Culinary Guide to Orange County vc_culinaryguidetoorangecounty_supplied_afarmedia_poi0125_marchemoderne_af0010_1280x640
Courtesy of Visit California

Culinary Guide to Orange County

Culinary Guide to Orange County
From acclaimed French bistros to thriving food courts, the restaurant scene in this SoCal region is thriving

Marche Moderne

It’s not an overstatement to say chef Florent Marneau has spent more than half his life perfecting his coq au vin. Enrolled in cooking school in his native France at age 13, and classically trained for years, he then brought his talents to Orange County. His bistro, Marché Moderne, opened in 2008, and gained instant unparalleled attention not just from locals but from critics nationally as well. (It was nominated for James Beard Awards for Best New Restaurant, Best Chef, and Outstanding Service.) In 2017, Marneau moved to a fresh, expansive location close to the beach in Newport. Bifold doors open to a casual patio, allowing a sea breeze through the dining room, and a Cruvinet holding boutique French and California wines is the showpiece behind a quartzite bar. Dinner guests can savor steak frites or foie gras and chestnut ravioli, finished with a tableside pour of poulet jus. Marneau’s wife, Amelia—an acclaimed pastry chef who also trained in France—creates the delicate sweets that punctuate every meal. Off-menu specials often include chef favorites like black truffle–stuffed chicken or cuttlefish flown in from France. Locals’ tip: Make a reservation for Monday night, when the three-course Spontané menu is $38 (add a carafe of wine for $18).

The Blind Rabbit

The Blind Rabbit’s name is a wink to the Prohibition era, when some venues operated as theaters, doling out adult beverages alongside a “show” consisting of a real animal or statue. But actually, the hidden-away Anaheim bar is a hideaway that books reservations for Friday and Saturday nights weeks in advance. Walk-ins are welcome Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., and Monday nights are so mellow the bar feels like an friend’s place—albeit one with a dress code for men and women (no shorts, baseball caps, or rompers). Carefully acquired tchotchkes—including numerous rabbit figurines—put tipplers in a virtual time machine. At the copper bar, cocktails are served with care and plenty of pizzazz. The Drunk Night in Thailand, with a tamarind flavor and spicy finish thanks to Hellfire bitters and Sriracha, arrives in a plastic sandwich bag with straw, rubber-banded together. The fruity Wait For It cocktail is lit on fire. Don’t miss the popular Old Man & the Sea (bourbon, rum, Fernet, and cinnamon), which bartenders put into a custom-made cocktail smoker with applewood chips. And when you get hungry, don’t miss the fine bar bites, such as duck confit mac and cheese.

LSXO

An unmarked door in Huntington Beach’s Bluegold restaurant reveals crumbling backlit lathe and plaster walls. Shelves hold vintage trinkets for a cabinet of curiosities effect, while hip-hop pumps into the moody space through invisible speakers. The feeling at LSXO, a stylish 28-seat eatery, is that you’ve been welcomed into a secret club. In reality it’s the vision of chef Tin Vuong, famous for his Little Sister restaurants in downtown L.A. and Manhattan Beach. Whereas those spots feature dishes from across Southeast Asia, LSXO is a more personal project, focusing on the authentic Vietnamese food Vuong grew up with (his family members are featured in framed photographs on the walls). That personal touch comes through in soul-warming dishes, like Vietnamese chicken noodle soup and lamb satay flavored with curry, as well as a few of Vuong’s Little Sister signatures, such as the explosively flavorful Shaky Shaky Beef. If you can’t get a table during lunch or the always-packed dinner service, try the restaurant mid-afternoon for Hong Kong–style milk tea, open-faced finger sandwiches, and French pastry. Pro tip: Ask for the off-menu lobster fried rice.

Driftwood Kitchen

This casual, open-air restaurant sits above an untouched stretch of Laguna Beach—and capitalizes on that beautifully. Floor-to-ceiling windows encircle the dining room so it appears to be floating above the ocean, all the better to watch the sunset while eating hand-shucked oysters and sipping Rum For Your Life cocktails. Chef Rainer Schwarz’s menu centers around seafood, prepared with a range of international influences—Spanish octopus is grilled with chickpea puree and za’atar, and lobster stars in a spaghetti carbonara. The spot draws a stylish crowd not just for dinner but also weekend brunch, with a must-try version of eggs Benedict (made with Berkshire ham and blood-orange hollandaise, plus steak or crab). While waiting for a table, sidle up to the Stateroom Bar, the former home library of Old Hollywood actor Slim Summerville, for artisan libations heavy on fine bourbon and whiskey. Pro tip: Locals know best, and they can’t get enough of the whole fried branzino, served with roasted shishitos and ponzu sauce.

Hopper & Burr

When local chefs start frequenting a spot, you know it’s onto something. And that’s in part what helped propel Hopper & Burr from a pop-up coffee shop to a permanent fixture in downtown Santa Ana. Run by Truman Severson, a veteran of Intelligentsia Coffee who costarred in Barista (a documentary about barista competitions), the bright space is sparingly decorated in Scandinavian style, all the better to put the focus squarely on the craft brews. From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, the small, friendly staff take time with each guest at the counter, frequently eliciting laughs as they take orders. The shop rotates its coffee bean selection from five roasters around the country, and the almond milk, chai, and syrups are made in-house. A list of clean, classic espresso drinks is always available, along with inventive ones like the Kaffee Tonic, which is espresso poured over tonic water, and Nico #2, a double shot of Saint Frank espresso with peach syrup, steamed half-and-half, and a dusting of cinnamon. Soak up the caffeine with a house-made pop tart or savory pancetta-topped avocado toast on sourdough.

The Public House by Evans Brewing Co.

Son of a Beach blonde ale. Stout at the Devil Russian imperial stout. Approachable Bastard session IPA. The names may be cheeky, but this Fullerton’s SoCo district spot run by Evans Brewing Co. takes craft beer very seriously. Exposed brick, warm lighting, and a long bar (plus plenty of tables) make the soaring tasting room and restaurant a welcoming place for flights or pints while watching a game, 1980s music videos, or a live band performing crowd-pleasing covers. But beer is just the beginning. The kitchen has a from-scratch M.O., whether it’s hand-stretching pizza dough, grinding rib eye in-house for a special burger blend, or making brats and sausages with—naturally—craft beer. The bar serves inventive beer-based cocktails, as well as spirits-driven ones (try the Rising Sun, a Japanese whiskey take on an Old Fashioned). Happy hour is from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, with late-night sessions from 9 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and 11 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Don’t miss: Thirsty Thursdays, when the brewery debuts its newest experimental beer until the tap runs dry.

Anaheim Packing District

Starting in 2014, this collection of historic buildings was reinvented as a gastronomic hub—helping to revitalize the city’s downtown in the process. An early 20th-century citrus packing warehouse became the Anaheim Packing House, a virtual United Nations of food: Walking through the 42,000-square-foot hall, you’ll find citrusy ceviche at Urbana, fried chicken sandwiches at Sweetbird, garden-fresh hot pot at Rolling Boil, organic curry at ADYA, and matcha shaved snow at I Am. Craft beer—quickly becoming a signature of Southern California—is in no short supply, thanks to bars like Anaheim Brewery, housed inside a 1925 mission revival building. A circa 1917 marmalade factory became the MAKE Building, where you can linger over a flight of California reds at Pali Wine Co. or a plate of pulled pork at Jav’s Barbecue. The compact district is distinctly Californian, from the succulents and air plants inside to the palm trees and olive groves of Farmers Park outside—a grassy knoll where, at any given time, you might happen upon a free yoga class, a gardening demo, or a live acoustic band playing under the sun.

Ironwood

When this wine-country style restaurant opened in the Laguna Hills in 2016, it was instantly embraced by locals. Maybe it’s the hillside location—no bikinis in sight—that allows diners to breathe easy and indulge. Maybe it’s the warm wood-clad dining room with its lively open kitchen. Or maybe it’s the craft cocktails and 25-plus international wines poured by the glass. Regardless, Ironwood is not the place to come while on a diet. The biggest reason: the house-made giant meatball, served with fresh, made-from-scratch herb pappardelle, spicy pomodoro sauce, and ricotta salata. Limited numbers are made each night, so it’s worth going early for (the dinner-only restaurant opens each evening at 5 p.m.). The menu also features American Wagyu burgers, mac and cheese skillets, pork shanks and fried green tomatoes with fresh burrata—plus colorful, palate-cleansing salads incorporating handpicked local ingredients. When the weather’s good, a retractable roof is pulled back from the heated patio to reveal views of the picturesque Saddleback Mountains. Must-order: the warm fromage blanc brownie with Nutella ice cream.

21 Royal

It’s safe to say the most exclusive, intimate VIP experience you can possibly have at Disneyland is within the magical walls of a 2,200-square-foot private residence in New Orleans Square, above the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction. Just 12 people per night are taken for a culinary ride inside the ornate empire-style home, which was inspired by 1960s watercolor renderings by legendary Disney set designer Dorothea Redmond and originally built for Walt and Lillian Disney as a retreat. Each evening begins with signature cocktails in the salon, served in crystal by butlers, and an opportunity to wander through the art-filled house. The dinner, presented course by course on a lavish linen-topped table with gold-plated dinnerware, is like a Disney classic told through dreamy libations and imaginative bites accompanied by chef Andrew Sutton’s and sommelier Matt Ellingson’s personal stories. True to spectacular Disney form, dessert is served on the private balcony overlooking the Rivers of America and, if you’re lucky, a bird’s-eye view of the park’s evening entertainment. Pro tip: Book early because reservations for these extravaganzas fill up months in advance.

Vaca

It’s not that vegetarians aren’t welcome at Costa Mesa restaurant Vaca. It’s that they may not feel the same unbridled excitement as those who enjoy expertly prepared meat and seafood. The innovative lunch and dinner hot spot owned by former Top Chef contestant Amar Santana celebrates Spanish cuisine, from Andalusia, Seville, Madrid, Barcelona, and the Basque region to be precise. The call at lunch is the $28 three-course prix fixe, which changes weekly. Dinner brings an almost paralyzing array of decisions: unparalleled dry-aged rib eye (the restaurant’s name, after all, is Spanish for “cow”), seafood paella, or a collection of tapas such as sea urchin with scrambled eggs, served in the spiky shell with caviar. To accompany it, pick from one of the three drinks on tap: a house vermouth, a red sangria, or a signature gin cocktail named after the restaurant. Tucked between the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and the South Coast Plaza, the restaurant is great for preshow dinner or post–shopping spree lunch. Pro tip: If you’re with a group, request a circular booth; if you’re a pair, go for the heated patio or the bar.

In Partnership with Afar.

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Scott Mansfield

Discover Orange County

Whether it’s manicured beach towns or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns and luxury yachts, “The OC” stands out as one of the state’s most iconic destinations. The always-amazing Disneyland Resort, roughly a 1-hour drive south of L.A. and 2 hours north of San Diego, continues to be one of the best-loved theme parks in the world, while Knott’s Berry Farms and other OC attractions amp up the fun meter.

“Surfing is like golf. . . it keeps knocking you down. But when you stay with it and catch that wave. . . magic.” — actor Dennis Quaid

Shop at spectacular South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, or get the surfer look in Huntington Beach, aka Surf City, USA. 

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The Resort at Pelican Hill

Indulge in Mediterranean elegance, world-class golf courses, and five-star service at this Newport Beach resort

Tuscan elegance paired with panoramic ocean views is central to the eternal allure of...

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Irvine

This centrally located Orange County city is the perfect home base for shopping, dining, and kid-friendly exploring

Irvine’s central location—45 miles from Los Angeles, 85 from San Diego, and 15 minutes from...

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Spotlight: Disneyland Resort

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Just saying the name sets a child’s face glowing

The undisputed granddaddy of theme parks has been leading the way since 1955, inviting visitors to spend the day in the ultimate land of make-...

Orange County

4 Incredible Resorts in Orange County

Enjoy unparalleled views, world-class golf, fine dining, and much more at these high-end destinations

With long stretches of golden sand, prime surfing spots, excellent dining, and top golf courses, the good life doesn’t get much better than along...

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Irvine Spectrum Center

With a Ferris wheel and Spanish ambience, this shopping center expands the definition of “mall”

Southern California is known for its sunny, open-air shopping centers, but this outdoor mall in the heart of Orange County ups the ante with...

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Orange County’s Best Beaches

Visit these four idyllic, sun-drenched stretches of sand in Southern California

With 42 miles of sandy coastline and a string of small, eclectic beach towns, Orange County delivers the quintessential Southern California...

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Spotlight: Anaheim

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Amazing attractions, shopping and dining in the one-of-a-kind Orange County town

With its laid-back vibe and unbeatable attractions, this vibrant city on the northwest side of Orange County has become a popular destination for...

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The Howlin’ Tornado water slide at Great Wolf Lodge near Anaheim is as tall as a six-story building.
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Great Wolf Lodge

The hotel-meets-water-park chain brings its all-weather family fun to Orange County

At first glance, a completely indoor water-park hotel might seem unnecessary in sunny Orange County. Fans of the Great Wolf Lodge brand, however,...

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Mission San Juan Capistrano, founded in 1776, was the first winery in California.
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Newport Beach’s Surf Scene

Check out an epic bodysurfing mecca along the O.C. coast

Back in 1971, a Sports Illustrated article about bodysurfing not only anointed Southern California “the cradle of the sport,” but...

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Dana Point

Begin your Highway One odyssey in this scenic town with views over the ocean bluffs

The southern origin of California’s Highway One offers some gorgeous drama, like beach town...

Santa Ana
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Santa Ana

Orange County’s largest city boasts a walkable downtown with an emerging arts and culinary scene

Not showy or sassy like some of Orange County’s more touristy towns, Santa...

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O.C. Shopping

Discover boutique brands and bargains

Shopping in The O.C. is almost as legendary as surfing. Start at expansive South Coast Plaza, California’s largest luxury shopping complex, with...

The magic of Disneyland, walking through the tunnel underneath the train station to Main Street, it just transports you to other places and other times.
John Lasseter
Orange County is the cultural center of the surf world and Huntington Beach is like the heartbeat.
Corky Carroll (Orange County surf legend)
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California Questionnaire: Brian Huskey

The Top Chef alum loves riding his bike to work, taking road trips, and vacationing at Lake Tahoe

Brian Huskey first came to national attention in 2013 when he competed on season 11 of Bravo TV’s Top Chef, set in New Orleans. The...

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Where to release your inner fashionista

Shopping is an art form in California. Whether you're in search of the perfect cocktail dress or an authentic Mexican piñata, you'll find it here. Want to sample fresh produce? Try our farmers...

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California Questionnaire: Greg Long

Although he’s traveled the globe in search of big waves, this professional surfer will always call California home

California native Greg Long has carved out a name in the world of competitive big wave surfing by conquering the most challenging waves on the...

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Unleash the kid within at California’s ultimate playgrounds

From Disneyland classics to beachfront carousels, the Golden State’s best-in-class theme parks deliver something for everyone. Take a tram ride to tour movie back lots at Universal Studios...

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Golf in Orange County

Tee up at top courses, with some ocean views

With ideal Southern California weather and some of the country’s most celebrated courses, Orange County justly earns the nickname “California Golf...

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Orange County's Luxury Resorts

Live like a star at posh getaways

The good life might have been invented in “The O.C.”—especially when it comes to resort destinations. With spas, elegant dining, posh lodgings,...

July/August

With a nickname like “Surf City, U.S.A.,” Huntington Beach is the obvious place for this 9-day, sun-and-wave extravaganza, the world’s largest surf event. Top pros including Kelly Slater and Rob...

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Get into the coastal vibe

Maybe it’s the sun-streaked hair, the frequent smiles, the eyes always gazing west, looking to the horizon to see when the next set might roll in. It’s the unmistakable look and vibe of a...

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Trip 5-7 days 10 stops

Highway One Classic

Take the trip that captures the heart and soul of the Golden State
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Discover the awesome sports scene in the Golden State

With nearly twice as many professional teams as any other state, California is big league all the way. But the state’s sports scene goes far beyond football and baseball, with a diverse line-up of...

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Crystal Cove State Park

Stroll a perfect beach with an intriguing past

In 1912, an early Laguna Beach artist described finding a rugged coastline “with cove after cove and headland after headland, golden cliffs and...

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From Gold Rush history to the 8th wonder of the world, visit these favorites

If there was ever a box of chocolates—and all of them delicious—it’s the rich collection of natural treasures, fascinating...

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Trip 4-5 days 10 stops

Pacific Coast Highway - South

Beach Towns, Iconic Theme Parks
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Start your coastal cruise in this elegant city hugging the coastal mountains, where classic Spanish architecture gives the region a sun-washed European look straight out of the Riviera. Santa Barbara, nicknamed “the American Riviera,” may have a burnished antique look of much of the...

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Check these amazing experiences off your bucket list

Kiss a beluga, see cool movie props, and learn about Walt’s secret hideaway on exclusive and behind-the-scenes tours at California’s theme parks and attractions. Here’s a roundup of worth-the-...

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Every year, the Orange County Great Park Balloon dons a smiling jack-o-lantern mask, marking the unofficial start of fall in Orange County.
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Orange County Great Park

Explore an impressive urban park

Turning former military land into a roughly 1,300-acre/526-hectare green space, this Irvine park is as ambitious as it is...