Sneaking in under the radar, a non-pho establishment actually opened its doors in Irvine at the end of January. Part of a petite chain which includes locations in Aliso Viejo and Corona del Mar, Panini Cafe is just off Jamboree and 405 in the plaza known as Park Place.
Across the street from the ever busy Houstons, the newest occupants offer respite from CPK and Ruth's Chris for business lunches. One of the few spots not governed by The Irvine Company, property management removed my closest Fatburger plus the flailing Taleo just last month. We're seeing it as reward for tolerating all the parking lot construction going on for for-EVER, reminding us as to why we avoided the plaza.
Their Euro menu is both Italian, yet primarily Mediterranean inspired with pastas and kabobs (This sounds an awful lot like the Caffe Panini that used to be attached to Ten Asian Bistro off MacArthur, right?). Its sister restaurants appear to be thriving, which we hope is a good sign for them. We'll be there soon enough to check out their two dozen brekkie options. That is, assuming we find a place to park.
Panini Cafe is located at 3401 Michelson Dr., Irvine (949) 260-9800. www.mypaninicafe.com.