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Karage curry udon at Meiji Seimen in Costa Mesa.
[Official Photo]

9 Superb Places to Eat on the Drive From LA to San Diego

Delicious food destinations along the 405 and 5 freeways

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Karage curry udon at Meiji Seimen in Costa Mesa.
| [Official Photo]

There are plenty of routes to take when traveling from LA to San Diego, but head south on the 405 and 5 freeways for the richest culinary gems. These restaurants don’t veer too far from the highway, so one can arrive in timely fashion without too much advance planning. Here now, are the nine best places to eat on the drive from LA to San Diego.

Removed: Wide Eyes Open Palms, VG Donut & Bakery, Hide Away Café

Added: Vishnu, Meiji Seimen, Ben Ngu, Fiesta Barbecue & Bibingka

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Fiesta Barbecue and Bibingka

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860 E Carson St
Carson, CA 90745
(310) 518-7860
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Carson isn’t just known for Dignity Health Sports Park, the Goodyear Blimp base, and IKEA. This city at the intersection of the 405 and 110 freeways also houses one of Southern California’s largest Filipino populations and some great Filipino food. Fiesta Barbecue & Bibingka features bright lime green walls and specializes in grilled-to-order meats and bibingka, a rice flour bread that’s topped with cream cheese and salted egg and baked in a banana leaf. Definitely grab one for the road from an incubator by the register. The Fiesta Family Pack features a whole bird with peanut sauce, atchara (pickled vegetables), and enough rice to last all week. Atypical offerings include juicy grilled tuna belly and tuna collar.

2. Ben Ngu Restaurant

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10051 Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92844
(714) 590-9569

Ngu Binh has become beloved in Little Saigon for central Vietnamese comfort food. Sister restaurant Ben Ngu serves the same food with a fraction of the crowds and warrants a quick detour down the 22. It’s definitive Bún bò Huế, Huế-style beef noodle soup, features bouncy noodles, touts tongue tingling spice, and comes chock-full of proteins like sliced beef shank and pork loaf, collagen-rich pig trotter, and pork blood cubes. Mì quảng is another standout bowl starring turmeric-stained noodles, pork, shrimp, fish cake, crushed peanuts, and a crunchy shrimp chip. Ben Ngu also specializes in a variety of glutinous rice flour and tapioca creations topped and filled with ground shrimp, pork, scallions, and fried shallots that make great share-friendly starters.

3. Kim Hong Eggrolls

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14115 Goldenwest St Ste C
Westminster, CA

Little Saigon is a required stop for some of the best Vietnamese food outside Vietnam. Kim Nguyen has stuffed, rolled, and fried egg rolls on Little Saigon’s west side since 1999. The current Kim Hong Eggrolls location contains just three faux wood tables and houses fridges bursting with 100-packs. Icons on a wall-mounted menu decode egg rolls, which cost a dollar each, with a $10 minimum. Crisp coats with good give yield peppery fillings that also include carrot flecks and glass noodles. Dip into sweet chile sauce. Call ahead, since they fry egg rolls to order, to save time.

4. Mr. Kebap

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16937 Bushard St
Fountain Valley, CA 92708
(714) 369-2001
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Each meal at this Turkish restaurant starts with jajek, cooling yogurt with cucumber and spices that’s served with grilled pita. Spicy kofta features char-grilled ground beef patties folded with onion, garlic, red pepper paste, and spices, plated with buttery rice pilaf and crispy French fries. They also serve mild and mozzarella-stuffed versions. Shish kebap skewers alternate chunks of filet mignon and Turkish lamb fat, to super-savory effect.

5. Vishnu Restaurant & Catering

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17945 Sky Park Cir J
Irvine, CA 92614
(949) 752-0358
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Irvine has flashier dining options, but Vishnu, located in an industrial park near the 405 and 55 interchange, has become a staple for its weekday Indian lunch buffet. Hyderabad native Ram Kadiyala has been filling steam tables since 2013, naming Vishnu for a Hindu god that works to balance good and evil. The offerings are served cafeteria, but servers still bring water and bread to tables beneath two versions of Edward Hopper’s painting “Nighthawks,” including one starring Simpsons characters. Depending on the day, highlights might include butter chicken, roasted baby eggplants in peanut sauce, or okra curry. Meals also come with complementary naan, lacy dosas, vegetable rice, chutneys, cooling raita, and sweet rice pudding with raisins.

6. Meiji Seimen Costa Mesa

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1113 Baker St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
(714) 545-5175
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Meiji Seimen provides flavorful counter-programming to Costa Mesa’s ubiquitous ramen shops. To find the small strip mall restaurant, just look for the words Japanese restaurant above the door. They make udon and soba daily and are popular for limited edition monthly udon specials like spicy oxtail and creamy King crab carbonara. Regular, but still special offerings include seared oyster udon with scallions, ginger, yuzu zest, and an umami rich broth crafted with Hokkaido kelp and four types of bonito flakes. They also serve small plates like luscious skin-on grilled mackerel, sesame tofu, and chicken karaage.

7. Break of Dawn

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24291 Avenida de La Carlota
Laguna Hills, CA
(949) 587-9418
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Five days a week, Break of Dawn chef-owner Dee Nguyen specializes in elaborate brunch dishes at Oakbrook Village in Laguna Hills. Composed plates include smoked salmon on a crispy oatmeal pancake with herb poached eggs, cucumber, fennel, and preserved kumquat. Looking for something sweeter? Consider French toast crème brûlée with Mexican chocolate and chocolate-soy caramel sauce.

8. Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon

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155 Quail Gardens Dr
Encinitas, CA 92024

Elizabeth Harris ran with a Wild West theme at Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon next to Sunshine Gardens Nursery in Encinitas. Pass by wagon wheels, grab a horseshoe-branded chair, and revel in a blackboard menu with over 20 savory and sweet pies. In season, lattice topped strawberry rhubarb pie is a sweet tart masterpiece. Year-round, Grandma Lucy’s chicken pie showcases juicy chicken and vegetables in light gravy beneath Parmesan herb crust that’s accented with rosemary.

9. Chino Farm

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6123 Calzada Del Bosque
Del Mar, CA 92014

If the Chino family ever decided to sell their farm, which resides amid grand gated Rancho Santa Fe homes, they’d no doubt earn a fortune. Instead, Makoto Chino, son of current patriarch Tom and a UCLA law school grad, will take over the family business that his grandfather Junzo Chino established. Wolfgang Puck, Jonathan Waxman, and Alice Waters are longtime proponents, and luminaries still make public appearances at the farm. The Vegetable Shop, Chino’s farm stand, grows pristine specimens of produce like strawberries and tomatoes. You’ll also find more esoteric fruits and vegetables like star-shaped Chinese winged beans, French black turnips, and golden snow peas. Grab a healthy snack or stock up on edible souvenirs to cook once you get home. Weekends bring Nōjō, a coffee bar that features local Manzanita Roasting beans and sells cold brew coffee and tea growlers.

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1. Fiesta Barbecue and Bibingka

860 E Carson St, Carson, CA 90745

Carson isn’t just known for Dignity Health Sports Park, the Goodyear Blimp base, and IKEA. This city at the intersection of the 405 and 110 freeways also houses one of Southern California’s largest Filipino populations and some great Filipino food. Fiesta Barbecue & Bibingka features bright lime green walls and specializes in grilled-to-order meats and bibingka, a rice flour bread that’s topped with cream cheese and salted egg and baked in a banana leaf. Definitely grab one for the road from an incubator by the register. The Fiesta Family Pack features a whole bird with peanut sauce, atchara (pickled vegetables), and enough rice to last all week. Atypical offerings include juicy grilled tuna belly and tuna collar.

860 E Carson St
Carson, CA 90745

2. Ben Ngu Restaurant

10051 Garden Grove Blvd, Garden Grove, CA 92844

Ngu Binh has become beloved in Little Saigon for central Vietnamese comfort food. Sister restaurant Ben Ngu serves the same food with a fraction of the crowds and warrants a quick detour down the 22. It’s definitive Bún bò Huế, Huế-style beef noodle soup, features bouncy noodles, touts tongue tingling spice, and comes chock-full of proteins like sliced beef shank and pork loaf, collagen-rich pig trotter, and pork blood cubes. Mì quảng is another standout bowl starring turmeric-stained noodles, pork, shrimp, fish cake, crushed peanuts, and a crunchy shrimp chip. Ben Ngu also specializes in a variety of glutinous rice flour and tapioca creations topped and filled with ground shrimp, pork, scallions, and fried shallots that make great share-friendly starters.

10051 Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92844

3. Kim Hong Eggrolls

14115 Goldenwest St Ste C, Westminster, CA

Little Saigon is a required stop for some of the best Vietnamese food outside Vietnam. Kim Nguyen has stuffed, rolled, and fried egg rolls on Little Saigon’s west side since 1999. The current Kim Hong Eggrolls location contains just three faux wood tables and houses fridges bursting with 100-packs. Icons on a wall-mounted menu decode egg rolls, which cost a dollar each, with a $10 minimum. Crisp coats with good give yield peppery fillings that also include carrot flecks and glass noodles. Dip into sweet chile sauce. Call ahead, since they fry egg rolls to order, to save time.

14115 Goldenwest St Ste C
Westminster, CA

4. Mr. Kebap

16937 Bushard St, Fountain Valley, CA 92708

Each meal at this Turkish restaurant starts with jajek, cooling yogurt with cucumber and spices that’s served with grilled pita. Spicy kofta features char-grilled ground beef patties folded with onion, garlic, red pepper paste, and spices, plated with buttery rice pilaf and crispy French fries. They also serve mild and mozzarella-stuffed versions. Shish kebap skewers alternate chunks of filet mignon and Turkish lamb fat, to super-savory effect.

16937 Bushard St
Fountain Valley, CA 92708

5. Vishnu Restaurant & Catering

17945 Sky Park Cir J, Irvine, CA 92614

Irvine has flashier dining options, but Vishnu, located in an industrial park near the 405 and 55 interchange, has become a staple for its weekday Indian lunch buffet. Hyderabad native Ram Kadiyala has been filling steam tables since 2013, naming Vishnu for a Hindu god that works to balance good and evil. The offerings are served cafeteria, but servers still bring water and bread to tables beneath two versions of Edward Hopper’s painting “Nighthawks,” including one starring Simpsons characters. Depending on the day, highlights might include butter chicken, roasted baby eggplants in peanut sauce, or okra curry. Meals also come with complementary naan, lacy dosas, vegetable rice, chutneys, cooling raita, and sweet rice pudding with raisins.

17945 Sky Park Cir J
Irvine, CA 92614

6. Meiji Seimen Costa Mesa

1113 Baker St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626

Meiji Seimen provides flavorful counter-programming to Costa Mesa’s ubiquitous ramen shops. To find the small strip mall restaurant, just look for the words Japanese restaurant above the door. They make udon and soba daily and are popular for limited edition monthly udon specials like spicy oxtail and creamy King crab carbonara. Regular, but still special offerings include seared oyster udon with scallions, ginger, yuzu zest, and an umami rich broth crafted with Hokkaido kelp and four types of bonito flakes. They also serve small plates like luscious skin-on grilled mackerel, sesame tofu, and chicken karaage.

1113 Baker St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

7. Break of Dawn

24291 Avenida de La Carlota, Laguna Hills, CA

Five days a week, Break of Dawn chef-owner Dee Nguyen specializes in elaborate brunch dishes at Oakbrook Village in Laguna Hills. Composed plates include smoked salmon on a crispy oatmeal pancake with herb poached eggs, cucumber, fennel, and preserved kumquat. Looking for something sweeter? Consider French toast crème brûlée with Mexican chocolate and chocolate-soy caramel sauce.

24291 Avenida de La Carlota
Laguna Hills, CA

8. Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon

155 Quail Gardens Dr, Encinitas, CA 92024

Elizabeth Harris ran with a Wild West theme at Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon next to Sunshine Gardens Nursery in Encinitas. Pass by wagon wheels, grab a horseshoe-branded chair, and revel in a blackboard menu with over 20 savory and sweet pies. In season, lattice topped strawberry rhubarb pie is a sweet tart masterpiece. Year-round, Grandma Lucy’s chicken pie showcases juicy chicken and vegetables in light gravy beneath Parmesan herb crust that’s accented with rosemary.

155 Quail Gardens Dr
Encinitas, CA 92024

9. Chino Farm

6123 Calzada Del Bosque, Del Mar, CA 92014

If the Chino family ever decided to sell their farm, which resides amid grand gated Rancho Santa Fe homes, they’d no doubt earn a fortune. Instead, Makoto Chino, son of current patriarch Tom and a UCLA law school grad, will take over the family business that his grandfather Junzo Chino established. Wolfgang Puck, Jonathan Waxman, and Alice Waters are longtime proponents, and luminaries still make public appearances at the farm. The Vegetable Shop, Chino’s farm stand, grows pristine specimens of produce like strawberries and tomatoes. You’ll also find more esoteric fruits and vegetables like star-shaped Chinese winged beans, French black turnips, and golden snow peas. Grab a healthy snack or stock up on edible souvenirs to cook once you get home. Weekends bring Nōjō, a coffee bar that features local Manzanita Roasting beans and sells cold brew coffee and tea growlers.

6123 Calzada Del Bosque
Del Mar, CA 92014

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