New in South Coast Metro 05-10-19 | 75 Best Places to Eat in OC 2019
From the Orange County Register
By Brad A. Johnson
The 75 Best Places to Eat in Orange County in 2019
This is the fifth edition of this guide – a roadmap to Orange County’s wildly diverse dining scene.
Nine restaurants located in the South Coast Metro area are included in this list. The majority of the South Coast Metro restaurants are in the top 10 and even in the coveted number one spot!
#1 Hana re
Atsushi Yokoyama welcomes 10 to 12 diners a night to a chef’s counter hidden behind The Lab in Costa Mesa in what appears at first glance to be an abandoned tool shed with corrugated siding and one small window. From the moment you walk through the door, the Japanese hospitality is warm and personal, verging on clairvoyant.
Loosely based on the Japanese concept of kaiseki, each menu weaves a tale of textures, temperatures, techniques and flavors that usually starts with something cold and slippery – a chilled viscous broth made from squash, for example, or a salad of translucent baby eels. This is often followed with something even more exotic and warm, like steamed baby conch and goose barnacles, fried hairy crab or poached cod milt. Each unique journey culminates with a spectacular parade of sushi: snow crab, grunt fish, belt fish, barracuda, gizzard shad…
2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa
#4 Taco María
Six years into Carlos Salgado’s rediscovery of Mexican cuisine, Taco María is approaching culinary parity with the like of Pujol or Quintonil in Mexico City. Forget everything you think you know about Mexican food and come here for the four-course prix fixe dinner and splurge for the wine pairings. They fret the detail here. Sit at the counter and watch how the cooks obsess over something as simple as the enfrijolada. Watch them roast fresh scallops in their shells. Feel the heat of the wood-fueled grill as the arrachera practically catches fire. Beans are never just beans. And tacos are never just tacos.
3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa
Across America right now, wood-fire kitchen are all the rage. Chef Noah Blom’s Arc in Costa Mesa was ground zero for that trend. Arc’s kitchen is fueled 100 percent by wood. No gas. No electrical appliances. Under the dim glow of crystal chandeliers, everything on the menu here is touched by fire and smoke: inch-thick-and-foot-long slabs of bacon, chicken and broccoli casserole, crab cakes, meatballs and whole fish. Calamari is cooked on red-hot cast-iron, sending flames to the ceiling.
3321 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa
On the one hand, Amar Santana and Ahmed Labbate’s Vaca is the best Spanish tapas bar in Southern California. On the other hand, it’s also a great steakhouse. Those two things shouldn’t go hand in hand, but miraculously they do, especially if you wash it all down with a frozen gin and tonic. The house specialty is the 50-day dry-aged rib-eyes that weight upwards of two pounds. The Spanish hams are superb, too. If you opt for paella, the best version is the “carne” made with blood sausage, chorizo, pork belly and duck leg confit. The Spanish wine list is extraordinary.
695 Town Centre Drive, Costa Mesa
#8 Mastro’s Steakhouse
There’s nothing meek about Mastro’s. This old-school steakhouse revels in gluttony and excess. Dining here isn’t just a meal, it’s an occasion. It’s a statement. The steaks are massive, even the small ones. The martinis seem bigger than life. Wine prices are through the roof but you won’t lack for choices from the best cult cabernets or legendary Bordeaux. You might have to skip a mortgage payment or two to dine here, but there’s no denying the quality of beef that’s being served.
633 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa
#10 Water Grill
If you want lobster or crab, check out the massive fish tanks behind the raw bar at Water Grill. These are the best lobsters and crabs money can buy. If you like oysters, Water Grill offers a better selection than anywhere else. This LA-based seafood palace across the street from South Coast Plaza is the best place in OC for seafood, period. The whole, wild-caught Dover sole is simply perfection, bathed in butter and filleted table-side.
3300 Bristol St., Costa Mesa
#17 The Capital Grille
Of all the old-school steakhouse brands, The Capital Grille is still one of the poshest. Certainly no other steakhouse can match the Grille’s over-the-top country-club aesthetic. Ascend the stairs into what looks like Ralph Lauren’s mansion, with oil paintings hanging heavily on the walls. The steaks are big and always perfectly grilled. Save room for coconut cream pie.
3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa
#29 Din Tai Fung
Although many have tried, no other Chinese restaurants has come close to replicating Din Tai Fung’s famouse xiao long bao, also known as Shanghai-style soup dumplings. The wait for tables can stretch upwards of two hours, so put your name down and go shopping. They’ll text you when your table is almost ready.
3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa
#74 East Borough
Believe it or not, you won’t find Orange County’s best banh mi sandwich in Little Saigon. It’s in Costa Mesa at The Camp’s East Borough, an outdoor food shack with fewer than 20 seats tucked beneath what looks like an old shed overtaken by wisteria. The tables are stocked with fresh bird’s eye chilies. There’s no air-conditioning, but the beer is cold. If you like sweet breakfasts, consider the kaya toast.
2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa