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News Story Courtesy Victorville Press

Friday, March 4, 2005

Beachy dining

Huntington beach is the perfect locale for a walking culinary adventure

HUNTINGTON BEACH ' Here in Surf City, even the three downtown blocks of the most laid back, yet modern beach town this side of Australia has food-inspired street names. Walnut. Olive. Orange. Long known on the international surfing circuit, Huntington Beach is also an up-and-coming force on the dining scene in a locale that's fast becoming known as "California's Riviera."

But don't think that a Surf City USA cruise for food down Main Street is going to break your bankroll, dude. Surfers are known for their love of fresh, uncomplicated and easy-on-the-wallet cuisine, so there are plenty of affordable options.

Besides the cheap eats, the downtown are has transformed over the past decade to feature everything from swanky club-like dining to a romantic meal at sunset or party-central patios with sweeping views of the blue Pacific.

Standing in the middle of Huntington Beach's pier plaza at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Main Street, you are first awed at the sheer size of the storied concrete pier that juts into the pounding waves. Soon your eyes fixate on the bright red roof of Ruby's Diner, luring you to the pier's end with its classic juicy burgers, fries and signature milkshakes.

The O.C.'s Best Surfside Dining

Just steps away to your left, on the famed south side of the pier, are two restaurants which share one of the best beach views anywhere. Recently named the No. 1 Best Surfside Dining spot in Orange County by AOL's annual City's Best program, Duke's Huntington Beach reigns over the panoramic scene. Named after Duke Kahanamoku, a Hawaiian known as modern surfing's pioneer, the high ceilings and strong interior elegance evoke an island feel without the kitschy Polynesian tourist trappings. Dining is a mix of seafood and American classics with an Asian flair and a tasty steak selection.

Duke's Barefoot Bar is a bit misleading. Shirts and shoes (flops, of course) are required, but the happy hour has great half-price specials and many business deals are sealed while sipping a pineapple-laden Mai Tai or a cold brew.

Downstairs, sitting right alongside the beach boardwalk is Chimayo at the Beach, which captured the rank of No. 3 among Best Surfside Dining spots in Orange County. The yellow-umbrella bar and dining patio with wooden benches around a fire ring is electric in summer and during the city's many festivals and competitions. "Hip" and "upbeat," says the Zagat Guide, with "excellent people-watching" right on the beach.

The mango martini, created from vodka infused with ripe mangoes for four days, goes down smooth to cool off Chef Tommy Tran's spicy signature voodoo shrimp.

Java Joints & Breakfast Cafes

OK, first things first. Where's the coffee' In Surf City USA lingo, you'll be ordering a cup of java. One of the best coffee joints (and way popular with surfers) is Java Point. Located just inside Huntington Surf and Sport (HSS) on the south side of Main Street and PCH, this is where surfers meet for a pre- or post-morning eye-opener.

If you are a Starbucks devotee, just cross the street on Main Street's north side and walk up two blocks to the corner of Olive and Main streets. Over at Java Jungle, two blocks north on PCH and 6th Street, you can order up your latte, rent a board, buy some snacks and check your e-mail in one of the last true surfer shacks cum surf shops.

For a truly homey breakfast, there's a perennial favorite: the Sugar Shack Cafe. No, this is not a candy store nor will you find a donut or sticky bun. Owned by one of HB's first female surfers, The Sugar Shack (as locals call it), has served up American bacon, eggs and pancakes for almost three decades for both surfers and vacationers. If you are not willing to wait for a coveted patio table, you can usually find a spot in the cozy interior where the locals hang out.

Another favorite of surfers' is Pete's Mexican Cafe on 5th Street, prized for its economical huevos rancheros (eggs, tortillas, cheese, beans and salsa). And don't forget the infamous Longboard Pub (check out the faux-painted crashing wave fresco) renowned for its laid-back Sunday champagne brunch.

Liquid Relief

Strolling up the north side of Main Street is like traveling down restaurant row. If you start at Jack's Surfboards and head away from the beach, you'll run into just about every international delicacy and a wide range of prices. For a quick breakfast or a refreshing post-recreation snack, chill out with a fresh-fruit smoothie at Jamba Juice.

Cross Walnut, look up and you'll see Huntington Beach Beer Company at the intersection. Its second-floor patio with an ocean view is quite the happening spot to enjoy a refreshing microbrew, people-watch on a summer's day and eat American fare such as tasty appetizers, burgers and salads.

Head down Walnut a bit and you'll discover Red Pearl Kitchen, one of The OC's hippest Southeast Asian fusion and sushi spots.

The Main Street Drag

Keep walking north on Main Street past Walnut and you've truly hit "the drag." The never-ending restaurant line up with their back-to-back sunny sidewalk patios.

The list for HB's "restaurant row" goes like this: Killarney Pub & Grill (Irish bar and pub food), The Sugar Shack (American breakfasts, sandwiches and burgers), No Ka Oi (Hawaiian American), Longboard Pub (sports bar and American fare), Tuna Town (martinis, tempura, sake and sushi), the upstairs Aloha Grill (contemporary Hawaiian), Luigi's Italian (pastas, seafood, and wine).

Pass Starbucks, cross Olive Street and you'll see the seductive Inka Grill. The Peruvian specialties bring in locals and tourists alike for the best-selling seafood paella, a lamb stew or kisjara chicken ' a family chicken recipe made with Asian style soy, ginger and cucumber sauce.

Keep going up Main Street on your way to Orange Street and you'll find Spiral Sushi, an affordable sushi spot with other Asian-style dishes such as roasted duck spring rolls, Thai shrimp fried rice or herb-crusted King salmon.

Smokin' Mo's BBQ is one of HB's newest restaurants, but portends to be one of the best barbeque spots in the region. But it's the true-to-the-South shredded pork sandwich smothered in tangy sauce and topped with crispy cole slaw that is becoming the most requested dish.

Now it's time to cross over Orange Street and walk down Main Street towards the beach. Never-ending tortilla chips, generous and delicious Mexican favorites and a quaint bar with large picture windows make Avila's El Ranchito one of HB's most popular Mexican restaurants.

Coach's Mediterranean Grill, located between Orange and Walnut streets, is another place where surfers hang out for an affordable meal. They swear by the falafel, meaty chicken and lamb bowls and simple Italian-esque seafood dishes such as the sea bass piccata with capers in a lemon-pepper and garlic-butter sauce.

BJ's Pizza stands on the south corner of Walnut and Main streets. A regional chain of old-fashioned and more modern pizza creations, BJ's also serves up main course salads, sandwiches and a long list of gooey desserts.

After Dark Haunts

Right above BJ's is Hurricane's Bar & Grill. With a patio directly across the street from Huntington Beach Beer Co., these two dueling bars are a big part of HB's nightlife and club scene.

This side of Walnut Street is also home to two late-night spots. Crabby's Boat House is a nautical-themed place to watch the game and eat thick steaks and fresh seafood. Gallagher's Pub & Grill, which holds a popular karaoke night, is a fast-paced bar with American- and Irish-inspired food and drink.

Cross Walnut Street and you are almost back to the corner of Main Street and PCH on the south side of the pier just in front of HSS and its Java Point. A huge, colorful staircase leads to party central: Fred's Mexican Cafe. In summer, Fred's patio bar and dining area is as well-populated as PCH below ' especially on Tuesday nights when tacos are only $2.

Next to Fred's right on PCH is SPARK Woodfire Grill. On its romantic patio with amazing pier, surf and shoreline views, you can relax here attitude-free in jeans and a T-shirt while enjoying a martini or glass of wine with your wood-fired pizza or rotisserie-grilled meats.

To learn more about Huntington Beach call (800) 729-6232 and request a free visitors guide.

More dining information on Huntington Beach and Restaurants List