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.

Visitors often believe beaches are synonymous with summer, but O.C. cities like Huntington Beach are year-round destinations thanks to temperate coastal weather and annual events including the Pacific Airshow.

Recently this beach community has upped the ante for local dining. A pandemic may have influenced a need for additional al fresco seating, but the past summer has brought its share of newly launched, rebranded establishments and places that have gone under the radar. 

When people talk about going to the beach, they are referring to swimming, surfing and sand volleyball. The running joke with people who know me is that when I say I’m going to the beach, it’s to eat. I spent my summer checking out new menus with an ocean view to recommend to friends, colleagues and readers like you. 

The interior of Nardò restaurant in Huntington Beach. Credit: ANNE MARIE PANORINGAN/Voice of OC

Nardò

Named after founder Gianni Chiloiro’s mother (it’s her maiden name), Nardò presents modern, Southern Italian cuisine influenced by the Puglia region. While housemade pastas are present on its menu, patrons should lean into what head pizzaiolo Antonio Greco is focused on – expertly coaxing Neapolitan pies out of his wood-burning oven. Also be mindful of Nardò’s other speciality: seafood. From fried shrimp and calamari to jumbo scallop linguine to a whole branzino, the menu is swimming in flavor. Nardò possesses ocean and people-watching views from its patio. However its soothing interior and promising cocktail program are reasons you’ll find me visiting the bar again.  21022 Pacific Coast Highway, (657) 204-9830.

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Henry’s Coastal Cuisine

Housed within The Waterfront Beach Resort, Henry’s experienced what we call a rebranding. A new chef, retooled menu and updated ambiance breathe fresh ocean air into this upscale  property. Formerly of Costa Mesa’s members-only Center Club, chef Lewis Butler flexes creativity by way of his innovative menu of nuanced textures and flavors. Butler describes his cuisine as “a unique combination of traditional French techniques with touches of ‘California surf country’ flavorings.” 

Gluten-free selections are aplenty, some with playful results (strawberry tomato gazpacho with guacamole ice cream, anyone?). For every menu description that had me pause and wonder if the flavors would make sense, I would be reassured once I took a bite. Always on the lookout for morning meals beyond standard fare, I discovered Henry’s à la carte Sunday brunch is worth a look-see; consider a side of Dr. Pepper pulled pork hush puppies, or request the signature marmalade Butler is crafting with Meyer lemons grown on property. 21100 Pacific Coast Highway, (714) 845-8000. 

Golden Road Huntington Harbour Pub

When I made plans to meet someone at Golden Road’s tasting room in Huntington Beach, the first thing I wondered was when did Golden Road launch in Huntington Beach? Turns out it opened in December 2019, shortly before a certain lockdown. That being said, with enough locals still learning about its presence at the Peter’s Landing marina, Golden Road made some modifications and reopened over the summer. A dog-friendly patio, on-site brewing plus full-service dining thanks to executive chef Joseph Torres make this breezy spot a spacious (read: accommodating for large groups), multi-hyphenate alternative to downtown’s bustle. Not having to deal with parking meters or endless pedestrians makes this pub even better for someone with zero parking karma like myself. 16390 Pacific Coast Highway, (562) 588-3880.

Sandbar Cocina y Tequila

Speaking of downtown, Sandbar Cocina y Tequila’s debut off Main Street occurred at the start of summer. Blending surf culture with Baja-inspired bites, the restaurant’s spirit-focused selections are highlighted in prominent display cases. Sandbar’s central location translates to heavy foot traffic and a buzzing bar scene. An extensive menu covers ceviche, fajitas and even a double patty burger for the person who doesn’t want Mexican food – because there’s always one. It should be noted that although the website lists a Santa Barbara spot, I was informed it does not mirror the menu nor concept. If I was planning to meet friends around here already, Sandbar checks all the boxes locals appear to look for. 221 Main St., (714) 460-5423.

Sahara Sandbar & Pizza

The newest brand of beachside experiences from Alicia Cox, Sahara is not only named after her daughter, it is a nod to the widest desert as it parallels the property’s stretch of sand from her venue to the ocean being the furthest along the coastline. Slinging both whole pies and individual slices utilizing Boar’s Head quality meats, Sahara’s pizza options include amped up versions of classics like its “Death by Pepperoni.” Its giant, swirly cinnamon bun makes for a shareable finale. Cox is on a mission to change people’s perceptions of California State Park’s concessions, and she’s doing so with each new development. This pet and family-friendly locale that gives back to the community ($1 from every pizza sold goes to a local nonprofit) was worth heading south of the pier for. Also, how they are able to proof a dough that’s agreeable to beach conditions deserves an award. 21601 Pacific Coast Highway

Sahara Sandbar & Pizza. Credit: Photo courtesy Candace Rock Photography

On Deck: Calico Fish House 

Chef Andrew and Lauren Gruel (who have sold their shares of Slapfish Restaurant Group) are in the final stages of opening their own concept named Calico Fish House. Occupying the former Fish Camp, this duo announced a late October/early November launch for their seafood chophouse where “Sauce is boss.” In addition to the sustainable seafood he’s known for, Gruel’s menu for Calico will incorporate steaks, over-the-top sandwiches and burgers, plus a brunch selection. 

To celebrate the grand opening, they are conducting a recipe contest. The winning entry will have his or her item on the menu for one year, and every time the recipient dines at Calico they will be able to savor that dish for free. Submit your creation through Calico’s or Gruel’s social media between now and October 14 and good luck. 16600 Pacific Coast Highway

A Welcome Name Migrates to Huntington Beach

I began with an update at Pacific City, and I’m going to wrap up with another one.

While attending a fundraiser for MaxLove Project over the weekend at Tanaka Farms, I ran into chef Amy Lebrun, a board member for the nonprofit that reduces health risks for families surviving childhood cancer and related rare diseases (I wrote about one of their programs, Fierce Foods Academy, earlier this year). Lebrun was previously linked to Lido Bottle Works and Fermentation Farm. She mentioned her next workplace would be at Pacific City’s Bluegold as chef de cuisine, so I reached out to co-founder Tin Vuong of Blackhouse Hospitality Group to discuss her role. 

“Lebrun will be responsible for overseeing the daily menus and staff of Bluegold, in addition to special events, private dining and catering. Originally from Huntington Beach, Lebrun is a perfect addition to the Bluegold team,” he said. I definitely agree with you, chef, and am looking forward to her presence in the kitchen.

Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at ampanoringan@voiceofoc.org.


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