As you might suspect, this list isn't all about that red sauce. When we read spaghetti, we see noodles. And while the bulk of what we're running down is indeed Italian, there's much more to Orange County than that. So before the disagreements begin, let's get this alphabetical list started, okay?
Alessa by Chef Pirozzi
If there's one thing we learned about interviewing Chef Alessandro Pirozzi, it's that he doesn't sit still for long. Thankfully, he runs a consistent kitchen in Laguna— our favorite Alessa location. In fact, we named it Best Italian Restaurant last year. His homemade pastas are some of the tastiest. 234 Forest Avenue, Laguna Beach, (949) 497-8222; www.alessalaguna.com.
We were in line on opening day at their first location in Huntington. Hidden inside Pacific City's Lot 579, our friends attacked the entire menu. But the best bite was the one we ate the least of, because this is one indulgent sandwich. The spaghetti grilled cheese may sound like all sorts of trouble, but this carb-laden fantasy knows exactly what it's doing. Be sure to get a doctor's note, because you'll be incapacitated by a food coma after lunch. 21058 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach, (714) 374-0777; also at 8549 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine; (949) 502-5998; www.burntcrumbs.com
A favorite of our restaurant reviewer, Edwin, it just makes sense for him to do the honors.
"It seems impossible, but having it this way, coating strands of al dente spaghetti, extends a preciousness that usually only lasts a fleeting bite.
Italians on the country's coastal region of Puglia know it as spaghetti ai ricci de mare; but in OC, the best place to slurp the dish is Cafe Hiro, a Japanese/Italian/French bistro owned and operated by Chef Hiro Ohiwa, a fusionist who also adds a dollop of wasabi and a few wispy shreds of nori. He also supplies some bread— bread you will need to wipe down the bowl once you are done."
10509 Valley View Street, Cypress, (714) 527-6090; www.cafehiro.com.
If you don't eat much curry, you would be unfamiliar with the difference between Indian and Japanese versions. Generally, while Indian is more about spice and heat, Japanese is milder and stew-like. At Curry House, they do curry and spaghetti meals. Request this off-menu Katsu Bolognese Spaghetti, swapping rice for pasta and Japanese curry for their meat sauce. Consider it dinner and lunch for tomorrow.
10953 Meridian Drive, Cypress, (714) 527-6224; also at 14407 Culver Drive, Irvine; (949) 654-1449; www.curryhouse-usa.com.
Who's Jinny? She's the one with an Italian stand over at 4th Street Market in SanTana. She mostly does pizza, but nowadays is cooking up some noodles as well. In fact, she'll sometimes mash up the the two and make a spaghetti and meatballs pizza! The balls are made of beef (instead of a beef and pork blend), so diners who don't eat pork can enjoy. Thanks, Jinny. 201 East 4th Street, Ste. 126, Santa Ana, (714) 492-5453; www.jinnyspizzeria.com.
Last year's readers' choice for Best Italian, this is a Newport mainstay for locals. Offering sizable portions for your money, they know how to cook pasta to a perfect al dente texture. Open for dinner only, large groups descend upon Mama's for the warm hospitality and good eats. 3012 Newport Boulevard, Newport Beach (949) 675-6262; www.mamadsnewport.com
Long waits, checkered tablecloths, great big menu. All the makings for a meal at Roma. Did you know you can call ahead and be placed on a waiting list? Of course you did. We heart their Spaghetti Sausage Della Casa, sopped up with housemade bread. 611 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 544-0273; www.romaditalia.com.
With four other locations in Florida, this lone outpost of the Spoleto franchise is banking on the notion that eaters love assembling Italian food the same way they do poke. Add shrimp or burrata, and you've got one expensive meal. But they've got enough options to choose from to keep you from getting bored. Or eliminate the guesswork and go with one of their inspired creations. When in doubt, remember less (toppings) is usually more (flavor). 4175 Campus Drive, Irvine, (949) 333-3132; www.spoletoitalian.com.
Tomato Cafe and Grill
A few months ago, Edwin reviewed Tomato Cafe. One of our non-traditional spaghetti joints, he reminded us that it was worthy of our roundup,
"And when we ordered the stir-fried spaghetti with bacon and pineapple, we heard the chef tossing the ingredients in an unseen wok, the sizzling audible in the dining room. When it was delivered, the aromas wafting from the dish had that distinctive smoky whiff of a good Chinese stir-fry and a flavor that nailed the perilous balance between grease and soy."
1712 West Orangethorpe Avenue; Fullerton, (714) 519-3385.
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This OC mini-chain is a recent find by Gustavo. He praised just about everything you could discuss, also explaining how two out of three locations have drive-thrus. But as he elaborates below, you really should take the time to dine in,
"The Rancho Santa Margarita Tutto Fresco is more upscale, with a bar and even more specials. And though the Orange and SanTana Tutto Frescos are technically fast-casual- you order from a counter and pay there- they still have the customer service of fine-dining establishments: If I order something as cheapskate as water, a waiter will nevertheless grab the cup and fill it from the soda machine without prompting."
1333 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 519-3385; also at 1808 N. Tustin Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 568-1035 and
22332 El Paseo, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 858-3360; www.tuttofrescorestaurant.com.