My 10 Favorite Restaurants in Orange County

Thursday, June 18, 2015

In keeping up with this whole "we're leaving soon, let's be super sentimental about everything" theme I've had going on lately, I thought it might be nice to create and share a list of my favorite places to eat in Orange County. There is no shortage of new places to try out. Orange County is so huge and varied that you could eat somewhere new every day and still never scratch the surface of what's available. We tend to be creatures of habit though, returning to favorite places repeatedly, and usually with good reason. Here are ten of my favorite places to eat here:

Popbar gelato pop, at the Anaheim Packing House in Anaheim, California

Quick & Easy (Basically Gelato & Pizza)

Popbar is such a delight! This international gelato-pop sensation only has two locations in the US; the one in Anaheim and one in the West Village of NYC (thank goodness!) The one here is located in the Anaheim Packing House, where the line curls around the corner and out of the front door but is totally worth the wait! The concept is simple: choose from a variety of pops made from gelato, sorbet, or frozen yogurt then add "dippings" and/or "poppings," a drizzle or dip of chocolate sauce, a dip in crushed almonds. My go-to flavor combo is a hazelnut gelato pop with a drizzle of milk chocolate and nothing else. So good!

Newport Beach, Irvine, & Corona del Mar
I can't tell you how many pizza places we visited searching for good, legit New York-style pizza. If you've ever been to NYC, you know exactly what I'm talking about. It took us over a year, but when I found Johnny's online we all hopped in the car and took off to the Newport Beach location to try it worth it! We'd finally found really good New York pizza in Orange County. Amen! Sorry, just really don't know how to do hand-tossed pizza, but Johnny knows what's up. You cannot go wrong with any single thing you order here. I recommend the garlic knots.

Various LocationsThere are three in OC: Tustin, Irvine, & Fullerton.
OK, I know I just dissed California on the pizza thing, but Pieology is different. It's "fast food" technically, but everyone has a fast food place they like to frequent, right? Their pizza is made to order as you create it at the counter (similar to how you order at Subway) followed by a quick trip into a brick oven. Pieology is a chain and even has locations in Minnesota, Kentucky, and Alabama (random choices), but it's a chain that I'm sad has not made it farther east yet, because I'm going to miss it. We frequently visit Pieology before or after a movie, since the Tustin Marketplace location is located in the same little shopping block as our cinema. My favorite creation is half barbeque chicken with mozzarella and cilantro and half chicken and spinach with ricotta and cracked pepper...yum!

"Country Style" southern chicken and waffles at The Iron Press at the Anaheim Packing House in Anaheim, California
The 'Country Style' at The Iron Press
Casual Service

Anaheim & Costa Mesa
Found in the same location as Popbar, The Iron Press may win as one of my favorite meals since I've lived here. (In fact, anything at the Anaheim Packing House is probably a good bet, and there isn't a cooler place to visit in OC.) IP's main focus is waffles (hence the name,) but they also feature sandwiches that aren't made with waffles. Waffle sandwiches are made panini-style in the waffle irons, pressing burgers or your other choice of foods in the middle. My favorite meal is the Country Style, a southern classic of fried chicken on top of a waffle and smothered with country gravy, plus a side of their waffle fries with garlic aioli. They also have an impressive list of local microbrews. Warning, it's a lot of food, and sides can be shared or probably aren't necessary. You probably won't eat again that day if you have lunch there.

Huntington Beach
I'm not a sushi eater, but Dan (and everyone else I know) definitely is. Sushi on Fire is always packed and has a great atmosphere, located along the main drag in Downtown HB. They have a huge assortment of sushi, sashimi, and rolls, plus cooked dishes like tempura udon and chicken teriyaki (my choice, and it's sooo good here.) Dan and Chels both say that the sushi is superb. Get the garlic edamame to start, for sure. PS - If the wait is too long here, check out their sister restaurant, Shabu on Fire. It's on the same block and serves everything that Sushi on Fire serves, plus shabu shabu. Sadly, the atmosphere here is lacking, so many will just opt to wait at Sushi. (The host at Sushi may try to shuffle you down the sidewalk to Shabu to try to fill it, which can come off as a little rude, especially when you compare the atmosphere.)

Various SoCal Locations + 1 in Vegas. Four in OC: Tustin, Westminster, Orange, & Brea
Lazy Dog is a great choice when you're not sure exactly what you want to eat, but know you'll end up with a great meal. They serve everything from sandwiches to pasta to ribs to pizza to fish, and all of it is really good. Their happy hour could go a bit longer (only until 6pm) but we've rushed over there after work several times to grab a spot on their dog-friendly patio and catch up with friends over sweet potato tots and house beer samplers. My favorite dish is the Sweet & Spicy Chicken Noodle bowl, which is found on their lunch menu, but they've been happy to make it for me for dinner multiple times. PS - They even have a menu for your dog, if you bring him/her with you to dine on the patio.

Various SoCal Locations. Ten in OC: Irvine, Tustin, Newport Beach, Huntington Beach, Anaheim, Orange, and more.
Islands Fine Burgers & Drinks is one of those restaurants that does one thing, but does that thing well. With a variety of different burgers to choose from and a full bar, you can't go wrong. They also offer turkey burgers and grilled chicken for those who don't want beef, as well as salads and veggie bowls. Try the Hawaiian burger, made with teriyaki sauce and grilled pineapple (Dan's favorite!) And definitely get the sweet potato fries... they're the best!

Huntington Beach
Dos Toros is located right on the main drag of Main Street in downtown Huntington Beach, complete with sidewalk seating and a lively nightlife. Having lunch on the sidewalk in HB on a weekend offers an amazing atmosphere and lots of people watching. Dos Toros cooks up quality Mexican fare and offers a lengthy list of beers on tap. I recommend the Tacos de Carnitas.

Dinner at The Winery in Tustin, California

Fine Dining

Serving steaks and seafood and a wide variety of wines and cocktails, Prime Cut Cafe is a nice choice for fine dining in a contemporary setting. The service is above and beyond; this is definitely a place to slow down and enjoy your meal and your company. Try a wine flight with an appetizer before your meal to find a varietal you'll really enjoy later.

Tustin & Newport Beach
The Winery in Tustin is probably the nicest dining I've ever experienced (maybe tied with a restaurant we visited in Orlando on our honeymoon.) Dan took me here for just a random date night, and we had the absolute best time. Course after course, the service was exceptional and everything we ate was incredible. Absolutely try one of the chef's specials, and don't forget to add a side of their gratin dauphinois. Plus, their Tahitian vanilla bean crème brulee is perfect.