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|After decades of languishing in the shadows of Los Angeles, the Orange County food scene has as of late been able to craft a strong identity all its own. Find out GAYOT's picks for the 10 Must-Visit Restaurants in Orange County.
Din Tai Fung, the Los Angeles-area restaurant that has built a cult following around its Shanghai-style soup dumplings, has opened in an 8,000-square-foot space in South Coast Plaza. Din Tai Fung, South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, CA 92626, 714-549-3388.
Cucina Enoteca will be rolling out a second Orange County location, in Newport Beach’s famed shopping center Fashion Island. The restaurant, whose original OC space can be found at the Irvine Spectrum, is slated to open in the summer 2014. Like the Irvine venue, the new space will be featuring an array of rustic Italian cuisine and an extensive list of wines that may be purchased at retail prices. Dinner nightly. Cucina Enoteca, Fashion Island, 401 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, CA 92660, no phone.
The contemporary Chinese restaurant Twenty Eight will be opening its doors in the heart of Irvine’s original business district in August. The restaurant is the brainchild of executive chef and partner Shirley Chung, whose pedigree includes an appearance on Top Chef and a successful stint as executive chef at China Poblano by Jose Andres. Chung promises to bring regional Chinese dishes to the venue, made with local seasonal ingredients and progressive flavors. Twenty Eight, 19530 Jamboree Rd., Irvine, CA 92612, no phone.
The people that were behind the departed Downtown Santa Ana restaurant The Crosby have reemerged with The North Left, a contemporary dining spot located in The Crosby’s old digs. The restaurant is serving small plates of contemporary food inspired by the flavors of the Pacific Northwest, but made from fresh and local ingredients. The venue is also offering a rotation of craft beers on tap, as well as barrel-aged cocktails. Lunch Mon.-Fri., Dinner Mon.-Sat. The North Left, 400 N Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701, 714-543-3543.
The Balboa Bay Resort has jumped into the world of the gastropub with the opening of A&O Kitchen + Bar. The restaurant, which is housed in a completely renovated space, where Duke's Place once resided, opened in June and features casual yet innovative contemporary fare, as overseen by the resort's executive chef, Vincent Lesage. Menu items range from pork belly sliders and a sausage flight to beer-marinated fried chicken and orchiette pasta. Lunch & Dinner daily. A&O Kitchen + Bar, Balboa Bay Resort, 1221 West Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, CA 92663, 949-630-4285.
Costa Mesa’s Triangle Square shopping complex is the home of the Mexican culinary concept La Vida Cantina. The restaurant is housed in the former location of El Corazon de Costa Mesa. Guests can sit on the venue’s massive outdoor patio and enjoy margaritas and other specialty cocktails, or indulge in modern Mexican dishes made with organic ingredients, such as lobster enchiladas served with a poblano cilantro tomatillo sauce. For more information, visit www.lavidacantina.com. La Vida Cantina, Traingle Square, 1870 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, CA 92627, 949-612-2349.
Break of Dawn, the popular breakfast and lunch venue located in Lake Forest, has reopened after a three-and-a-half-month closure. The restaurant has changed addresses, but has only moved into a different, expanded spot in the same shopping center that it previously called home. Executive chef/owner Dee Nguyen fills the larger venue with a host of Asian fusion-inspired dishes, like the pork belly and tempura fried egg, and Hawaiian sausage with green papaya and rice. For more information, visit www.breakofdawnrestaurant.com. Break of Dawn, Laguna Hills Mall, 24351 Avenida De La Carlota, Laguna Hills, CA 92653, 949-587-9418.
Island Hotel Newport Beach has opened its new culinary concept Oak Grill. Executive chef Marc Johnson brings his interpretation of contemporary cuisine to the sleek, completely redesigned dining space, creating dishes that highlight refined techniques and strong relationships with top purveyors. Also debuting is the adjacent Aqua Lounge, a bar concept featuring outdoor seating, craft cocktails, an extensive wine list and small bites. For more information, visit www.oakandaqua.com. Oak Grill, Island Hotel Newport Beach, 690 Newport Center Dr., Newport Beach, CA 92660, 949-759-0808.
Celebrated Orange County chef and restaurateur Alessandro Pirozzi has opened Pirozzi Corona Del Mar. The Italian eatery, which is located in the heart of the iconoclastic subsection of Newport Beach, will be serving up hand-made pasta and pizzas baked in a 900-degree, wood-burning oven. The restaurant will also feature a prosciutto and mozzarella bar and homemade gelato. Lunch & Dinner daily. Pirozzi Corona Del Mar, 2929 East Coast Hwy., Corona Del Mar, CA 92625, 949-675-2932.
Orange County’s latest culinary import, Tortilla Republic, has opened in Laguna Beach. This marks the third location for the Mexican eatery, which also has locations in West Hollywood and Kauai, HI. Housed in the space formerly occupied by Asada, the venue serves contemporary Mexican cuisine, emphasizing farm-fresh ingredients and unexpected flavors like the vegan hibiscus flower enchiladas. The venue’s bar program also features more than 100 agave tequila selections. Tortilla Republic, 480 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach, CA 92651, 949-393-4888.
Lillie’s Q, the critically acclaimed Chicago-based restaurants known for its barbecue and Southern side dishes, will be opening an Orange County location in 2014. The venue, which will be located in downtown Brea, is slated to open for lunch and dinner service. In addition to serving up Southern cuisine and barbecue entrées, such as slow-smoked pork shoulder, baby back ribs and tri-tip, the venue will also partner with neighboring restaurant TAPS Fish House & Brewery to feature specialty craft beers created by the latter eatery’s brewmaster Victor Novak. Lunch & Dinner daily. Lillie's Q, 240 S. Brea Blvd., Brea, CA 92821, no phone.
Balboa Bay Resort, the sprawling hotel and club located along Newport Harbor, has announced the opening of their new flagship restaurant, Waterline. The waterfront venue’s chef-driven, “water to table” concept highlights Southern California-inspired takes on seafood as overseen by executive chef Vincent LeSage. The restaurant will also feature contemporary cuisine, a breakfast and lunch menu, a Sunday brunch buffet, and a full bar overlooking the city’s famous marina. Breakfast, Lunch, & Dinner daily, Brunch Sun. Waterline, Balboa Bay Resort, 1221 Coast Hwy, Newport Beach, CA 92663, 888-894-2788.
Connie and Ted's Possibly Coming to Laguna Beach
Rumor has it that Providence co-owners Michael Cimarusti and Donato Poto will open a second location of their popular and successful West Hollywood seafood spot Connie and Ted's in Laguna Beach. Connie and Ted's, 8171 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90046, 323-848-2722.
OC Expansion for TAPS Fish House & Brewery
TAPS Fish House & Brewery, the Brea restaurant known for its seafood and its craft beer will be opening a second Orange County. The location is slated to open at The Market Place in Irvine in early 2015. The restaurant will be featuring a 150-seat private dining room, a large outdoor patio and 25 tap handles of craft beer, including a half-dozen of TAPS’ award-winning brews. TAPS Fish House & Brewery, 101 E. Imperial Hwy., Brea, CA 92821, 714-257-0101.
Bill Bracken Launches Bracken’s Kitchen Non-profit
Bill Bracken, the longtime executive chef at Palm Terrace Restaurant at Island Hotel Newport Beach, has launched Bracken’s Kitchen, a non-profit organization whose mission is combat hunger in Orange County. Equipped with a mobile kitchen and partnerships with local purveyors and other nonprofits like Second Harvest Food Bank, Bracken and his team canvases Orange County to supply cooked meals to families in need. For more information about this organization, visit www.brackenskitchen.com
Clambake Wednesdays at Ways & Means Oyster House
Ways & Means Oyster House offers up Clambake Wednesdays, a special meal that puts a California spin on one of New England’s most traditional seafood-centric happenings. Guests can belly up to the Orange-based restaurant’s oyster bar and indulge in a one-dish seafood feast featuring seasonal West Coast clams, mussels, andouille sausage, potato and corn on the cob, all served in a spicy seafood lager broth. Additionally, the meal comes with a complimentary pour of wine. The cost is $9.99, and guests have the option to add a half lobster for $12. It's available at the oyster bar only. Ways & Means Oyster House, 513 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, CA 92866, 714-516-1800.
Bruno Massuger has been appointed executive chef at Back Bay Bistro, the flagship restaurant at the Newport Dunes Waterfront Resort. Massuger comes to the Newport Beach eatery armed with several years of experience culled in similar resort-type venues. In addition to overseeing the restaurant, he will also be managing the sprawling resort’s catering operation. Back Bay Bistro, Newport Dunes Resort, 1131 Back Bay Dr., Newport Beach, CA 92660, 949-729-1144.
Cody Storts is no longer the executive chef at HopScotch. The popular chef parted ways with the downtown Fullerton restaurant in late July. Storts has resurfaced at Nieuport 17, where he is working with executive chef Greg Moro, while the Tustin venue goes through a renovation process. HopScotch, 136 E. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, CA 92832, 714-871-2222.
Landmark in Corona Del Mar has closed its doors. The restaurant, which was known for its steaks and its late-night scene, held its final day of operation May 10. Plans for a new restaurant to occupy the now-vacant space have been announced, although the actual dining concept is still under wraps. Landmark, 3520 E. Coast Hwy., Corona Del Mar, CA 92625, no phone.
View our calendar of Wine Dinners & Tastings in Orange County