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suggestions for Irvine/Mission Viejo/Rancho Santa Margarita, short trip in early August

My girlfriend and I are visiting the area from the great Northwest. We will be going to the Dylan show at the Verizon Amphitheater in Irvine and will be in the area for a couple days. I would appreciate any suggestions for interesting, not too expensive, restaurants. We LOVE authentic (ala Richmond BC) dim sum and Xiao Long Bao Shanghainese, above average Vietnamese and Mexican fare, and we would prefer small local spots over chain eateries. Any tips?
(Here's a list of what I've found here so far from different sources: Sea food Paradise for dim sum, Carmelitas, Bruxies, Break of Dawn, Four Sea, and a couple others. Thanks in advance!

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  1. 101 Noodle Express, Tasty Noodle House, Bamboo Bistro (Vietnamese).

    7 Replies
    1. re: BrewNChow

      +1 on 101 Noodle Express and Tasty Noodle House. Both are Taiwanese and both have very good XLB, although it's not 101's strong suit. 101's strongest dishes are the beef roll and the many kinds of fried dumplings, which are more like large, juicy gyoza rather than XLB.

      I visited Richmond BC this year, and honestly, the dim sum we have here are nowhere near that calibre. You'd have to travel to LA County for something at that level.

      Lao Dong also makes excellent XLB, though their specialty is Taiwanese beef noodle soups.

      Skip Seafood Paradise and Carmelitas. Both are mediocre IMO. I've been to Four Sea once, and it's ok, but I'm not rushing back and I live in the neighborhood.

      Break of Dawn is excellent, but they're open only for breakfast and lunch. Chef Dee is Vietnamese, and his food has Viet influences, but it's not what I'd call Vietnamese food at all.

      Above average Vietnamese food is all over Little Saigon but you'd have to fight traffic from Irvine to get there. What sort of time do you have to explore Little Saigon?

      Last but not least, you really should hit Dublin 4 in Mission Viejo. It's one of the best gastropubs we have.

      1. re: Professor Salt

        I second professor salt. It seems silly to come to the OC seeking dim sum.

        The vietnamese is really good as mentioned. So is the Mexican--although the Mexican does not compare to LA. Still, I have to imagine the average Mexican spot here will be better than what you have in the northwest.

        There is an intimate and delicious Napoli-style pizzeria called
        Pizza e Vino that is right in Santa Margarita. Maybe my favorite spot in Orange County (I regularly drive there from Newport.)

        There is decent to very good middle eastern in Irvine. Check it out if you like the cuisine.

        1. re: Professor Salt

          +3 on 101 Noodle Express for dumplings.

          +2 for the XLB at Lao Dong. Some of the best in SoCal right now.

          1. re: Professor Salt

            Hit Dublin 4 tonight based on this thread and was pleased. Not inexpensive but, good food and good portions. Really liked the fish & chips. Will definitely be returning.

            1. re: JAB

              Glad you liked it. I have yet to try the fish & chips. will have to give it shot on your rec.

            2. re: Professor Salt

              Bamboo Bistro has Brodard's spring rolls and some entrees that easily hold up to the Westminster standard. If you're down in Irvine or south, just go to Bamboo unless you're looking for some specific thing they don't have.

            3. re: BrewNChow

              Oh I forgot my favorite Chinese place of all, Chong Qing Mei Wei

            4. Bruxie is fun but only if your expectations are not that high. Sandwiches on a waffle. They will not blow your mind but certainly taste good!

              1 Reply
              1. I'm probably Seafood Paradise's biggest pimp on this board and will readily admit that it's not a destination.

                In addition to what's already been mentioned, I like Inka Mama's for Peruvian in Foothill Ranch. A trip to The Riders Club Cafe in San Clemente would be worth your time.

                1. +1000 on Dublin 4, very good place, also loved Pizza e Vino and Riders Club (down in San Clemente) does some awesome burgers in a very cool "beach shack" locale, nice selection of craft beers as well. Be sure and ask for the pickled beets, they're free but only upon request.

                  Since now we've strayed a bit from the inland part of OC, I'd also recommend The Crow Bar (Corona Del Mar), for a gastropub option - it can be a bit uneven but I love their duck fat fries with truffle aioli, among other things. Just down PCH from there, Side Door is also really good.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: mikester

                    big +1,2 and 3 on Riders Club if it's a burger that tickles your fancy. Plus, it's 2 blocks from the beach. Not San Clemente's best beach, but a beach nonetheless.

                    As other's have mentioned, if you are really keen on the Mexican and Vietnamese, your best bests are just a 15 minute drive north on the 5 to Santa Ana for Mexican or 15 minutes north on 405 to Westminster. If you need closer recs, the ones by Prof Salt and others are spot on. Have fun.

                    1. re: adamclyde

                      Following up on Riders Club. We've all touted their burgers, beer selection and pickled beets. Yesterday, I tried their chocolate pudding for the first time. OMG, so good!

                      1. re: JAB

                        Great. I just happen to be heading back to the area at the end of the month. I'll definitely try it this time (along with at least one trip to 101 Noodles. We've been jonesing for their food since we were there last summer.

                  2. thanks everyone for the great recs. I'll let you know where we end up going. Some of it will be a time crunch. there for 1 1/2 days and at least a half day reserved for the show and getting ready.