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Berkeley chowhound seeks Orange County recs for this wkend

Hello SoCal hounds! Spousette & I will be driving down from Berkeley to spend the weekend in Orange County. We'll be staying in Laguna Beach & hanging out w/ relatives in Tustin.

We probably want to stay under $20/person for most meals (fortunately we don't drink!) but if there is something more expensive that is good value & exceptional, we're open to suggestions. We tend to like our food toward the healthy end of the scale (meaning: fresh green veggies vs. giant slabs of meat) but can be flexible if you want to send us to, for example, the best fried chicken ever. We would especially be interested in anything that we can't get in the SF Bay Area.

Please recommend not just restaurants, but ice cream, bakeries, farmers markets, &c.

If you're familiar w/ the Bay Area, here are some examples of what we like up here: Pizzaiolo, Cha Ya (vegetarian Japanese), Tartine bakery, Ici ice cream, Delfina, Thai temple, Vik's Chaat...

By the way, is there anything to eat for lunch on the way down 5?!

Thanks in advance!

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  1. Cream Pan is a great bakery in Tustin.

    Cream Pan
    602 El Camino Real, Tustin, CA 92780

    1. The first place that comes to mind is Fukada in Irvine. They use a lot of fresh healthy ingredients. You get some real bang for your buck if you get their lunch specials. It's been awhile but you can get a combination of your choice of udon or soba served hot or cold and another choice selection of something over rice (unagi don, curry don, etc.). I highly recommend their unagi don over brown rice!

      Another place that comes to mind is Veggie Grill near UCI. I believe there's also a location in the Irvine Spectrum. As you might be able to tell from the name, it's a vegetarian restaurant- that serves up some tasty fare! Their entrees consist of mock meat sandwiches that taste a whole lot better than that description sounds. Some of my favorite items are the sides though: sweet potato fries and steamed kale. If you go to the shopping center where Veggie Grill is located on a Saturday morning than you can catch the Irvine Farmer's Market.
      Bakery wise I can think of 85C. Be warned-the place will probably be packed. It's the only location here in the US (it originated in Taiwan). Their Rose Cream Cheese Bun is my favorite.
      I just realized that all my recommendations are in Irvine....I guess that's because I went to school there so it's the area of the OC that I'm most familiar with!

      Fukada Restaurant
      8683 Irvine Center Dr
      Irvine, CA 92618
      (949) 341-0111



      2700 Alton Pkwy
      Ste 123
      Irvine, CA 92606

      (949) 553-8585

      Veggie Grill
      4213 Campus Dr, Irvine, CA 92612

      Fukada Restaurant
      8683 Irvine Center Dr, Irvine, CA 92618

      Irvine Farmer's Market
      4143 Campus Dr, Irvine, CA

      4 Replies
      1. re: crystaw

        2nd Irvine Farmers Market on Saturday. I think it goes from 8-12. Tried VEGGIE GRILL based on CH recs...though it was okay and note that it's vegan.

        If you adore Japanese food, you'll have to make the trek to Torrance to TORIHEI. They have the best yakitori & oden (jhanjuku tamago is not to be missed)...with some lovely sansho pepper to top the yakitori. That restaurant is so compelling, that I cannot make it to other nearby notables when I drive up from OC.

        For Thai, you'll want to hit THAI NAKORN in Garden Grove, right off the 22

        For a great bakery, I agree w/CREAM PAN in Tustin, but you'll also want to try SUSIECAKES in Newport Beach for very good cakes & cupcakes.

        If you like pork, MARCHE MODERN at South Coast Plaza (SCP) is featuring pig head-to-toe that was utterly delicious. At $29 for dinner, it's a pretty good price. Also at SCP, I recently had surprisingly delightful risotto @ NELLO for <$20.

        The best fresh OJ is at TACO ROSA in Tustin which I had during a recent (delicious) Mexican brunch.

        1. re: OCAnn

          Thanks for the list! What are the best things to eat/order at all these places? If I take pig-eating spousette to Marche Modern, what is best for a non-pig-eater like me to eat?

          Anything in Laguna? Yelp seems to favor Crab Zone but I found no mention of it here.

          Crab Zone
          Laguna Beach, CA, Laguna Beach, CA

          1. re: indigirl

            You'll want to check out this review on MM:
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/659999 -- South Coast Elegance (Now Serving Mouth-Watering Alsatian Pork from Head-to-Toe) - Marche Moderne [Review] w/ Pics!
            The Pig Head-to-Toe is supposed to go thru the end of this month, but I didn't see it online. You may want to call them: http://marchemoderne.net/

            What to have for non-pork eaters? MM is an OC CH favourite; I've been lukewarm w/them (service & food can be uneven). That said, I like their charcuterie & cheese plates but don't care for their escargot or moule frites (although the fries are good). If you do a search for MM, you'll come across a handful of reviews.

            For Laguna Beach, we adore Brussels Bistro for *their* moules frites; the plumpest mussles you'll find in the OC, with your choice of three or so broth options. As for Yelp, I've found it to be unreliable. =(

            I adore the pad see ew @ Thai Nakorn as well as the nam sod with crispy rice. These reviews might help w/what to order:
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/648505 -- Thai Nakorn Garden Grove- First Timer
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/619408 -- Thai Nakorn (stanton) - Awesome thai
            Stanton is their other location, but the menus are virtually the same.

            Here's a recent thread from last month that might be helpful too:
            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/656373 -- Ultimate Asian restaurants in OC

            If you make it to Cream Pan, you'll want to try their strawberry croissant. I also like their curry pan (when fresh), cheese boules and their mixed, boxed sandwiches. But grab whatever catches your eye; many of the items are just soooooo good there. =


            Marche Moderne
            3333 Bristol Street, Suite 3001, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

            1. re: OCAnn

              I agree Yelp is not so great, but it does let you know what's in the neighborhood, which can be quite helpful.

              I looooove pad see ew!

      2. As a SoCal native and Berkeley grad, my honest recommendation is to not eat behind the Orange Curtain. Stop in downtown LA (there's nothing on the 5 for you), have a huge meal in Little Tokyo at Sushi Gen or Daikokuya, then stock up on some burritos at King Taco or Al & Bea's and some Banh Mi in Chinatown, and live on that while doing relative time in the OC.

        Perhaps someone here will guide you to a good fish taco in Laguna, that might be your best bet for a non-Berkeley OC experience.

        327 E 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90012

        Little Tokyo Restaurant
        150 E Bonita Ave, San Dimas, CA 91773

        11 Replies
        1. re: jesstifer

          Bahn Mi in Chinatown as opossed to Bahn Mi in Little Saigon "behind the Orange Curtain"? Surely you jest.

          1. re: JAB

            Seconded. As another SoCal native / Berkeley grad, I can say with some certainty that OC's (only?) two food advantages over the East Bay are: 1) good, cheap Vietnamese and 2) good, cheap Mexican.

            For #1, go to Brodard for the shrimp rolls, duck salad and sweet potato fritter, or Banh Cuon Tay Ho for banh cuon and iced Vietnamese coffee (don't get the iced coffee at Brodard though; it might be the one bad thing on their menu)

            For #2, if you're allowing yourself one big cholesterol splurge, go to El Gallo Giro (Bristol & Edinger) for the torta cubana, a work of obscene beauty. They also make their own juices, tortillas, tamales, pastries, etc. and it's all pretty good, so go there hungry.

            As for I-5, well, there's not much until the SFV. Usually I try to leave early (5am-ish) on my roadtrips to beat traffic, then have breakfast halfway at Harris Ranch.

            Brodard Restaurant
            9892 Westminster Ave, Garden Grove, CA 92844

          2. re: jesstifer

            Berkeley has its strengths and weaknesses.

            Well, if OP likes Viks, you'll probably like the buffet at Dosa Place or the new Annapoorna in Irvine. I like Annapoorna a lot these days, but only for the lunch buffet ($8.99 without coupon, $6.99 with). I think dinner here is expensive, twice the price of Pioneer Blvd, in Artesia, for the same food. They give you a fresh paper dosa with lunch, and have a surprisingly decent sambar. Also, I like their chutneys. It's a great deal, and better food than Viks, imho, even though it's a buffet. In fact, Berkeley's Indian food scene is pretty weak, imho.

            We don't really have anything like Ici here, not that I know of. If you want phenomenal gelato, you have to go to Bulgarini in Alta Dena, up near L.A. That place is amazing, better than Ici, in many respects. When I drive up to SF, I sometimes stop here.

            The closest thing to Tartine is in LA (Huckleberry, opened by Tartine ex-employee, iirc). Cream Pan is a great Japanese style bakery, though not in the Tartine style. I haven't found a really excellent croissant in OC yet, though in its beginning stages, Pierre Patisserie et Boulangerie (Viet/French bakery) came damn close.

            Fukada is right up your alley. Very busy though. Get there early. Handmade, organic soba noodles. The udon is pretty good too. Actually, the rice is good here, which sounds weird. I used to get the unagi don for lunch, with brown rice.

            What you really can't get in Berkeley is Au Lac. It is one of two amazing vegan Vietnamese restaurants in Westminster. Their cooked food is great (go for lunch when it's cheaper) but their raw food is supposed to be amazing. I've only had one of the raw soups and it was decent, but I wasn't used to the idea of lukewarm soup. I think you would like this place. The other place I like is Thuyen Vien, but that is more out of the way. Very good food there, small portions though.

            Actually, in Berkeley, you can't get good Vietnamese, period. I am not up on Vietnamese food, but surely someone will help you out here.

            You can't get good Korean food either, but I can't really help you here either, even though I'm Korean. Haven't been out much lately.

            1. re: choctastic

              Actually, there are quite a few vegan/vegetarian Vietnamese restaurants in Westminster. I'm sorry if I gave the impression that there are only two. It's just that only two are "amazing", imho.

            2. re: jesstifer

              Gotta disagree with you, jess. There's also a Daikokuya in Costa Mesa. If you like that style of tonkosu soup, then Shin Sen Gumi (Fountain Valley) and Santouka (Costa Mesa) are also outstanding. Really, the ramen scene in OC is just as solid as LA.

              1. re: Professor Salt

                A visit to Santouka would be good because then you get to see Mitsuwa Market and all the other cool Japanese shops as well, all in one fell swoop. It's also close to Native Foods, and the anti-lab mall, if you're into such stuff.

              2. re: jesstifer

                Have you ever actually been to OC? Do you think it's some kind of chain purgatory? Because if so, you need to haul your Cal-educated brain down here and educate your taste buds.

                Let's start with one of the, say, five best Thai restaurants in SoCal (if not the whole state), Thai Nakorn, on Garden Grove Blvd. in Garden Grove. Run your eyes down the specials page and order anything from it. Standouts: wild boar in chile sauce; crispy catfish with mango salad; ong choy (Chinese water grass) with black bean sauce; clams in chili paste with basil; nam sod (ground pork and ginger salad) with crispy rice.

                Go into Santa Ana and eat some food that might be recognisable to someone just arrived from Mexico City at El Rincón Chilango. Tlacoyos de haba; huaraches de nopales; Mexico City-style quesadillas (more like turnovers) with huitlacoche or squash flowers or shredded chicken in tomato sauce (tinga).

                Drive up Tustin Avenue from Tustin into the city of Orange and make a stop at Mariscos Puerto Esperanza, which is the best hidden Mexican seafood restaurant in the county. Get a pescado zarandeado; get a chile relleno stuffed with seafood and Oaxaca cheese; get a smoked marlin taco if he has any that day; get a fish al pastor taco slathered in deep red chile sauce. You can hardly go wrong there.

                Eat breakfast at Break of Dawn near the Laguna Hills Mall. Go early on a Saturday and then go to the Irvine farmers' market. We still had local peaches as of last Saturday; there are guavas and pomegranates and fall strawberries and jujubes and grapes and walnuts.

                If banh mi is your thing, there's no reason to eat the comparatively-terrible banh mi in Chinatown, not when you'll be passing near Little Saigon. The freeway-friendliest is probably Nhu Lan, on Harbor Blvd just north of the 22, at Garden Grove Blvd. (very near Thai Nakorn, in fact), but I like the various outposts of Banh Mi Che Cali, which are scattered everywhere, and Banh Mi Cho Cu, which is on Magnolia and Hazard in Westminster.

                Other Vietnamese worth your time: cha ca thanh long at Vien Dong (also good is their bun cha Hanoi); pho at Pho Thanh Lich; bun bo hue at Bun Bo Hue So 1 or at Ngu Binh; Vietnamese breakfast (eggs over easy and charcuterie with hot bread and condensed-milk hot coffee) at Uyen Thy; broken rice platters at Com Tam Thuan Kieu or Com Tam Tran Quy Cap; updated, lightened family-style dinners at Xanh Bistro; coconutty drippy sweet dessert soups at Hien Khanh in Garden Grove (on Westminster Blvd) or Westminster (on Bolsa).

                Have lunch at Marché Moderne. It's excellent and they have a $25 three-course prix fixe that might be the best high-end restaurant value in OC.

                Haveli in Tustin has a much-better-than-average lunch buffet; I love their vegetarian food (I don't eat meat in Indian food, so I can't tell you if it's any good). For $9, how do you go wrong?

                I haven't really even scratched the surface, and you know what? Not a single thing I recommended will cost you more than $25 a head unless you're much bigger eaters than I am.

                If that's what constitutes "doing relative time" in OC then I guess I've got Stockholm syndrome. King Taco? Please.

                Thai Nakorn Restaurant
                12532 Garden Grove Blvd, Garden Grove, CA 92843

                Vien Dong
                14271 Brookhurst St, Garden Grove, CA 92843

                Pho Thanh Lich
                14500 Brookhurst St, Westminster, CA 92683

                Break of Dawn
                24351 Avenida De La Carlota Ste N6, Laguna Hills, CA 92653

                Ngu Binh Restaurant
                14072 Magnolia St, Westminster, CA 92683

                Xanh Bistro
                16161 Brookhurst St, Fountain Valley, CA 92708

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

                Hien Khanh
                9784 Westminster Ave, Garden Grove, CA 92844

                Marché Moderne
                3333 Bristol Street, #3001, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  Thank you to the distinguished Ambassador!

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek


                    I have to disagree strongly with your recommendation of Bun Bo Hue So 1. I believe the best Bun Bo Hue (by far) can be found at Gia Hoi (9541 Bolsa, just East of Bushard). An added bonus - the banh beo is equally good.

                    Have you tried Gia Hoi, DU? I would be very interested to hear your review.


                    1. re: HB_Jeff

                      I haven't, but now I'm intrigued. I liked the bun bo hue at Ngu Binh as well.

                    2. re: Das Ubergeek

                      While the selection is smaller at Annapoorna, I actually think that the food is better there. Even the desserts are better. I got tired of hard and stale gulab jamuns at Haveli. The gulab jamuns I had at Annapoorna yesterday were fluffy, delicate and basically perfect. Also, the sooji pudding was pretty tasty. By comparison, the ras malais that I had at haveli were quite hard. Also, if you even mention the coupon at Annapoorna, I think you could knock it down to $6.99 for lunch pp, but I guess only the real cheapskates like myself would think of that.

                      Just my $.02.

                  2. In Laguna is Sapphire, very good but pricey. We don't have anything the level of Ici here. I would also recommend S Restaurant in Westminster for exceptional Vietnamese food. If you go, ask to have the owner, Stephanie, make recommendations for you.

                    1. Wow, thank you everybody for all the info! I'm so excited for good Vietnamese & Mexican... & *vegan* Vietnamese?! My heart be still!

                      Keep em coming... I'm all ears! & mouth & stomach, too... ;)

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: indigirl

                        Actually, the vegan scene here is a heck of a lot more vibrant than in the Bay Area. I'm not exactly sure why. I mean, we have vegan fast food! Veggie Grill was voted best restaurant in OC under $25, not just best vegan restaurant. NOTHING like it in the Bay Area, believe me, I've been keeping my radar out since I go up there semi-regularly.

                        Native Foods is almost as cool, go to the one in Costa Mesa. Mother's Market is right up your alley too. There's one in Irvine. However, the massive Whole Foods in Tustin has more variety.

                        Mother's Market
                        10928 Valley Mall, El Monte, CA 91731

                        Veggie Grill
                        4213 Campus Dr, Irvine, CA 92612

                        Native Foods
                        2937 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

                      2. If you love great coffee, you should stop in at Kean Coffee in Tustin (on Newport at Bryan / Main, in the shopping center across from City Hall). Very good espresso and coffee drinks, made from well-sourced (small plantation) varietal beans roasted on-premises. They also have a location in Costa Mesa/Newport Beach.

                        Kean Coffee
                        2043 Westcliff Dr Ste 100, Newport Beach, CA 92660

                        1. More questions:
                          Is there good dim sum in OC?
                          Turns out we will be in Pasadena on Monday morning: where's the best place for lunch?

                          15 Replies
                          1. re: indigirl

                            I do not think the dim sum in OC is very good, esp compared to what you can get in the San Gabriel Valley. My favorite in the SGV continues to be Elite Restaurant. I like how you can check off what you want on the list, hand it to the waiter, and then get hot food. Chasing cart ladies is overrated, even in the Bay Area. I personally think they have overall the best dim sum around. Go very early though. Very early.

                            I dunno about lunch but if you're going to be in Pasadena, I think that's close to Bulgarini Gelato. At least close for someone who is very food obsessed. Very small portions at Bulgarini, also quite pricey. But better than any other gelato I've had in California. Ici is okay, but Bulgarini is amazing. Actually another ice cream place I love, that Berkeley just doesn't have an equivalent for is Scoops Ice Cream, in LA proper. The owner is a Berkeley grad so it all ties in. The flavors are always interesting, sometimes spectacular. Avocado pale ale. I'll never forget that one. I also liked Banana Oreo Coffee, that was spectacular. And that was a vegan flavor!

                            1. re: choctastic

                              I'd have to agree with choctastic on the dim sum choices in the OC. There is good dim sum, not great, at China Garden or Crystal Jade in Irvine. If you have the ability to travel to the San Gabriel Valley, you can find great dim sum. Elite and Seafood Harbour are both excellent.

                              1. re: choctastic

                                Bulgarini is close for the food obsessed, huh? What, am I that obvious?! :)

                                1. re: choctastic

                                  I'll be honest, while I appreciate how great Bulgarini is, I am a Scoops girl at heart. I'm just a sucker for this place and I think you would be too. Scoops is crazy, fabulous, inventive and uber cool. There's also a great vegan restaurant across the street. It's called Pure Luck and they have various beers on tap and this good (I would give it 3 out of 5 stars) barbecue pulled pork sandwich that's actually made from jackfruit.

                                2. re: indigirl

                                  There are two spots for OC dim sum.

                                  King Lobster Palace in Orange (on Tustin Ave) is quite good & fresh. Ten Ten Seafood in Anaheim (on Euclid) is good too (though CH folks seem to favour KLP) and a bit greasier (which I like).

                                  You might want to start another thread on Pasadena, since only folks familiar w/OC (due to your title) may read this post....

                                  1. re: OCAnn

                                    I can't recommend KLP any more. It was good when it first opened and now it's just weird and they have rude service ("you won't like this!") even if I order in Cantonese.

                                    Ten Ten I won't go to mostly because of the harridan at the front desk. I'm used to Chinese restaurant service but actively insulting people and shouting after them is totally unnecessary.

                                    1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                      I'm so sorry that you've had bad experiences @ both. I've not been that unfortunate yet...and actually have had better service lately than in the past.

                                      1. re: OCAnn

                                        If I had to, I'd go to Ten Ten and I'd come armed with Cantonese imprecations against the Twenty-something Doyenne of the Cash Desk. I wouldn't go to KLP again unless I couldn't get out of it without looking impolite. I've had bad experiences, and people I trust (like foodgps) have reported similar horrors.

                                        It's only 20 minutes on a weekend to Rowland Heights... and honestly we end up at Elite usually anyway.

                                        1. re: Das Ubergeek

                                          Yeah, Ten Ten is not someplace I would direct a visitor to. I would rather take the extra 45 min to SGV and get a real meal at Elite, or if you'd rather, Seafood Harbour. I hear good things about that place that took over Triumphal Palace's space too. I also had what I thought was an excellent meal at King Hua, but others seem to dislike that place.

                                  2. re: indigirl

                                    There is good Dim Sum in OC at Seafood Paradise but, I agree with the others in that it doesn't measure up to the better Dim Sum in SGV. Elite is my favorite there as well.

                                    1. re: JAB

                                      My relatives are suggesting Capital Seafood for dim sum; they haven't tried it yet but they've heard good things about it. Anybody tried it?

                                      1. re: indigirl

                                        Yes, when they 1st opened. I keep going back to Seafood Paradise even though Capital & China Garden etc... are closer for me when I get Dim Sum in OC.

                                    2. re: indigirl

                                      For lunch in Pasadena, go to Europane for fantastic baked goods and yummy sandwiches.

                                    3. I work near Old Town Tustin, and am there often. Honda Ya has great pub-style Japanese food and yakatori (dinner only). The sushi is so-so, but they are not about the sushi. They are open late and often get very crowded.

                                      If you want to spend around $100 on fantastic sushi, I recommend Wasabi on Newport Blvd. in Tustin. Zero curb appeal, but fantastic fish with none of the froofy rolls.

                                      I wish there were a place like Tartine in So. Cal., but I've never seen it. If the weather is nice, then breakfast at the Cottage on PCH is good, but don't go for dinner. Coyote Grill in South Laguna is a fun breakfast spot - cheese enchiladas and eggs with 50/50 beans and potatoes - yummy.

                                      As others have noted, Thai Nakorn is great Thai food. They just opened the location in Garden Grove, not too far from Tustin. The place is much nice than the location on Beach in Stanton.

                                      1. Reporting back... as usual, my wish list is bigger than my stomach, especially when you factor in various people's schedules & other priorities (shocking, I know). We did manage to get some good eating in:

                                        Fukada was everything y'all cracked it up to be. We went there Friday night after our long drive down through LA rush hour (lovely), so I may have been too tired to completely appreciate everything, but we got salmon skin salad, which was bursting w/ umami goodness, deep fried softshell crab, cold soba w/ mushrooms & spinach, grilled mackerel, all totally yummy. Prices seemed *very* reasonable but I lost the fight for the bill so I don't know what it added up to.

                                        Next day after a quick drop-in to the farmers market (a very good one, I thought) a bunch of us went to Veggie Grill. When I first mentioned it to my uncle he said it was "just vegan fast food", which I have to agree with. Sorry to say this place did not really float my boat. It wasn't bad but I found it to be uninspired & uninspiring. Even the sweet potato fries seemed to be missing something -- like salt, maybe. (Very reasonable prices, though, which was nice when I won the fight for the bill!)

                                        Sweet potato & shrimp fritters the next day at Hanoi Avenue were visually almost identical but tasted much better, a nice balance of sweet & salty. When my Vietnamese American relatives heard y'all had steered me toward Vietnamese food, this was the place they picked to take me to & I was pretty dang pleased. Crab soup, sizzling catfish, all scrumptious! Looked like most of the other tables in the place were ordering the same things too (listed on the menu as Signature Dishes).

                                        In Pasadena we did go to Europane. The sandwiches were good but not exceptional; definitely much more to my taste than Veggie Grill though. My enthusiasm shot up several notches when we got macaroons: blackberry(!) & chocolate ganache. I think I didn't really understand macaroons before this. They were really perfect: crunchy-chewy macaroon texture, intense true flavors -- the blackberry is something I would obsessively go back for.

                                        That pretty much wraps it up... thanks again for all your ideas & suggestions! I'm looking forward to trying more places next time.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: indigirl

                                          Oh man, I'm really sorry to hear you didn't like Veggie Grill! Maybe my tastebuds are shot from having been a vegetarian for too long. Now that I think about it, I do drown my burger in ketchup and mustard, so maybe that's what I really like?

                                          Hanoi has excellent food. That was a very good choice.

                                          I have to admit, I'm not a huge fan of Europane either. If you liked macarons at Europane, you'll love Paulette's, in Beverly Hills. Those are the best that I've had in the States.

                                          Glad to hear you had a good trip!