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Orange County - Costa Mesa - 4 Days - Highlights

Hello All,

I am a fellow Chowhounder from Dallas and I have a close friend that will be travelling to OC (particularly Costa Mesa) this next week for four days. I have done some preliminary research but I do have some stipulations to the request for Chow-worthy recommendations.

My friend cannot have pork of any kind, he is Muslim. I know OC is the largest area for Vietnamese (Westminster) and most of the dishes are pork based are there any places worth seeking out that offer chicken, beef or seafood? He is also really into craft beer and has his own store in the Dallas metroplex so anyplace that has an extensive rare bottle list or extensive tap selection would be ideal. He is already planning on hitting up High Time Wine Cellar, El Cerrito Market and Liquor, and The Bruery for his beer run.

Here is what I have narrowed down some options to already and I need some guidance and discussion over some of the options.

Mexican – We have good Mexican in Dallas but none that are really upscale or pushing the typical offerings
Taco Asylum
Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen

American – Solid beer selections at each
Haven Gastropub

Ramen – just need one, which is the best and most consistent. It is a toss up which is best from the boards.

Pho Bolsa for Pho Ga
Any other recs for any beef, chicken or seafood?

Sushi Wasabi in Tustin – I like the no rolls policy
Any others? Good sushi is hard to come by in DFW for the most part. Looking for a place that focuses on the quality and freshness of the products/seasonality served rather than price or popularity.

Any good bakeries or donut shops in OC close to Costa Mesa for breakfast? Breakfast burrito options not heavy on the pork offerings?

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  1. Re beer, he should hit up Goat Hill Tavern.

    1. I like the sushi at Bluefin in Newport Beach a lot. The owner/chef is a Nobu alumnus and the food is expensive, but everything is first-rate. They do serve rolls, but of course you don't have to order them.

      Marché Moderne in Costa Mesa is a terrific upscale French bistro. It's certainly one of OC's best restaurants, if not the best!

      There are 2 excellent restaurants for pizza (and other Italian foods) nearby. Pizzeria Ortica is in Costa Mesa, and Pizzeria Mozza is in Newport Beach.

      1. No pork but, alcohol yes?

        1. Looks like you've done your research.

          Playyground has a great beer selection. Get the fried chicken and live scallops if you see them. I'm not a dessert kind of guy but the toffee fig bread pudding is absurd good.

          Ramen; Yamadaya. Get the all stars topping. Combo with fried rice and fried chicken.

          Pho: Pho Thanh Lich gets you both filet mignon pho and chicken pho.

          Sushi: Kasen. Highest quality. About $80-$100pp. More traditional and higher quality than Blue Fin which I frequent. Cost is same or less than Blue Fin.

          I second the Mozza and Ortica rec by josephnl.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Porthos

            Just got back from Kasen. Here is what at $69 omakase got me today:

            Tai with salt and lemon
            Hirame no konbu jime (halibut marinated in kelp)
            Blue fin tuna- lean cut
            O-toro: pink with 50% marbling. As fine as I have seen including Urasawa.
            O-toro roll

            Of course my bill was much higher due to me getting 2 glasses of Kubota Manju @ $35 each and a couple bottles of Asahi Amber.

            Point being, if you stick with hot tea, and don't over do it on the amazing toro, Kasen actually comes out to be quite reasonable.

            1. re: Porthos

              I have both Mozza and Ortica on his list. In the essence of time and you could only hit one, which would it be?

              1. re: LewisvilleHounder

                I would personally go to Mozza. The pizza is wonderful, and there are some terrific starters...although I have difficulty getting past Nancy's Chopped Salad, which is wonderful. I should comment though, that I think there are some other CH's who prefer Ortica...and I do value their opinion. Both are very good.

                Do seriously consider Marche Moderne for one dinner. It would be a shame to miss this restaurant, that is, if you would enjoy an upscale French bistro type of meal.

                1. re: LewisvilleHounder

                  Mozza is crispy crust. If you're going on a Saturday, get the chicken, sausage, and peppers. Your friend can pick around the sausage I hope?

                  The pizza at Ortica is Neapolitan style which means chewy crust with a floppy wet center. Ortica also does some fine fresh pastas with lamb ragu and bolognese if you're into that sort of thing.

                  Depends what kind of pizza you like. They're different enough that you could do both if you have the time.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    Thanks Porthos for clarifying this. I knew you would.
                    Also, I have gone to Mozza with a friend who does not eat pork...and they have been very accommodating about making a pizza with sausage on only one half! Also they have split a Nancy's salad for us, with the salami on the side. Perhaps it depends on the server, or how busy they are, but they've been very nice about reasonable special requests.

                    Haven't been yet, but I hear that Playground is a bit "over to top" regarding any special requests (including leaving an unwanted garnish off a plate or refusing to serve a piece of lemon with a guest's hefweizen)!

                    1. re: josephnl

                      Playground is excellent. The fried chicken is outstanding and the food bests many of LA's darlings. I wouldn't let some heresy deter you. They had no problems accomodating our party of 15 and all the requests that come with a party that size. Big bonus is a beyond generous no corkage policy with no bottle limits. It may be a bit loud for you though ;)

              2. Second GoatHill tavern!! You'd love it!

                BIG NO to bluefin. Sushi Wasabi is much better but the top picks for sushi IMO are Kasen, Ohshima, Shibucho, Nana San and Ikko. Those five are all amazing in different ways, all traditional style like you want and all have great quality fish across the board.

                Breakfast burritos: I'm from San Diego (AKA the Land of Burritos) and the place that reminds me of home is Albatros in Lake Forest. I've yet to find better outside SD. I get mine with bacon, fries, beans, eggs and cheese. Fries are key!!

                I like Jinya best for ramen. I'll tell you straight up that the popular consensus is Yamadaya is the best, but I think if more people tried the new Tokyo Tonkotsu with Bonito broth Jinya just started offering, I think you'd see a LOT of converts.

                1 Reply
                1. re: BrewNChow

                  Re Jinya, the broth is fine. The noodles get soft after 2-3 minutes. That's a fatal flaw for me.

                2. With the exception of Jinya, which offers a chicken-based stock, ramen might prove a problem for your non-pork eating friend since both Santouka and Yamadaya specialize in long-simmered pork-based broths.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: New Trial

                    Oops, missed the non pork part. In that case go to Yamadaya and order the premium shio ramen broth. It's made from chicken and dried fish. I don't even order the pork based broths anymore.

                    1. re: Porthos

                      I see from the website that Ramen Yamadaya has several locations. Is there a location in OC that is better than the others?


                      1. re: LewisvilleHounder

                        The only location in OC is the one in Costa Mesa and I think it is on par with the LA locations.

                  2. For Vietnamese would any of you recommend Tan Cang Newport Seafood? I have researched and saw the house special lobster and Bo Luc Lac and Kung Pao Chicken are great? Any other dish recommendations?

                    1. On that same notion what about Trieu Chau in Santa Ana just down from Newport Seafood? I saw that the house noodles are excellent? Are there beef and chicken versions of this dish? Any other non-pork dishes that one would recommend?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: LewisvilleHounder

                        Do go to Newport Seafood (Tan Cang) for the house special lobster. Min of 5-lbs.

                        Trieu Chau is actually in the same plaza about 100 ft away. The house special noodles are outstanding. The entire broth is made with the simmering of pork bones so you may be out of luck there. You can get the noodles "dry" without soup. In which case most people go yellow egg noodles instead of pho white noodles. Ask to switch out the pork meatballs for fish meatballs.

                      2. I'd also hit up a few places in the OCMart Mix particularly during the day when the shops are open. Surfas, Shuck, wine bar, lots of fun places...and it's in Costa Mesa!


                        1. Would have to say pick just one of: Playground, Haven, and Taco Asylum. There are just so many places that are better.

                          Ortica is so solid and wonderful. Prefer over Mozza.

                          16 Replies
                          1. re: jaykayen

                            What places would you recommend? The whole idea is to narrow the scope of basically two restaurants per day for four days, eight total. I just need the highlights as time is a factor on this trip.

                            1. re: LewisvilleHounder

                              Playground would be my fave of the bunch above, but note that Jason, though one of the most talented chefs in the OC, is not a trained chef and to his credit, is always experimenting. Sometimes things can miss in this environment. And of late, they've been a little heavy on the salt. Just ask them to take it easy.

                              Had a phenom meal at Mozza last couple of nights. The pizza with stinging nettles was luscious. Felt like it was OC restaurant industry night.

                            2. re: jaykayen

                              What places would you say at better than the Playground in OC?

                              1. re: Stravinsky

                                There are a lot. What kind of cuisine are you looking for? I will say that OC does traditional cuisine well. If you want something creative, Red Medicine, the Bazaar, etc is where it is at.

                                1. re: jaykayen

                                  No, OC-only.

                                  i know the LA scene very well. I wouldn't have bothered to ask if I realized you were including the LA scene.

                                  But for the OC dining scene, other than Taco Maria now, I can't think of anything else on The Playground's level.

                                  I truly do not understand why there is such a dearth of dining options in OC. I would think there would be enough money here to attract talent on the same level as LA. Plus, the success of The Playground seems to prove that the market is open to invention.

                                  I wouldn't limit it to "creative cuisine" either. There's a general lack of quality at OC restaurants in general it seems like. I'm not even thinking of the high-end kind of places like the Bazaar exactly, but just places like Bäco Mercat, Salt's Cure, Huckleberry, Bucato, Animal/Son of a Gun, Chi Spacca...

                                  I admit there seem to be bits of hope in ARC, Shuck, The Iron Press, Lola Gaspar, The Cheese Shop... but often they read as somewhat poor versions of their LA counterparts, with nothing being quite as unique.

                                  I guess things are improving somewhat, so perhaps it's simply a matter of time.

                                  1. re: Stravinsky

                                    Have heard good things about Little Sparrow in Santa Ana, but have not been.

                                    Nick Weber is hitting it out of the park at The Cannery...yes, you read that right, The Cannery. Hope they're smart enough to keep him.

                                    1. re: revets2

                                      Are there any specific menu items that you rec at The Cannery?

                                      1. re: JAB

                                        First, chef is off Sundays and Mondays. Don't go then.

                                        Good menu items are:
                                        - any crudo or carparccio (Nick excels here)
                                        - house marinated olives (picholines, castletraveno, etc.)
                                        - grilled octopus
                                        - buratta salad
                                        - suckling pig
                                        - scallops

                                        But I must admit having gotten know Nick, we just call ahead now and ask him to cook for us (omakase). It's awesome.

                                        1. re: JAB

                                          For brunch I recently had the over easy eggs with brussels sprouts hash. It was delightful. Light but just enough to fill me up with the nice bread selection.

                                      2. re: Stravinsky

                                        I admit that many people on CH whose opinions I respect like they Playground very much. Providence is a board favorite, and I find it a snoozefest in the flavor department, except for the cheese cart. The one and only time I went to the Playground the food was clearly amateurish and the best thing I had the the only time I went there was the beer made by Allagash.

                                        DTSA is inconvenient for me to get to, but I like Lola Gaspar as well. There absolutely is a general lack of quality in OC, which is why I generally stick to ethnic restaurants. So what do you get at The Cheese Shop?

                                        1. re: jaykayen

                                          Did you mean to say Providence in that second sentence?

                                          The Playground can have some misses occasionally. It's not quite as "tight" as the restaurants in LA. It's worth returning to given how much things change. The things they do with Wagyu are constantly wonderful. The Playground is definitely about exploration.

                                          Still, I can't say anything really rivals it's aspirations in OC. No one else is even really trying it seems like...

                                          Well, the cheese at The Cheese Shop is pretty good. They also do great chocolate chip cookies, and baugettes. They also do some of the most unique sandwiches, which change daily according to their whims. You see interesting stuff like pumpkin harissa appear on the menu. Maybe I'll go get one right now actually...

                                          1. re: Stravinsky

                                            Yes, PROVIDENCE! Did I just commit heresy?

                                            I'll remember about the sandwiches at The Cheese Shop. I wish we had a place like Joan's on Third down here.

                                            1. re: jaykayen

                                              Well, in some sense, I guess so, but I just didn't see how Providence came into the conversation.

                                              Joan's on Third?...

                                              Damn. The standards really are that low in OC?

                                              I would actually say that The Cheese Shop is better than Joan's. At least for sandwiches.

                                              I would have thought you'd lament about not having places like Ink. Sac, or Huckleberry.

                                              I'm still curious what places in OC you find better than The Playground.

                                              1. re: Stravinsky

                                                Just mentioning another restaurant where I don't agree with the board-think.

                                                Only had cheese at the cheese shop so far, will have to try a sandwich next time.

                                                Mo Ran Gak and Pizzeria Ortica are my favorite restaurants in OC. They do it right and they do it right time after time.

                                                1. re: jaykayen

                                                  I'll just be honest and say I haven't been to Providence. I'm not quite well off enough to drop $300 per person on dinner unfortunately. But I've always looked forward to it at some point on my culinary travels.

                                                  On the other hand, now that Orsa and Winston is open, I will probably choose to go there instead because of how rabid of a Josef Centeno fan I am.

                                                  The only time I went to Ortica was when it first opened years and years ago, and I didn't find it very pleasing. Is there more to it than the pizza?

                                                  What does one get at Mo Ran Gak? Galbi?

                                              2. re: jaykayen

                                                Vin Goat always has a beautifully curated cheese selections. Good wines too. Think they do sandies, but I've never had one.

                                                Also, Sidecar Donuts has a better donut than I've had in the US. I know, dems fightn' wurds.

                                  2. For VNese, I'd definitely go to Tan Cang Newport Seafood over Pho Bolsa. Just depends on what you want though. Newport Seafood has awesome lobster and crab in a v. casual atmosphere. Definitely Pho Thanh Lich over Pho Bolsa. There's also Au Lac for Vietnamese vegeterian or raw food. If you want a nicer atmosphere, there's Chateau Brodard, which is known for their pork rolls but they have non-pork dishes that are yummy too (I like the sweet potato shrimp fritters, duck salad, shrimp mango salad, etc.).

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: annabananaoc

                                      For upscale Vietnamese food in a nice setting, we much prefer S Vietnamese Fine Dining in Westminster over Chateau Brodard. The food at S is very much like what one will find in very upscale restaurants in Vietnam today. However, do not have pho at S...it's definitely subpar!

                                    2. For craft beer, check out beachwoodbbq BBQ in seal beach. You can check out what they currently have on tap on their website, beachwoodbbq.com. Good beers on tap plus an amazing bottle list (for example, Firestone anniversary all the way back to 10, vintage bruery black Tuesdays, old Rasputin 12, vintage lost abbey angel share, etc). Not a huge fan of the food but many seem to like it.

                                      1. OP, if you by chance respond, where did you end up going?