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.
2022 was a complicated year of growth and loss. The theming of my columns tightened up as I focused on individual cities such as Fullerton, Huntington Beach and Anaheim’s Little Arabia neighborhood. I leaned into subjects that sparked curiosity like Buy Nothing groups, the expansion of CulinaryLab and MaxLove Project’s Fierce Foods Academy. Interviews with some of Orange County’s most influential individuals (Gabrielle Dion, Jason Scarborough and Justin Werner plus Ross Pangilinan and Nick Weber) were a nod to my OC Weekly “On the Line” series.
On a professional level, I was recruited to judge the James Beard Awards and attended the California Revelations event for Michelin’s restaurant guide – prestigious entities I’d only read about and been on the periphery of before my professional writing career even began. Personally, I strengthened my friendships with colleagues, forged industry relationships and mourned the passing of both my college advisor (who later became dean of my university) and a fellow writer (Rest in peace, my friend) who, with generous hearts, always believed in me.
As this year ends and I start 2023, I’m optimistic yet cautious. The restaurant industry is not done seeing the effects of COVID. I worry about the mental and physical well-being of everyone including myself, but I also know the power of a positive outlook.
Favorite New Restaurants of 2022
The past 12 months with regards to dining in Orange County exceeded my expectations. From Italian-Japanese fusion to an upscale coffee shop, I located my love of dining in unexpected places. While food quality remains at the forefront of my decision-making, ambiance and service are attributes that also make a difference. My five favorites are in no particular order.
A year ago, I met Kei Concepts co-founder Viet Nguyen. He hinted the restaurant group’s next project would be Japanese-inspired Italian cuisine. Unless you’ve been to Japan, this mashup would sound a bit unusual. Yet Ini Ristorante (pronounced like astrological sign Gemini) expedites whole branzino, persimmon with prosciutto, as well as pizza pies with ease. Its established diner base from Kei’s other concepts including Vox Kitchen, Gem Dining and Nep Cafe, a previous favorite, means hungry clientele would be down to explore this style of cooking.
I was also won over by Ini’s progressive cocktail program and have plans to get my day drinking on during birthday month; check out signature sips Pearadise Sour or Kyoto Fashioned for creative riffs on classic tastes. Bonus: Brunch service recently started up, and it looks insane. 16129 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley; (714) 277-4046.
When I was hopped up on caffeine for a summertime coffee write up, I was reintroduced to Coffee Dose when it launched its now flagship locale by Irvine Ranch Market. All-day brunch, complete with booze in many forms complemented the existing espresso drinks in an unapologetically pink setting.
Haters who don’t understand the Dose are missing out on a well-thought-out menu. Grab your favorite person and start by sharing a dish of honeycomb ricotta. Play it safe with a keto plate (eggs, bacon, avocado) or keep up the carbs via a bone broth waffle paired with rosemary syrup. There’s even a kid’s menu. Seating at the counter is best so one can swiftly order a round of Coffee Dose’s euphoric prescription lattes. Note: While the Dose has multiple locations, the food and beverage menu varies; only the Irvine Avenue locale merges coffee with full bar, dine-in seating and my preferred menu of the brand. 2675 Irvine Ave., Suite E, Costa Mesa; (949) 656-9005.
Chef Thomas Ortega continues a quick service mentality with his Tijuana and Puebla-inspired taqueria known as Taco Chico. A concise, easy to comprehend menu and extra courteous team have made me a regular. My first time there, I obsessed over a carnitas baked potato (a.k.a. El super papa) because I’ll take one over fries any day. I’ve since expanded my appetite to include a cemita birria dip, the vampiro and tacos. Choose your own meat adventure and let the kitchen do the rest – freshness and quality are apparent in every bite.
Its red and white motif is reminiscent of an In-N-Out, minus the short list of options. Although Taco Chico doesn’t possess a hole-in-the-wall vibe, solid Mexican cuisine shouldn’t need to. Bonus: A weekend-only breakfast menu began in November. 17582 E. 17th St., Suite 104, Tustin; (714) 617-5760.
The thing I’ve learned about resort dining is that it can be a giant hit or miss. However my column on speakeasies taught me that even hotel executives understand the necessity for not only a quality concept, but one that stands out. While I may have interviewed a previous chef and attended a fundraiser at Dana Point’s Laguna Cliffs Marriott, it wasn’t until the dining room transitioned to Outer Reef that I wanted to head back to the property.
Its selections include a quartet of dry-aged steaks, but chef John Tesar’s homage to his Spoon Bar & Kitchen dining room in Dallas is first and foremost an oceanic experience. Overseeing multiple brands in Texas plus a Michelin-starred outpost in Orlando, Tesar relies heavily on his team to execute the seafood-heavy menu of shellfish and finfish. Memorable moments included a diver scallop with black truffle finished with a tableside wild mushroom dashi pour, chef’s quirky take on caviar service plus the house pastrami and lobster pairing that worked better than expected. Refined service and serene sunsets make Outer Reef a special occasion place this area of Orange County deserves more of. 25135 Park Lantern, Dana Point; (949) 487-7555.
Tableau Kitchen and Bar
Expectations of a restaurant inside of South Coast Plaza are often on the corporate spectrum. Yet Tableau’s approachable, upscale dining room from chef John Park (best known in OC for Toast in Costa Mesa and recently Tustin) caters to every meal with a thoughtful sense of purpose, whether for brunch, afternoon tea, supper or an indulgent pastry. I’ve frequented all of these options and Tableau exceeded my preconceived notions; even the meatless entrees are worth ordering – and that’s coming from a content omnivore.
Short on time? Check out the pastries under a series of glass domes at the host stand. (The fontina and pork belly croissant is my jam.) A fried burrata sandwich and mushroom toast are my preferred savory brunch dishes of the moment. Pack a power bank for your phone if you’re stopping by for Tableau’s picturesque tea service offered in limited quantities from 3-5 p.m.; you’ll be sorry you haven’t tried Park’s expertly crafted sweets sooner. Currently, there’s a limited short rib dinner for two with Korean-inspired flavors that removes the guesswork of what to order, leaving more time to enjoy each other’s company. Pro tip: The updated bar program gives shoppers more incentive to pause for spirit-forward sipping. 3333 Bear St., Suite 119, Costa Mesa; (714) 872-8054.
I would also frequent the following new places any day of the week if time and my appetite would permit. And yes, despite driving from San Clemente to Brea, Seal Beach to Rancho Santa Margarita (and nearly everywhere in between) to eat and drink in various dining rooms, Costa Mesa continues to be one of my top dining cities.
Right when I thought Old Towne Orange couldn’t house more eateries, along came a humble burger spot from 100+ miles away. Ojai Burger melds an American classic with Japanese style, thanks to smart investors who saw the genius in a former tennis instructor’s desire to build a burger joint. Don’t skip dessert either. If Burger Parlor was still in business, there’d be some competition. 238 W. Chapman Ave., Suite 100, Orange; (657) 221-0619.
Lola’s by MFK (Modern Filipino Kitchen)
If you have not had the pleasure of exploring all-day Filipino brunch from chef Henry Pineda, just go to Lola’s already. But be warned, the waits will make you wish there was a lightning lane. An adobo fried rice omelette is my weakness when paired with the ubechata (ube blended with horchata). Pro tip: If you’ve read this far, head to Lola’s website and add yourself to the waitlist when you leave home for a reduced wait. 2410 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim; (714) 904-1199.
Henry’s Coastal Cuisine
In my fall coverage of Huntington Beach newcomers, the concept that stood out was a rebranded dining room at The Waterfront Beach Resort. Henry’s Coastal gained the upper hand in beachside cuisine when chef Lewis Butler took over the hotel’s signature restaurant. His creative side pops up unexpectedly in certain dishes which change with the seasons. 21100 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach; (657) 215-2709.
Petrossian at Tiffany & Co.
My first taste of caviar was at Tru in Chicago, which closed in 2017. It has been a love of mine ever since. I savor the opportunity to request it sparingly … except when Petrossian took over the dining space within T&Co and quietly opened in the spring. Caviar dominates chef Cabrera’s succinct offerings, making it near impossible to avoid gluttony. Commence with bubbles before indulging in potato mille-feuille, egg royale or buckwheat blinis (or all three). The recent addition of dessert is a divine ending. 3333 Bristol St., Suite 1236, Costa Mesa; (714) 540-5330.
Anne Marie Panoringan is the food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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