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 savour 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 favourites 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’s name is a wink to the Prohibition era, when some venues operated as theatres, 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 flavour 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.
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 flavoured with curry, as well as a few of Vuong’s Little Sister signatures, such as the explosively flavourful 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.
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 centres 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 colourful, 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.
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 watercolour 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.
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 Centre 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.
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From board shorts to mouse ears to designer clothes, what you wear in this sun-splashed corner of the state says everything about how you like to play. Whether it’s surf-perfect beaches or celebrated theme parks, all framed by oceanfront towns dotted with luxury yachts, “The O.C.” stands out as one of California’s—make that the country’s—most iconic destinations.
“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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