Food & Drink

Orange County's 25 best restaurants

Published On 07/29/2014 Published On 07/29/2014
Anita Lau

Just because Arrested Development takes place in Orange County (no touching) doesn't mean the only place to eat there is a banana stand (NO touching). To prove it, we've rounded up (NO TOUCHING) the 25 best restaurants in Orange (NO!) County (TOUCHING!).

Three Seventy Common

Laguna Beach
Chef Ryan Adams is elevating the crap out of your comfort food (think: short rib grilled cheese and meatloaf wrapped in bacon), but you can also indulge in fancier fare, like pork rillette toast or bone marrow topped with chimichurri. Each Sunday, the restaurant offers “Sunday Social”, a prix fixe featuring a three-course meal generally consisting of no less than five dishes (huh?), with an uber-popular Fried Chicken Dinner every last Sunday of the month.

Anita Lau

Anepalco’s Café

Orange
Chef/owner Daniel Godinez calls his cuisine marriage "French Mexique", and that means tomatillo-topped crepes filled with carnitas, and signature chilaquiles bathed in a fragrant, seven-chile sauce that's somehow not spicy. Oh, and skip the smaller original location on Main, and head straight for the patio-equipped brunch/lunch/dinner operation on Chapman.

Anita Lau

Break of Dawn

Laguna Hills
CCA-trained Chef/owner Dee Nguyen’s dishes draw the early crowds to this graffitied-up Laguna Hills strip mall Viet-fusion spot, where brunch is served Wednesday to Sunday. The often hour-long wait on weekends for his version of bacon (pork belly) and eggs (tempura-style), brulee French toast, or house-made cinnamon buns? Totally worth it.
 

Dat Thanh

Westminster
Orange County has one of the largest Vietnamese communities in the US, which means it should come as no surprise that you’ll find incredible Viet eats in Little Saigon. There’s a lot of debate as to who has the best com tam (broken rice) or nem nuong cuon (BBQ pork fresh rolls), but that debate is super dumb, since it's clearly this cash-only, parking-challenged, 16-seater.

Mick’s Karma Bar

Mick’s Karma Bar

Irvine
Anyone who has sunk their teeth into one of these Golden Foodie Award-winning burgers will tell you that they’re really THAT good. Meat is ground every few hours (ensuring optimum freshness) in this hidden-in-an-office-building, frustrating-to-find beef den, which offers only five options... all of which go great with the crazy-good strawberry/basil lemonade. 

Sushi Noguchi

Sushi Noguchi

Yorba Linda
Another Golden Foodie Award-winner, Chef/owner Hiro Noguchi personally visits the LA fish markets at least four times a week to procure fish from Japan for his strip mall sushi restaurant, which means each bite of his killer omakase (including the above-pictured uni dish, if you're lucky) is undeniable.
 

Vientiane Thai Laos

Garden Grove
Some Thai restaurants feature a handful of Laos dishes on their menu, but Vientiane goes hard in the paint when it comes to authenticity. Traditional dishes such as Mok-pa (catfish steamed in banana leaves with herbs and spices) and Nam khao (crispy rice) are favorites, and the papaya salad here is strong and pungent.

LUCCA Café

LUCCA Café

Irvine
This neighborhood restaurant is where Irvine locals gather for brunch, and more specifically, homemade LUCCA’s Famous Cinnamon Rolls (pictured above) and Eggs in Purgatory (eaten before they could be pictured above). Its lunch is also not to be missed: it's got a beef tri-tip and Havarti sando on a fresh-baked ciabatta roll that's next-level.

Anne Watson

The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon

Anaheim
With a dream team in its kitchen (that doesn't include Christian Laettner [phew]), The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon is the only spot in Orange County where you can experience fine-dining at its best before heading next door to country line dance at a saloon. Its seasonally driven, farm-to-table menu utilizes organic produce from its farm in the Santa Ana Mountains, for favorites including Petaluma quail and the signature Cowboy Rib Eye.

Anita Lau

A Restaurant

Newport Beach
One of the County's modern classics is Google-challenged A Restaurant, home of the former Arches in Newport Beach. The food here is always stellar, and highlights include black truffle- and caper-infused steak tartare and house-made Spring garlic sausage. The wine pairings are also available from a top sommelier.
 

Bruxie

Costa Mesa
Sandwiches with waffles instead of bread? YES. PLEASE. This OC chain began here in 2010, and now has eight locations in both California and Colorado. Whether you’re craving a sweet Liège waffle sandwich or a savory green eggs and ham, Bruxie has you deliciously covered. 

Kent Do

Jack’s Bakery

Garden Grove
Hidden in the middle of Little Saigon, this tiny Medi restaurant from the Kelisian family is making everything by hand, which means a well-worth-the-wait menu of scratch hummus and Adana kebab. No matter what, though, get the specialty S Cookie -- it's shaped like a backwards 'S', and will easily be one of the most complex cookies you've ever tasted.

Anne Watson

ADYA

Anaheim
Indian street foods are no longer a challenge to find in OC. Hit this stall for bhel puri, panipuri, and chickpea chaat, all of which can be paired with the craft beers on hand. If you’re a stickler for what you're familiar with, a selection of curries and vegetarian options are also available, with fresh naan to save you the trouble of having to lick your plate.
 

SideDoor

Corona del Mar
This gastropub (a part of the 5 Doors Group) has its own secret entrance off Poppy St under a big, red key. Once you enter, you'll be transported back to old England (not literally... we think) -- everything's meant for sharing, but the home run is the charcuterie plate, paired with a craft cocktail.

Anne Watson

Slapfish

Laguna Beach
Some of the best seafood in OC can be found at Slapfish, where the atmosphere is casual and the food is comprised of a killer lobster roll and chowda' fries (which, yep, are fries smothered in clam chowder). Read that again.

Andrea Briccio

Selanne Steak Tavern

Laguna Beach
If you’re a Ducks fan and weeping over Teemu Selänne’s retirement, traipse on down to his Laguna Beach restaurant where you can often call him out to his face... which you'll probably do while slamming back the Lord Stanley -- a 32oz Australian Wagyu tomahawk.

Stonehill Tavern

Stonehill Tavern

Dana Point
Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis offers a five-diamond-star dining experience with a stunning view of the ocean, and with most of the ingredients sourced from within 10-miles of the resort.
 

Pie-Not

Costa Mesa
Pie-Not serves up traditional Australian pies, each taken up a notch with top-quality fillings (sirloin steak, lamb, chicken, vegetari-ugh-an) with a flaky crust and a no-silverware-allowed caveat. The highlight, though, is the Dog's Eye Pie -- a delicious, crusted melange of ground beef and onions.

Anita Lau

Rice Paper Bistro

Garden Grove
This Asian bistro isn't for the unadventurous; sea snails are baked with a healthy dose of butter and garlic, and fried frog’s legs are so succulent, you might just want to re-evaluate what you know about Vietnamese food. Service is a tad slow -- it’s a one-man operation in the kitchen -- but patience delivers just rewards, like the heavenly ong choy beef salad. Yep, salad, but it's got beef... so we're still cool, right?

Amy Fellows

Marché Moderne

Costa Mesa
The OC's best French cuisine can be eaten here, courtesy of two chefs with appropriately Franco-sounding names: Florent and Amelia Marneau. Marché's charcuterie is a highlight that changes frequently, but included on the plate are always classics like rillettes, thick-cut, dry-aged sausage, truffle, "faux" gras pate, and some sort of confited meat.

Anita Lau

Watertable

Huntington Beach
Watertable is an expansive new restaurant that looks like a hacienda, but feels like a game of Clue thanks to a library, lounge, and several dining rooms. It's got a separate bar menu with house-baked baguettes and "bar jars" (full of excellence like goat cheese spread w/ Spanish manchego), while the full menu drops awesomeness like a rosemary-/honey-brined Berkshire pork porterhouse.

Vine Restaurant and Bar

Vine Restaurant and Bar

San Clemente
This cozy, New American restaurant always has long-time favorites on the menu (pork schnitzel FTW!), but also always has seasonal goodness... which means right now, it's popping out fried green tomatoes w/ fresh burrata.

Mark McDonald

Old Vine Café

Costa Mesa
Because a "best restaurants in OC" list wouldn't be complete without at least TWO restaurants with the word "vine" in their name, may we present this globally inspired bistro? Old Vine Café is blasting out rabbit mole for brunch, a house-made meatball panino for lunch, and prix fixe dinner menus that'll nail you with char-grilled lamb chops w/ a blueberry demi-glace.

Anita Lau

Sidecar Doughnuts

Costa Mesa
This small-batch donut shop does it right: its signature huckleberry 'nut is one of SoCal's best, and its ante can be upped with seasonal variations like passionfruit and guava add-ons.

Anita Lau

Mokkoji Shabu Shabu Bar

Irvine
The dude behind this low-key shabu bar is originally from Laguna's swanky Montage Resort, and it shows in the quality of the produce he throws down on each plate of beef and seafood. Oh, and everything is sided with the traditional shabu veggie trimmings, and if you're smart, the actually-really-good squid ink porridge.

OC resident Anita Lau's been writing about food for the past 20 years, and was a guest judge on season 12 of Hell's Kitchen. You can find her on Twitter and at MadHungryWoman.com.

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