Best of 2010 41-60

41 Finding the Best…Bargain Theater
A Step-by-Step Guide
Remember that old movie house where you saw “Die Hard”? Chances are it’s now a bargain theater, and in these times of skyrocketing ticket prices, that’s not a bad thing. Here’s how I found the best bargain theater.—Scott Christian
Step 1  I Googled “bargain theaters.”
Step 2  I narrowed the search to theaters with more than one screen; remember, older ones usually have single screens. I settled on three possibilities.
Step 3  Charter Centre Cinema in Huntington Beach was comfortable, but pricey. At Brookhurst 4 Cinemas in Anaheim, poor sound and sticky floors.
And the winner is … Woodbridge Movies 5. Clean, comfortable, $2 tickets, $1 admission every Tuesday, and a $4.50 snack combo made it the clear favorite. 4626 Barranca Parkway, Irvine, 949-733-3795, starplexcinemas.com.
 
42 The Great Gastropub Tour
The county has sprouted a full crop of gastropubs, the Britishism for bars that serve tasty high-end food. The Orange Coast editorial staff rented the absurd Big Woody bus  and set out on a seven-hour tour of O.C.’s five most intriguing gastropubs. The odyssey required sampling many beers, produced one baffling pickup line (“I’m Mary, like the mother of God”), and involved no messy excess, although it’s worth noting that Managing Editor Jim Walters called in sick the next day. —Martin J. Smith
We started at hip Costa Mesa hang Valhalla Table (valhallatable.com). We liked the obscure beers, Belgian-style potato fries, and soft pretzels with whole-grain mustard. (See #15.)
 
Next stop, Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona del Mar (thecrowbarcdm.com). Even 22 beers on tap, mac ’n’ cheese fritters, and a Wigan-Stoke game on the telly weren’t enough to offset small portions and underwhelming flavors.
Our clear favorite was SideDoor (sidedoorcdm.com), inside Five Crowns in Corona del Mar. It felt like stepping from a winter night into a warm embrace: A roaring fire, 4-ounce tasters of draft beers, splendid chicken potpie, and a charcuterie station with what Senior Editor Chris Christensen called “the Cadillac of meat slicers.” What’s not to like?
We enjoyed the glazed pork tenderloin, curried crab cakes, and sweet potato fries at Santa Ana’s The Crosby (thisisthecrosby.com), but nearly spoiled it with a cheap happy hour Pabst.
Orange’s Haven Gastropub (havengastropub.com) was our grand finale, with microbrews from Placentia’s Bruery, a fine margherita flatbread, memorable Brussels sprouts with prosciutto and lemon, and a high-octane cookie. (See #80.)
43 Romantic Picnic Spot
Salt Creek Beach’s Bluff Park is an exceptional spot to enjoy an ocean view and a grit-free picnic. Hit the deli counter at nearby Gelson’s and spend the day canoodling in the grass. Stick around for a picture-perfect sunset. Parking: $1 per hour. 3333 S. Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point, ocparks.com/saltcreekbeach.
44 Bicycle Ride
Whether you’re pedaling a beach cruiser or a road bike, the 10.5-mile Back Bay Loop Trail is a satisfying jaunt on a warm summer day, winding around the Upper Newport Bay for spectacular views along the bluffs and glimpses of several hundred wildlife and plant species. Entry points include Mariners, Bayview, and Castaways parks, and the Back Bay Science Center. ocparks.com/uppernewportbay.
45 Free Family Fun
On a recent afternoon, we had energetic 6- and 3-year-olds running on no nap. But the Orange County Museum of Art’s Free Second Sunday event—with crafts such as decoupage birdhouses and butterfly puppets, short films, and storytelling—kept both kids happily entertained, which kept their parents sane. 850 San Clemente Drive, Newport Beach, 949-759-1122, ocma.net.

46 Gourmet Veggie Burger Under $10

Discriminating vegetarians can sniff out a poser at first sight: the same boring beans and grains, or a patty pulled right out of the freezer. Forget those. Native Foods’ Scorpion Burger is house-made daily from tempeh dusted with paprika and grilled to order. It’s piled high with avocado and more first-on-the-food-chain ingredients, and topped with a chipotle sauce that has a sassy kick. All that for $9. Aliso Viejo Town Center, 26705 Aliso Creek Road, Aliso Viejo, 949-831-1926; The Camp, 2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-751-2151; The District, 2453 Park Ave., Tustin, 714-259-0400, nativefoods.com.
Places to Cool Off
47 Sno on the Go, gourmet snow cones, Mission Viejo
48 The Rinks, ice-skating rinks in Anaheim and Westminster
49 Boardwalk Ice Cream Co., Irvine
50 Wild Rivers Waterpark, Irvine
51 Sherman Gardens, Corona del Mar
52 Fullerton Arboretum
53 The cellar at Hi-Time Wine Cellars, Costa Mesa
54 Splash Mountain at Disneyland, Anaheim
55 Underneath the Huntington Beach Pier
56 A night game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim
57 Gooey Cinnamon Roll
We crisscrossed the county sampling contenders, but our taste buds kept coming back to the Original at Cinnamon Roll Fair. Its mix of white and wheat flours creates the ideal chewy texture and a perfect foil for its buttery cinnamon-sugar filling. It’s usually sold demurely unfrosted, so call in a special order a day ahead to have icing added. 220 Marine Ave., Newport Beach, 949-673-4522, cinnamonrollfair.net.

58 Finding the Best…Gourmet Takeout

A Step-by-Step Guide
Nothing’s sexier than a candlelit dinner in an elegant restaurant. But can gourmet takeout spark romance? Our staff scarfed down six dinners to find out. OK, so the pheromones were missing.—Chris Christensen
Step 1  We chose Lucca Cafe, Plums Café, and Picnics Deli, and ordered two three-course meals from each, scheduling all pickups for the same time. Limit: $60 per restaurant.
Step 2  We set the conference room table—linens, flowers, candlelight, soft music, and wine.
Step 3  We sampled pork tenderloin, lamb chops, roast chicken, ravioli, salads, and desserts.
And the winner is … Lucca Cafe. Both of its meals rocked: mesclun salad, hanger steak, mashed potatoes with parsnips, apple bread pudding, prosciutto and melon, two kinds of ravioli, and gingerbread crème brulee with two sauces.
6507 Quail Hill Parkway, Irvine, 949-725-1773, luccacafe.net.

59 Way to Gift-Wrap a Car

A present should come with a bow, even when it’s an oceanfront apartment or a BMW. Newport Beach-based King Size Bows makes those big red ones you’ve probably seen in the Lexus Christmas commercials. Call for a consultation and they’ll spruce up store displays, groundbreakings, and pretty much anything requiring a whole lot of ribbon. Bows start at $28. 949-387-9287, kingsizebows.com.
60 Children’s Birthday Party
Book a few hours at Wowzville, where kids choose from a variety of interactive themes, including raceways, castles, space adventures, and crime labs. Bookings for 16 to 18 partygoers are $295 Wednesday and Thursday, $325 Friday through Sunday. Wowzville provides food, goodie bags, invitations, decorations, and other theme-appropriate items. Wowzville, 26061 Merit Circle #103, Laguna Hills, 949-582-9699,
wowzville.com.

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