The Best Restaurants in Orange County of 2016

Centrál Coastal Peruvian
Centrál Coastal Peruvian
Dustin Ames/OC Weekly

BEST PERUVIAN RESTAURANT
Centrál Costal Peruvian

Anna Driggs and Ana Montoya's Centrál Coastal Peruvian in Laguna Beach is a restaurant for a moneyed crowd who may be used to fancy French sauces, but not necessarily pollo à la brasa. The aguadito, for instance, doesn't just come out; it's assembled tableside, with the soup poured into a bowl from a carafe. And when you do finally order the pollo à la brasa, it's exquisitely butchered so it includes the Frenched breast. But the flavors are authentic, and the aji sauce—the one unshakable reminder that proclaims more loudly than anything else that, yes, this is a real Peruvian restaurant—is nuclear strength.

Readers’ Choice: Inka Mama’s Peruvian Cuisine

Cafe Hiro
Cafe Hiro
Edwin Goei/OC Weekly

BEST JAPANESE RESTAURANT
Cafe Hiro

After 14 years, Hiro Ohiwa continues to deftly and successfully execute his own blend of Japanese, French and Italian cuisine in Cypress. From pasta speckled with sweet oceanic pillows of sea urchin in an intense uni-cream sauce to his crisp, thick and fatty Kurobuto pork katsu with a rich deep demi-glace, each dish Ohiwa offers carries with it a soul and technique that pays tribute to his years of training in Japan and Europe. While you're at Café Hiro, don't pass on dessert. The berry panna cotta would delight even the most discerning pastry chef with its hypnotic jiggle and creamy texture. P.S.: If you're looking for a really special experience, be sure to call in advance and ask for Hiro's omakase.

Readers’ Choice: Kitayama Restaurant

BEST LATE-NIGHT DINING
The Past Memories

Whether you have the late-night munchies or are just looking to soak up a night out, food always tastes better when you know you shouldn't be eating it. So for after-hours cravings, Past Memories is the midnight party. The seafood kimchi pancake is as big as a pizza, and if you're still hungry after that, you can't go wrong with the kimchi fried rice or budaejjigae, also known as Korean army stew, to recover from a night of desmadre.
Readers’ Choice: Harbor House Café

BEST RESTAURANT AMBIANCE
The Cellar

Walk with care down the stairs, then open the heavy, ornate wooden door deep underground Downtown Fullerton and take refuge in the Cellar. The bar and fine-dining restaurant is equal parts ritzy and comfy. Get spendy and fancy by walking left and into the dining room; get sauced in style by stepping to the right and into cocktail master Rich Ohtsuka's lair. Whichever adventure you choose, you'll be treated to a cavernous and cool experience created by the Disney-employed masterminds behind the atmosphere of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. It's dark and dank like Pirates, but the reported ghosts will make you feel as if you're right at home at the Haunted Mansion. Hurry back!

Readers’ Choice: The Cellar

Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung
Dustin Ames/OC Weekly

BEST CHINESE RESTAURANT
Din Tai Fung

After two years of winning this spot, Din Tai Fung's Costa Mesa outpost still reigns absolute when it comes to Shanghainese and Taiwanese food. Whether it's the famous juicy pork xiaolongbao, shrimp and pork wontons with spicy sauce, or golden-crisp pork chop fried rice (bonus points for saving the spicy sauce and using it on those pork chops!), its offerings are as addicting and consistent as ever. Sadly, the line and hour-plus wait each weekend are also the same.

Readers’ Choice: P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

BEST KOREAN BARBECUE
Mr. BBQ

Mr. BBQ does not joke around when it comes to the AYCE experience. From an encyclopedic selection of highly marbled premium cuts to more than 15 panchan options, its massive spread is only outclassed by the waitstaff's exceptional quality of service and attention to detail—often the biggest sin of Korean barbecue. Char-coated grills and empty plates are whisked away before you even have the opportunity to hail your server, and they're always there ready to bring your next order. If you choose, the staff will even cook each selection for you tableside, so you can focus on what you came for in the first place: mountains of glorious barbecued meat.

Readers’ Choice: Gen Korean BBQ House

BEST DOUGHNUT SHOP
Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee

Oh, we've tried to quit you, Sidecar. We've tried to eat healthier, but you keep tempting us back with monthly and seasonal offerings that appeal to just about all our senses. Special editions such as Concord grape, s'mores, and fig and goat cheese changed the way we viewed doughnuts, but when we really wanted an old-school treat, we headed for the sweet, perfectly airy comfort of the Madagascar vanilla twist and the muffin-like huckleberry. Further sweetening the deal is the siren song of Stumptown Coffee: The Forty Winks and Colt's Tooth blends were created just for pairing with Sidecar's doughnuts. We promise to never try to leave you again, Sidecar.

Readers’ Choice: Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee

BEST SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
The Library Gentlemen's Club

You laughed at the thought of sushi at a strip club? Hey, we're with you—the fish jokes kinda write themselves, don't they? And the owners and managers of the Library Gentlemen's Club in Westminster aren't ignorant of your jokes, either. In fact, they take pride in their top-grade meat selection, sourced multiple times per week. The sushi (rolls, nigiri, omasake—whatever your heart desires) comes reasonably priced and beautifully displayed. They even offer real wasabi, which is more than can be said about half the local sushi joints you try to impress your dates at. How's that for dinner and a show?

Readers’ Choice: King’s Fish House

The Best Restaurants in Orange County of 2016

BEST VEGAN RESTAURANT
Gratitude

Ignore the meaningless motivational psychobabble found on the company's mission statement and take its hipster crowd with a grain of salt. Instead, enjoy Gratitude for its strongest selling point: It's a vegan restaurant that doesn't use fake meat. Nothing that's reverse-engineered in a lab is used anywhere here. Instead of Tofurkey and Soyrizo, you get—wait for it—actual vegetables, grains and fruit, cooked and prepared with care and creativity. You'll eat tostadas in which mushrooms sub in for beef, crumbly samosas stuffed with yam, and Italian "meatballs" made with chopped-up eggplant formed into spheres and draped in a marinara that tastes like marinara because, well, it is marinara!

Readers’ Choice: Seabirds Kitchen

BEST HEALTHY PLACE TO EAT NEAR DISNEYLAND
Thuyen Vien Vegetarian Restaurant

Years before they decided to launch Thuyen Vien, Loan and Si, two Vietnamese immigrants, earned a reputation as superb dinner hosts with family and friends who say they were always pleasantly surprised at the couple's creative dishes that spanned every imaginable type of food. Nowadays, that enthusiasm is found daily at their restaurant, where they provide some of Southern California's best vegetarian dishes in a small but clean setting, just blocks from Disneyland. Try the Buddha's Feast: broccoli, bok choy, cabbage, carrots, mushrooms, onions and sautéed tofu in a broth with your choice of soy chicken, soy beef or chow mein. The lemongrass "chicken" or Thai vegetable curry are also tasty. But if you can't decide, ask the friendly owners for advice; after all, they are the ones doing all the cooking.

BEST DINER
Harbor House Café

While most diners strive to be old-fashioned, Harbor House Café naturally is. With vintage pictures and movie memorabilia, old arcade games, and a jukebox with an impressive selection, Harbor House probably hasn't changed much since the day it opened in 1939. Boasting a journal-thick menu and open 24 hours a day, seven days per week (including all holidays), it has a comfortable, homey vibe that will make you never want to leave—and with its hours, you don't have to. Just make sure to order something more hefty than water and crackers, you know?

Readers' Choice: Harbor House Café

SeaLegs Wine Bar
SeaLegs Wine Bar
Brian Feinzimer/OC Weekly

BEST BRUNCH SPOT
SeaLegs Wine Bar

Within what looks like a cozy, seaside cabin is a meal you will remember—even if you forget everything else. Classic dishes such as a chicken-and-waffle sandwich, eggs Benedict, sausage-and-pepper omelet, and California chilaquiles are washed down with bottomless mimosas. Your charming server will make sure your glass is never empty. And when you feel sated from chef Alexander Dale's fabulous meal, you'll stand up, letting all that Champagne go to your head, and forget all else. Go walk off that brunch at the Big Lots just a couple of doors down—or you could stroll over to the beach, just a mile away, if you're sober enough.

Readers’ Choice: TAPS Fish House & Brewery

BEST GREEK RESTAURANT
Christakis Greek Cuisine

From the blue shutters and doors to towering olive trees, Christakis Greek Cuisine is the closest you can get to the Isles without leaving the county. Whether you sit inside, surrounded by Christakis family photos, or outside, next to the peaceful fountain, you're guaranteed a Homeric experience. The hummus has plenty of garlic and just the right amount of lemon. The traditional entrées, which come with a side of rice pilaf, green beans and wedges of baked lemon potatoes, are so filling that you might not even consider dessert—but one look at the baklava will change your mind.

Readers’ Choice: The Olive Pit

BEST COFFEEHOUSE
Dripp

For decades, the Fox Fullerton Theater stood abandoned, the promise of the movie palace returning to its former glory forever stymied by a lack of funds or forgettable tenants around it. That started changing with the debut of Dripp, which also has a location in Chino Hills. Strong coffee, great staff and a wonderful location—what else do you need in a local coffeehouse?

Readers’ Choice: Portola Coffee Lab

SOL Mexican Cocina
SOL Mexican Cocina
OC Weekly archives

BEST WATERFRONT DINING
SOL Mexican Cocina

Perched on the edge of a marina in Newport Beach, SOL Mexican Cocina offers not only an extraordinary view of million-dollar yachts, but also an extensive menu of excellent coastal Mexican cuisine. Purists will enjoy the Baja-style fish or shrimp tacos, while the more adventurous might opt for the Taco Vampiro (a double-tortilla taco filled with serrano chiles, cheese and scallions) or the even-more-adventuresome Canarditas duck tacos (deep-fried duck legs served with a tequila-laced blackberry sauce). Wash it all down with a cocktail, especially anything made from the restaurant's fine selection of mezcals.

Readers’ Choice: Las Brisas

Active Culture
Active Culture
Rockography/OC Weekly

BEST ORGANIC RESTAURANT
Active Culture

To make up for lost flavor, many organic restaurants either go heavy on the salt or force you to, but you won't have to indulge in either sin at Active Culture. Everything is natural and packed with different flavors courtesy of homemade dressings, tasty seasonings and its signature OG Sauce. The bowls, salads and wraps are loaded with super foods and whole grains, while the smoothies, shakes and frozen yogurts are sweet and creamy, but just as healthy. Since every dish is made to order, you'll probably find yourself waiting a while, so kick back and enjoy the ocean view.

Readers’ Choice: True Food Kitchen

Alessa
Alessa
Kevin Lara/OC Weekly

BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT
Alessa Laguna Beach

With family pictures plastered on the wall and dishes named after his nonna, chef Alessandro Pirozzi sweeps customers back to his hometown of Naples. At his Alessa Laguna Beach, you'll indulge in complimentary bread and pesto before ordering from a menu featuring fresh seafood, creamy sauces and hand-made pastas all inspired by traditional family recipes. Once you're done here, make sure to visit Pirozzi's other excellent OC eateries—but this is the best of the bunch.

Readers’ Choice: Mama D’s Italian Kitchen

That's what a hamburger's all about!
That's what a hamburger's all about!
OC Weekly archives

BEST LOCAL CHAIN
In-N-Out Burger

This was chiseled together on a soggy napkin after viewing an Orange County Business Journal compilation of local restaurant chains presented in order of total revenues. Pausing at No. 4, the chiseler realized no one before or after on the list is better than In-N-Out. However, that's such an obvious choice that the chiseler trudged on, figuring a legitimate case could be made for someone slightly less worthy. Such bullshit; why deny In-N-Out its rightful place at the top? Great service, fresh ingredients and a menu that does not change (but can include "animal-style," if requested). Who does burgers better? Every time! Have you ever heard someone say, "Aw, In-N-Out, again?" Never happens.



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