Quick Picks for Orange County, CA: Best Restaurants

Orange County, California is known around the country due to the popularity of shows like The OC and The Real Housewives of Orange County, but ask those familiar with the area and they’re most likely to say it isn’t all about the glitzy glamour and privileged teen drama. In fact, Orange County easily allows for a laid back life-style, offering a nature aspect that lets one do anything from hiking a trail that leads up to a hidden waterfall in the Santa Ana mountains, to spending the day lounging around the beach while watching surfer dudes and gals catch some waves. Or you could go bird watching in any of the nature preserve trails around the county while you stroll along with good company.

Then there’s the other, more easily recognizable aspect to the county and it easily lives up to the hype as well. In Newport Beach, you’ll find multi-million dollar, water-front houses decked out to the max. For art lovers, the city of Laguna Beach- which initially started off as an art colony- is a real treat. Just stroll down one of the streets in downtown Laguna, and you’ll probably come across more art stores that you can count on your fingers. Or you can enjoy the night watching a play or dance performance at one of the many performing arts venues throughout the city of Irvine. And because there’s almost nothing better than a good shopping sesh, you can shop till you drop at Brea Mall, Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza, or Newport Beach’s Fashion Island, among other malls throughout the county.

The county is also home to world famous theme parks like Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm that bring in an estimated 16.5 million visitors each year, when combined.

As far as the cuisine goes, the mix ranges from high-end luxury to downtown cool, much like the county itself.

We turned to Bobby Navarro, OC food expert and creator of 100Eats100Days, a popular photography food blog, to dish out some of his favorite eateries within the county. Here are his recommendations:

High-End Destinations

Places you’d take a date, the parents, or go to for any special occasion. At these restaurants, it’s about the total experience.

Broadway by Amar Santana
328 Glenneyre Street
Laguna Beach, CA 92651
(949) 715-8234

A quickly rising star in the Orange County dining scene, Amar Santana is cooking up great dishes like Pork Pot Roast with a Cherry Cola Sweet Potato Puree and Chipotle Jus at this new Laguna Beach hot spot. The intimate chef’s counter is the best way to do a date night here, create a personalized tasting menu, and watch the chefs cook it right in front of you.

Il Barone
4251 Martingale Way
Newport Beach, CA 92660
(949) 955-2755

At this restaurant, the Barone family has created an Italian getaway where every person that enters is part of their kin. Here you will find things like the Facci Ri Veccia, a thin foccacia like bread rolled out like a pizzette and stuffed with a cream cheese-like filling, topped with prosciutto and truffle oil. There are few things better….

Solid Selections

Well-priced restaurants that feature a wonderful atmosphere and incredible food. These are a person’s “go-to” place whenever they’re asked for a recommendation.

A Market
3400 West Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92663
(949) 650-6505

Shelly Register leads the culinary creativity at this Market and Lunch bar. A great place to pack up for a picnic, or even to stock your home kitchen with unique edibles you can’t find anywhere else. Don’t leave without a Sticky Bun, I don’t know what Shelly puts in them, but they have changed lives.

Portola Coffee
3313 Hyland Ave
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(949) 284-0596

Jeff Duggan has created a unique coffee experience at the OC Mart Mix in Costa Mesa. They have turned the “morning coffee routine” into an elaborate educational tool for the delicious opportunity your morning beverage has to offer. Get there early; the Kyoto iced coffee is worth not hitting the snooze button for.

Secret Stashes

These are primarily known by the locals, covering any budget and any type of food; special, secret, and adored by those in the know.

Marche Moderne
3333 Bristol Street #3001
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 434-7900

This high-end restaurant has a secret. Florent Marneau has been cooking delicious and flavorful culinary delights here at South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa for the past 5 years. Everyone knows his food is delicious, but not everyone has found out that for $20 you can have three courses of his fabulous food at lunch! This is a restaurant not to miss.

Break of Dawn
24351 Avenida De La Carlota
Laguna Hills, CA 92653
(949) 587-9418

Hidden in Laguna Hills, in a nondescript shopping center is a secret breakfast/lunch gold mine. Traditional breakfast with a Vietnamese flare. Chef Dee Nguyen has a technical background in high end french cuisine, combined with his deep rooted asian culture, you are bound to find something spectacular at every visit. Like the Coriander Cured Smoked Salmon with the Oatmeal Galette, a must have.

Robert Anthony Navarro is an aspiring restaurateur and creator of 100Eats100Days.

Have six places in your city that people should know about? Submit your Quick Picks to editor@firsttoknow.com and we may use them for the column.

Check out all our Quick Picks features:
Allentown, PA
Houston, TX
Portland, ME
Portland, OR
San Diego, CA