Home to some of the best places in America, Orange County’s diverse restaurant scene is sure to satisfy foodies of all types. Here are the best spots the O.C. has to offer, taking into account a range of prices and dining styles.
Deli, Restaurant, Seafood, Sushi, Mexican, $$$
This popular counter-service fish restaurant located on the Balboa Peninsula is always crowded with locals and visitors who are hungering for their famous fish tacos. Featuring casual beachy decor and a fresh fish deli, Bear Flag is the ideal place to relax with friends after a hard day’s play at the beach. It was founded by a father and son who decided to bring their passion for fresh seafood and Mexican cuisine to the O.C. Bear Flag offers delicious dishes like fish tacos, salmon burgers, and poke, at an affordable price.
Stare out at the glistening lights of Newport Harbor while enjoying some of the best seafood in the world. Located in a historic fish canning building dating back to 1921, The Cannery is a Newport Beach institution. Perfect for a fancy date night or family meal, this upscale restaurant features delicious options such as the Chilean sea bass and ahi tacos, served under jellyfish-shaped chandeliers. For a cheaper but equally tasty option, try out their happy hour upstairs in the Jellyfish Lounge.
Tucked away in the back of an unassuming strip mall in Little Saigon, Brodard features some of the best Vietnamese food in Southern California. This family-style restaurant offers more than 100 different dishes in the heart of the largest Vietnamese community in the US. Their famous nem nuong pork rolls and dipping sauce are a must-try. As a main dish, try a Vietnamese omelet or a rice dish in a traditional clay pot. Finish your meal off with an order of fresh macaroons.
Munch away on delicious tapas under the light of bohemian chandeliers at this hip restaurant in the heart of Downtown Santa Ana’s Arts District. With its delicious Latin and Spanish-inspired dishes and trendy interior, Lola Gaspar is the perfect venue for an energetic night out with friends. Established by Chef Luis Perez, this intimate restaurant has a constantly evolving menu and extra helpful staff. Try the gourmet tacos, bacon-wrapped dates, and chile rellenos with sangria or apricot beer. For a great deal, also try their weekday happy hour.
Nestled in Costa Mesa’s hipster anti-mall, Habana is a trendy taste of Cuba in the heart of Orange County. Featuring a romantic candlelit vibe, this restaurant is the perfect place to enjoy a fireside meal and a pitcher of sangria with friends. For delicious appetizers, try the seasoned fried avocado slices or shrimp ceviche. Many of the flavorful main courses will please meat eaters, such as the ropa vieja pot roast and the marinated roasted half chicken. Vegetarians will go nuts for the mouthwatering tamale pie. Finish off your meal with a creamy slice of flan.
For authentic Turkish food in SoCal, you can’t do any better than the Istanbul Grill California. Presenting a variety of Mediterranean fare in a friendly setting, this restaurant offers a range of delicious dishes from wood-fire brick oven pizza to kebap and baba ganoush. Each meal is carefully prepared with exceptionally fresh and healthy ingredients, making it a great option for vegetarians and carnivores alike. Be sure to try the complimentary tomato dipping sauce with their delicious hot pita bread. Finish your meal off with the most scrumptious baklava you will ever eat.
This top-notch Japanese restaurant with a minimalist atmosphere features some of the best sushi in Orange County. Located in a modest strip mall, the chefs at Sushi Noguchi take their art extremely serious. Their menu features a range of items prepared with fresh ingredients, from Japanese ceviche to spicy tuna rolls and grilled chicken breast with miso sauce. They also feature a few excellent options for omakase, the Japanese tradition in which the chef prepares whatever he wants for you. Their delicately layered mille cake is an absolute must for your post-sushi dessert.
For upscale Italian dining in Orange County, look no further than Pizzeria Mozza. While originally an LA venue established by chefs Nancy Silverton, Mario Batali, and Joe Bastianich, this award-winning pizza restaurant has become one of the most popular culinary hot spots in SoCal. Be sure to book early because reservations fill up fast. Offering a range of gourmet pizzas cooked in a wood-burning oven, Mozza also serves excellent chicken, pasta, and salad dishes. Mozza’s refreshing tiramisu gelato is also a great way to conclude your meal.
While located in a shopping center in Irvine, this popular Mediterranean restaurant is anything but suburban. Lucca Cafe’s chic modern decor and delicious food make for a sophisticated dining experience. The high-quality fresh ingredients and thoughtfully prepared dishes make every meal a delectable event. The butternut squash ravioli is heavenly, as well as the short rib pasta and New Zealand sole. A popular weekend brunch spot, Lucca Cafe offers delicious dishes such as their avocado and salsa topped eggs in purgatory.
This underrated little Thai restaurant at the end of the Balboa Peninsula features some of the absolute best Thai cuisine around. Always crowded with a mix of regular locals and salty-haired tourists, Mint Leaf delights visitors with its consistent flavor, friendliness, and affordability. Their pad Thai is mouthwatering, as well as their drunken noodles, hot and sour soup, and pumpkin curry. Try a Thai iced tea on a hot summer beach day, with mango sticky rice for dessert.