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One month in the OC, some pleasant surprises

  • t

I've recently moved from NW Denver burbs to Orange County, and there has been some very pleasant finds. This is not meant to be exhaustive, but it's a quick rundown of what I've liked. You will notice a bias to RSM, it's where we're(SO and I) based right now. Will be looking for suggestions in laguna niguel soon....hint, hint.

Baja fish taco - corner of Alicia and Crown valley, next to Von's. Great fast food fish taco, the salsa bar has some of the tastiest onions I've found so far.

Itz-a-Deli - Lake Forest. TASTY corned beef on rye. Huge piles of meat on great bread. Veggie sandwich on squaw bread(think honey sweetened wheat-rye) is another favorite. $5 for sandwich and small cup of salad that will fill you up if you are there before 11:30 or after 1(they close at 3, itza lunch place).

Taco Mesa - Lake forest, Los Alisos and Trabuco. Great basic grilled meat on tortillas. Good guac and taste like homemade chips. Best is pork w/chile verde and the steak. $1 Taco Tuesdays, great deal. Horchata is a skip.

India Cook House? - Culver just E of I5. Good savory N Indian food(tikka masala, butter chicken, etc). The vindaloo/karahai stuff wasn't right, not enough heat. Adequate naan, didn't have crisp enough outside. Savory dishes were outstanding though, they stick in the head. I'm having a pavlovian response as I type this.

Caspian Restaurant - Culver just E of I5. Wouldn't have tried this place w/o some recs, just didn't have the feel of a great restaurant. It was very tasty, don't have a reference for authenticity. We went on a sunday night and saw the dancers....my brother in law from vermont was thinking of not going back(to vermont). My favorite was the chicken in thick sauce(pomegranate?) and rice with golden raisins, dried plums, and nuts. My wife liked the lamb that came with dill rice. HUGE portions, the three of us could have split an app and one main. The yoghurt drink was fantastic(du?).

Harbor Grill - Dana Point. Great fresh fish on mesquite grill. Surprisingly tasty NE clam chowder. Very nice breakfast, esp crab benedict. The huevos rancheros is a skip, doesn't have the right consistency.

Rose Canyon Cantina - Trabuco Canyon. Best marg I've had yet here, comparable to Mezcal 'coin' in Denver. Patio is an extremely pleasant place to have a meal, large trees shading the tables. Relleno and enchilada were probably good but not great, made better by locale and good drinks.

Canyon Cafe - RSM town center. Surprisingly good roasted chicken.

Taco Loco, Laguna Beach. Tacos taste really good after a day at the beach, but not something I'd go out of my way for.
Cinnamon Creations(?) - RSM town center. well executed generic breakfast. The bran blueberry muffin was the best part. Coffee had a really odd but identifiable odor of marijuana. Seriously. I thought the retiree behind me in line got her sunday morning started with a pipe.
Wine Bar, RSM town center. Hits and misses with food, the wine was nothing special at the tasting bar. Feels like they're still trying to get it figured out.

Opah - RSM town center. Blech.
Fat Burger - Aliso Viejo Town Center. Rather have an In-n-Out, esp for the highway robbery price.

If you made it this far, why don't you hit the 'reply' button to share your favorite hole in the wall in south OC? Please?


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  1. Inka Mama's in Foothill Ranch

    11 Replies
    1. re: JAB

      You've hit some great ones already. And I was about to add Inka Mama's to the mix before I saw JAB's post. I will add Cosmo's for good family Italian restaurant in Aliso Viejo and also Ladera Ranch. Gotta try Lucille's BBQ in Lake Forest on El Toro. It recently opened, so it's always packed, but a bit pricey. Celinda's on SM Parkway tucked away behind the KFC for one of the best chile verde burritos and fresh chips, salsa, and guacamole to go. If you're looking for Pizza, I can recommend Antonucci's on Alicia at Muirlands in MV and also Ciceros on Alicia and Trabuco. I too like Baja Fish Tacos, but if you're willing to travel a bit north to Tustin, you've gotta try Las Cotijas. They're the best fish taco's, which can be verified by many Chowhounders. Still looking for a good Chinese place. Lakeside on Alicia/Olympiad and Crown Chinese on Marguerite/Crown Valley are fairly Americanized and mediocre at best, and they are both the same owners, so we are not given much variety here. Pickings are a bit slim in south OC, but there are some good restaurants here and there if you can find them.

      1. re: BabyDaddy

        Assal pastry in Irvine is pretty good. Did you try the pizza at NYC Style Pizza in Foothill Ranch by the Regal Cinema? There is also an indian place in the same complex that I like.

          1. re: JAB

            If I'm thinking of the right place, Antonuccis was awful. It looks like it hasnt been decorated in 50 years and the soup comes in those flimsy wood bowls that come from a cafeteria. yikes! Pizza is best avoided in OC unless you like the CPK version.

            1. re: jroxybabe19

              Hmmm...Das Ubergeek recently recommended Luigi's D'Italia for NJ style pizza. As for me, I prefer thin crust Margheritas; and surprisingly, Buca's does a decent one...Market City Caffe also does a fairly good one.

              Market City Caffe--CLOSED
              110 W Birch St, Brea, CA 92821

              Luigi's D'Italia
              801 S State College Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92806

              1. re: jroxybabe19

                ? I've never had anything awful at Antonucci's. ?

                1. re: JAB

                  I apologize guys!!!! I was totally thinking of another place. MY BAD!!! so sorry, antonuccis was really good!

                  1. re: namstermonster

                    That the one on Garden Grove Blvd and Harbor? What style pizza is it, and do they do slices?

                    I have to confess that every now and then I get a hankering for a slice from the pizza place in the food court at The Block. It's not Vito's by any stretch but it's a damn sight better than many places...

                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                      There appear to be 2 Haus of Pizza locations, one in Costa Mesa, which I've been to, and the other in Garden Grove.

                      I've cut down on pizza since college, so I don't consider myself a pizza expert anymore, but my brother loves Haus of Pizza and considers it among the best in OC, at least for the Costa Mesa location.

                      Haus of Pizza
                      1500 Adams Ave, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

                      Haus of Pizza
                      12912 Harbor Blvd, Garden Grove, CA 92840

              2. re: BabyDaddy

                Like mentioned above, Los Cotijas is the tops when it comes to authentic baja fish tacos. This place really rocks.

                Don't forget to try Blacksheep Bistro in Tustin for some greatly inspired cooking and Pina's Bistro for the good Italian food in an atmosphere of being in Pina's home. Both are in Tustin.

                Also worth the try in Tustin is Haveli on Newport for Indian and the largest menu I've ever seen, Sushi Wasabi for the "Sushi Nazi" and his very traditional sushi, and Tustin Brewery for decent burgers but lousy beer.

            2. I moved to Irvine about the same time as you. I too have enjoyed Baja Fist Taco.

              A favorite so far is Javier's, which can be found in Laguna Beach or the Irvine Spectrum. The carnitas have been my favorite there.

              1. Best Chinese in the county is China Garden on Jeffrey & Walnut, just south of the 5 in Irvine.

                3 Replies
                1. re: MzMaggie

                  Have you tried Russell's seafood on Mac Arthur and Main near John Wayne. I think their dim sum is better there. I hate waiting for a table at China Garden. I think most people dont' know about Russells that's why it never really gets that packed. Great stir fry dishes here.

                  1. re: karynx78

                    I tried Russell's Seafood one time and will not go back there again. Quality of the dim sum is just not good at all. There is a reason why people wait for China Garden.

                    1. re: sportsfan8

                      I'm sorry that you didn't enjoy Russells but I feel that way about China Garden. The food seems to be prepared real sloppy and especially their lunch special dishes.. way too oily.

                2. I'm Indian so hence I will mention 3 Indian restaurants my husband and I have tried and have liked. One is Dosa Place off of Red Hill. Second restaurant is Masala Bowl off of Newport Ave in Tustin. For buffet type Indian food, try Taste of India in Fountain Valley. As mentioned, all 3 are awesome restaurants and definite restaurants my husband and I will visit again.

                  1. Oh, and if you enjoy fish, try California Fish and Grill. Good prices and awesome food!

                    1. Have lived in Irvine for 35 years. For Indian, we like the Clay Oven on Jeffrey. Tried Dosa Palace in Tustin last week and it's great but only if you like HOT Indian food. Way too spicey for me. Nieuport 17 in Tustin only on Sunday night for their pan fried chicken to order and homemade biscuits. Zinc Cafe in CDM on PCH for their take-out homemade vegetarian salads which are fabulous. Sabatino's in Newport Beach for wonderful Italian sausage and southern Italian specials with Frank Sinatra in the background. Onotria in Costa Mesa for upscale fabulous Italian with ambiance. Saturday or Sunday brunch at Plum's on 17th in Costa Mesa. Enjoy!

                      1 Reply
                      1. I've been in irvine for about 6-7 yrs now and these seem to be my local favorites:

                        Pho Bac - great place for Vietnamese noodles ( Pho), rice dishes, and eggrolls. On Barranca in Irvine. Close to Islands on Barranca and Culver.

                        Wholesome Choice Market- has a great food court. Their kebab plates are really good. Large portions for a great price. Just as good as the Persian restaurants. I always go there for their boneless chicken kebab. You can also get the sides ( yogurt, hummus)
                        near fridge near the line.

                        Zov's Bistro - In Tustin. Great place for lunch. From fresh panini sandwiches, chicken kebabs, to great pasta dishes. Has a pretty good Sunday Brunch menu.

                        Taco Rosa - Love their margaritas. Try their tamarind margarita. Had 2 last Tues. Tacos are like $3.50 ea. Pretty reasonable prices. Same owners as Taco mesa but their setting is a little more classy.

                        Naan and Kebab- In Tustin. Total hole in the wall. I most call in my order and pick up in 20 mins. The kebabs are also very tender and juicy. Prices beat Caspian and other more formal Persian restaurants. In a very casual setting

                        Mitsuwa - japanese supermarket in Costa Mesa. On Paularino and Bristol. Has an exellent food court. Perfect for a quick bite. You can find a great bowl of Ramen, Udon, curry rice dishes, etc.

                        Lucca - in Oak Creek in Irvine. Rt off the Sand Canyon exit off the 405 freeway. It is in the same shopping center as Albertsons. This is a reall cozy, nice Mediterranean/Italian/French restaurant. Has a great wine lists. Their dishes are meant to be ordered tapas style for sharing. I always order their butternut squash with sage brown butter, kobe beef sliders, and their different cheeses. It's a good place to go if you want to try a little bit of everything and not settle on one boring entree.

                        1 Reply
                        1. Wow, thanks everyone. So:
                          Peruvian - Inka Mama's in foothill ranch.
                          Italian - Cosmo's in AV. Pina's Bistro Tustin. Sabatino's in Newport Beach. Onotria in CM.
                          Tacos/Burritos - Celinda's behind KFC. Las cotijas Tustin. Taco Rosa
                          Pizza - Antonucci's MV. Ciceros MV.
                          Dim Sum - Russells Seafood near John Wayne.
                          Cont/Amer - Nieuport 17 in Tustin. Blacksheep Bistro in Tustin. Lucca in Irvine for Tapas.
                          Indian - Dosa Palace off Red Hill. Masala Bowl in Tustin. Haveli.
                          Sushi - Sushi Wasabi in Tustin.
                          Japanese - Mitsuwa in CM.
                          Persian - Zov's Bistro. Naan and Kebab in Tustin.
                          Pho - Pho Bac in Irvine.

                          I saw a 'Best of OC' topic a couple months ago, but with this new site's TOTALLY UNUSABLE search feature I can't find it. anyone have a link?
                          Every other site of any note has a search function that you can at least sort by date....they still haven't fixed that basic function on here. Clowns.


                          6 Replies
                            1. re: TNC

                              I prefer the pho at Pho 86 (right smack in the centre of Little Saigon, at Brookhurst and Hazard) to Pho Bac.

                              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                Have you tried Pho Kimmy's yet? Also there is a great bowl in Artesia now called Pho Saigon. They have an extra large that I have never seen as big as anywhere else.

                                1. re: justagthing

                                  I haven't, though I can barely get through a standard bowl of pho.

                                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                    It's all about sharing with pho.....and I get the bonus because my SO doesn't eat tendon!

                                    1. re: TNC

                                      Wow, we never share our pho. but I also do not order the XL. Literally, the bowl at Pho Saigon is bigger than your head. LOL. Now that is probably a good one to share with your SO. (I love the beef balls, tendon and tripe, along with my rare meat served on a serperate plate).

                            2. I like the hot pastrami sandwhich on a french roll at NYC Cafe on Lake Forest/Irvine Center Drive. They also have good pizza and pasta.

                              1. For Thai try Urban Thai in RSM town center a few shops down from Opah

                                1. Bistango's in Costa Mesa. Best best best Chocolate or Grand Marnier Souffle in town. Live music certain nights and great ambience. Recommend fish or steak for main course. Chicken was a bit dry.

                                  1. Me thinks we just witnessed a commercial.

                                    Just for that reason I WON'T be going.

                                    1. The best Greek in all of OC is The Greek Ilsand Grille (www.thewholepita.com) in Costa Mesa right across from South Coast Plaza. I go there at least twice a month, the food is the best Greek I've had outside of actual Greece, it's tiny, dirt cheap, and they treat you like family. Is it a hole in the wall? Yes, but the food ALWAYS satisfies like nothing else. Try the addictive Bifteki (small seasoned beef patties), and the hummus and melitzanosalata appetizer, along with pretty much everything else on the menu. Family run, by some of the nicest people around.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: OC Mutt

                                        unfortunately Greek Island Grille sold out, I noticed because the workers changed (I heard many people asking for Nic - the guys that used to always be there), as well as the food. I first noticed the gyro - which i would always get - was smaller than normal, the next time I went it was bigger but didn't taste right, when I opened it up I realized why - fake gyro patties, not the real deal. Needless to say I have not been back. Too bad because I have not found a place to match the quality and price of the original.

                                        1. re: ajoy

                                          You should give Greek Town Grill a try. It is in Costa Mesa on 17th St. It opened about a year ago. I actually like it better than Greek Island and I like (or liked) that place a lot.

                                          Every is freshly made unlike most Greek take out place like Daphne's Greek Cafe.

                                          It is owned by the same family that owns Aegean Cafe in Laguna Beach.


                                      2. I like Pho 99 in both Irvine and Costa Mesa. You can keep over-rated Taco Loco, but I'll take Fat-Burger over the horrible In-and-Out and their limp french fries any day. Best ribs are Newport Rib Company in Costa Mesa, and for the record, the service at Taco Mesa in Irvine is abysmal - so it pretty much ruins the food. Try Taleo - it's really quite good.

                                        1. This isn't South OC, but the Bungelow in Corona Del Mar is a fantastic steak house that's locally owned.

                                          1. i've been a south oc resident for 20+ years. i moved away a few years to NYC but i am now back. still catching up to the new joints but here are some of my all time favorites in the area that are still around!

                                            i think the best hole in the wall mexican is "la rana" on the corner of moulton and pacific park in laguna hills. there is also a new location in lake forest. they have the best fish tacos IMHO (far better than the one you mentioned) and also have amazing tacos al pastor. they also have great everything else! huevos rancheros, chilaquiles, beans, pambasos, tortas, pozole, gorditas, etc. the owner is really friendly and will suggest things if you don't understand the menu (there are a lot of somewhat unusual items on the menu versus the classic mexican OC joint)

                                            there is a new gelato place in aliso viejo. i can't think of the name. but its in the same center as longs which is on the corner of pacific park and la paz. they also have self-serve frozen yogurt which tasted very similar to golden spoon imho (which is fine), but the gelato was excellent!

                                            also try a weekend brunch at ramos house cafe in san juan capistrano. my personal favorite brunch in southern california. amazing atmosphere, great food, and drinks. very cozy but well thought out, fresh food! then you can walk around the mission and the entire SJC area for a day and have a snack later at the taco stand right by the mission. $1 tacos al pastor that are really good!

                                            i second the new lucille's in lake forest on el toro road. it was PACKED when we went last week, but with good reason! i thought everything was above average (but definitely not the BEST bbq ever) they have quite a big menu to please everyone. i stuck to traditional bbq items like ribs, potato salad, baked beans.

                                            a good sushi place is also a few blocks away on el toro road called "oami sushi". its on el toro at raymond st. sit at the bar and order sushi. DO NOT eat the other food. *barf! lol

                                            a more hole-in-the-wall-ish sushi place that is really excellent is on the corner of marguerite and pacific park in mission viejo. i do not know the name of it but it is on that exact corner with the pavillions inside the center. more traditional but both sushi places i mentioned are good.

                                            empanada man has really great and fresh argentinian empanadas. this is on lake forest dr. order the beef, sultanas, and shrimp. i highly recommend it!

                                            inka mama is also very good for peruvian.

                                            i also second China Garden in irvine. good dim sum! i have not found any chinese worthy of eating south of irvine. i hate, hate, HATE americanized chinese food! if anyone has any authentic style chinese south of irvine, let us know! :)

                                            there are also no good japanese restaurants in south oc that i've found other than sushi. does anyone else know of one that serves food other than teriyaki and tempura? *yawn*! but if you're willing to go north to fountain valley, there are a few ramen and yakitori gems in that area.

                                            javiers is fun for americanized mexican, good margaritas, and a "scene", but the wait is always ridiculous!

                                            my brother swears by the persian place in the same center as longs i mentioned before in aliso viejo at the corner of la paz and pacific park. i personally am not a huge persian fan so i haven't been, but he loves it and goes often. it would be a good, cheaper substitute to the caspian! i'll probably give it a try myself sometime soon as i'm running out of really close restaurants to try.

                                            i second the wholesome choice market food court in irvine. the market is a lot of fun to shop around too. not sure where you are, but if you are closer to laguna hills area there is a smaller market called "jordan market" on alicia that has really good chicken kebabs in their meat section (although YOU would have to cook them at home!) but the marinade is superb!

                                            the indian buffet at "natraj" (forgive me if i spelled it wrong, i can't think of it) on alicia near the 5 freeway is also pretty decent if you're craving indian. it is definitely not worthy of little india's restaurants but for a quick local fix, its good! and cheap!

                                            i know there's definitely more but i can't think of more at the moment...happy eating!

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: junglekitte

                                              Shin Sushi is the sushi place on Marguerite and Oso (Pacific Park turns into Oso around the 5) in the Pavillions center in MV you were talking about. Family run joint; good quality fish. Not the best in OC, but probably my favorite sushi place in MV. Not sure if I'd call it a hole in the wall, since it's not cheap. Had some nice ankimo the last time I went there, but that was over a year ago

                                            2. Hole in the wall? El Campeon in San Juan Capistrano. You'll find it authentic and think you're in Mexico. Brush up on your espanol.
                                              Fresh fish, inexpensive. California Fish Grill in Irvine. Don't forget to order the grilled zucchini.
                                              Good hunting/eating.

                                              1. Probably not quite far enough south, but: Shin-Sen-Gumi in Fountain Valley for Kyushu-style ramen, Santouka in the Mitsuwa food court in Costa Mesa for shio toroniku ramen, and Shibucho in Costa Mesa for sushi. I actually don't eat at the two ramen places much, because they have branches in the South Bay which I frequent too often already.

                                                My friends seem to love Taiko in Irvine. I have no idea why.

                                                I went to Bistango once 7 years ago. It was good (I had venison), but not remarkable (I don't remember any of my other courses). I thought the smooth jazz vibe was a little cheeseball, and I don't hate smooth jazz as much as most people I know.

                                                1. Frosted Cup in Laguna Niguel has the best self serve frozen yogurt & gelato too... You should try it they are behind Cedar Creek on La Paz Road and Pacific Park

                                                  1. I am saddened to report that Itz-a-Deli sold out to someone. Walked in the other day, saw the way things had changed, and walked right out.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: jwnorris

                                                      I am also disappointed about Itz-a-Deli selling, but they were killing themselves. The original owners are starting a sandwich shop inland somewhere, much closer to their home.
                                                      The new sandwiches are the same stuff you can get anywhere, middle of the road deli meats, pre-shredded lettuce, etc.
                                                      I need to update my posting.

                                                    2. Update:
                                                      Moved to laguna niguel, so the hood did change.
                                                      Still like Baja Fish Taco, haven't had a chance to try Los Cotijas.
                                                      Shin Sushi @ Oso and Marguerite is a great local sushi spot. The chef loves baseball as a bonus.
                                                      Takiyama(maybe?) on Bristol right across from the 73 south on-ramp is the best sushi I've had. The spicy squid app is amazing, weird as it sounds it is served like a taco salad. Pitchers of Kirin ++
                                                      Sapphire in laguna beach has community tables on the patio(dogs are welcome on patio too!) and great food. Everything from sheperds pie to caribbean curry w/fried platains.
                                                      Ramos House cafe in SJCap is the new favorite brunch spot. Apple beignets was the favorite first(SO just said 'don't tell too many people about Ramos house we'll have to wait longer') and everyone was unanimous in saying their dish was the best at the table. Mine WAS the best, chilaquiles are always a winner.
                                                      Restaurant at the Getty was the most expensive lunch and the best value lunch we've had in SCal thus far. Wine list to salad to dessert, hands down the best overall dining experience yet.
                                                      Second the Dosa Place rec for spicy indian. Real size dhosa and sambal...ummm.
                                                      Pho99 @ Lake Forest and Muirlands is good, but not spectacular pho. Little skimpy on the noodles and meat in the large.

                                                      Thanks for all the recs, now that the site is somewhat functional with the search feature I'll be contributing more regularly.


                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: TNC

                                                        I think the secret is long out on Ramos House Cafe. ;) I agree that it is definitely fabulous though!

                                                      2. I'll add a few:

                                                        - Best Chinese SOUTH of Irvine: China Moon, at Crown Valley & Niguel Road (Town Center)
                                                        - Great small sushi place: Jizake, at Crown Valley & Niguel Rd. (owner was a sushi chef at Gen Kai in Dana Point).
                                                        - Harbor Deli (in Dana Point Harbor, near Catalina tour boats dock): pretty decent Jewish deli; they had stopped serving deli in the evening but Í was just told they've added the deli items back to the evening menu.
                                                        - Thai: Mongkut Thai: on DelMar in San Clementea ; a few doors down from Beachfire.

                                                        Big dittos for Taco Mesa and Antonucci's.

                                                        1. Old thread, never mind.