The Best Brunch Spots in the OC
Orange County takes a lot of things seriously (Politics! Disney! Whether or not to say “the” before “OC”!). But the thing it takes most seriously is brunch -- which is why we’ve put together this list of the best brunch spots in Orange County:
The closest OC gets to a Vegas-style upscale buffet is TAPS. The food quality is impeccable, and the choices will make your plate overflow more than your waistline. Its specialty is seafood, so you will find high-end ocean options like freshly shucked oysters and poke. But if you prefer hot breakfast, it has all the traditional choices, like eggs Benedict, and hot, gooey cinnamon rolls. The inclusive buffet also includes your choice of sparkling wine, mimosas, or two glasses of house-brewed beer.
Located in the Downtown Santa Ana Artists Village, Chapter One has one of the most energetic brunches in Orange County, thanks to a house musician who will often pull up guests who have had a couple extra mimosas for a Johnny Cash duet. Whether or not you’re a singer, you should eat “The Hash...Yo,” made with salmon, sweet potato corn hash, poached egg, and toast. Like something sweeter? Then you should hit the bananas Foster-stuffed brioche French toast. Not full yet? Get the Monkey Balls for dessert.
Plums Café is a not-so-secret hidden gem known for Pacific Northwest-inspired dishes, like “campfire trout,” which comes with eggs, Oregon pepper bacon, and potatoes, and the Dutch Baby -- a monstrous, deep-dish pancake that’s a must-order for the table.
Break of Dawn was founded by chef Dee Nguyen, who was the sous chef at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel. His food at BOD is creative and up to the standards of that chain’s fanciest brunches. The dishes are modern, with a subtle flair of Vietnamese flavor. The bacon and eggs, for instance, sounds deceptively simple; in fact, the eggs are tempura flash-fried (!!) and served with house-cured pork belly, kimchi spiced crema, and potatoes. The beef brisket is equally impressive, made with a beef tongue ragu, king oyster mushroom, and merlot poached eggs.
This Hawaiian restaurant serves a melting pot of east and west flavors joined in the aloha style. The homey cafe is best known for its gigantic, melt-in-your mouth banana macadamia nut pancakes, served with homemade coconut syrup, and the self-explanatory Captain Crunch French toast. But the savory items are equally delicious. The kalbi & eggs combo literally is a serving of Korean-style kalbi short ribs with eggs, served with a side of pancakes. Come hungry.
Tacos Ensenada is the sort of no-fuss brunch spot where you can show up in your pajamas and they will still welcome you like family -- especially if your family happens to speak Spanish. Lots of people order lunch for breakfast here, and it’s not the wrong choice: the menudo is a specialty, and goes great with a 30oz Tecate bottle. If you still feel like eggs, order the chile verde and ask for a side of eggs over easy. Boom.
This Southern comfort food spot does unique dishes like a “Pork Cheek Benny," which is an interpretation of eggs Benedict, but made with jalapeño grits, poached egg, and Hollandaise sauce on top. Other fun items include a Dr. Pepper pork shank, and the crispy chicken skins served with bacon jam, all of which go great with the curated craft beers or five-day cold-brew coffee.
Chef/owner Carlos Salgado is one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs of 2015 and is a 2016 James Beard Award semifinalist, so it’s no surprise that brunch at Taco Maria is a refined affair. It's served as a three-course prix-fixe, with starters including the bean-topped bread dish moletes, and entrees including chilaquiles with mole-soaked chips, hanger steak, fried egg, and cotija.
This woodsy restaurant’s menu is split into sweets, savory, and deserts, which means essentially breakfast dessert options (baked pumpkin French toast), omelets (smoked salmon; goat) and specialty dishes like the Southern staple, scrapple, served with panko-crusted green tomatoes.
Las Brisas is an Orange County dining institution that overlooks the Pacific Ocean from the heights of the Laguna Beach cliffs, with brunch that comes in two forms, depending on the day you visit. The buffet, served Monday through Saturday, includes the compulsory waffle and omelet stations and classic favorites like eggs Benedict, as well as more unusual options like picadillo beef crepes and Mexican lasagna. But if you want the real deal, hit the Sunday plated brunch: the four-course meal includes Champagne and freshly baked pan dolce, as well as entrees like crepes de Laguna, filled with spicy scallops, shrimp, fish, and a velvety citrus velouté sauce.
This sort of Game of Thrones-ish gastropub’s food isn’t medieval. It has a fried chicken & buttermilk waffle dish that is one of the most popular items on the brunch menu, and a prime rib sandwich that uses the same prime rib from the fancier Five Crowns restaurant next door, so you can expect a flavorful and juicy sandwich.
Sipping your mimosa in this rustic setting while overlooking Catalina Island will make you feel like you are on vacation. Aside from the basic buffet waffle, omelet, and carving stations, it also offers a fresh seafood selection, as well as low-cholesterol and gluten-free sections (are you sure this isn’t LA?). If you don’t want to buffet, it also has à la carte brunch, with items such as rib-eye steak & eggs and bananas Foster-style French toast.
Cha Cha’s is known mostly for happy hour, but don’t knock its late, Latin-jazzy brunch. Starting at 11:30am on weekends, you can get the $24 brunch special, which includes endless chips & salsa, the choice of a Bloody Mary or mimosa, salad, and a choice of entrée, including fresh manila clams and a stuffed quesadilla. Regardless of what else you get, also order the queso fundito, which is muy, muy bueno.
Cafe Mimosa is less than a mile from the beach, and set in a former house, with tables on the patio that provide a cool ocean breeze with your French-influenced food. Options include the “Oeufs en Meurette,” -- red wine poached eggs with beef bourgeon, and seven different Benedicts, ranging from the classic ham guy to a lobster option.
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Tom Holmberg is a freelance writer for Thrillist. You will often find Tom at a Champagne brunch buffet attempting to break his previous record for most plates consumed. Follow him on Twitter at @tomsfoodieblog.