I’m always a little surprised when friends tell me they didn’t know the county has its very own restaurant week. Now in its 12th year, the selections from March 8 to 14, 2020 are more diverse than ever. The OC Restaurant Week website categorizes dining rooms a number of ways: by cost, time of day, and by city. To further assist you, they’ve also included a “Tips” section, offering additional variables when debating where to dine.
Instead of straight recommendations, I decided to whittle down the variable listings to my favorite tips, as well as dispense some advice when going about this week of indulgence. We all have different tastes, but if you knew how often I dine out in general, you’ll find value in the details shared.
A Splash of Chambord
One of the sponsors of restaurant week, Chambord is a black raspberry liqueur made in France. During OCRW, it can be found in both food and beverages. We enjoyed it in Olea’s Matterhorn cocktail. Per regional beverage director and partner Gabe Whorley, the cocktail came from his love for tequila and pink Himalayan salt. “The notes of raspberries from the Chambord add a light sweetness and a nice layer of flavor. The Luxardo adds the body and thickness to coat your mouth. The fresh squeezed grapefruit juice adds the acid to make the cocktail well-rounded. The orange bitters and fresh orange peel add all the aroma you need to finish the cocktail.”
At Little Onion, you’ll find it for your final dinner course, where you can choose between churros alongside Chambord sauce or tres leches finished with liqueur. Villa Roma’s take is a salmon flambé plated with roasted vegetables during evening hours.
Advice: Make a reservation. Of the three, only Olea is strictly dinner service. They are already a neighborhood favorite, so if you’re adding it to your list of places, call at least a couple of days in advance, or book one online via OpenTable.
Dining With a View
If we’re talking about scenic spots, beaches are lovely. And if you prefer your toes in the sand, you cannot get any closer than Beachcomber. Remember that if you go, be sure to allocate time for the trek from the parking lot, or pay for the shuttle that takes you down the hill.
But a bird’s eye view is my preference. Drive up the winding road that leads you to the coveted view offered at the Orange Hill Restaurant. The fire pits are always the first to go, but coordinate your visit before sunset and request the outside tables if you are able to.
Advice: Consider lunch. Orange Hill is dinner only, but the other two are not. Eat on the stunning oceanfront property without paying the higher prices on the dinner menu. Dory’s menu includes both a starter and sweet treat, so I’ll likely hit them up.
Of the three, Catal caters to the youngsters, offering classic kid fare. However, they also make a point of providing healthy proteins in appropriate sizes, as well as a creative beverage selection (Frozen Mango with Tajin rim, anyone?). Dining here also means you’ve got validated parking from Downtown Disney’s classiest dining room.
Advice: Make an afternoon/evening of it. Great Maple is located at Fashion Island, where young ones can visit the koi pond or catch a movie. D’Vine has spots in both Fullerton and Brea, where walking paths are a short drive away at Craig Regional Park or Fullerton Arboretum. Annual passholders can bounce between downtown and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Girls Night Out
A refresh of Terrace’s outdoor patio at South Coast Plaza makes it picture perfect for group outings involving glasses of wine. It’s accessible from a trio of freeways (405/55/73), which means you can all meet at a reasonable hour. And if GNO means retail therapy, look no further than this shopping mecca. What better way to burn off calories?
Advice: Consider your company. UVA is an outdoor eatery with excellent people-watching, so if you’ve got a friend who gets cold easily, remind them to wear a coat, or head elsewhere. Those who love to dance the night away can check Country Club’s calendar for live entertainment.
Located inside Hotel Fullerton, The Bronze Quail is an upscale establishment with a robust bar program, thanks to bar liaison Steven Hayden. Dinner includes a glass of wine, beer or soft drink. There’s also a duo of cocktails featured for $10 each. If you go the extra mile and dine on the $80 Luxe Menu option, then a featured cocktail is included. Your thirst is quenched, no matter what. Seeking something creative? Have a dialogue with Hayden, and savor whatever he presents.
Advice: Drink up. Menus that include a drink vary. For example, Tackle Box pours your choice of fancy Jones soda. Hana r’e has sake on its possible sips. Since OCRW menus are priced before tax and gratuity, I appreciate savings whenever I can get them.
Okay, it’s not an official Orange County Restaurant Week tip category. But since breakfast and brunch are my favorite meals, it only seemed fitting to include some accidental finds. For example, Chela’s in Laguna Niguel has a $20 all-day menu that features breakfast tacos and breakfast burritos! Fashion Island’s Great Maple includes selections such as Southwest Scotch eggs and their famous maple bacon doughnut. Tavern House offers a prime rib Benedict as well as buttermilk fried chicken and waffles. However, my money’s on the mushroom and asparagus frittata at Fable & Spirit.
Advice: Size may vary. This is more of a warning, but bear in mind that with cost savings, you may receive smaller than typical portion sizes at any of the restaurants involved in restaurant week. For many dining rooms, OCRW is a way to bring in new clientele, not make money. So don’t be surprised if dessert appears more modest, or if the main course isn’t quite what you imagined.
In Other News… Look Out for These New and Upcoming Places
901 South Coast Dr. Costa Mesa
Coming soon: It was a fluke to discover this brand as I was picking up takeout next door at Pita Pita in the Metro Pointe Plaza. From the chef that brought Amor y Tacos to Cerritos, Thomas Ortega’s LBX food hall concept (a.k.a. The Hangar) is busy building their next urban taqueria, this time in Orange County. Currently, their quick-service restaurant’s website is still their Facebook page for their Long Beach location. I’m ready for more of that ginormous taco salad and New Mexico Hatch chile cheeseburger!
Rojo’s Hot Chicken at Los Tacos Amigos
2235 W. Lincoln Ave, Anaheim
Just opened: Formerly known by “Nashville hot chicken” fans as a pop-up storefront, Rojo’s Hot Chicken founder Roland Rubalcava became a partner with Los Tacos Amigos off Brookhurst and Lincoln. Rubalcava’s fried eats will be offered on the primarily taco-centric menu at Los Taco’s Amigos on Wednesday through Sunday as of this writing. Per Rubalcava, “I’m creating quality food that I’m proud of, and that I would be happy to have my own son eat.” If you like your chicken spicy, check out Rojo’s hot version. Get your tacos and fried chicken on, as they officially opened last week. Follow them on Instagram for updates.
6436 Irvine Blvd, Irvine
In the works: Spotted at Woodbury Town Center, the iPad is your friend at this future location of customized eats. Use one to craft a well-built meal, or go with one of their recommendations at this tasty establishment. Either way, we’re pleased to find another full bar option in this part of town. Also, if you aren’t quite tech savvy, there’s always a server available to assist and take your order the old-fashioned way.
Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at [email protected]