Nestled in crowded, sunny, Southern California is Santa Ana. This bustling town is a melting pot of diverse cultures and cuisines that have all contributed to a burgeoning food scene. We explore the best places to eat in this up and coming foodie destination.
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Chapter One: The Modern Local
The folks at Chapter One: The Modern Local are serious about having a good time. Their restaurant is open late, til 2am every night, they have live bands and happy hours. Stop in on Mondays for what they call ‘MuleMonday’ and have a refreshing Moscow Mule. Or, arrive on jazz night and hear a local, live jazz band. The menu at Chapter One is driven by seasonal ingredients, ensuring that only the freshest ingredients are offered. Fan favorite dishes include mac and cheese with fontina and white cheddar, the OC organic vegetable basket and the ‘sticky icky’ pork belly buns.
The aptly-named Playground Restaurant is unapologetic in its light-hearted and curious approach to food. With a menu that is constantly changing around ingredients that are fresh in the moment, the chefs play with different flavors, textures and techniques to create dishes that excite even the most dubious foodie. The dishes are small, making them easy to share and allowing guests to try several items. Regular menu selections like Uncle Lou’s fried chicken, pan roasted wild mushrooms and maple glazed pork chop have garnered a loyal following that can’t get enough of Playground’s unique perspective on food.
If you’re looking for something different and full of flavor, look no farther than Mil Jugos. This restaurant has been serving authentic Venezuelan fare in all of its delicious glory for over 10 years. Venezuelan cuisine is traditionally based around fresh vegetables, slowly-cooked meat dishes and lots of corn dishes. Because of the heavy use of corn, many of the dishes on the menu are gluten free. One of the most popular items at Mil Jugos is the cachapas, sweet corn pancakes with your choice of fillings.
Ritter’s Steam Kettle Kitchen
Ritter’s Steam Kettle Kitchen has been serving homestyle food with Louisiana flare for years. The cooking technique used by the restaurant’s chefs is unique – it is actually a complex system of pipes and pumps that heat a row of cooking kettles. The result is mouth watering. Cioppino and Bouillabaisse are cooked to perfection, while Etouffee and Gumbo are simmered to just the right texture and body. End your meal with an order of beignets and you will think you have just been in the Crescent City. This may be some of the best sweet tea and southern cooking west of the Mississippi.
Lola Gaspar serves small dishes tapas-style, promoting the idea of sharing and tasting. The menu is vibrant and speaks of world travels and varied influences. The dining room at Lola Gaspar is small and intimate, creating an atmosphere that is friendly and warm. An outdoor patio offers excellent open-air seating during sunny weather. Small plates like crispy chicken relleno, bacon wrapped dates and braised lamb shoulder tacos have local foodies raving about the creative flavor combinations.
Lola Gaspar 211 West 2nd Street, Santa Ana, CA, USA, +1 714 972 1172
Shabu Shabu serves contemporary Japanese cuisine in an interactive experience. For guests not familiar with Shabu, it may seem odd – a selection of meat, usually thinly sliced beef, and vegetables are brought to the table and cooked by the guest in a thin broth or water. Several sauces and flavor additions are offered to provide each diner with a customized bowl of warm goodness. Shabu Shabu does all of it perfectly, with fresh ingredients and friendly wait staff. This restaurant has earned a loyal following for offering a unique dining option with top quality ingredients and a welcoming atmosphere.
Alebrijes is not technically a restaurant. The food truck has been buzzing around and causing a stir in the Santa Ana food scene for over five years. What it lacks in bricks and mortar however, it makes up for in flavor and connection with the community. Their most talked about menu item is the acorazado taco – a mammoth taco with a hand made corn tortilla, battered and fried beef, tomato, avocado, jalapeno, and cotija cheese. Many other meats and toppings are offered to satisfy a variety of palates and appetites. Whichever you choose, there is no way to leave hungry after visiting this mobile foodie haven.
For what seems to be a hole-in-the-wall, many new guests are surprised to see the long lines that are common at Trieu Chau. The dining room atmosphere isn’t fancy, but the food itself keeps this restaurant busy. The star of Trieu Chau’s menu is their noodle soup. It starts with a deep flavored broth, then some type of meat is added – usually fish balls, shrimp or pork. After some vegetables are added, a variety of sauces and seasonings are offered to add to the combination of flavors. This Chinese-Vietnamese-Cambodian restaurant provides no frills and unapologetically offers simply great food.
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