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Italian in OC

My favorite local Italian restaurant, Marco Polo, closed in Newport Beach. I was hoping to take my sister there for her birthday... Any suggestions for great Italian food within 20 minutes of Irvine/Newport Beach? Trying to stay within $20/ plate.

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  1. I miss Marco Polo also...used to live in the apartments right behind it.

    Il Farro by the Newport Pier is a good bet.

    1. Sapori's in Newport Beach would fit the bill. It's in the Pavillion's shopping center on Bayside Dr at Jamboree. They have a nice patio for dining outside.

      1. garduno"s in costa mesa - great neighborhood italian

        1. I understand that the newly opened Stella's in Corona del Mar is really good. I have not been there, but if you Google it, you will see some very positive reviews. If any chowhound visits this spot, it would be great to see a review on this site.

          3 Replies
          1. re: josephnl

            Do you know if it is affiliated with the Stella's in Dana Point in Monarch Beach? If so that one is very good.

            1. re: josephnl

              I was going to try to go tonight, no wonder they didn't pick up the phone....closed?


            2. I have never been to Marco Polo. Is it Northern or Southern Italian? For that price range we typically go to Francoli or Il Farro. We also like Onotria but that would exceed your price point.

              There is a new Italian restaurant that just opened in West Newport called Cucina Alessa. It is owner operated family owned w/ a pretty decent menu and reasonable prices. I plan on checking it out soon.

              1. I really like Modo Mio in Crystal Cove Shopping Center (PCH south of Newport Coast)
                See, http://modomiocucinarustica.com/home....

                Personally, I love hand-made gnocchi and that is offered at Modo Mio. I have found most of their dishes are cheffed well, but are not necessarily huge portions for take home (though the gnocchi dish is always more than I can eat). Great fresh fish. Good wine menu. The staff is quite personable and remain professional. Wonderful place to walk around after dinner, too !

                A super home-style spot with table-tureen of handmade Minnestroni soup is in northern Newport Beach on PCH (north of Superior Ave) - The Spaghetti Bender. I like their home-made mayonnaise salad dressing. See, http://www.spaghettibender.com/

                Another to add to your mix (though more expensive) is Sabatino's (near the Cannery). Drive to the guard shack into the mobile home, shipyard and docks and turn right. The owner sometimes gets into the kitchen for my hairdresser and brings "specials" to the shop that aren't even on the menu. Their food is spicy, rich, heavy and delicious.
                See, http://www.sabatinosausagecompany.com/

                I prefer Modo Mio, but some think it is an upscale feeling rather than home-style. I don't agree with that, but Spaghettie Bender and Sabatino's are definitely more down-home old-school Italian.

                1. As an East Coaster, I can testify that the best red sauce Italian-American style food is at none other than Peppino's. Their sausage and peppers is pretty good and as close to east coast standards as I have found. However, finding a good red sauce Italian, and Italian bread for that matter, is not an easy task in OC or LA. Can't figure out why. Note: Peppinos is not exactly a celebration type restaurant.

                  1. Thanks all! I think I will give Modo Mio a try... close to home.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Snuffy2878

                      Please report back on Modo Mio. I've been thinking about trying it and would love to hear what you think. Thanks!

                      1. re: Snuffy2878

                        great choice had one of the best times of my life there

                        1. re: Breakbread

                          We've been there several times since my post, and we always enjoy it.

                      2. I REALLY Like Francoli and it's very close... Although that I have to admit what I order leans more towards salads & appetizers, so can't vouch for the pasta. I love their grilled proscuitto, mozzarella & artichoke panini too!

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: torta basilica

                          Where is Francoli? Has anybody tried Gazelle's in Huntington Beach?

                          1. re: HBGigi

                            Francoli's is in Fashion Island, and their pastas are very good as well as the apps. We usually order the gnocchi and carpaccio and then maybe one of the day's specials


                            1. re: HBGigi

                              We did and reported about it in March. Type in "Cafe Gazelle in Huntington Beach now open" in the search box and it should take you to the review and comments.

                              And if you go, please update us.

                              1. re: Joani Macaroni

                                Thanks, I'd read the referenced comment about Cafe Gazelle but was hoping for a more recent comment/review. We've tried several times to get into the one in Belmont Shore but they were always full when we wanted to go. We're tempted by this new one but wonder about the quality of the food. Since we visit Mangia Mangia, Lino's, and Roman Cuchina in Sunset Beach most often, we'd like to try something new.

                                1. re: HBGigi

                                  As far as OC goes I've tried most the popular ones......Peppinos (OK, a bit over-rated), Angelo & Da Vinci's, (not so good & way over-rated), Bene Mangia, Mangiqa Mangia (both decent), Lomeli's (considering the low prices, they're actually pretty good), Ti' Amo (not so good and overly hyped), The White House (I'm baffled why people like this place, not good), Villa Nova (worse than the White House). The reason some of these places receive way too much acclaim is mostly due to uneducated food afficiando's, who are fooled into thinking the food is better than it is because of the atmoshere. Honestly folks, do you really think the Villa Nova would have the rep they have if they were located in Garden Grove rather than on the water in Newport Harbor? And to be honest, I hear more about the charming 100 year old, turn of the century converted cottage home that is the White House, rather than their food. To me the place is gawdy and not very clean.

                                  Anyway, Antoinellos, Roma Cuccina and Roma 'd Italia are all deserving of the praise they get. Their food is really good. Finbar's is good too. Too bad L'Opera's Spectrum location closed down, they were excellent. Fortunately, their downtown Long Beach location is still thriving as usual.

                                  As far as the food goes? The best italian joint in OC is Nick's Pizza & Ristorante in Costa Mesa near Harbor & Wilson. Besides making the best pizza in OC for over 30 years, they make the best anti-pasta salad and the best brushetta I've ever had anywhere. In addition, their italian oysters on the half shell are heavenly and their clam dishes are outstanding. Most their pasta dishes are top notch and for $24.00, they serve a melt in your mouth, to die for, proscuitto wrapped Filet Mignon with creamy garlic mash potatos (awesome mash potatos, BTW) and a huge portebello mushroom filled with garlic sautee'd spinach. Unless you go Kobe, you won't find a better steak in OC. All of their food is very fresh and organic tasting. I am told that Nick the owner owns a ranch in Temecula where he grows his own herbs and vegetables, this could be why. Nick's marinara and red sauces compare to some of the best NY restaurants I've eaten at and his spicy Italian sausage is excellent.

                                  1. re: IDavis

                                    You know the original poster wanted an answer about....8 months ago?

                                    But it's all good.

                                    I would of suggested Roman Cuccina...But I really dislike Ill Farro.

                                    1. re: IDavis

                                      While I do like Nick's Pizza, I don't think I would say that it is the "best italian joint in OC". Mind you, I've been going there for over 25 years, and I really do enjoy their pizzas, salads, and meatball subs, it's just not THE best in orange county. I used to order their manicotti all the time, but it's not on the menu anymore. I remember my parents taking me there when I was a little kid to pick up some food and talk to Nick. This was back in the day when Nick was behind the counter with a very visible handgun in a holster on his hip to scare off the occasional robbery attempts. Ahhh, the good old days.

                            2. La Fontana Ristorante is Huntington Beach is always good.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: dac_1971

                                Ditto for Caffe Gazelle in HB. (Yes, 2 L's in Caffe). And parking is EASY!

                              2. Also, Onotria in Costa Mesa is very good.

                                5 Replies
                                1. re: dac_1971

                                  Re; Onotria : Unfortunately the $35- corkage is so offensive so we won't be returning, EVER!!. The food is good by OC standards but wouldn't even be considered above average with the "Big Boys" Italian Restaurants in LA.

                                  1. re: russkar

                                    Russkar: I generally find your posts helpful, but your "good by OC standards" but below LA average comment is neither topical nor helpful since this thread is about Italian in OC (and quite frankly is a bit offensive and I am neither particularly protective nor dismissive of the OC). Second, you comment on the corkage fee without bothering to comment on what it is a great wine list, particularly of Italian wines, or that the concept of this restaurant is built around wine country cuisine and that wine list in particular.

                                    My wife and I have gone to Onotria three times over three years, and its been outstanding on each occasion and compares quite favorably to most of the better rests. that we've been to in Tuscany and Umbria over the years, which is one of the things that we love about it and seems to me a more appropriate comparison than LA. However, most of this thread seems to discuss neighborhood Italian joints, and if there is one thing Onotria isn't, its a joint. Its upper end, foodie and locovore dining. Keeping it local, it belongs in the discussion with the Marche Modernes and Pascals, rather than the Roma d'Italias, of the county (and we love all of these places).

                                    1. re: lawdog262

                                      Lawdog262, respectfully disagree with your assessment of Onoteria's Wine Selections. Many of the listed bottles are "off years" or over priced. The highest corkage I've ever paid was $100- per bottle at Robuchon LV (which I didn't mind considering it was a 3 star Michelin).
                                      My comparison to LA Italian Restaurants is also correct and Onoteria's cuisine wouldn't make it in LA for 5 mins, strike that! 5 secs. The food isn't consistent and we've eaten there much more than 3 times in 3 years, not always by choice or at our expense.
                                      Marche has been the most consistent Restaurant in OC as of late and we normally eat lunch or dinner there 3-4 times a month. In fact twice last week. $10- corkage is an added bargain also.

                                      1. re: russkar

                                        Russkar: Glad we've had better experiences at Onotria than you have. They've hit it out of the ballpark the three times we've gone. Admittedly, three times is not an exhaustive survey. (You're entitled to your opinion re: comparison with LA, its just not all that helpful in helping someone decide where to eat in OC). Would be interested in your rec. re: special occasion Italian in SoCal (locataion important -- do not want to drive through a scuzzy part of town). Regarding Marche Moderne, we love it (although we think the wine list could use some work). And without implied criticism of either On.or MM, our favorite place for the past four months has been the Old Vine Cafe - good foodie fun.

                                        1. re: lawdog262

                                          Lawdog262: As far as Italian is concerned in So Cal depending on the level you wish to experience I would have to suggest Valentino based on 28 yrs of near flawless dining. I've never seen a menu in all that time and all my experiences are "off menu" only.
                                          My favorite Italian is still Il Mulino in NYC but it's a little far to drive.
                                          Other LA Italian Restaurants we frequent regularly are Angelini Osteria , Drago Centro, Mozza, Vicente, Palmeri, occasionally Capo, All Angelo, and Baldi depending on the mood?
                                          No doubt about it that MM Wine list is anemic but they are very focused on their food.
                                          Still haven't been to Old Vine yet. I was about to go and a friend had a less than stellar experience so I've held off.

                                2. Cucina Alessa in NB was very good last night.
                                  Some of the menu Items we tried:
                                  Parma Blanca Pizza, Fried Burrata, Carpaccio, Conch Gamb Asp (Shrimp, Aspargus & Shell pasta), Short Rib stuffed Tortelloni, Cheese Ravioli w/ perfect tomato sauce, Pollo Marsala, Homemade Spumoni. Everything was above average except the portion size of the Carpaccio which was very small in our opinion but good just the same. We will be returning. Corkage 15-. Total bill for just food 110- . 5 guests and we shared everything.
                                  Solid service all night.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: russkar

                                    I am glad you enjoyed it. Cucina Alessa and Marche Moderne are the two restaurants , that we like the most in OC.