For years, I've driven past the Tutto Fresco in SanTana and wondered: Drive-thru Italian? Who the hell came up with that heresy? I figured it was a bad chain, à la Carrabba's or the Olive Garden, and never bothered to visit. But over the holidays, I went to a dinner hosted by the Perriccone boys, makers of the best orange juice on the planet. They insisted I give Tutto Fresco a shot, agreed the concept seemed bizarre but swore it was legit—and who am I to disagree with Sicilians?
I was only partly right about one thing: Tutto Fresco is a chain, but it's a mini-one, with all locations in Orange County. All my other assumptions made a you-know-what out of me (definitely not ustedes, gentle readers). The drive-thru menu (available only at the Orange and SanTana branches) rivals an Alerto's in its encyclopedic offerings: pastas, sandwiches, wraps, salads and combos galore, with no sacrifice in flavor. But a far better option is to dine in, as the portions become bigger and better and even more specials pop up. A lightly fried eggplant rotolo is so savory you'll swear there's meat inside (nope: it's the gorgeous combination of pesto and tomato basil). The personal pizzas combine Neapolitan finesse with American heft; something as simple as a side caesar salad as part of the lunch special is perfect. All the sauces are wonderful: The Alfredo is creamy but not cloying; the marinara, bright and light. Even the olive oil and balsamic makes you pause to admire the quality here.
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. My apologies to Tutto Fresco for ignoring them all these years, and don't worry: My panza is proof I've been making up for lost time.
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Tutto Fresco, 808 N. Tustin Ave., Santa Ana, (714) 568-1035; also at 22332 El Paseo, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 858-3360; and 1333 N. Glassell St., Orange, (714) 771-15550; www.tuttofrescorestaurant.com.