Top 10 Only-in-OC Restaurants
Orange County is emerging from Los Angeles’ Goliath culinary shadow. Celebrity chefs like Food Network “Top Chef” finalist Amar Santana are bringing notoriety to a restaurant scene that’s packed with award-winning menus, food critic darlings and innovative concepts like the restaurant-in-a-restaurant LSXO. The options are diverse and cater to nearly every preference and group size —just let your taste buds lead the way on a dining tour of the region with 10 one-of-a-kind restaurants found only in Orange County.
California ranch-style cuisine is the centerpiece at the massive 53,000-square-foot Ranch compound that includes private dining space for groups and a live music club. The restaurant ranked No. 6 in the OC Register’s Top 75 Best Places to Eat list last year and boasts “the best steak in O.C.” according to OC Weekly.
Break away from the pack for an on-your-own dinner at the tiny taqueria at Center Street Promenade. Handmade tortillas encase tantalizing sous-vide chicken, vanilla short rib, blackened seafood, and vegetables — a great indulgence for carnivores and vegetarians alike.
The chef’s table at this Grand Californian Hotel & Spa restaurant takes customization to the next level with personalized dishes and wine pairings for each diner throughout the multi-course experience. Enjoy your own prix-fixe meal while marveling at chefs in the exhibition kitchen.
Orange County’s culinary gem has racked up accolades that include a No. 2 slot on Jonathan Gold’s 101 best restaurants of 2015 and a Best Chef semi finalist recognition by the James Beard Foundation. Chef Carlos Salgado serves a prix-fixe menu that changes daily, allowing diners to sample four courses of expertly prepared dishes like abalone, Spanish octopus and Mazatlan shrimp with fresh tomatoes and avocado.
“Top Chef” finalist Amar Santana is at the top of his game with his Spanish steakhouse that opened in Costa Mesa in late 2015. It’s the second restaurant for the Culinary Institute of America-trained chef, featuring mouthwatering tapas, paellas, and wood fire-grilled meats that pair well with the innovative cocktails and wines. vacarestaurant.com
The seasonally influenced Irenia has quietly climbed the ranks of Orange County’s top restaurants, securing recognition by the OCRegister and LA Times. The Times’ heralded food critic Jonathan Gold recommends Filipino dishes like dilis, with fried baby anchovies and sukang sili (vinegar), and the dinuguan, a slow-roasted pork shoulder.
Mix Mix Kitchen Bar
Downtown Santa Ana’s infusion of Filipino culture continued with the opening of Ross Pangilinan’s fusion restaurant last year. Named Restaurant of the Year by Orange Coast magazine, Mix Mix offers “global” cuisine inspired by the freshest ingredients Pangilinan finds daily at the market. Three prix-fixe chef’s tasting menus provide the full experience of decadent tastes like soft egg raviolo or Filipino ceviche, or diners can enjoy full entrees, desserts, snacks and small plates along with a specialty cocktail. Santa Ana
An unparalleled dining experience can be enjoyed at Playground, where the dishes have playful descriptions (“Uncle Lou’s Chicken: the one item you can’t send back”) but serious flavor. Regularly named to the LA Times’ 101 Best Restaurants list, the chef-driven spot features a made-from-scratch menu of New American gastropub fare that’s rivaled only by its best-in-class craft beer offerings.
California farm-to-fork cooking pairs well with floor-to-ceiling views of the ocean. This expansive Pacific City anchor in Huntington Beach features steak, seafood, oysters and a kettle steam bar, while the intimate restaurant-within-a-restaurant LSXO is a play on LA’s heralded Little Sister, offering upscale Vietnamese cuisine.
One of the most charming dining experiences to be had in O.C. is nestled in the hills of Corona del Mar. Farmhouse at Roger’s Garden, a concept from farm-to-form pioneer Rich Mead, offers an alfresco ambiance lit with twinkling lights along with garden-fresh cuisine.