Orange County’s restaurant scene has been explosive lately, pushed on by new names, big developments, and pent-up demand for dining out. Food halls like Rodeo 39 are boosting once-overlooked cities like Stanton, and local chefs are taking chances on new restaurants across the county. It’s all coming together to create a scene that is as hot and essential as any in Southern California — a vibrant and diverse moment for Orange County’s food scene, filled with options at all price points and styles. Ranging from Vietnamese hot pot to a new take on chicken and waffles, the food found at these Orange County restaurants blends the easy-going, laid-back vibe of their coastal surroundings with the flavors of chefs who have traversed the globe. Here are five of the hottest dishes to try around Orange County right now.
Hot kimchi butter katsu chicken at Shootz Hawaiian
The hot kimchi butter katsu chicken sandwich at Shootz Hawaiian sounds like a gimmick, but that’s far from the reality at this busy OC restaurant out in Stanton, where the flavors come fast and strong and don’t stop until the last bite. The crispy chicken and cold macaroni salad meld with the soft potato bun, each bite evoking a Hawaiian plate lunch packed into a single sandwich. After that first taste, it’s understandable why Shootz Hawaiian, which opened at Rodeo 39 in October 2020, sells more than 5,000 of these specialized takes on Japanese katsu every month.
Shootz Hawaiian at Rodeo 39, 12885 Beach Blvd., Stanton.
Salmon ceviche at O Sea
Restaurateur Mike Flynn opened O Sea in June 2021 as a sustainable seafood option near historic Old Towne Orange, pairing his fish with an extensive wine program that the cozy neighborhood loves. The brick and white-walled dining room is brightly lit with a prime view of the open kitchen. It’s a renovated space that melds old and new, perfect for a progressive seafood restaurant in one of Orange County’s oldest communities. Situated just a few miles away from Chapman University, O Sea is where executive chef Carla Arce, an Orange County native, serves her take on progressive seafood and showcases her commitment to transparent sourcing. It’s also where you’ll spot a blend of generations and cultures, students and longtime locals, all eating together — especially over orders of the salmon ceviche with coconut leche de tigre, habanero oil, and crispy taro chips.
O Sea, 109 S. Glassell St., Orange.
Chicken and waffles at Tableau Kitchen and Bar
Chef John Park and Ed Lee opened Tableau Kitchen and Bar at South Coast Plaza in January 2022. Best known for Toast Kitchen + Bar in Costa Mesa and Lee’s family fish taco empire, Wahoo’s, the duo have decided to elevate their game with this newest opening and so far it meets all expectations. The star dish is the chicken and waffles, a staple on Tableau’s breakfast menu. Here, Korean-style garlic soy chicken wings marry with crispy waffle-like Japanese taiyakis that are filled with kecap manis (a sweet Indonesian soy sauce) custard and pickled daikon.
“We make classic Korean fried chicken wings glazed with sweet garlic soy,” says Park. “The kecap manis, mixed with custard, creates an amazing salted butterscotch-maple flavor.”
Tableau Kitchen and Bar at South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bear St., Suite 119, Costa Mesa.
The Mountain Burger at Butcher’s House
Chef Jeoffrey Offer spent years cooking at Laurent Vrignaud’s Moulin in Newport Beach before branching out on his own with Butcher’s House Brasserie. Offer came to the States in 2013 from his native France “with a backpack and a dream,” he says, working his way up in Orange County kitchens until December 2021 when the Butcher’s House opened at SoCo Collection. He’s in good company there, considering the development also houses powerhouse dining destinations ranging from Taco Maria and ARC Kitchen + Bar to Portola Coffee Roasters.
Offer’s Mountain Burger is made with dry-aged beef stuffed with potatoes, caramelized onions, bacon, dijon mayonnaise, and topped with raclette cheese, equal parts upscale and absolutely unfussy. Order this gargantuan burger as part of the lunch special and enjoy it with the chef’s housemade fries, a refreshing delicate green gem salad, and a glass of wine or sparkling rosé.
Butcher’s House, 3321 Hyland Ave. Ste. D, Costa Mesa.
La Cau Chilean sea bass hot pot at Lâu Tȏm 5 Ri
Fountain Valley’s Lâu Tȏm 5 Ri quietly opened in December 2020, an auspicious time for even the most media-savvy restaurants. Instead, this quiet strip mall Vietnamese operation has cultivated a loyal local following for its seafood-heavy menu, with nearly every table taken nightly. The hot pot is the thing here, bubbling containers of broth and herbs and fish. Each is its own specialty, a comforting seasoned to taste with chilies, cilantro, and basil, but it’s the La Cau Chilean sea bass option that has proven to be the star. It’s an ideal gateway dish for first-timers at Lâu Tȏm 5 Ri, especially when served among friends — and with rice noodles — on a brisk Orange County night.
Lâu Tȏm 5 Ri, 17431 Brookhurst St., Ste J, Fountain Valley.
A final note: Eater does its best to make sure that each of these dishes is on the restaurant’s menu at the time of publication, but items do come and go over time.