Best Of :: Food & Drink
Other restaurants might ultimately impress more at any given moment. Most have better locations. But as a sunrise-to-nighttime experience, no local eatery can hold a gourmet blowtorch to Old Vine Café. The delights begin with a faithfulness to organic ingredients, whether it's artisanal Spanish sausages or produce bought from San Clemente-based Morningsong Farms. From this base, chef Mark McDonald creates omelets and crepes of grace; paninis that crunch, soothe and satiate; and dinners he changes to match the seasons—fettucine with a homemade pomodoro sauce, or sea curries seemingly snuck in from Little Saigon. Meanwhile, brother Brandon roams the tiny dining area, singing the praises of their many wonderful, affordable wines. So much with so little: genius. And the pecan tarts drizzled with sea salt and butterscotch sauce? Perhaps the best non-ethnic dessert ever served in Orange County after the Balboa Bar.
Bagels don't need to leave you in a carb coma, and Krazy Eddy realizes this. His are thinner than the average bagel and toasted to leave the outside crispy and the innards soft. The ingredients pop: The jalapeño bagel is actually spicy, the sesame-seed bagel actually flavorful. And most topping combos—try the heaping, green mountain that is the avocado special—come with the surprising, refreshing flavor of sliced tomatoes dabbed with lemon juice.
By the time you read this, the 85°C Bakery Café bakery in Irvine will have been open almost a year. But the lines? They'll look exactly like they have since Day One. Newcomers will wonder, "What is it with these people? Have they never seen a bakery before?" Yes, but not like this. Crusts crackle at their most optimal; rolls are still wet from a finishing swipe of melted butter. All are minutes, if not seconds, from the oven. In this carb-crazy frenzy for freshness, supplies are continually replenished since nothing stays unbought longer than a few minutes. And the longer the line, the fresher everything is. The cycle is self-feeding, and you—yeah, you, stuck in the line—you're part of it.
Located just across the street from Medieval Times, this mammoth amphitheater-style restaurant features a life-size pirate ship with full rigging surrounded by a moat of water. The food is on the bland side—would you like chicken with beef or chicken with shrimp? Both go great with Bud Light—but if you are under eight years of age, have a child who is, or if you happen to be very drunk, you will get a big kick out of the entertainment. Pirate duels, cannon shots and a dancing gypsy girl all compete for your attention. Diners, all of whom sit in color-coded sections corresponding to one of the pirates, are encouraged to participate in the show by cheering their pirate on and booing the other pirates as they fight one another on a trampoline or chase one another off the rigging. Keep in mind, however, that if you sit in the front row, you are likely to get wet, inhale a bit too much dry-ice vapor, or both.
You think you've got this whole boba thing figured out. It's not that mysterious, really. Big ol' cup of flavored iced tea, big ol' balls of tapioca, all sucked through a big ol' straw. But . . . hold on a sec—are the tapioca balls at Tastea actually green? Don't balk at the offbeat color; they're the perfect consistency: soft, chewy and fun. As for drink options, there are the usual milk-tea affairs and green-apple slushy, but there are also colorful combinations you will not find in many boba places, such as pineapple-coconut and mango-strawberry. And with drink names such as "Like Wow!" (strawberry and lychee) and "Ohh La La" (coconut, pineapple and strawberry), ordering at Tastea becomes a test of dignity. None more so than when ordering a "Bootea Shaker." But you'll enjoy that nice, thick, tea concoction filled with real fruit (mango, peach and pineapple)—priced at only $3.50—so much you can ignore its moniker.
There's always a catch, right? Overpriced, a lot of OJ, a time limit, really cheap champagne—something. The bottomless mimosa is such a rarity these days that to see it is on a menu is to not actually believe it's real. But at 212 Bistro, where an affordable Sunday brunch is served up gourmet, the mimosas that complement their tasty fusions are blindingly bottomless. Served in huge wine glasses with fresh orange juice, the $12 deal is worth every penny. Best of all, you can enjoy all of it in the café's huge, hidden back patio, which is where most of the lushes tend to boisterously guffaw their way through their brunches.