Once regarded as a secondary market to Los Angeles, Orange County’s food scene has come into its own as of late. Find mom-and-pop shops that have spent decades perfecting a singular dish in areas like Westminster, where Vietnamese food rules, and along Anaheim’s Little Arabia District. For upscale, white-tablecloth dining experiences with higher prices to match are fine dining stalwarts backed by big names. There’s something for everyone in Orange County, and here are the 38 essential restaurants in Orange County.Read More
The 38 Essential Orange County Restaurants
Modern Mexican, vibrant Vietnamese, and so much more just south of LA
This nondescript sushi restaurant is a darling with dining critics and sushi lovers. Here chef prepares two omakase options: a traditional version for $90 to $150; and Jun’s style for $70, a five-course fusion menu with a combination of hot and cold dishes. At lunch, a premium omakase sushi with soup is just $31, which may be the best and most affordable omakase in Orange County.
Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen
This Michelin-anointed halal restaurant combines the flavors of India, Afghanistan, and Pakistan with a modern Californian twist. The tender boneless chicken karahi is served with tomatoes and shishito peppers, and the butter chicken with dried fenugreek is one of the restaurant’s more popular dishes. The pani puri with tamarind water, mint, onion, and potato arrives on a mini cart and is intended to be taken as a shooter.
Chef Shachi Mehra combines her Jersey roots and Indian heritage to create a tangy goat cheese-filled naan. Her inventiveness garnered her a win on Food Network’s Chopped. Meanwhile, her chef-partner, Sandeep Basrur, combines his background in traditional authentic Indian cooking to prepare classics such as a yellow shrimp coconut curry, dal makhni, and creamy cucumber raita.
As one of the first restaurants in Anaheim’s Little Arabia District, Kareem’s has become a go-to for authentic Middle Eastern food. Owner Kareem Hawari’s closely held family falafel recipe is so popular that the Hawaris started selling it wholesale to grocery stores and other restaurants. The babaganoush, grape leaves, and hummus are staples not to miss, but Kareem’s newer menu items — vegetarian wraps, falafel burgers, and feta fries — also offer a modern Mediterranean vibe without sacrificing traditional flavor.
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Lola’s By MFK
At Lola’s By MFK, Filipino American comfort food reigns supreme. The brunch menu includes signature dishes such as Lola’s crispy sisig with minced pork, Thai chile, calamansi aioli, fried egg, and garlic rice. Try the chicken adobo fried rice omelet with gravy and fried garlic, or the ube buttermilk ricotta pancakes doused in coconut sauce and toasted coconut flakes. The breakfast bowls with longanisa sausage, spam, and tocino (sweet garlic pork) are reminiscent of flavors found on Filipino American breakfast tables.
Haven Craft Kitchen + Bar
This Old Towne Orange neighborhood hangout is known for its solid cocktail menu and well-sourced beer list compiled by owner Wil Dee. The skillet cornbread with honey butter, locally made burrata with grilled bread, and Haven’s burger prepared with Flannery California prime beef, cheddar, and bibb lettuce are homestyle dishes not to missed.
At Rodeo 39 Public Market in Stanton, the bustling food hall houses some of the county’s most sought after southeast Asian bites. Beef shank-laden pho from Phoholic, savory Vietnamese crepes at Banh Xeo Boys, and Kra-Z-Kai’s Laotian-style barbecue. At Shootz, reimagined Hawaiian classics include a kimchi butter katsu chicken sandwich stuffed with mac salad and the honey coconut shrimp musubi.
Korean comfort food served in large portions is what Yigah is known for in Orange County. Both the Garden Grove restaurant and its sister location in Irvine at Diamond Jamboree shopping center serve steamy galbi tang, beef short rib soup, as well as the bossam meal with boiled pork belly, napa cabbage, and spicy pickled radish.
Santa Ana’s Tacos Manuel truck, open Tuesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., serves corn tortilla street tacos with carnitas, chorizo, carne asada, al pastor, and chicken. Most regulars opt for the offals, such as cabeza and tripas (tripe) served with grilled onions, jalapenos, and cilantro. The truck also makes quesadillas, tortas, and burritos, but the huaraches topped with beans, lettuce, sour cream, and meat are the most popular.
The reinvisioned Playground restaurant consists of two distinct dining concepts: Detention, with a an a la carte and lounge menu for everyday dining, and Trust DTSA, an innovative 18-seat chef’s table helmed by chef Justin Werner. At Detention, sip a seasonal craft cocktail or OC-brewed Chapman Crafted pilsner, along with an oyster mushroom “bacon” tartine or the artichoke dip with Parmesan, dill, and malt vinegar chips.
Omakase by Gino
Sushi chef Gino Choi prepares an intricate omakase for 10 diners at his namesake downtown Santa Ana restaurant. (Choi is also a self-taught carpenter who built the sushi counter, entryway, and partitions himself.) The standout dishes include a creamy Santa Barbara uni udon garnished with black truffles from Burgundy, Gino’s version of tamago flavored with lobster, and a large scallop dotted with Osetra caviar and a vibrant rice vinegar, white soy sauce gelee.
El Mercado Modern Cuisine
Inventive cocktails made with tamarind and mezcal set the tone at Mercado Moderne, and continues on to the food menu with a tlayuda served alongside a pea puree and blue corn tortilla enchiladas filled with chicken and Oaxacan cheese.
Seafood Cove 2
This is one of Orange County’s busiest dim sum restaurants. The original Garden Grove location opened in 1990 and serves an extensive Chinese food menu including whole fried fish, braised sea cucumbers, and house-special lobster. For diners seeking dim sum on a non-weekend day, Seafood Cove #2, the two-story sister location in Westminster is your destination. It serves Seafood Cove’s signature dishes (clams with basil sauce, honey walnut shrimp, and Peking duck) in addition to daily dim sum from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Quán Mii Restaurant
The menu ranges from Vietnamese spring rolls to vermicelli noodle soups at Westminster’s Quan Mii. But the two dishes not to miss are the banh xeo dac biet “Quán Mii” — a large crispy crepe with pork, shrimp, and squid that diners tear into pieces and wrap in romaine lettuce with mint, cilantro, and purple basil — and the banh beo — Hue-style steamed rice flour cakes with minced shrimp.
This timeless restaurant offers a wide array of Vietnamese specialties, starting with 13 types of spring rolls — including the popular grilled shrimp paste with lettuce, carrots, daikon, mint, cilantro, and cucumber wrapped in rice paper. The menu continues with traditional Vietnamese noodle soups, sandwiches, and a whole lot more.
Nep Cafe is a brunch sensation. At the French Vietnamese cafe and daytime restaurant, Kei Concepts pays “homage to the traditional Vietnamese morning routine.” The menu includes TikTok-worthy coffee drinks topped with salted egg yolk and delicate dishes like a sous vide egg dish with hints of truffle. The menu changes in the evening when the restaurant flips into Gem Dining, which opened in 2019 and serves Asian-inspired dishes including Sichuan cauliflower, Singaporean chile soft shell crab, and a seafood laksa risotto.
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The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar
The Winery Restaurant & Wine Bar just celebrated its 15th anniversary in Tustin. The wine country-inspired menu includes flatbreads, steaks, short ribs, and best of all, the roasted butternut squash and potato dauphinoise. The California-centric wine menu includes pours of the Boyz, a red wine blend from Paso Robles that was created and bottled by the restaurant’s three co-owners: JC Clowe, William Lewis, and chef Yvon Goetz who are nicknamed “the Boys.”
Opened in 2013 by chef Carlos Salgado, Taco Maria is a destination for Alta-California cooking. The restaurant is currently open for in-person dining, with prix fixe dinner service from Tuesday through Saturday. Standout dishes include an aguachile bay scallop crudo served with Persian cucumbers, serrano chile, and lime. The mole de pato is not to be missed either, especially when served with the restaurant’s handmade blue corn tortillas. An unforgettable layered melon granita dessert showcases the chef’s playful side.
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Terrace by Mix Mix
Chef Ross Pangilinan’s sister restaurant to the award-winning, but now-closed Mix Mix Kitchen + Bar is best known for its open-air patio and the chef’s large raviolo. The hand-rolled pasta is stuffed with a cheese-herb filling and a whole egg yolk. Other popular items include an albacore crostini on a crispy corn tostada and brioche french toast for brunch.
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This modern French-Californian restaurant from chef Tony Esnault and Yassmin Sarmadi is intended for celebratory meals. Order the lobster Caesar salad and Champagne for lunch and the halibut with braised endive or beef tenderloin with celery root for dinner. A decadent slice of the Louis XV (hazelnut praline layered with chocolate mousse and topped with a gianduja glaze) makes for a great dessert. A pricey but impeccable afternoon tea service is available on Saturdays.
Populaire Modern Bistro
Chefs Nick Weber and Ross Pangilinan’s modern California-French bistro is situated in South Coast Plaza, where fried chicken bites topped with caviar fit perfectly with the glitzy atmosphere. Standout starters include crispy duck “spliffs” and escargot ebelskivers. Populaire’s laid-back decor with black-and-white photos of Johnny Cash and Ramones album covers are offset by dusty pink floral wallpaper and pastel blue walls. The look echoes the food: refined with a touch of rock-and-roll.
This Tawainese restaurant in Irvine serves Chinese-style crispy pork chop over rice and thousand-layer pancakes, but the noodle dishes are not to be missed including a beef noodle soup and noodles with ground pork. For diners who enjoy heat, the menu also features several Sichuan-style dishes, like a beef tendon noodle soup and spicy wontons.
Vibe Organic Kitchen & Juice
The gluten-free, organic, and vegan cafe serves breakfast options all day. The blue-colored spirulina chia pudding with fresh fruit, and the tacos with house-made corn tortillas, cauliflower scramble, pico de gallo, and cashew lime crema are snack-able any time. For plant-based beginners, the cafe serves acai bowls with cacao nibs, an extensive menu of made-to-order juices and smoothies blended with house-made coconut milk, and a kid-friendly organic strawberry waffle with cashew cream and maple syrup.
Mario's Butcher Shop
The strip mall butcher shop and deli serves pastrami sandwiches layered with beef cured in-house on rye bread. The rotating specials board includes fish and chips, and Cuban and porchetta sandwiches. The smash burger made with beef ground in-house and the pastrami with coleslaw remain the favorites for regulars.
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Probiotics rule at Fermentation Farm — thanks to nearly a dozen different on-tap kombucha flavors, and food options like a French onion soup with raw cheese and a kraut-filled grilled cheese sandwich. Visit on Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. when a farmers market featuring produce from Rosewood Farms and Sunny Cal Farms pops up in the restaurant’s parking lot. Monthly classes include an intro to bone broth and fermentation techniques like kombucha brewing.
The Blind Pig
Find a casual, hodgepodge menu at at the Blind Pig, which overlooks the Rancho Santa Margarita Lake. On the menu is gruyere-topped French onion soup and chicken karaage. The extensive whiskey selection pairs well with heartier dishes, like the wild boar albondigas, bacon cheddar cheeseburger, or braised beef shank tacos.
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This cozy, red-boothed hideout on Pacific Coast Highway is known for its Rat Pack atmosphere. The classic martini reigns at the bar and the chicken pot pie is only available on Fridays, but locals love the steaks, Mary’s organic chicken with Carolina gold rice, and Niman Ranch pork chops with Anson Mills grits and creamy Marsala sauce. It’s old-school done right.
Lido Bottle Works
At Lido Bottle Works, street tacos and hummus boards with lavash are combined with a prime view of Lido Marina’s resident yachts and wooden boats. The menu skews towards elevated bar food: octopus with mole negra and a crispy Jidori chicken sandwich with curry and coconut-lime aioli. The rotating taps feature Orange County breweries, including Brewery X and Radiant Beer Co. in Anaheim, Riip Beer Co. in Huntington Beach, and Lost Winds Brewing Company in San Clemente.
Fable & Spirit
A meal at Fable & Spirit almost by default starts with the warm Guinness brown bread with European butter and Jacobsen sea salt. From there, the Lido Isle restaurant weaves between European meat and potatoes influences to pure California bliss, like citrusy salads loaded with cara cara and blood oranges, chevre, and crispy quinoa.
The splurge-worthy Sushi II is located in Mariner’s Point in Newport Beach and offers three hyper-seasonal omakase experiences. Named after distinct Japanese pottery — Oribe, Bizen, and Karatsu — the menus range from $150 to $250 per person. Order the omakase paired with sake to experience master chef Susumu Ii’s washoku training to the fullest.
Farmhouse at Roger's Gardens
Chef Richard Mead is a long-standing figure in the Orange County dining scene. At the Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens, the chef showcases the best that the season has to offer from the region’s many producers, which means ever-changing takes on dishes like sea scallops, as well as shrimp and mussels served in a tomato-Pernod broth with a polenta cake made from blue corn sourced from the Tehachapi Heritage Grain Project.
The Crab Cooker
The fire engine red building with white trim and green-striped awning is a landmark on the Newport peninsula. Since 1951, the Crab Cooker has served seafood classics including oysters, Dungeness crab, Alaskan crab claws, clam chowder, and anything offered in the fish market.
This quintessential Orange County surfside restaurant is located at historic Crystal Cove State Beach. The picturesque view, combined with a blue crab Benedict for breakfast or a lobster BLT sandwich (with substantial pieces of claw meat and ripe avocado) for lunch, sets the tone for a sublime day at the beach.
Florent and Amelia Marneu’s white tablecloth restaurant is a stalwart in the Orange County fine dining scene. The Newport Beach restaurant serves traditional French favorites such as steak tartare, roasted bone marrow, and duck confit. A dungeness crab dish with a creamy seafood bisque combines both French and Californian flavors. Other standout dishes include a tuna tartare served with an avocado sorbet and a yuzu emulsion, and the rotating desserts crafted by the Marneus.
Broadway by Amar Santana
At this Laguna Beach restaurant, Top Chef alum Amar Santana serves “progressive American” food. Since it opened in 2011, Broadway combines Santana’s East Coast roots with West Coast produce. A popular side dishe inspired by Chinese takeout combines a sweet and sour sauce with Brussels sprouts and Chinese sausage.
Selanne Steak Tavern
Laguna Beach locals love this place for its white tablecloths, award-winning wine program, and stellar steaks. The vibrant red beet ravioli stuffed with cheese is a striking starter, while the monkey bread dessert is a comforting finish to any meal. Former Anaheim Ducks hockey player and six-time Olympian Teemu Selanne is one of the restaurant’s owners, so be on the lookout for A-listers.
San Juan Capistrano’s award-winning pitmaster Daniel Castillo takes barbecue to the next level with wood-smoked brisket, sausages, turkeys, ribs, chickens, and more. First-timers load up on the brisket and ribs, while regulars order pork belly banh mi sandwiches, brisket tacos prepared with La Palma tortillas, and creamy banana pudding layered with pound cake and vanilla wafer cookies. Get the charred broccoli with cheesy mornay sauce if its on the menu.
Vine Restaurant & Bar
This south county restaurant’s craft cocktails get a lot of buzz. The menu, which is similar to its sister restaurants Olea, Ironwood, and Sapphire, includes California-style pub grub. There’s crispy Jidori chicken schnitzel with maitake mushrooms and lemon verbena poached Scottish salmon. Most diners order the Mexicali burger made with American Kobe beef, queso fresco, chile de arbol creme, and sweet onion slaw, and served with hand-cut fries.