For years, Orange County in California has been known for its million-dollar estates, picturesque beaches, Disneyland and as the sun-kissed backdrop for shows such as The OC, Laguna Beach and The Real Housewives of Orange County.
Just an hour south of Los Angeles and around 90-minutes north of San Diego, it makes for a great weekend escape for locals or those visiting the surrounding Southern California cities. Here you can find beautiful resorts, world-class surf breaks, exceptional yachting, and plenty of reasons to enjoy some retail therapy such as the iconic South Coast Plaza and Fashion Island.
Although Los Angeles is typically considered one of the area’s best foodie destinations, OC is home to many of the region’s best restaurants with big names behind their kitchens. Not only is the soil fertile, but the ocean is close, so fresh vegetables and seafood are more common here than in other areas of California and beyond. If you’re heading to the land of endless sunshine and bikini-clad locals, here are five restaurants you won’t want to miss while there:
Photo Credit: Raya
A Richard Sandoval Restaurant, Raya at The Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel is helmed by Chef de Cuisine Steve Wan. This fine dining eatery offers floor-to-ceiling windows, which allows guests to enjoy the gorgeous sunsets over the ocean. Raya features Pan-Latin Coastal Cuisine made with local produce, sustainable seafood, and a selection of natural and organic meats. The flavor combinations are unusual, yet balanced, such as the Thai Salad which comes with duck carnitas, shredded carrot, mung bean noodles, peanuts, fresh basil, chile de arbol oil and citrus dressing. Other menu items include the Truffled Mushroom Quinotto (a quinoa based risotto) with tomatoes, peas, pea sprouts, garlic, carrots a shio kombu (seaweed based) soy emulsion.
Photo Credit: Studio
Unlike many other fine dining restaurants that are usually inside resorts, Studio is a freestanding separate space, on The Montage Resort’s property. Closer to ocean than resort, the Laguna Beach eatery is an intimate place with Executive Chef Craig Strong and his team creating a multi-cultural dining experience. Along with the regular evening menu, guests can choose a tasting menu or private dinner selections. Some of our favorite dishes include the Lemon Chawan Mushi (Savory Egg Custard) with caviar, Okinawan sweet potato, and crème fraiche as well as the hot English Pea Soup with mint sorbet and garden flowers. For dinner, choose the Ink Orecchiette Carbonara pasta with smoked eel, broccolini and egg emulsion. With an oceanfront view and delicious fare, the only thing you need to worry about is which cocktail you’ll choose—the restaurant has a 151-page wine and spirits list .
Photo Credit: Andrea
Andrea at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach boasts a Northern Italy menu featuring less red sauces and more lemon and garlic in dishes. Executive Chef Marco Criscuolo creates handmade pastas prepared daily in a temperature-controlled Pasta Room. At Andrea, there are salads using 100-year-old balsamic vinegar, gelatos made in the Laboratorio del Gelato and wine from a 1,200-bottle collection. The wines are predominantly from Italy, and notably, a number of vintages are exclusive to the restaurant. Expect dishes such as the Paccheri, a Calabrian tube-like pasta with crab and saffron; and Lasagna Bolognaise with white béchamel sauce, peas and asparagus.
Photo Credit: Stonehill Tavern
The Monarch Beach Resort reopened on June 1, 2016, after a $40 million renovation. It was a month later that that Alan Mardonovich was named the Executive Chef of the resort’s already-well-known Stonehill Tavern, a Michael Mina Restaurant. His new menu showcases the restaurant’s long-term relationship with local farmers, offering seasonal California coastal vegetables, as well as local meats and seafood. One of the signature dishes here is its Morro Bay Black Cod with Laughing Bird Shrimp. This shrimp variety is raised in the Caribbean in inland ponds on the coast of Belize. They swim in filtered sea water, are fed a vegetarian diet, are not treated with additives or sulfites, and are sold fresh and hand-peeled. The menu also includes Michael Mina’s classic whole fried Jidori Chicken for two. This chicken has been called the Kobe beef of poultry and is well-bred, extremely flavorful and unique to just a few California menus.
Photo Credit: Marché Moderne
South Coast Plaza has been, since 1967, one of the most extensive, exclusive, shopping plazas in the country. It is said to be Orange County’s equivalent to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The highest end retail shops and restaurants have made their home inside its walls. So it’s not surprising that Marché Modern is there also, as many feel that it is one of the best French bistros in California. Helmed by Executive Chefs and Owners Florent and Amelia Marneau, the food is exceptional while not being pretentious. The atmosphere is casual, and the kitchen sits in the middle of the dining room, which means you can ask the chefs any questions about the fare at (almost) any time. The expansive menu features a section devoted to charcuterie, with homemade headcheese and pig's feet sausage on offer. Don’t miss the caramelized Pork Belly with pineapple, maple syrup, Brussel Sprout leaves and coffee brittle. It’s very French and extremely delicious.