Anne Marie Panoringan
Voice of OC’s food columnist — reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s prior work includes writing for eight years at OC Weekly in which she interviewed over 330 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. In 2022, Anne Marie was a judge for the James Beard Awards.
February 14 has become such a commercial holiday it’s right up there with Super Bowl ads. Material expressions of affection or fancy couple’s nights shouldn’t be required this time of year. Buy yourself some flowers instead of waiting on someone to do it. Let’s talk about places that don’t require dressing up … or involve asking someone out on a date.
In the Morning: Public Legacy
A daily brunch menu at a full-service spot that stays open through dinner is what I subconsciously look for but rarely find. Public Legacy in Orange captures this overlooked time of day with good eats in a curated setting. I prefer to dine in the back room in homage to the late Anthony Bourdain (where there’s a painting of him on the wall), plus alternative bar seating from the main dining area. (If you ever sat at the tucked away cocktail bar inside Amar Santana’s The Hall Global Eatery before it shuttered, you’ll know what I’m talking about). Pancakes crafted from a sweet potato and sourdough starter plus the salt and sugar-brined pork chop are creative gems; the Benedicts and avo toast are less-heavy sustenance. FYI: Its location is not only freeway accessible, but close to Angel Stadium as well as Honda Center, making it ideal for when I plan get-togethers. 1547 W. Katella Ave.; Suite 102, Orange
At Lunch/Snack Time: Roll Em Up Taquitos
Why am I digging a taquito place? I love grazing in general, and Irvine’s new Roll Em Up executes its product efficiently. I’m also a fan of portion control, as is the 60% of its female demographic who dine there. Taquitos are freshly made and fried-to-order in a quartet of fillings (Jack cheese, potato with green chiles, beef and my favorite, citrus-marinated chicken). Can’t make up your mind? You can have more than one flavor in a three or five-count meal. Admittedly I like the flour tortilla option over corn, technically making it a flauta. To drink, I make a beeline for the horchata and jamaica offerings. Add some street corn or a warm, messy, caramel-drizzled churro donut and you’re all set. Dessert was so good I took a six-pack back to my coworkers. Note: Brea also has a branch. 14435 Culver Drive, Irvine
Dinner: Chef’s Counter at Populaire Modern Bistro
I hesitate to write about South Coast Plaza’s best kept secret since now it’ll be tougher for me to book. The three seats reserved for ambitious diners at Populaire’s counter (that masquerades as a kitchen island) provide a rare rapport between guest and resident chef Nick Weber. Your bespoke dinner is accommodating to dietary needs, plating a multi-course take on Weber’s contemporary French fare in an informal environment and striking a balance between high brow and low-key. While celebrating my birthday there, the chef surprised our trio with a seafood-forward evening of crab, abalone, octopus and toro that he fine-tuned right up until service. Wine pairings are optional but worth exploring as your server will complement as many courses as you would like. So text a friend or three (it can accommodate up to four), secure the reservation then make it your very own weeknight dinner party. 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa
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Something Sweet: Whip Dessert & Cafe
The only meal I potentially love more than breakfast is afternoon tea, and Huntington Beach’s Whip delights me with the sweet and savory indulgences that come along with it in an ornate setting. Think cheese and truffle mushroom finger sandwiches alongside scones and delicate macarons. A kid’s version is also available for little appetites. For those who prefer coffee, this storefront specializes in both. Select between a rich blend featuring bold, Robusta beans sourced from Vietnam’s central highland’s region and a smooth second crafted from both Maui and Colombian Arabica beans. Whip’s tastes and aromas provide a brief respite from the rest of the world. Bonus: There’s more than enough parking available in this bustling plaza. 7862 Warner Ave., Suite 106, Huntington Beach
Because Sushi: Rol Hand Roll Bar
Sitting alone at a sushi bar is never questioned, making the times I choose to dine alone less conspicuous. Serving a modern twist on traditional Japanese, the second branch of Rol is currently in soft-opening mode. In addition to hand rolls, Fountain Valley’s dining room features counter-only seating and takeaway maki boxes. The Green Machine mocktail (apple, lychee, lemon and pineapple) gives off Jolly Rancher vibes, while crispy rice tartare is the tastiest appetizer. Rol’s toro hand roll is worth the extra coin – so long as you remember to devour rolls in 30 seconds before the nori wrapper softens and loses its textural integrity. Of the three à la carte sauces, kizami wasabi will ruin standard wasabi for you. I need to go back to try the rest of Rol’s desserts, so stay tuned. 16173 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley
Nightcap, but Also Weekend Brunch: Palenque
I recently met up with friends in Costa Mesa for brunch at newcomer Palenque and dug the open, airy lounge as much as its crispy chicken and churro sandwich; the chilaquiles were a close second. My initial visit was actually in the evening, when the mood flips to a notch below nightclub status with a sultry edge. Palenque’s ambient lighting is such a vibe (think Pageant of the Masters skill level) you’ll get a sudden urge to make out with someone – or maybe that was the effective margarita sampler taking over? I enjoyed the ambiance so much I’m headed back this weekend. 1749 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa
Event not Involving Flowers nor Chocolate: Brews & Bites at The Ritz-Carlton
February should celebrate brews more than anything because it’s practically in the name. This may be why a resort in Laguna Niguel coordinated a beachside event focusing on an eclectic lineup that includes female, small and minority-owned businesses from Mexico (Baja Brewing Company), New Mexico (Bow & Arrow Brewing), San Diego (JuneShine), Los Angeles (People’s Republic of South Central) and OC (Bottle Logic Brewing). Meeting a diverse group of brewers is one of the reasons I plan to attend. Being held on Sunday, Feb. 19, from 1-4 p.m, the afternoon will include a number of “street food” dining stations from in-house chef Steve Wan such as Korean corn dogs and New Delhi-style fish and chips. P.S.: For a $25 donation, dog owners may also bring their furry friends; the money paid goes to support the Veterans Initiative of Canine Companions for Independence. 1 Ritz Carlton Drive, Laguna Niguel
Coming Back Very Soon: Elixir Tea Bar
After closing for over a year, the crew behind a whimsical boba tea operation is ready to reopen. Previously written up in 2021, Elixir’s initial location at the bar of a Laguna Hills restaurant was so well-received, owner Cire Hensman quickly realized it had outgrown the space and sought out a dedicated storefront. The attention to artistic detail at this zero-proof establishment will impress. I’ve missed the boba bartenders intuitively knowing exactly how sweet I prefer my beverage. Expect opening day news in the not-so-distant future at its new address of 1779 Newport Blvd. in Costa Mesa.
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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