The Chuck Wagon

Steakhouses, mess halls, eateries, barbecues, fine-dining establishments, & gratuitous & thematically inconsistent Tolkien references

Best French Restaurant
Marché Moderne
3333 Bristol St., Ste. 3001, Costa Mesa
(714) 434-7900
Even if it weren't in the toniest part of South Coast Plaza (above Tiffany's), Marche Moderne would still be one of the best French restaurants in the county. Impeccable service by actual Frenchmen, a gorgeous patio with potted fruit trees, and a food tour de France prepared by owner/executive chef Florent Marneau that marches through bistro staples like steak frites and steamed mussels with white wine. But he takes you to other places, too: sea urchin, harissa and rose-petal ice cream will make you forget you're in a mall.

Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.
Illustration by Kyle T. Webster.

Best Pâtisserie
Café Blanc
298 E. 17th St., Ste. B, Costa Mesa
(949) 631-9999
Do yourself a favor the next time you finish a meal at a fine restaurant: skip dessert. Then drive to Costa Mesa and go to Café Blanc, a pâtisserie (cakes and tarts), glâcerie (gelato and sorbetto) and confiserie (chocolates and candies) crammed in a space no larger than your average taco stand. If you eat in, they'll doll up your dessert on nice china, drizzle it with sauce, and add a complementing dollop of gelato. Tea is served in dainty cups and poured from tiny pots. Their macaroons and house-made truffles are works of art. You'll be glad you didn't waste your appetite on that other restaurant's boring crème brûlée.

Best Outdoor Dining
La Galette Creperie
612 Avenida Victoria, Ste. E, San Clemente
(949) 498-5335
There's a certain magic in San Clemente's rolling, Spanish-named streets, almost all of which end up in Avenida Victoria, the basin just across the street and sand from the San Clemente Pier. Enjoy this view from La Galette Creperie—along with the requisite hot chicks, fat tourists and occasional Amtrak train—while inhaling the yummy crepes.

Readers' Choice: Las Brisas

Best Italian Restaurant
Onotria Wine Country Cuisine
2831 Bristol St., Costa Mesa
(714) 641-5952
Massimo Navaretta is a fixture on the county's dining scene, and many local eaters still fondly remember his late Scampi restaurant. They're all now at his newest place: Onotria, which continues to expand its culinary horizons every month with the freshest organic produce, artisan ingredients flown in from Italy and various dining events. With all the attention placed on ensuring the highest-quality products, it's a wonder Navaretta ever gets the chance to cook, but he does: just taste the pheasant breast with golden raisins and pine nuts and find out for yourself.

Best Mexican Restaurant
Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen
141 S. Glassell St., Orange
(714) 633-3038
We're still waiting for a table at Gabbi's, the Old Towne Orange restaurant that hasn't had a slow night since its opening last summer. And as long as Gabbi Patrick continues to cook up a fine overview of Mexican regional favorites—Yucatecan sopes (called panuchos), fried cheese slathered in a mild green mole, and the hottest salsa around—the wait will still be an hour minimum. Our advice: call ahead. And be prepared to eat some of the best Mexican food not served from a roach coach.

Readers' Choice: Taco Mesa

Best Fusion Restaurant
Cafe Hiro
10509 Valley View St., Cypress
(714) 527-6090
"Fusion" is a restaurant buzzword that's fallen out of favor. But for lack of a better term, that's what we'll call chef Hiro Ohiwa's food ("French and Italian-influenced Japanese" just doesn't roll off the tongue). Seaweed meets spaghetti; uni flavors the risotto; osso bucco collapses at the touch of a fork. Entrées come with a homemade soup of the day and a brisk salad dressed in ginger and miso. Whatever you decide to classify it as, there's no debate over the word that sums it up best: Delicious.

Best Restaurant Décor
725 Baker St., Costa Mesa
(714) 557-6700
Imagine hundreds of ivy plants glued to one wall of Mesa, the latest decadent restaurant to hit the Lab/Camp complex. Imagine the bar roof allowing a view of the nighttime sky and retracting during balmy eves. Imagine large, luxurious dining booths. If you can't quite imagine this, then you must visit because the Mesa owners arrogantly won't allow people to photograph their restaurant's interior. Seriously, fellas: Your design scheme is wonderful, but the face of God it ain't.

Best Service In a Restaurant
Angelo's Burgers
511 S. State College Blvd., Anaheim
(714) 533-1401
Girls in skirts and roller skates: What more does man need to go along with his dinner? Nowadays, this pleasure can only be found at Angelo's Burgers.

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