Need South OC Recommendations
We live in Florida but will be spending a week in Irvine and Huntington Beach in July and need ideas for some good meals. Although we lived in OC for 3 years, it was 1995-98 - so our restaurant knowledge is stale to say the least. Looking for suggestions for fine dining as well as casual/ethnic - e.g. Mexican, Vietnamese, BBQ , etc. We enjoy all food - so don't feel constrained - just tee up your favorites. Also, is there a good izakaya restaurant in South OC? BTW we will probably make the trip to LA for a Langer's pastrami, and I'm wondering if we should try to get reservations for Mozza - is it worth it? Is it feasible to get a reservation? Oh, how about a good beerpub in South OC? Thanks.
I must say, Orange County has vastly improved in its dining choices since the mid-1990's. Back then, Orange County Upscale usually meant French. There are some stand-out high end restaurants in the Dana Point/Laguna Beach area, like: 1. Stonehill Tavern, Michael Mina's restaurant in the St. Regis in Monarch Beach; and 2. Claes, the stellar seafood restaurant with the equally stellar ocean view in the Hotel Laguna.
Casual/authentic Mexican - I think you will get a lot of people recommending Taco Mesa on 19th Street in Costa Mesa, which is a counter-service restaurant in what looks like a converted Taco Bell. I'd also highly recommend the Coyote Grill on PCH in South Laguna Beach - especially for authentic Mexican breakfasts and the best Bloody Marys in Orange County.
Vietnamese - I say it's worth a short drive up the 405 to Westminster to dine at "S - Vietnamese Cuisine," which has garnered some very favorable reviews for being both authentic and slightly upscale (although upscale Vietnamese dining usually means dinner for 2 for about $40). We've been there twice and have loved the lovingly prepared clay pot dishes and sumptuous fried banana desserts. In Irvine, you have Pho Bac at two different locations serving pho which is on par with the best Vietnamese restaurants in Southern California.
Beerpubs in South OC - This is a tough question, because so many of them are in the "dive bar" category. Nevertheless, I'd recommend Henessy's Tavern in Dana Point, The Harp in Costa Mesa and Muldoon's in Newport Beach, each of which falls in various points on the "dive" spectrum, with Henessy's on one side and Muldoon's on the other (Muldoon's is more upscale).
In south oc (Laguna) my fave is 230 forest ave.
also, there is some GREAT Vietnamese in Garden Grove/Westminster, but usually I am taken by friends so I don't know names, but little Saigon (bolsa ave between euclid and magnolia) has tons of places. there should be a post or two on here about some of the better places.
For Izakaya, you have two great options in Orange county: Honda Ya in Tustin and Kappo Honda in Huntington Beach. I'm pretty sure they are (or were) owned by the same people, and the menus are similar, but Honda Ya has a larger menu and some tastier dishes. You can't go wrong either way.
I'm not sure South OC is the best place for an izakya [you're better off looking in South LA, Torrance area], but Ikko in Costa Mesa is pretty good and they'll keep that sake flowing and sushi coming all night.
242 Cafe Fusion Sushi in Laguna always has some interesting rolls, though its somewhat pricey.
Sushi Wasabi in Tustin has some of the freshest sushi around though its omakase tasting menu will run you up quite a bill.
Try the strawberry croissants at Cream Pan in Tustin. They are to die for
For Korean soondubu [soft tofu soup], I like Goong in Irvine.
Tart frozen yogurt has been all the rage lately. Try it at Yogurtland in Irvine or the at Pinkberry's in Long Beach
Mozza's isnt all that hard to get reservations for if you're willing to dine at odd hours. I called a week beforehand and ate at 5:30pm Though I've seen better pizza in the Bay Area, Mozza is pretty top notch for LA.
Bukhara in Huntington Beach for Indian food is as good as it gets down in these parts.
Brodard in Westminster has very good nem nuong spring rolls that are on everyone list of to eats.
I like Au Lac in Fountain Valley for Vietnamese vegetarian.
Marche Moderne is a French bistro that recently opened in South Coast Plaza and garnered a three-star rating from the LA Times. Pretty impressive, so you might wanna check that our for fine dining.
The Vintage Tea Leaf in Long Beach does a good afternoon tea if you need a break from all of the eating =]
Best of luck!
Honda-Ya in Tustin - This place has got to be one of the staples of late night OC dining. If you want Izakaya you've got to go to this place but make sure you're ready to wait because there's always a line outside unless you get there right at 5:30 when they open. They've got some of the best yakiniku, if not the best in OC. I'd recommend the Chicken skin, ginko, crunchy rolls, pork belly, bacon wrapped asparagus, and the fried oysters. Of course, with a menu consisting of over a hundred items you really can't go wrong. This place is dinner service only.
Cafe Hiro in Cypress - This is a Japanese/French/Italian fusion establishment. The food here is really refreshing. Everything at this restaurant, right down to the stocks and sauces are done in house so everything tastes like a lot of time and effort went into preparing them. I'd recommend the osso bucco, peiking pork, shumai, crab croquette, the pasta cabonara and if you're lucky, the seafood gratin that they sometimes serve as a special. For desert the panna cotta and green tea blanc manger are perfect endings. If you visit this place, tell the Sous Chef "fry" sent you.
Anjin in Costa Mesa - Another late night staple. This place is basically Japanese style Korean BBQ. They've got awesome quality meat and some of the best cow tongue. I really recommend getting the Beef Tataki if you're willing to venture into the world of raw beef. An alternative to this place would be Tsuruhashi in Fountain Valley. I personally enjoy Anjin more than Tsuruhashi, but I will say that the latter restaurant gives you thicker cuts of meat and isn't as expensive. Be prepared to wait at both these places.
Le Croissant Dore in Westminster - If you want to try the more French influenced side of Vietnamese food then hit this place up. Order the beef stew with baguettes. At $5 you really can't go wrong. Plus, this is probably the best red wine beef stew you're going to get in OC at that price. I'd also recommend picking up a couple of fruit tarts; This place is famous for their tarts.
Fukada in Irvine - For something light and healthy try this place. This place is famous for it's Udon and Soba noodles that are made in house. The lunch crowd is usually packed so again, be prepared to wait. I'd recommend the Tendon with Hakada udon, fried oysters, crunchy roll, cold soba, chicken wings, and the braised beef.
Mangia Mangia in Huntington Beach - One of the best Italian restaurants in HB. Everything here is good and there's usually a good crowd so make reservations. If you're willing to spend a little bit of money, call a day before and order Gisepe's lobster special. You won't find it on the menu but locals and people who frequent this place know that this is some of the best lobster you'll find. Really I'd recommend any seafood dish. Stay away from the Plain Jane pasta dishes as there's really nothing spectacular there that you can't find at any other Italian joint.
Garlic Jo's in Corona Del Mar - This is an Japanese Italian fusion restaurant. Really, it's Italian food with a bit of Japanese flair. This place is right next to Fashion Island so if you're gonna do a little shopping then I'd make a trip down to Garlic Jo's. If you come here you must get the scallop calpaccio because it's simply to die for. Another must is the shrimp & mayonnaise pizza; this place makes their pizza more like the Italians make it, very thin. Other recommendations would be the garlic bread, shrimp alfredo fettuccine, garlic fried rice, original garlic chicken, and the original garlic steak (order it rare as it comes on a hot plate and will continue to cook when they serve it to you).
Tri Village in Irvine - For authentic Chinese and the best Peking Duck this side of China you must visit this establishment. Really, I just recommend coming here for the duck but make sure you call a day in advance and order it otherwise they'll sell out. I'd also recommend the pork belly, the mayonnaise and walnut shrimp, and the banana's foster.
I hope this helps you out. I know most of the joints I've listed are Asian but, I'm Asian so that's what I like to eat :) Realistically, in OC your best bet is to find the hole-in-the-wall places. There are tons of chain restaurants that will charge you an arm in a leg and provide you with ridiculously pretentious service but you'll never be as satisfied as you will be if you go to one of the places I've listed. Of course, if you enjoy spending money then by all means, Roy's at Fashion Island and places like Ruth's Chris in Irvine would love your company.
What a great list there cubs! Those are some of my favorite places in OC to eat, plus I learned a few new ones like the Gisepe lobster and the Peking duck (and I was all set to make a trip out to Lu Din Gee, and now I won't have to drive so far).
Like you I've been to both Anjin and Tsuruhashi, but I prefer Tsuruhashi. I think maybe the waitresses are cuter, or I seem to get better value for the money there. It's almost impossible to find though, if you don't already know where it is.
Mozza - absolutely ! My wife and I made the trek up from Central OC (Tustin) this past December and it was soo worth the trip ! FWIW, we went on a mid-week for a late lunch (like, 1:30) and were seated immediately (but we had made resi's about 2-3 weeks in advance, and there were people waiting, hoping for spare tables). Definitely save a bit of room at the end for the butterscotch buddino (puddding). It'll be some of the best pudding you'll ever have.
For south OC recommendations, I'd wholeheartedly recommend the Ramos House Cafe in San Juan Capistrano for a casual but really really good brunch (try one of the hashes on offer (they have a duck hash and a crab hash, they're both great, but just about everyghing is, including their bloody mary). Also in SJC, across the train tracks from Ramos House is Rendezvous, which is also really good, for dinner.
For beer, I just visited Oggi's (http://www.oggis.com/), a growing chain with a brand new location in Tustin (Newport at Bryan). While I can't endorse the pizza (crust was strangely devoid of flavor), the beer was really good. Might be worth a visit. Try the fish and chips or the zucchini wedges, they looked good.