Anne Marie Panoringan
Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing about food for eight years at the OC Weekly in which she interviewed more than 330 chefs, restauranteurs and industry professionals for her weekly “On the Line” column. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and she also is a recurring guest on AM 830’s SoCal Restaurant Show.
Heading somewhere with no prior knowledge (except what I’ve seen on social media) is how my free time is often spent. While the focus is usually on what’s brand new in the dining scene, if I haven’t been there – it’s new to me.
Next time you’re contemplating where to dine, consider patronizing one of these local finds.
Centro Storico Spaghetteria
Spontaneously suggested for Sunday supper one evening, Old Town Tustin’s Storico situates its tables close together. While this does accommodate additional seating and encourage a boisterous atmosphere, it also isn’t quite COVID-compliant. Despite this, fresh Italian pastas by the half and whole order (the rape e salsiccia with anchovy, broccoli rape, sausage and heirloom tomatoes was a robust choice) provide an opportunity to appreciate a second dish — or perhaps gelato? Spirited beverages including the owner’s Pouzzoli Family wines are available, yet I leaned toward Storico’s specialty tea and coffee selections. 405 El Camino Real, Tustin. (714) 258-8817.
I dabbled with Korean flavors in the kitchen during lockdown thanks to YouTube/Instagram cooking tutorials, so when I learned about kimbap (a.k.a Korean sushi), I wondered why I had never tried any when dining out. Dosirak sells quick service meals inside an Irvine high rise community including a half dozen varieties of kimbap at $5-6 for 12 pieces — more than enough for a tasty lunch or filling bite. The SPAM ones are tasty, but tuna (my favorite) kimbap rolls packed with pickled veg, rice and omelet rolled up in nori is the bag lunch I wish I could’ve eaten growing up. 6280 Scholarship, Irvine. (949) 769-3476.
A second location for this egg-centric eatery that started in Buena Park’s The Source, Irvine’s Flippoly caters to both breakfast and dessert fiends, thanks to a surprisingly diverse menu. Toasty, scrambled sandwiches are best enjoyed piping hot and ideally ordered online before heading over to minimize wait times. I requested a mozzarella version and was impressed by its sturdy packaging, which ensured the contents would stay put until I began chowing on an eggceptionally (sorry!) cheesy lunch. I look forward to enjoying some Thai soft serve or a Dalgona beverage next time I’m in the neighborhood. 4001 Jeffrey Road, Irvine. (949) 878-8984.
In business for over two decades, Tustin’s Italian Express is a clean and well-lit community mainstay serving up hand-tossed pizzas and a tasty eggplant parm sandwich thanks to owner Gus de la Torre. When I stopped by the unassuming storefront after working out for some well-deserved carbs, I noticed the makeshift transparent partition in place at the counter to allow for space between customers and cashier, appreciating the distancing effort Italian Express was making. Go for the extensive menu with weekday lunch specials; return for its quality fare and reasonable prices. 18331 Irvine Blvd. #B, Tustin. (714) 669-3800.
Five Wishes for 2022
In place of resolutions, here are a handful of hopes for the food and beverage industry next year — assuming indoor/outdoor dining is possible.
- More late night joints. Charlie Palmer inside Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza had a party atmosphere after dark, specifically during its late night happy hour. Delicious eats and cocktails in a luxe environment minus heavy entrees would be ideal for intimate groups.
- More breakfast foods later in the day. The power of the brunch service has proven itself in recent years. It’s time to profit off evening eggs and souffle pancakes. Ideally it would encompass a nighttime version of Snooze’s a.m. energy.
- More bars to eat amazing food at. The correct term would be gastropub, because when SideDoor went from being the main bar at Five Crowns to a stellar beverage program with a separate menu of crave-worthy bites, it was a revelation to what O.C. was missing.
- More Filipino food. Many styles of cooking have had their time to shine, yet Filipino cuisine has been on the brink of breaking through the invisible barrier, thanks to chefs like Ryan Garlitos and Henry Pineda.
- More South County love. San Juan Capistrano was the dark horse of 2021, becoming a destination for ramen, baked goods, sought-after barbecue, Spanish cuisine and any reason for me to visit Mayfield. Developers should see the potential in cities south of the El Toro “Y.”
JD Flannel Donuts and Coffee
I heard the old fashioned was a signature doughnut at this shop owned by a couple of childhood friends who like wearing flannels. John Miller and Dave Rhode of JD Flannel exceed expectations with a lineup of treats so satisfying, I have trouble staying away when in San Juan Capistrano. JD promotes monthly flavors as well as vegan and gluten-free choices, ensuring customers will find something to suit their tastes. Pre-ordering is welcomed. And that old fashioned? Divine, with a hint of nutmeg. 31878 Del Obispo St., Suite 122, San Juan Capistrano. (949) 218-4483.
Vietnamese dishes served piping hot over butcher paper tablecloths, the range of super fresh seafood (including crab, squid, snail and lobster) is simply prepared and presented family-style inside Fountain Valley’s Lau Tom 5 Ri. Its prawn hotpot options are excellent on a chilly evening, washed down by a cup of sugarcane juice with pineapple. A space suitable for gatherings, interested parties may want to book a reservation as this establishment since it can be teeming with locals on any given night. Pro tip: Loyal customers sing the praises of dishes featuring salted egg yolk sauce, and rightfully so. 17431 Brookhurst St., Suite J, Fountain Valley. (714) 465-9272.
Rol Contemporary Hand Roll Bar
A gateway style for sushi novices, hand rolls are best enjoyed immediately after they are served. Rol is an upscale specialty concept that embraces the Japanese method while incorporating cocktails, desserts and a lively atmosphere. I recommend the off-menu Big Keeler for a gluttonous treat. Best for solo diners or date night, in lieu of online reservations try calling a few days before to see when the dining room can accommodate you. Bonus: A second branch is in the works in Fountain Valley. 7862 Warner Ave., Suite 101, Huntington Beach. (714) 948-4287.
Trevor’s at the Tracks
While waiting for a neighboring dining room to open, I noticed Trevor’s wrap-around bar on its patio. Equipped with ample seating, this San Juan Capistrano restaurant is centrally located at the train depot, combining people watching with plentiful parking. Indoor seating allows you to dine in the rooms of the original train depot, and the outdoor patio (which was expanded during COVID) is spacious. Trevor’s generous footprint allows for live entertainment nightly, meaning patrons can savor sips alongside a bite (the fig and fungi chargrilled flatbread hits the spot) while soaking in the bustling ambiance. 26701 Verdugo St., San Juan Capistrano. (949) 493-9593.
Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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