The Best Restaurants in Orange County

Forget the rations, you won't need them where we're going
Forget the rations, you won't need them where we're going
Photo by Riley Kern/OC Weekly

Orange County's is home to a lot of "little" things: Little Saigon, Little Arabia, not to mention the not-so-little Korean, Latin American, Middle American, and Robo-American communities. Out of these little places come some epic flavors and restaurants that you wouldn't be able to find anywhere else.

We complied some of the best restaurants in Orange County in this not-so-little list. Can you make it to the end? It's a journey, but Orange County's Best Restaurant is well worth it.

Best Filipino Restaurant: Sawali Grill Seven small tables, one of them covered with cookies, pastries and other Filipino desserts in plastic boxes fill Sawali Grill. Not a single white face in the place. All good signs you're going to be eating the real deal. Go to the counter and tell the woman behind the glass what you want. Served turo turo (cafeteria) style, she drops two huge scoops of rice on a plate and looks at you patiently while you try to decide. Two large barbecue pork skewers, generous with smoky, flavorful meat, not too fatty? Or kaldereta, a hearty, chunky beef stew with bell peppers, chile and other veggies? Beef mushroom overflowing with large sliced mushrooms and slices of beef reminiscent of boeuf bourguignon? The calamares is a little more of an acquired taste for a white palate, but the tender squid is cooked in its own delicious, salty ink. 3414 W. Ball Road, Ste. G, Anaheim, CA 92804, 714-995-1279

Best Late-Night Dining: Harbor House Café Everyone knows about Harbor House's encyclopedic menu, its open-all-the-time ethos, and the satisfying quality of its food, but the best part of this OC landmark is the people watching. In the afternoon, we've seen expensively dressed moms with kids in tow hand off the family's doggie bag to a man sitting on the ground who looks as if he has been living on the streets since the fall of Saigon. In the middle of the night, your fellow diners are drawn from, well, everywhere. It's almost akin to a commissary at an old movie studio at which extras from 20 different B-movies eat in costume. Or is that just 79 years of movie décor come to life? 34157 Pacific Coast Highway, Dana Point, CA 92629, 949-496-9270

Reader's Choice: Harbor House Café

James, James, James...
James, James, James...
Photo by Amanda DeFrancis

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Best New Restaurant: James Republic James Republic isn't perfect. But with every new day, it gets closer. As with any new restaurant opened in this century, the ingredients are seasonal and the menu non-permanent. One visit, the Pacific walu--a beautifully seared fish from Hawaii, with snow-white flesh as moist as the meat off a freshly steamed crab--can come with sharp goat cheese, sautéed broccolini and splotches of beet vinaigrette, but whether the sides or the fish will be around at all the next week is anyone's guess. Things are ever-changing, reinvention the only overarching theme. The staff count the days the eatery has been open on a chalkboard and on the menus, a reminder to all who work here that every evening is full of possibilities. Whatever you get--be it the Kurobota pork chop that eats like a steak, or mashed potatoes turned to froth in a jar, or a salad of grilled asparagus with crisply fried fingerling potatoes as croutons--James Republic will delight, frustrate and keep you coming back to see what's on the plate the following week and the week after that. . . . 500 E. 1st St., Long Beach, CA 90802, 562-901-0235

Reader's Choice: Little Sparrow

Best Indian Restaurant: Vishnu Come in the morning or late afternoon, and Vishnu looks like any of the other anonymous businesses in this monochromatic John Wayne-adjacent office park: unremarkable. But when the lunch hour strikes, it begins. First, you see a trickle of people, then, all of a sudden, a crowd as thick as what you'd find at a Mumbai train station at rush hour shows up. The space is probably not intended for this many people, but they swarm anyway for a lunch buffet that includes freshly made dosas, curries, two kinds of biryanis and vadas (fried morsels that crunch like falafel). Along with Harry's Deli down the road, Vishnu has secured its cult status without much advertising. Ask the people in line ahead of you, and they'll tell you they found out about the place the old-fashioned way, by word-of-mouth, through friends who took them here, saying "You need to come check out this Indian place with me." 17945 Sky Park Circle, Irvine, CA 92614, 949-752-0358

Reader's Choice: Punjabi Tandoor

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