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Orange County California...only a few

The depressing part of eating out in Orange County is all the chains. I refuse to go anymore. I have lived in the area for over 20 years and their are only a few restaurants that are original and good. Here's a few of my favorites

Barelo Cafe on Newport Avenue - small Italian restaurant - chef cooks in the same room. Always good crisp bread and meals come with a salad- although lately the balsamic dressing is too heavy. Specific light coating of dressing. His wife owns another restaurant off Nohl Ranch Road called Trattoria ?? I like the service better and they have pizza on the menu.

Another favorite would be Brochard's in Garden Grove - near the 22 and Brookhurst. Excellent food but dress decently as it's an insult to come in with shorts and flipflops on. Great looking bar in the front. Vietnamise food is outstanding.

Sage Restaurant in Newport Beach is always good. I like to go eat outside in their backyard terrace. The other one at Newport Coast - is too full of the "beautiful phoney crowd"

Santa Monica Seafood Company - 17th street and Newport in Costa Mesa. Very fresh fish sandwiches, meals and oysters on the half shell (but they aren't on the menu) They service a great halibut chop

My absolute favorite bakery is Pan Cream on Camino Royale in Tustin. He's expanding and going to have a cafe next door The baggetts are excellent along with everything in his case. Sort of a French/Japanese bakery. The best in OC!

Other favorites...Memphis in Costa Mesa - and a great Indian takeout restaurant in Tustin at the corner if Redhill and the 5 freeway in the stripmall on the right as you exit.....all the way at the end. Their eggplant dishes are incredible.

No decent pizza places on OC - have to go to LA to get good thin crusted pizza.

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  1. Sorry to hear that after 20 years in Orange County you have only experience a few good places to eat. Just start paying attention to this board and you discover that there are many many independent chef owned and operated places to eat in OC.

    I think you meant Barolo Cafe and Tustin. I haven't been, but I work very close. I will have to check it out.

    I think you meant Brodards. I am more of hole in the wall Vietnamese type of guy. I will give this a shot as well.

    I like Sage a lot and agree that the one in East Bluff is better.

    I think you meant Cream Pan on El Camino Real. I love that place also. I in fact loaded up on Christmas Eve day.

    There is a great Indian restaurant that specializes in Southern Indian cuisine on Redhill and the 5 freeway called Dosa Place. Is that what you are talking about?

    There is another great Indian restaurant on Newport Ave and the 5 called Haveli. They have a wonderful lunch buffet.

    Two of my favorite independent restaurants lately are Crow Bar and Kitchen in Corona Del Mar and Sapphire in Laguna Beach.

    3 Replies
    1. re: cdmedici

      Agree that there are many great places to eat in OC. It appears that there are several more cities that the OP needs to check out for a great variety of good food.

      In regards to Brodard's, the one closer to the freeway, in the old Big Yellow House bldg, is also more expensive than the one off of Brookhurst. Plus, you can be casual at this one (Behind the 99cents store)

      1. re: cdmedici

        I wouldn't waste my time with Brodard, especially if the OP is talking about Brodard Chateu the fancy upscale version (meaning more price for have clean plates but the same food.) Brodard specializes in making nem nuong (sp?) those garlic pork blobs and they make it pretty well. Really though, it's only an appetizer and everything else is overpriced in comparison to other Vietnamese places which taste a lot better. So uh, I guess you could try Brodard, it really is a place to take people who've never had Viet food and you don't want to scare them by taking them to a ghetto restaurant; but since you've already had real Viet food you'll be disappointed.

        1. re: digkv

          We typically inhabit the SGV, where our favorite Vietnamese places are Vietnam Restaurant, Golden Deli and Vietnam House, in that order. We rendezvoused with Mrs. O's OC-dwelling brother, his wife and elder daughter at Brodard Chateau on Saturday, our first time, and found it neither overpriced (considering the neighborhood and the ambience) nor short on goodness. I had the pad thai, probably a mistake for not playing to their strength, but it was quite good; Mrs. O had the Brodard Special pan-fried noodles, and thought it better than anything she'd had elsewhere. Likewise with the assorted spring roll platter, which though costing damn near $30 was still something I might get for myself for a long and leisurely lunch. The waiter also was French-fluent, which pleased the Francophones (that's everyone but me) no end. We will certainly be back sometime.

      2. I think there's very good food in OC. I especially like the Persian, Mexican and Vietnamese food there. Here are some recs, just off the top of my head.

        Darya in Costa Mesa, for Persian
        Taco Mesa in Costa Mesa, for quick Mexican food and great drinks made with fresh fruit
        Wholesome Choice in Irvine, for great groceries

        I think Elmomonster posts really good info about food in OC.

        10 Replies
        1. re: katkoupai

          Good call on elmomonster's blog. He has been a great service for all of us OC Chowhounds.

          Here are a few more great independent or chef owned and operated places off the top of my head;

          Plum's Café, Marche Moderne, Old Vine Café, Onotria, Sabatino's, Anjin, El Toro Bravo, La Serina Grill, Wasabi Sushi, Thai Nakorn, Izakaya Zero, Zov’s, Honda-Ya, Bistango, Santoka, Gabbi’s, Sushi Shibucho.

          Oh Santoka Ramen..I think that is a chain, but damn if it is not a great bowl of ramen.

          1. re: cdmedici

            Hey thanks guys! I was about to respond to this post, but you guys beat me to it. There's plenty of good eats to be had. There are so many that I haven't resorted to a chain restaurant in ages. And you don't even have to look that hard.

            But what people have to do is not get suckered into the conventional thinking that OC's got nothing but chains. There are just as many chains in LA.

            I've done my best to chronicle the mom-n-pop, the ethnic eatery, the hole-in-the-wall, just as others have done here on Chowhound.

            We've got a lot to eat here in OC. Check out kingkong5's list of Best of OC. Read Gustavo Arellano at OC Weekly. And yes, my humble blog.

            http://elmomonster.blogspot.com

            P.S. Take cdmedici's advice on The Crow Bar. Definitely one of the best places right now.

            1. re: elmomonster

              You're welcome. :) Could I please get one rec for seafood in Laguna Beach and one for Long Beach? I read about the Crab Pot in Long Beach. I'm looking specifically for great scallops and mussels.

              1. re: katkoupai

                The Crab Pot is not the place for scallops and mussels. We do have the original King's on Pine, but they do not always get the thumbs up either. Sorry, can't think of any others right now, but will keep my eyes open as I too love scallops.

              2. re: elmomonster

                Hi elmomonster,

                Enjoy your posts and especially your blog --- but I have to disagree with you about Crow Bar. I was fired up to try it recently and was totally disappointed.

                Thought that I would now be able to skip the drive to Santa Monica to Father's Office for some 'gastropub' grub --- but alas, it was not to be. IMHO, the place is (already) overrated and overpriced.

                1. re: vlad

                  Hi vlad,

                  Aww. Sorry you didn't like it. What did you try?

                  Here are a few things I tried that I loved:

                  Fish and chips
                  Bangers and mash (although the sausage was leaner than I'd prefer)
                  Ice Cube salad
                  Serrano-wrapped dates
                  Scotch eggs
                  The churro

                  And some things that I thought were just okay;

                  The Duck Fries
                  The Onion Rings
                  The Ding-Dong
                  The horchata shot that came with the churro

                  By the way, I didn't get a chance to try their burgers, because as you say, the place gets a little pricey.

                  http://elmomonster.blogspot.com

                  1. re: elmomonster

                    I had the Crow Burger, the sweet potato fries and the Irish car 'bombe', I thought the first two to be a flat and uninspired imitation of the standard FO fare and the third to be overly sweet.

                    The beer selection however was good --- but next time I want a gourmet burger and good beer (and I don't feel like driving to Santa Monica) I will head over to Brussels Bistro in Laguna Beach.

                    1. re: vlad

                      I 100% agree with you, vlad. We too recently had the Crow Burger and it was lacking in taste. I wish it was even 25% of the burger at Father's Office. We also had the cubano sandwich, which was completely overwhelmed by the bread and cheese. Again, no flavor. A great beer selection, but the food isn't bringing me back there. I second the Brussles Bistro recommendation.

            2. re: katkoupai

              Agreed. Elmo's recommendations are stellar. Discovered my now favorite sushi joint in OC (or of any sushi place I've visited since moving to CA), Maki Zushi, thanks to Elmo's blog. I must dine there almost weekly.

              Ditto to Darya Persian in Costa Mesa. I also liked Royal Khyber also in Costa Mesa, Goong Korean in Irvine, Zov's in Tustin, Taco Rosa in Tustin/Irvine, El Gallo Giro in Santa Ana, Quan Hy in Westminster, and The Olde Ship in Santa Ana.

              Tustin alone has so many good independent restaurants it would practically take a year of solid dining out to try them all. Have been here six months, and not tried nearly as many of these places as I'd like to.

              1. re: FoodieKat

                And I tried another great OC restaurant last night, Mas' Islamic Chinese in Anaheim. Yum! Ditto to DasUbergeek's reviews! OC is not like any other 'suburb' I have ever lived in. So many great restaurants to choose from, you could easily skip the 'chains'!

            3. Wow. It seems like the day to bash the suburbs... first the "there's nothing to eat in Burbank" business, and now "there's hardly anything in OC."

              I haven't lived in OC that long -- coming up on a year here -- and yet I think I've eaten in maybe three chains in all that time.

              However, I think I'm too tired to snark anymore, so let me just give you some suggestions. First of all, at the risk of tooting my own horn, go read anything from me where the title starts with REVIEW. Elmomonster, kingkong5, and others are OC experts.

              It really sounds like you're not looking past the 55. OC's a big place. Even down in Rancho Santa Suburbia, there's good stuff to eat (mmmm, Taco Mesa). So here goes.

              Have you been to Zov's Bistro on 17th in Tustin? How about Black Sheep Bistro in Old Town Tustin? Have you had one of the megasalads or the hummus plates from Rutabegorz in Tustin, Fullerton or Orange?

              There's a good German restaurant called the Jagerhaus on Ball Road and the 57; Zena's Lebanese on Tustin Street in Orange, across from Trader Joe's, is very good, as is Darya Persian -- fantastic rice, and the juiciest chicken kabobs anywhere.

              Drive up and down Brookhurst Street. Did you know that besides Little Saigon (which is chock full of wonders much, much, MUCH better than Brodard), there's a whole Korean section just off Brookhurst on Garden Grove Blvd.? Or that there's a few EXCELLENT Japanese places near Brookhurst and Ellis, including Tsuruhashi, home of the grill-it-yourself wagyu (American "Kobe") beef plate? Ever been to Anaheim's Little Gaza, centered on Brookhurst and Ball?

              There's an Islamic Chinese place called Mas on Orangethorpe in Anaheim that serves addictive sesame-green onion bread and fantastic five-spiced beef with leeks, not to mention tasty hot pots. If you're looking for fancy small-plates, Laguna's k'ya has opened a second location in the Hotel Menage on the SW corner of Ball and Harbor -- yes, that's right, spitting distance from Disneyland.

              Did you know that Anaheim has not one but two Ethiopian restaurants? One's actually Eritrean, called Merhaba on Ball and Dale, and then there's Tana, on La Palma west of Magnolia near the Buena Park Mall.

              Speaking of Buena Park (which is still OC), it's got more Korean restaurants than you can shake a stick at. Take a date to Sagan, in a wildly improbably location across from Medieval Times on Beach Boulevard, and bask in the cool-modern decor as you eat fantastic barbecue -- kind of a Chosun Galbee for Orange County.

              Still further north is Orange County's only El Taco Nazo, a small chain based in the Gateway Cities of the 562, where you will find the very best shrimp tacos in the entire Los Angeles region. A very, very close second is Señor Baja, in a really surprising location -- Weir Canyon and Serrano, in Anaheim Hills, across the 91 from Yorba Linda.

              Placentia, the tiny town nobody's ever heard of, has not one but TWO places that come nearly universally-recommended: Tony's Little Italy, for the best Chicago-style pizza west of Moreno Valley, and El Farolito, for tasty Mexican combo plates and the famous "self-service beer cooler".

              The other town that time forgot, Stanton, is also home to two Chow regular hangouts: Park Avenue, on Beach near Katella, with old-fashioned American chophouse food and a fantastic Googie-style bar, and Thai Nakorn, the almost-undisputed king of Thai food in the Los Angeles area (especially now the Wat Thai in NoHo have closed down the food stalls), on the corner of Chapman.

              Santa Ana, for the intrepid explorer, offers an amazing array of Mexican food. I'm not remotely an expert, though I admit to a fondness for the Chili Pepper (which might actually be in Orange -- it's on Main Street) and their wonderful seafood. Also very good are the burgers at Original Mike's, on 1st and Main. And if you haven't been to Newport Seafood on 1st and Newhope, you are missing out on a lobster treat.

              Phoenix Food Boutique is in Irvine. It's a restaurant-style but they're supposedly going to start serving their great desserts soon. Wholesome Choice on Culver and Michelson has the hidden wonderful Persian food hot bar (if you can deal with the sometimes-surly service).

              You drive to LA for thin-crust pizza? Then you're driving past three great OC places just off the top of my head for top-notch pizza: Luigi's D'Italia, on State College in Anaheim, Mama Cozza's (but ONLY get the pizza) on Ball in Anaheim, and Slice of New York on Main Street in Seal Beach.

              This is just barely scratching the surface. I've ignored almost the entire 949 area code, haven't begun to delve into Garden Grove or Westminster, omitted Huntington Beach... you get the idea.

              Take heart. Use the search function. There's an amazing array of great food in Orange County -- you could eat in a Chowhound-approved place every week for a year and not have begun to start.

              12 Replies
              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                Whoa! Well, that should about silence all those OC naysayers.

                Bravo Das Ubergeek. I stand in awe. Talk about OC experts!!

                http://elmomonster.blogspot.com

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  The part that really impresses me is that Das Ubergeek has only lived in Orange County for about year; and the OP has been here for 20+ years and has yet to find some of the awesome spots recommended by Das Ubergeek

                  1. re: I got nothin

                    Well one thing, like Uber said, was that the OP seemed to limit himself to a certain part of OC.

                    1. re: I got nothin

                      Well, it is hard to find places . . . You can barely see Zov's off the major street in Tustin. Then restaurants in OC close much earlier than in LA, and LA restaurants close pretty early as it is. Again use Zov's in Tustin as an example

                    2. re: Das Ubergeek

                      No snark from DU on a thread like this? That's like the equivalent of getting coal in my Xmas stocking.

                      Dear Santa, if we promise to be good all year, will you give us plenty of snarky DU comments in 2008?

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        Quite impressive!

                        To that list, I would add Cafe Hiro in Cypress...the Wild Artichoke in Yorba Linda...Fullerton's The Olde Ship (over Santa Ana's for the atmosphere)...Taps in Brea for their Sunday brunch...Sidney's Cafe in Fullerton for veggie/vegan...the Chicken Box in La Habra for broasted chicken....

                        I don't ever recall snarkiness from DU...but maybe being a father has softened him up a bit? Fortunately, however, it certainly hasn't stopped his eating habits! =)

                        -----
                        Wild Artichoke
                        4973 Yorba Ranch Rd, Yorba Linda, CA 92887

                        Taps Fish House & Brewery
                        101 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, CA 92821

                        Cafe Hiro
                        10509 Valley View St, Cypress, CA 90630

                        The Olde Ship
                        709 N Harbor Blvd, Fullerton, CA 92832

                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                          There are always good places to eat but it's easier to do that in a big city and there is always so much variety. There hidden gems even in the boondocks, something I love discovering. When I lived in Orange County I thought the food was fine and I still do, but moving back to a big city was a positive change to the foodie in me.

                          I'm still in Orange County a few days a month for business and regularly check out new places. Anyway they have some great authentic asian food, especially Vietnamese in Westminster and all over. I have to disagree about the thin-crust pizza being top-notch at the places you mentioned.

                          Some of the places you mentioned are chains which for whatever reason the OP doesn't like. Das Ubergeek I've hit most all the places on your list even though I'm no longer a native but Jagerhaus is new to me and I'll be trying that next time I'm near it, thanks for the tip!

                          1. re: Dig T

                            I'd be interested to hear where you like the thin-crust pizza -- even in LA the only contender to me is Vito's.

                            1. re: Das Ubergeek

                              I find so many of your recs so remarkably helpful, so feel a need to chime in and help if I can. I have found so many other thin-crust places to be lacking in the overall taste, sauce and good cheese categories that I've gotten a bit doubtful about even CH recs. The husband and I have decided to go on a quest for real pizza in SoCal and, so far in OC, have found Mamalucco's in Brea and Pizza Pete's in Balboa to be pretty good. Sadly, nothing to match my hometown pie (since you mentioned Bagel Haven on an earlier thread, I will offer that it's San Remo in Woodbridge since it might mean something), but good (better than the workmanly slice at Joe's on Bleeker) anyway.

                              Haven't had Vito's yet, but we plan on sampling it along with a couple of Silver Lake options late this week. Will have to wait to see if it's as good as advertised. Damn I hope so. I miss real pizza!

                              Happy eating, Herr Ubergeek!

                              1. re: mangetoutoc

                                Since I spent most of the first eighteen years of my life eight blocks from San Remo in Woodbridge, it is very meaningful to me, though my family always ordered from Angelo's on on Amboy Avenue. :)

                                Here's the deal with Vito's. The fresh pie is about as good as San Remo (or Angelo's), and better than Strawberry Hill (ew!).

                                The slices? Well, you remember the old Shop-Rite on Routes 1 and 35, before it became a yuppie destination, with the little "restaurant" in the corner? The slices are like that -- warmed-over, but with better toppings at Vito's. Vito's has actual sliced sausage, not that rabbit pellet-looking loose crap that everyone else uses.

                                Get a fresh pie, get sausage on it.

                                And if you're in OC, have you tried Luigi's D'Italia on State College and South in Anaheim? To me it's as close as OC comes. Slice of New York in Seal Beach is tasty but no one seems to believe me when I say that Jersey pizza is not quite the same as New York pizza.

                          2. re: Das Ubergeek

                            Thanks so much for this and the other great, up-to-date OC tips. I've been coming to Anaheim for a trade show for years, and this was the best eating one yet.

                            Many of these were favorites from past years. Chowhound steered us to Park Ave. in Stanton last year and it delighted us then and now. The five-spaced salmon and panko-crusted swordfish were both wondrous. Peanut butter bread pudding and orange sorbet made great closers.

                            I really missed Thai Nakorn being closed last year, even though Bangkok Taste made a great substitute. So it was great to visit the Stanton location this year, but it will be even better when Garden Grove reopens closer to the Convention Center.

                            The big discovery from this post was Rutabegorz in Orange. A cup of pumpkin soup and a hummus/pita plate made an outstanding lunch in a beautiful old house. We revisited our old favorite Yen Ching in Orange with their tasty food, especially their hot and sour soup.

                            I hadn't been to Zankou Chicken in years, and then only to the Pasadena location. The Anaheim location did great - both for the chicken tarna wrap plus a couple pieces of falafel for lunch, and then for the roast chicken plate with that amazing garlic sauce for dinner.

                            I got away from the show this afternoon and headed down to Laguna Beach. El Callejon's cochinta pibil and a glass of Mexican Nebbiolo made a delightful end to the week.

                            Thanks for helping make this such a chow-worthy week in Anaheim and vicinity! Now if we could only get better chow in the convention center itself...

                            Michael

                            1. re: mdg

                              Adding links...

                              -----
                              Park Avenue Restaurant
                              11200 Beach Blvd., Stanton, CA 90680

                              Callejon El
                              480 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

                              Rutabegorz Restaurant Orange
                              264 N Glassell St, Orange, CA 92866

                          3. Just went to Black Sheep Bistro in Tustin last week for a fabulous meal. Had a fabulous mussels appetizer, 3 way lamb dish called Borrego Borrego Borrego, and a great profiteroles cream puff.

                            One of the best meals I've had in a while. A bit pricey, but worth the money for a once in a while special meal.

                            I guess you never tried the Pizza Bakery in Costa Mesa. One of the better pizzas in OC.

                            -----
                            Black Sheep Bistro
                            303 El Camino Real, Tustin, CA 92780

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Wonginator

                              BTW: The Black Sheep Bistro has a specials on during the week-nights for between $12 to $20. During summer they have paella on either Tuesday or Wednesday for $18.

                              Well-priced for the quality.

                            2. Has the OP ever even spent a few minutes in the Orange Circle? Once you step out into the Orange Circle you can't escape all the good food. You can get fresh shakes and onion rings at the soda shop and pharmacy! Have the best Cuban food ever at Felix's; eat delicious French Macarons at Paris in a Cup; dine on great authentic regional Mexican food at Gabbi's Continental Cafe! There's so much food there I haven't even tried everything. You could probably spend a whole week there and have something different for every meal: and all the food is great; I've yet to have a bad meal.

                              9 Replies
                              1. re: digkv

                                Ahh the Orange Circle (or Old Town Orange Plaza as it is officially called) is wonderful. Gabbi's, Felix's (stick with the Pierna de Puerco) and Watson's are great. Don't forget to try Byblos Cafe for great Lebanese food, Frogs Breaths is a great cheese store, and Rutabagorz for healthy cuisine. I have also been to Citrus Grill which was good but not great. I still want to try The Filling Station.

                                1. re: cdmedici

                                  I've had a couple of breakfasts and lunch at Filling Station. Nothing special. Their pies and baked goods, however, are another story. Stick to those. The apple and pumpkin pies are legendary. Muffins are good as well. One time I was there someone was raving about their chocolate cake. The baked stuff there is really the star attraction.

                                  1. re: CynD

                                    Oh yes, yes! Just go for a slice of Filling Station's pumpkin pie, heated.

                                    So good. Here's a picture:

                                    http://elmomonster.blogspot.com/2006/...

                                  2. re: cdmedici

                                    I am surprised that you did not mention the Paella at Felix's restaurant on the Orange Circle. It is one of the best I have had in So Cal and reasonable too.

                                    1. re: iraida

                                      Meh. I like the one from Black Sheep Bistro much better, and even the one at Lizarran in Fullerton is better. That said, I like the pierna at Felix, and the breakfasts are pretty good (though they overcook eggs criminally -- tip, guys, if it's done in the pan it's ruined when it gets to me).

                                  3. re: digkv

                                    Definitely agree with the recs for the Orange Circle. I love Gabbbi's and Felix's and the shakes and sandwiches at Watson's are great. Has anyone tried Renata's Caffe?

                                    1. re: digkv

                                      I am an Orange Circle local boy, and Watson's is overrated . . . as is Felix's . . . you are welcome to it though . . . there are plenty of good places around also, but those are the places people I find who have yet to taste it review well haha (not saying you are that case). . .

                                      1. re: apple7blue

                                        I like Watson's for what it is. Felix I can take or leave.

                                        Have you tried Haven yet? I haven't got down there.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          Watson's is edible. I just don't get Felix at all . . . No I haven't been to Haven yet. They just opened, and also I don't think the cuisine suits me. They say they are a gastropub. But Orange County has a lot of exaggerated British imports--in the sense it's nothing at all like what's in Britain, so it gets your hopes up. On the other hand, gastropubs wouldn't be my cup of tea in Britain so neither here either. I don't think I ever ate at a pub my whole time living in Britain or am interested in pub foods.