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JUDY'S TABLE: AUGUST 2008

Rutabegorz: A Place to Gorge

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(August 17, 2008)—Rutabegorz is about as old as I am, but I’ve only been a regular there for about 10 years. After living in major cities like LA and San Francisco where gourmet salads, Asian-fusion cuisine and a vegetarian fare are readily found in various pockets of each town, it’s no wonder when I first visited Ruta's, I felt very much in my element.

While the restaurant has three locations throughout the county— Fullerton, Orange and Tustin—and is the proud owner of Ruta's Old Towne Inn, I've always been partial to the location in Old Town Tustin, my first and favorite.

With early-20th century architecture that helped earn the venue a spot on the 1994 National Register of Historic Places, Ruta's no doubt defines charm in a region fixated on slick and modern. The patio is spacious, accented with sturdy pillars and a view of the tree-lined Main and C Streets. The interior will immerse you the spirit of local artists and a solid-wood motif. The high-back wooden booths offer plenty of privacy without compromising the festive vibe. While I've yet to visit the Fullerton location, I know the Old Towne Orange spot has the same atmosphere, and an even larger space for al fresco dining.

As for the menu. Diverse and interesting, you can order anything from artichoke dip or hummus for an appetizer and Thai salad, garlic chicken pasta or vegetarian enchiladas for an entrée. All of the soups are fresh and ideal for light eaters. For a while, I couldn't get past page one of their food menu, from which I always picked their nachos. Possibly one of America's favorite comfort foods, Ruta's does nachos like no other, with ample portions of melted cheese, beans and an unforgettable guac.

In fact, it wasn't until recently when I actually turned the page to enjoy their pasta dishes. I mention the garlic chicken pasta above, which I enjoyed tremendously because—as with their all of their dishes—Ruta's doesn’t skimp on portions. This particular dish is heavily topped with sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts and feta cheese, presenting a tart and savory experience. I was there with my niece recently who enjoyed their light fare of linguine with tomatoes and feta cheese—a special right now in Tustin for the 30th anniversary.

The salads and wraps are probably what make Ruta's popular for the vegetarians and healthy-food lovers. Even with these items, the portions are enormous so you can get away with sharing your entrée as full meals. For gluttony-on-greens, I recommend "The Ultimate" salad, which shamelessly piles chunks of ham, hard salami, cheese and avocado on a bed of lettuce and veggies.

There are plenty of items for children thanks to its kids menu, as well as a host of breakfast items from bagel dishes to smoothies. For the 5:01-ers, Ruta's has a variety of alcoholic beverages, including wines and vodka-induced drinks, including a zesty Bloody Mary.

Price range: $5 - $25 / person

Website: www.rutabegorz.com

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