank. It was hard to choose from the wealth of great hole-in-the-walls and family-run establishments here because there are so many. Perhaps more lists need to be written. For now, enjoy these Best Restaurants of Orange County for under $10!