And just like that, the OC Register is getting into the best-restaurant-roundup game. Hot on the heels of L.A.’s own 99 Essentials list, compiled by LA Weekly critic Besha Rodell, the Register’s own Brad A. Johnson pulls together a hearty list of 75 top spots for enjoying a meal south of the Orange Curtain.
Like any good regional restaurant aggregation, there’s a lot to parse out here, not least of which is the actual rankings themselves. Johnson already does a six-point breakdown of the OC dining scene (think Best Restaurant, Best Chef, etc.), so tacking on an overall ranking of 75 restaurants from one end of the county to the other is even more impressive.
A few quick takeaways:
- Taco Maria earns top billing. The forward-thinking modern Mexican eatery by Carlos Salgado may have started as a market-driven food truck, but as a sit-down spot inside of the larger OC Mix Mart complex, it’s fine(ish) dining all the way. The #1 spot is a bit of good news for the burgeoning Costa Mesa/Anaheim/Santa Ana food scene, which is coming on strong as of late.
- South Coast Plaza ain’t what she used to be. With more than three dozen restaurants in its clutches, Costa Mesa's South Coast Plaza was for a time considered to be a bastion of high-end dining that helped anchor the entire OC food scene. Lower-end chains now make up a large portion of the options on site, leaving only two restaurants (Marche Moderne and Din Tai Fung) as entrants on the list of 75.
- Not much love for Anaheim Packing District or 4th Street Market in Santa Ana, either. Despite being some of the most exciting new restaurant developments in Orange County in years, only Adya makes the list for the Packing District, and Playground (which doesn’t even really count, given its adjacent location) in Santa Ana.
- Little Saigon stands tall. The list links to a number of quality Vietnamese-leaning restaurants in the Little Saigon (Rice Paper, Hue Oi, Brodard, etc.) neighborhood, which offers one of the best collections of cuisine-specific restaurants anywhere in the Southland.
- Is Tamarind missing? One of Orange County’s often-mentioned restaurants is the high-end Indian post Tamarind of London, yet it’s nowhere to be found on Johnson’s list. Is the ethnic restaurant, which was very positively reviewed by Jonathan Gold in 2013, not doing enough to earn a spot?
- L.A. County is an undeniable influence. For better or worse, many places on the 75 list either started in or have major outposts inside of L.A. County., from Ramen Yamadaya to Mozza. All great restaurants, sure, but it may be an indication that the overall O.C. scene still feels like it’s in the shadow of its northern counterpart. That's changing though, and fast.