Orange County is enjoying yet another banner year for hot restaurant openings that continue to raise the bar for the region at large.
The splashiest opening of the past 12 months was undoubtedly Water Grill, the sprawling new seafood restaurant and raw bar located across the street from South Coast Plaza. Meanwhile, Nobu and Lido Bottle Works have irreversibly altered the dining scene of the Balboa Peninsula, while Royal Hen and Mr. G’s have done the same for once-sleepy Balboa Island.
An old auto-mechanic-garage-turned-pizza-joint called 2145 has awakened Costa Mesa’s formerly starved west side, while the gourmet rotisserie Hendrix has brought the culinary revolution to a long-running dead zone of Laguna Niguel.
Irvine’s central business district saw a sudden growth spurt this year with the opening of omakase powerhouse Ootoro Sushi, not to mention the entire Trade complex of food stalls.
In Huntington Beach, LSXO set a new standard for upscale Vietnamese cuisine while Ramain39 jumped into the county’s already fierce ramen wars with a powerful secret weapon: tsukemen, a sort of deconstructed ramen that hadn’t been deployed here before now.
And after leaving South Coast Plaza in January, following a blockbuster 10-year run, California’s best French bistro, Marche Moderne, has relocated to The Shops at Crystal Cove (the opening was imminent as this issue was going to press).
There have been plenty of others as well, but still looming on the horizon are the year’s biggest openings, such as L’Isoletta at Lido Marina Village (an offshoot of Santa Monica’s terrific Via Veneto), Olea on Costa Mesa’s 17th Street (from the team behind Vine and Ironwood) and Crudo next door to Water Grill (from former Fig & Olive visionary Pascal Lorange).
All the while, some of the greatest draws of Orange County’s dining scene continue to be our enclaves of Vietnamese and Chinese cuisines. The pace of restaurant openings in Little Saigon is staggering, with new noodle shops and teahouses joining the fray almost every day. At the same time, the south side of Irvine has quickly evolved into a Chinatown that could someday rival Monterey Park as a national culinary destination.
On the downside, Orange County hasn’t seen much advancement in the way of modern Italian cuisine in the way Los Angeles and San Francisco have. We’re stuck in a mostly classical (but often delicious) spaghetti-and-meatballs rut here, which is odd given that our truly world-class…