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Toronto Chow in Anaheim area and Laguna - did research, can you confirm?

Hello fellow chows!

I'm tagging along on a business trip with my husband, we'll head to Laguna Beach (specifically the Ritz Carlton for 3 nights, then will be in Anaheim/Garden Grove at the Hyatt for 4 nights. We will have a car, we won't have any kids with us.

So far in Laguna I think we will spend one night at the Ritz Carlton bar/restaurant taking advantage of the wine & cheese flights and the view. Then we have El Callejon which has been well reviewed on this board. Any thoughts?

The challenge is more the Anaheim/Garden Grove area. We are spoiled for choice with Asian food of all types in Toronto so we're not so keen on Asian down there, but do want to take advantage of the Mexican food down there since we have so little here and apparently it's terrible compared with the US.

I have gathered a number of places off the board that we will likely hit - Senor Baja, El Taco Nazo, Los Cotijas, El Farolito & Arriba! Baja Grill. Are there any of these that you would steer clear from? We are very comfortable with holes in the wall types of places.

For our 'nice' dinner we will likely go do Park Ave in Stanton - decent reviews on here and not too far away.

Being landlocked in Toronto we would really really really love to have some good seafood down there, but I can't seem to find any good recs - Boiling Crab has a ton of mixed reviews and it appears they serve frozen food. Price is no option, does anyone have a seafood recommendation? Thanks so much.

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  1. Since you are coming all this distance, you might consider Renu Nakorn for Thai in nearby Norwalk. Renu Nakorn was the progenitor of some of the highest rated Thai cuisine in the U.S.,it was originally started by the husband/wife team that runs Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas.

    Southern California is really spread out, and a car is a must, so since you will have a car you might consider going a little farther afield than Orange County. Water Grill in downtown Los Angeles is about as high end as you can get with seafood. The original chef has moved on, but you might want to search the board for discussion of Water Grill.

    Any seafood on the water is going to be for La Turistas.

    1. Well, first and foremost, as a resident of Anaheim, I'm here to tell you to ignore -- yes, IGNORE -- Harbor Blvd. between Chapman Ave. and Ball Rd. for the most part. If you need a quick bite, though, you could do worse than a HALF order of a carne asada nachos at Alerto's on Harbor Blvd. and Katella Ave. (A full order is the same size and twice the price.) Totally enough calories for four people, though.

      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/590773 (which, given your list of places, you may have read already) will help you a lot with Mexican specialities in the area. One of the choices, Mariscos Puerto Esperanza, will scratch both your Mexican itch and your seafood itch.

      I do urge you to reconsider your position on Asian -- while it's been several years since I was in Toronto (which, let me add, is a fantastic city if you like to dine in ethnic holes-in-the-wall as I do), TO has nothing like the size of Little Saigon, mostly because Little Saigon is the largest concentration of Vietnamese businesses in North America. There is a LOT, and it is just a stone's throw -- literally 5 minutes' drive -- from your Hyatt. It ranges from nice sit-down bistros (Xanh, S Fine Dining) all the way down to $1.75 banh mi sandwiches (Banh Mi Che Cali, Banh Mi Cho Cu).

      There is a large Korean population in Orange County, but you have Bloor St. (If you were going to LA, I'd tell you to eat Korean there, because LA's Koreatown blows Toronto's Bloor St. West right out of the water just for sheer SIZE).

      Take a drive over to Taps in Brea, which is maybe 20 minutes' drive from your Garden Grove hotel, for seafood; or hit up California Fish Grill, which is good fish done cheaply. While it's not #1 for food for me -- not exactly imaginative but decent seafood, not badly made but not high-end -- you might want to consider Duke's on the Huntington Beach pier, mostly because honestly, the view is pretty much everything you've seen on TV. (Las Brisas in Laguna Beach has a killer view too, but the food is just...meh.


      And of course, the sushi here is just... wow. I know you have good sushi in Toronto but it's different. Bluefish, Shibucho, Maki-Zushi, Hamamori, Wasa -- these are all excellent (but expensive) places.

      While I like Park Ave. and the Googie-style bar is awesome, I guess I would make the trip to La Huasteca, or else eat some really Californian cuisine -- maybe go to Old Vine Cafe, since you don't have kids, or honestly, go try Napa Rose in Disney's Grand Californian Hotel. I know it sounds counterintuitive, but it really is excellent food.

      In any case, please report back and tell us where you ended up eating and what you thought!

      3 Replies
      1. re: Das Ubergeek

        One place in Anaheim that I think is pretty decent in a classic, old-fashioned, clubby way is Mr. Stox. The room is pleasant enough, the service usually very competant, the drinks are strong, the wine list quite good, and the food generally pretty good, but certainly not especially inventive. I usually have a good time there.

        Went to Taps for the first time last week, and really enjoyed it. Definitely would second your recommendation.

        And among your sushi recommendations, I think you mean Bluefin (rather than Bluefish) in Crystal Cove, Newport Beach. This is certainly a terrific, albeit expensive place for sushi. If Abe is behind the counter, Fuzzychow might try to sit in front of him, and let him "do his thing".

        1. re: josephnl

          Sorry, you're right of course -- I have been cooking tilapia and had fish on the brain. :)

          1. re: josephnl

            3rd Taps and would really, really recommend their Sunday seafood brunch of $34...I've eaten more than my share of oysters on the 1/2 shell. Make reservations if you go.

        2. This is all great info, thank you ChinoWayne & Das Ubergeek! I will end up exploring the Asian side of things (I actually live in Little Korea here, Das Ubergeek) as I will have plenty of time on my own for lunch and am a pho fanatic, so I'll be looking for some good soups and will explore Thai as well. Is there a particular sushi place that would be more suitable for lunch?

          I had only chosen Park Ave because it looked good, it had received favourable reviews and it seemed close - I am unsure of the geography there, everything seems so spread out and I am used to walking or biking to restaurants because Toronto is a small city. I had read about Old Vine Cafe so perhaps we'll head over there instead, the menu looks lovely. I had written off Napa Rose simply because it was Disney so it was just a tourist trap - it's not?

          Water Grill looks wonderful but my husband is working all day at a conference so I don't want to force him to drive into LA for dinner.

          I will definitely report back after dining, I appreciate the feedback of others I see so much.

          4 Replies
          1. re: fussychow

            If you like banh mi, you might search for some discussion of that on the board, I recall Professor Salt and possibly other 'hounds have posted their banh mi crawls. Too bad L.A. is too far, otherwise, I would have suggested even a little further to Beverly Hills and Urasawa, for what has been touted by many as a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

            Maybe you and your husband will like what you experience on this trip, and then make another trip back in the future, the dining experience is wide open in the greater L.A. area.

            And definitely pay attention to DU's rec's, he is a long time local in the L.A. area who knows his stuff.

            1. re: fussychow

              Park Avenue isn't bad -- don't let me dissuade you, because it's not bad and the bar really is nice -- but I'm sure you have places like it in TO. The menu is available at http://www.parkavedining.com if you like.

              More or less anywhere in the 714 area code is no more than 20-25 minutes in normal traffic from the Garden Grove Hyatt, for a point of reference.

              Napa Rose really is excellent. Expect to drop $50-$75 a head outside of wine.

              For pho, the best are probably Pho 79 and Pho Thanh Lich. If you go to Pho Thanh Lich, make sure to get pho tai and have them put the meat on the side so you can cook it in the hot broth. I urge you to try Vien Dong on Brookhurst St. (the restaurant, not the grocery store) and have bun cha Ha Noi, or cha ca Thanh Long. Also, Xanh is excellent Vietnamese home-style cooking in a nicer atmosphere.

              1. re: fussychow

                2nd the Rec for Napa Rose, the food is just great. I know it sounds weird with it being right there next to Disneyland, but NR does a really nice California Wine Country meal. Here's a post from my trip to Napa Rose: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/563590

                As for sushi lunch spots, I'd recommend Bluefin's $35/person lunch Omakase (a fusion style sushi), or Sushi Shibucho in Costa Mesa for about a $55/person lunch Omakase (traditional sushi).

                1. re: I got nothin

                  Napa Rose is great, with one caveat. Twice recently we have been there when there have been large parties near us with young children who were noisy, and crawling all over the place. This unfortunately did interfere with our enjoyment of the restaurant...but, of course, we realized that this was Disneyland, and certainly kids are welcome everywhere here as they should be. Just something to keep in mind when dining at Napa Rose.

              2. Unfortunately the food at the Ritz is aweful. Even compared to other hotels let alone other Ritz Carltons, some of which have amazing food.

                3 Replies
                1. re: jkao1817

                  Is it really that bad?? I hadn't seen too much on the board about it. Would you recommend the St Regis restaurants instead?

                  1. re: fussychow

                    Definitely would recommend the Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis as a very good special occasion restaurant. Unless you must have the ocean view (which is fairly distant from the St. Regis), I would recommend requesting one of the booths in the bar area. They are glassed in individual booths which are quiet and really nice.

                    If your budget can handle it, you will be about 45 minutes away from an extraordinary special occasion resstaurant in northern San Diego county. It is called Addison, and it is at the Del Mar Grand Hotel. It may well be the best restaurant in all of southern CA. It is very special and very highly recommended...but it is very expensive. All inclusive, you will likely spend $200 pp there! See: http://www.thegranddelmar.com/dining/...

                    1. re: fussychow

                      I would definitely recommend Stonehill and the St. Regis. Unfortunately the Ritz only has the one restaurant. The breakfast is the best thing we had. Even their Sunday brunch which was the best before is not very good.

                  2. Thank you to everyone - you have completed all my meal planning and I will definitely report back! So looking forward to this...

                    1. Would definitely 2nd Das' recommendation: "Mariscos Puerto Esperanza, will scratch both your Mexican itch and your seafood itch." And very reasonably, too. Don't be scared away because of the mini-mall location. Or go for lunch instead of dinner.
                      You didn't mention breakfast. If it's not included with your room, try the Original Pancake House. It's in an old house, and has an amazing array of unique pancakes. Be prepared to wait a bit - most of us here in OC think it's worth it.

                      Original Pancake House
                      1418 E Lincoln Ave, Anaheim, CA 92805

                      Mariscos Puerto Esperanza
                      1724 N Tustin St, Orange, CA 92865

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Joani Macaroni

                        Or Jägerhaus on Ball Rd -- the plum jam alone is worth the trip.

                        2525 E Ball Rd, Anaheim, CA 92806

                      2. definitely try to make it out to Little Saigon. i had been to the vietnamese area in San Jose (which is pretty big) but that could not prepare me for Little Saigon. it's huge. i've heard that there are more vietnamese people living there than in any city in vietnam. not sure if it's true, but the fact that such a thing is even suggested is pretty crazy.

                        if you've never had the famed Seven Courses of Beef, you would be well advised to search the board for recs and try it out.

                        also, i would trust any recommendations for mexican food that Das Ubergeek provides. I believe he was the CH'er who first posted about Mariscos Puerto Esperanza, which is awesome.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: ceviche

                          I appreciate the vote of confidence but it was georgempavlov, followed by streetgourmetla, who first posted about MPE -- credit to them!!

                        2. Okay! Almost done my stay and thought I’d give you the update since I’ll be swamped when I get back home:

                          We stayed at the Ritz Carlton Laguna down in Dana Point for 2 nights – first night we went down to El Callejon. Cute place, I had the Cochinita Pibil and it was, as promised, delicious, and I absolutely cannot wait to try to recreate it at home. My partner had beef medallions in a chipotle sauce with a side of vegetables that were cooked perfectly – still crisp, a rarity I find in mid range restaurants. If any visitors read this, it’s worth visiting this restaurant because the food is good and before/after it’s a nice walk around the quaint main street.

                          We ate all of our breakfasts at the Ritz and, after reading comments on this site, I wasn’t expecting much but they were also very very good - great potatoes, good basil hollandaise sauce, great meats, and a standout steel cut oat brulee as well. We were there for the Sunday brunch but having had a big dinner the night before, and at $80 a pop, we passed in favour of a la carte and were not disappointed. The views are stunning from the tables. This same dining room is used for Restaurant 160, and walking through the room at night, it’s not a very pleasant room for an evening meal. Obviously the views (which are the main draw) are absent, but there is very little atmosphere, the room is very open and cafeteria-like with rows and rows of tables, and some of the lighting is florescent.

                          For our one big meal out in Dana Point we went over to the St Regis to the Stonehill Tavern. As we waited for our table we sat at the bar and had some great cocktails off their impressive list. Fun people watching, it did seem like there were a lot of locals there. Eventually we were seated in one of the glass booths by the bar as we requested, which was perfect as we could take in the scene but still enjoy conversation. They brought out a lovely amuse bouche a bacon wrapped fig stuffed with goat cheese. I had the seafood tasting trio to start, and my partner had the lobster fritters. I felt the lobster fritters lacked a lot of taste, as did the crab cake in my trio, but my shrimp in a coconut curry sauce was a standout – I couldn’t let a drop of the sauce go to waste. I was really surprised that so very few of the menu items featured locally sourced meats/produce. Perhaps this is not as popular here as in the northern us/Canada, but almost every main was from out of state – disappointing because I find it’s such a joy to taste the local specialities when I travel. I chose the Liberty Duck because it was Californian, and my partner had the Nebraskan Beef. My duck was very good, and my partner also enjoyed his beef. We squeezed down dessert even though we were stuffed – I had a molten chocolate cake, attracted to this not so much for the cake but for the salted caramel ice cream it came with. The cake was decent, nothing special, but the salted caramel ice cream was stand out. The meal overall was enjoyable, but quite frankly at a total of $440, I don’t think it was worth it. I have had meals all over Toronto and the US at the same price that were absolutely showstopping – the kind where you put down your spoon after every bite and close your eyes because it’s so pleasurable, and this wasn’t it. I know it’s probably not fair to compare meal in Dana Point to a meal in New York, it’s just that at that kind of price I knew it would be good, I just expected a little more.

                          Just a quick note for travellers in that area – The Ritz has a gorgeous patio overlooking the ocean that is perfect for sunset or after dinner drinks. There are patio warmers at night and you can curl up on a chair with a port and pick out constellations as you listen to the waves crash below. We also stopped in at Eno, their wine & cheese bar, and enjoyed a couple of wine flights as well – a nice alternative to a before dinner drink.

                          I know this is long – now we get to the Anaheim area!
                          My first day I went to Senor Baja – and OH MY. The second I bit into my fish taco I may have died and gone to heaven. I also tried the shrimp taco (not as good as the fish taco but would have been more worth the drive even for the shrimp taco!) and the shrimp ceviche tostada. I have already told my husband we’re making a detour back over Senor Baja on the way to the airport because I cannot live if I don’t have one more of those fish tacos!!

                          For dinner we went up to Taps as recommended. Nice restaurant, had the crab encrusted yellowtail with chard/mushroom stirfy in miso glaze, and it was quite good. We sat on the patio, enjoyed the fire, but the inside seemed like it had a cool vibe as well.

                          Yesterday drove down to Costa Mesa to try Shibucho and THEY ARE CLOSED FOR LUNCH ON TUESDAYS!! My bad luck continued as we arrived at Mariscos Puerto Esperanza for dinner last night at 8:30 and it was closed! Don’t know why, the hours on the sign indicated they should be open, but it looked like everyone was long gone. I am going to call ahead and try to get there tonight. Note to travellers though – their hours are very short, if you are late eaters like we are they normally close at 9pm or 9:30 so get there early!

                          So in lieu of Shibucho, I went – and I understand you can’t get any further from Shibucho than this – to In-n-Out. I’ve always heard about this burger chain, and not being a big fan of our fast food choices up in Toronto, wanted to give it a try. Okay, it’s REALLY good! I mean, for $2.99? It’s GREAT! Definitely a cheap lunch option for a traveller in the area if you’re not from the west coast and don’t have them at home.

                          In lieu of Mariscos Puerto Esperanza, we hit El Farolito Jr. Another fantastic experience! Great pico de gallo, and oh my. The tacos Al Pastor. I could have sat there eating those for hours! Throw some of the roasted onions on there, the pico, squeeze a little lime over and a touch of the green salsa and you have the best of smoky/bright/fruity/salty all in one bite. Wash it down with an old school coke in a big glass bottle? Heaven. Also tried the tortilla soup – tasty, would recommend, and the quesadillas – my partner liked them but my heart belonged to the tacos (tried the beef taco too – still very good but the al pastor was great).

                          So our last full day is today, hoping to get to Mariscos tonight, and I’m choosing between Vietnamese for lunch or Mexican again, I’m leaning towards Mexican because I have just enjoyed it so very much. We had reservations at Napa Rose for tonight but I think I’m going to cancel in preference to Mariscos.

                          Thanks for all of your help on there, Chowhounds. After going to the places I’ve gone, and knowing about all the places I won’t get to, no one can say that Anaheim/OC is all chains, there are some amazing gems here.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: fussychow

                            My experience was the same as yours @ Stonehill Tavern. We also spent close to $450, and left feeling that we overspent for a good meal. The meal really didn't justify the price.

                            *We* were at Marsicos Puerto Esperanza (MPE) last night (here's the recap: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5758... ). When we left around 19:30, there was one other family nearly finished. I liked our meal until I saw the bill. I'll forewarn you so you don't make the same mistake I did: if you order the langostinos, order the one from the ESPECIALIDADES (Specials) section and NOT the LANGOSTA (Lobster) section. There's a big difference. Now that I'm over the sticker shock, we'll likely go back again.

                            EDIT: BTW, thank you for your update. It's nice to see out-of-towner's perspective. And given the price to experience (or pleasure) ratio, I'd forego Napa Rose for the ethnic options. You can do nice & upscale almost anywhere; however, good ethnic food not so much. AND if MPE is closed again, you can always do Darya for Persian, just up the street on Tustin Ave.

                            1. re: OCAnn

                              Or King Lobster Seafood, across from Darya... or Johnny Reb's... or Tulsa Rib Company... :)

                              1. re: OCAnn

                                Hi OCAnn,

                                Wow, $450 at Stonehill? I was thinking about trying it out one of these days, but it's good to know how much it cost you.

                                1. re: exilekiss

                                  That was for two tasting menus (seven or eight courses at the time), wine flights and 20% tip.

                                  I think a better meal could be had for less there, and service is certainly top notch. I don't recall ever doing a full write-up on it (sorry!), but instead, made a few replies to a handful of posts.

                              2. re: fussychow

                                Wow...it's been a year or two since we've been to Stonehill, and it was not nearly as expensive when we went. Agree that no way is it worth $440 for two there. For that price, or just a tad more, you could have eaten at Addison at the Del Mar Grand, and it would have been showstopping. Too bad!

                              3. Okay, last day here I hit Los Cotijas for lunch - had a fish taco, beef taco and a chile rellano. It was all good, but Senor Baja takes the cake.

                                Then, I wanted to go to MPE for dinner but we were so late again that we just drove down to the Cannery in Newport because we wanted a beach location where we could see the ocean one more time. Food was nothing special, it was decent, but didn't blow my mind. A lovely room and a nice location.

                                One more stop at Senor Baja before the airport and I am boarding the plane home!