1. Anchor Hitch
There’s something all diners must do before diving into any dish at this recently opened restaurant at Union Market Mission Viejo. They must take in the culinary art before them, and explore with their eyes the contrast of colors, shapes and textures that Executive Chef Michael Pham creates. It’s all part of his passion for showcasing the beauty of the ocean from the first glimpse to the last taste, as you can see (and savor) in his abalone panna cotta—his homage to his time at Providence in L.A. First, there’s the abalone, sous vide in dashi for eight hours. Add to that the vibrant, delicate uni; the product is highlighted by the interplay of tastes from the other components, including lemon vinaigrette, herbs—and mirugai and ikura, to finish with a splash.
Want a taste of the Philippines without leaving O.C.? You’ll get it at Irenia, a Filipino-inspired eatery in Santa Ana. It’s the brainchild of Ryan Garlitos, who’s paying homage to his culture—and his grandmother—with his modern interpretations of traditional fare. “Her cooking is where my love of food started,” he says. “It’s important to honor that and to add a modern influence, in hopes of making it something I can share with a wider audience.” This fall, try the pinakbet—it’s a traditional stew of vegetables like kabocha squash and long beans spiked with salted anchovies. And the seafood-centered kinilaw, offered occasionally as a special, showcases the lighter side and different dimensions of the culture’s cuisine.
3. Lighthouse Cafe
Executive Chef Ryan Summer may be young (just 25), but he’s got the skills of a seasoned pro. (But what else would you expect from a guy whose past experience includes stints at The Beachcomber and the former Charlie Palmer at South Coast Plaza?) His menu is contemporary and coastal cool, with breakfast, lunch and dinner options (the pan-seared diver scallops with sweet corn relish are a must-try) to match the scenic harborfront surrounds. It’s perfect for travelers looking to make the most of our shores at Newport’s Marina Park (though locals like to relax here as well). To the lighthouse!
4. Mezzet Mediterranean Cuisine
Those of us who are wild for the flavors of the Mediterranean can find a bounty of them at this South Coast Plaza eatery, what with its small plates inspired by Spain, Morocco, Lebanon, Greece and Southern Italy. On the menu, you’ll find baba ghanoush, tabbouleh, an octopus carpaccio duo, cauliflower hummus and lamb tagine. We simply can’t resist!
5. Restaurant Marin
The lady of the house, Marin Howarth von Blöm (who owns the eatery and neighboring Arc at Costa Mesa’s SoCo with culinary mastermind and hubby Noah), will tell you to sit in one of the patio’s corner booths during the late afternoon and linger over a bottle of wine or cocktails and appetizers—and we agree. We’re partial to the 2013 Matrot Volnay, the Pink Lady and the street sandwiches (tomato and burrata, among them), but you really can’t go wrong here.