75th Birthday Celebration in the OC
A nice alternative to Buca di Beppo and in the same price range is Sabatino's in Newport. The best sausage around and a fun place to eat, with good Italian food. It's been in business for at least 20 years and a local's favorite.
251 Shipyard Way, Newport Beach, CA 92663
Fourth, and would also add Cucina Alessa on Main and 6th in Huntington Beach, or on PCH just south of the river in Newport Beach. Much better than Buca di Beppo.
For the best cheesecake, though, with Italian food, you need to make a trip to Mascarpone's on Katella just west of Tustin Ave. in Orange. It's right off the 55. Very good Italian-American food and I love their cheesecake (usually 4-6 choices on any given night).
1448 E Katella Ave, Orange, CA 92867
Depending where in OC you want to go, I would consider either of Rich Mead's restaurants...Sage in Newport Beach, or Canyon in Anaheim Hills. Both are somewhat more expensive than the two you suggested, but I think they are way better for a special occasion. Because both of these restaurants have a large selection of small plates, you can eat rather economically there. Canyon is slightly less expensive than Sage, but both are great choices.
For all the hate that gets tossed on top of corporate chains, Cheesecake Factory is pretty descent in my opinion. I have never had an outstanding meal there, but I almost always get something competently made, the menu is huge, and you get a lot of consistency across the chain. Buca Di Beppo, on the other hand, I would only go to if my other choice were the Olive Garden.
So where else would I go? I like Lucille's for ribs and bbq. Sundried Tomato Cafe in Laguna Beach has become a semi-regular spot for me. Not too pricey and great if the weather cooperates. House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer gets a lot of love here, For Italian, I like Francoli on the Circle in Old Town. Though it has been a while, I always found Il Forneo to be competent and not too expensive for Italian. For seafood, I like Opah, less expensive than the superior 230 Forest, but still good. Las Brisas has a nice view and is good upscale Mexican. Also in the vein, but for less money and no view, is Taco Rosa.
230 Forest Avenue Restaurant
230 Forest Ave, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
13792 Jamboree Rd, Irvine, CA 92602
OPAH Restaurant & Bar @ The Marketplace in Irvine
13122 Jamboree Road, Irvine, CA 92602
Sundried Tomato Cafe - Laguna Beach
361 Forest Avenue Ste 103, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
Las Brisas Restaurant
361 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651
18051 Von Karman Avenue, Irvine, CA 92612
OPAH Restaurant & Bar @ Town Center Aliso Viejo
26851 Aliso Creek Road # C, Aliso Viejo, CA 92656