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Pulpo Almendrado, grilled octopus and peanut paste mole at Maizano. 
Pulpo Almendrado, grilled octopus and peanut paste mole at Maizano. 
Jakob Layman

Orange County's 12 Hottest Restaurants

Exploring some of the splashiest new restaurants behind the Orange Curtain

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Pulpo Almendrado, grilled octopus and peanut paste mole at Maizano. 
| Jakob Layman

Orange County’s robust dining scene has been on a massive roll as of late, adding big-name newcomers, very familiar chefs, and buzzy strip mall finds alike. The county, some 3.5 million people strong, was already known for its taquerias, Vietnamese food, and coastal dining enclaves, but these days the region is growing in seemingly a million new directions at once. Here are the hottest new restaurants to try in Orange County.

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Eater maps are curated by editors and aim to reflect a diversity of neighborhoods, cuisines, and prices. Learn more about our editorial process.

Manaao Thai Comfort Food

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Manaao Thai Comfort Food in Tustin began as a passion project during the pandemic and opened as a permanent restaurant in August 2023. Kanate Ungkasrithongkul researched dishes he remembered from childhood, growing up in a small city in Thailand. Stir-fried noodle dishes like pad thai and pad see ew share the menu with Ungkasrithongkul’s favorite Thai boat noodles served with braised beef. The curry-tinted khao soi is served with egg noodles prepared in two ways: the softer noodles are nestled in the broth and a fried bundle is served on top as a garnish.

An array of Thai dishes over a marble tabletop.
Thai dishes from Manaao Thai Comfort Food in Tustin.
Emily Davis

Taco Mesita

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Chef Ivan Calderon (founder of Taco Rosa and Taco Mesa) partnered with his son Nico, and Max Moriyama to open Taco Mesita in historic old town Tustin. The tortillas are freshly pressed and made with organic blue corn. The restaurant doesn’t shy away from pops of color and a playful social media presence. As a bonus, Taco Mesita has a drive-thru.

A metal table holding a tray of colorful tacos and corn on the cob.
Taco Mesita.
Taco Mesita

Nep Cafe

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KEI Concepts, helmed by chef Viet Nguyen, opened Nep Cafe’s second location in Irvine. Nep’s popular French Vietnamese coffee and brunch menu will be served all day beginning February 8. People keep returning for those Instagram-ready egg yolk iced Vietnamese coffees, sizzling platters with filet mignon or beef stew, and desserts like pandan sticky rice with coconut-topped peanut and black sesame-dusted mango sorbet.

Bánh mì chao at Nep Cafe in Irvine.
Bánh mì chao at Nep Cafe in Irvine.
Nep Cafe

Butcher’s House Brasserie

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Meat is the focus of French chef Jeoffrey Offer’s Costa Mesa restaurant, with masterful 38-ounce ribeyes or petit filets for dinner. But don’t skip the butcher’s burger or the weekend brunch, which features charcuterie, sausages, and eggs cooked in just about every way.

An overhead shot of a marble table with sliced steak and roasted fish at a restaurant.
Butcher’s House Brasserie.
Butcher’s House Brasserie

Caló Kitchen

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Caló Kitchen and Tequila, a family-operated restaurant by OC restaurateur Clemente Heredia, serves upscale Mexican food that South Coast Plaza was missing. The enclosed patio boasts its own bar and feels more casual for groups and kids, but the tequila carts and dimly lit interior bar create a moodier vibe. 

A plate of spicy Mexican shrimp with beans and rice.
Spicy camarones from Caló Kitchen + Tequila in El Segundo.
Matthew Kang

The Plot

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The Plot opened its first OC location at the Camp in Costa Mesa in January, expanding from two outlets in the San Diego area. The restaurant focuses on regenerative farming and no waste. Co-owners chef Davin and Jessica Waite transform beet scraps into ketchup, and leftover peels from the banana creme brulee into tacos and tortas. Dishes that should appeal to omnivores include a meatless meatloaf with a garlic yam mash while carrot “fish” and chips come beer-battered and fried.

A serving of plant-based Shepherd’s Pie on a plate with carrots.
Shepherd’s pie from the Plot in Costa Mesa.
John Dole

Boil & Bake

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Carlos Perez and Luke Bramm built their audience by serving naturally leavened bagel sandwiches as part of a roving pop-up, selling at spots like Newport Beach’s Daydream Surf Shop and Neat Coffee. Perez grew up in the bagel business and Bramm oversees the kitchen. The gateway menu items are the fully-loaded lox sandwich with cured salmon, sprouts, and capers, and the O.G. with longganisa sausage, soft scrambled eggs, and aji cilantro crema double. Boil & Bake sells a la cart bagels in many flavors including everything, black and white sesame, and cacio e pepe.

Mercado Gonzalez Northgate Market

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Mercado González at Northgate Market is an exciting addition to Costa Mesa’s dining scene. The sensory overload-inducing food hall and grocery store can’t be conquered in a single visit as each puesto specializes in specific not-to-be-missed dishes. El Moro fries fresh churros almost continuously; La Tamalería sells warm tamales; Tacos Los Guichos offers street tacos; and Carnitas Don Miguel sells Michoacán style carnitas, chicharones, and beans by the pound. The sleek sit-down restaurant Maizano focuses on modern Mexican food dishes using heirloom corn, while Entre Nos bar serves craft cocktails. 

A street taco stand inside an Orange County grocery store and mercado.
Tacos los Güichos at Mercado González in Costa Mesa.
Wonho Frank Lee

Skål Pizza

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Skål Pizza, which means “cheers” in Swedish, comes from Helene Henderson, who also opened Malibu Farm next door and in Malibu. The small, casual neighborhood pizza shop in tony Lido Marina Village boasts minimal decor that embodies an unfussy Swedish aesthetic. Try the hot artichoke and fontina cheese white sauce pizza accompanied by wood-grilled vegetables and finish with seasonal fruit desserts.

Fable & Spirit

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One of Newport Beach’s biggest hits is Fable & Spirit, an upscale dinner and brunch spot that leans into Irish, Italian, and California flavors. There’s Guinness brown bread to start, fish and chips, wood-fired pizzettas, and lots of vegetables and salads to go along with cocktails and wine.

Parakeet Cafe

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San Diego’s Parakeet Cafè opened its first OC location in the upscale Crystal Cove Shopping Center. Owners Carol and Jonathan Goldwasser were inspired to develop a nutritious menu after their daughter underwent chemotherapy. The mostly vegetarian menu features golden goddess salads, avocado toasts, and macrobiotic bowls, leaving room for a few meat dishes including grass-fed Australian beef burgers and soft scrambled egg croissant sandwiches. The pastry case and coffee bar serve grab-and-go items. Don’t miss the chocolate banana croissants. 

An overhead shot of a black waffle with cut fruit and drizzles of chocolate at new LA restaurant Parakeet Cafe.
Black waffle with cut fruit at Parakeet Cafe.
Parakeet Cafe

Bloom Restaurant + Bar

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Located across from Mission San Juan Capistrano and occupying a historic post office, Bloom Restaurant & Bar is the latest addition to Russ Bendel’s restaurant empire that includes Sapphire in Laguna Beach, Olea, and Ironwood. Bendel recently moved to San Juan Capistrano and was eager to bring the same kind of neighborhood watering hole to his new hometown. Chef-partner Jared Cook prepares a rustic menu that includes country-fried prime hanger steak, sweet corn succotash, and a homey applewood smoked bacon-wrapped meatloaf.

A white restaurant plate with a thick slice of meatloaf on top of spaetzle.
Bacon-wrapped meatloaf.
Bloom

Manaao Thai Comfort Food

Manaao Thai Comfort Food in Tustin began as a passion project during the pandemic and opened as a permanent restaurant in August 2023. Kanate Ungkasrithongkul researched dishes he remembered from childhood, growing up in a small city in Thailand. Stir-fried noodle dishes like pad thai and pad see ew share the menu with Ungkasrithongkul’s favorite Thai boat noodles served with braised beef. The curry-tinted khao soi is served with egg noodles prepared in two ways: the softer noodles are nestled in the broth and a fried bundle is served on top as a garnish.

An array of Thai dishes over a marble tabletop.
Thai dishes from Manaao Thai Comfort Food in Tustin.
Emily Davis

Taco Mesita

Chef Ivan Calderon (founder of Taco Rosa and Taco Mesa) partnered with his son Nico, and Max Moriyama to open Taco Mesita in historic old town Tustin. The tortillas are freshly pressed and made with organic blue corn. The restaurant doesn’t shy away from pops of color and a playful social media presence. As a bonus, Taco Mesita has a drive-thru.

A metal table holding a tray of colorful tacos and corn on the cob.
Taco Mesita.
Taco Mesita

Nep Cafe

KEI Concepts, helmed by chef Viet Nguyen, opened Nep Cafe’s second location in Irvine. Nep’s popular French Vietnamese coffee and brunch menu will be served all day beginning February 8. People keep returning for those Instagram-ready egg yolk iced Vietnamese coffees, sizzling platters with filet mignon or beef stew, and desserts like pandan sticky rice with coconut-topped peanut and black sesame-dusted mango sorbet.

Bánh mì chao at Nep Cafe in Irvine.
Bánh mì chao at Nep Cafe in Irvine.
Nep Cafe

Butcher’s House Brasserie

Meat is the focus of French chef Jeoffrey Offer’s Costa Mesa restaurant, with masterful 38-ounce ribeyes or petit filets for dinner. But don’t skip the butcher’s burger or the weekend brunch, which features charcuterie, sausages, and eggs cooked in just about every way.

An overhead shot of a marble table with sliced steak and roasted fish at a restaurant.
Butcher’s House Brasserie.
Butcher’s House Brasserie

Caló Kitchen

Caló Kitchen and Tequila, a family-operated restaurant by OC restaurateur Clemente Heredia, serves upscale Mexican food that South Coast Plaza was missing. The enclosed patio boasts its own bar and feels more casual for groups and kids, but the tequila carts and dimly lit interior bar create a moodier vibe. 

A plate of spicy Mexican shrimp with beans and rice.
Spicy camarones from Caló Kitchen + Tequila in El Segundo.
Matthew Kang

The Plot

The Plot opened its first OC location at the Camp in Costa Mesa in January, expanding from two outlets in the San Diego area. The restaurant focuses on regenerative farming and no waste. Co-owners chef Davin and Jessica Waite transform beet scraps into ketchup, and leftover peels from the banana creme brulee into tacos and tortas. Dishes that should appeal to omnivores include a meatless meatloaf with a garlic yam mash while carrot “fish” and chips come beer-battered and fried.

A serving of plant-based Shepherd’s Pie on a plate with carrots.
Shepherd’s pie from the Plot in Costa Mesa.
John Dole

Boil & Bake

Carlos Perez and Luke Bramm built their audience by serving naturally leavened bagel sandwiches as part of a roving pop-up, selling at spots like Newport Beach’s Daydream Surf Shop and Neat Coffee. Perez grew up in the bagel business and Bramm oversees the kitchen. The gateway menu items are the fully-loaded lox sandwich with cured salmon, sprouts, and capers, and the O.G. with longganisa sausage, soft scrambled eggs, and aji cilantro crema double. Boil & Bake sells a la cart bagels in many flavors including everything, black and white sesame, and cacio e pepe.

Mercado Gonzalez Northgate Market

Mercado González at Northgate Market is an exciting addition to Costa Mesa’s dining scene. The sensory overload-inducing food hall and grocery store can’t be conquered in a single visit as each puesto specializes in specific not-to-be-missed dishes. El Moro fries fresh churros almost continuously; La Tamalería sells warm tamales; Tacos Los Guichos offers street tacos; and Carnitas Don Miguel sells Michoacán style carnitas, chicharones, and beans by the pound. The sleek sit-down restaurant Maizano focuses on modern Mexican food dishes using heirloom corn, while Entre Nos bar serves craft cocktails. 

A street taco stand inside an Orange County grocery store and mercado.
Tacos los Güichos at Mercado González in Costa Mesa.
Wonho Frank Lee

Skål Pizza

Skål Pizza, which means “cheers” in Swedish, comes from Helene Henderson, who also opened Malibu Farm next door and in Malibu. The small, casual neighborhood pizza shop in tony Lido Marina Village boasts minimal decor that embodies an unfussy Swedish aesthetic. Try the hot artichoke and fontina cheese white sauce pizza accompanied by wood-grilled vegetables and finish with seasonal fruit desserts.

Fable & Spirit

One of Newport Beach’s biggest hits is Fable & Spirit, an upscale dinner and brunch spot that leans into Irish, Italian, and California flavors. There’s Guinness brown bread to start, fish and chips, wood-fired pizzettas, and lots of vegetables and salads to go along with cocktails and wine.

Parakeet Cafe

San Diego’s Parakeet Cafè opened its first OC location in the upscale Crystal Cove Shopping Center. Owners Carol and Jonathan Goldwasser were inspired to develop a nutritious menu after their daughter underwent chemotherapy. The mostly vegetarian menu features golden goddess salads, avocado toasts, and macrobiotic bowls, leaving room for a few meat dishes including grass-fed Australian beef burgers and soft scrambled egg croissant sandwiches. The pastry case and coffee bar serve grab-and-go items. Don’t miss the chocolate banana croissants. 

An overhead shot of a black waffle with cut fruit and drizzles of chocolate at new LA restaurant Parakeet Cafe.
Black waffle with cut fruit at Parakeet Cafe.
Parakeet Cafe

Bloom Restaurant + Bar

Located across from Mission San Juan Capistrano and occupying a historic post office, Bloom Restaurant & Bar is the latest addition to Russ Bendel’s restaurant empire that includes Sapphire in Laguna Beach, Olea, and Ironwood. Bendel recently moved to San Juan Capistrano and was eager to bring the same kind of neighborhood watering hole to his new hometown. Chef-partner Jared Cook prepares a rustic menu that includes country-fried prime hanger steak, sweet corn succotash, and a homey applewood smoked bacon-wrapped meatloaf.

A white restaurant plate with a thick slice of meatloaf on top of spaetzle.
Bacon-wrapped meatloaf.
Bloom

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