Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Los Angeles Area >
Apr 25, 2008 01:51 PM

Looking for Cheap Eats but Relaxed Dining in the South O.C./North County [moved from California board]

I'm new to Chowhound, but have been a voyeur for some time! We just moved to North County from Chicago and the restaurant advice has been incredibly helpful.

My husband often works in L.A. and we are currently in Carlsbad. During these days, we've enjoyed meeting somewhere in the middle (Laguna, San Clemente, etc.) to meet for dinner. Although there are quite a few threads discussing O.C. or North County dining, I'm looking for that specific region that overlaps both. Ideally, I'd like suggestions for more inexpensive dining since my sons can often eat twice their weight. We do not enjoy fast food and we all love a restaurant where we can sit and have a leisurely meal to both savor and to catch-up on the day’s events.

Although we've found some restaurants that have offered some nice meals, they're either too expensive or too fast-food-y. Any suggestions?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Leahsift,
    I noticed there were no responses yet on your post. It may be that there are no or few places such as you're requesting. Much of that area was developed within the past 30 years so it's likely to be higher-end or fast-food/chains due to the rent on modern buildings. I'd guess that what you're looking for (probably a family-run or local eatery as opposed to a chain) are few and far between, if they exist there at all. I don't think we have many chowhounds that live down that way that could give you any tips. You may have to drive inland a bit to reach an older area with more "local" eateries that are within your budget, but with the price of gas, it may not be worth it. Good luck on your hunt and do let us know if you find any gems!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Joani Macaroni

      I would have to concure w/JM. You may want to drive at bit further to Irvine, Tustin, Santa Ana, etc...

    2. You don't say how old your boys are but how about Ruby's? Decent enuf food, several locations (SJC, Laguna) , entertaining for kids but OK for adults, and not too expensive.

      (ETA: wow ! I didn't realize how many locations they have now !


      Ruby's Diner
      31781 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675

      Ruby's Diner
      2305 E Coast Hwy, Corona Del Mar, CA

      1. Thanks for your replies. We ended up going to Olamendi's ( and had a nice evening--the food was solid (nothing to write home about), but my boys loved the decor. Driving home, San Clemente looked hopping, but I don't have a good handle on the restaurant-scene. Any suggestions for future reference, including Irvine, Tustin, and Santa Ana, would be most appreciated!

        1. Unlike some other replies, I think your request has TOO MANY possibilities! Now, when you say you are in North County, I am assumuming you mean N San Diego County. And where in LA does your husband work? Downtown? Does he travel to/from his work on the I-5 or the I-405 once he gets to the El Toro Y?

          Looking at the stretch of I-5 from Lake Forest to San Clemente, I can suggest a good number of places. Going from N to S:

          Lake Forest: Peppino's - family Italian, The Hat - Pastrami and burgers (kinda fast food-y), Biagio's - Family Italian (from Chicago!)
          El Toro: Fuddruckers, Lucille's (BBQ), Carino's (Italian), King's Fish House, Scarantino's - Family Italian, Laguna Hills Mall
          La Paz - Spasso's - Family Italian, Claim Jumper (OC-based chain)
          Crown Valley/Avery - lots of places in and around the Shops of Mission Viejo
          Ortega Highway - Bad to the Bone - BBQ, some good Mexican in downtown SJC
          San Clemente - Sonny's Pizza, Waffle Lady

          Of course if you can wander from that stretch a little, you CAN find deep dish pizza, italian beef, some great BBQ and steaks and more!

          3 Replies
          1. re: RSMBob

            Thanks so much for the great list! I'll definitely check these out. And, yes, I am in North San Diego County (Carlsbad). My husband actually works in Northridge. He uses both expressways to get home, but he usually stays on I-5. You mentioned quite a few family Italian--any that stand out?

            1. re: Leahsift

              See, I know you are from Chicago...Californians don't know what an "expressway" is! If you can venture up a bit further north you've got Portillo's in Buena Park, and if you both venture E of the I-5 a bit there's Tony's Little Italy in Placentia for darn good Chicago style stuffed crust pizza.

              As for the family italian places, they all have their callings. Biagio's is the most unassuming of the bunch. Possibly my favorite in the area is one I didn't list....Anotnucci's in MV at Alicia and Jeronimo, only a mile or 2 off I-5.

              1. re: RSMBob

                That's funny about "expressways." Who knew? I'm learning more every day...

                Anyway...thanks for the recommendations. I will let you know when I try one!

          2. Actually it seems that Dana Point might just be a place for your rendezvous. Plenty of places there. Likewise San Clemente. Right off the 5, there's also El Toro exit with places like Lucilles and Vietnamese places and Kings Seafood tucked away, and Lake Forest with everything from Fuddruckers to Bakers Square. Let us know how you like any of the places you find.

            1 Reply
            1. re: EclecticEater

              Also a long-time lurker here. Sorry this is so late, but I live in Dana Point and have a few suggestions for you and your family. Dana Point Harbor has a couple of good restaurants - Wind and Sea especially is a great place to sit outside - I took my kids there for years. Also, there is an outdoor patio that belongs to Harpoon Henry's that you would also enjoy.

              Additional places to eat might be Peking Dragon - great Chinese food. Thai This - great Thai food. Beach House and Renaissance Cafe. All of these are off PCH, heading north from the 5.

              In San Clemente, Sonny's Pizza is a destination pizza place with traditional Italian food, and Antoine's Cafe, both on PCH. Going down Del Mar toward the pier is Avila's Mexican food, and Beachfire. Fisherman's at the pier is also a great spot.

              There are some better dining places in town, but these are all kid-friendly and reasonably priced. Good luck!