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The It List: Orange County's Best Dining Experiences

By Allison Mitchell | December 23, 2019 | Food & Drink

Raise a glass, it's been a landmark year for O.C.' dining scene.

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Saline's mouth-watering brunch spread at Hotel Joaquin.

THE ELITE CHEF'S TABLE: OCEAN AT MAIN

Tucked behind chef-owner Craig Strong’s California-cool restaurant is the St. Clair Suite, a private cottage where Strong will host up to 24 guests for an intimate dinner party featuring a whole salt-baked sea bass and crepes suzette flambé. 222 Ocean Ave,. Laguna Beach

Insider’s tip Start the evening in the cottage’s hidden speakeasy.

THE FINEST IN FRENCH FARE: KNIFE PLEAT

Michelin-starred executive chef Tony Esnault and renowned restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi (his wife) have blown diners away with their penthouse-level jewel box of a restauarant at South Coast Plaza. 3333 S.Bristol St., Coasta Mesa

Insider’s tip Request table 43 and order the chef’s favorite dish: olive-crusted halibut with tomato confit pollen.

THE ULTIMATE DAYCATION: THE RESORT AT PELICAN HILL

Hop on a helicopter from Pelican Hill to Paso Robles’ Daou Vineyards & Winery ($8,000 per person). Four to eight guests will enjoy a cellar tour, barrel tasting and a private lunch before touring the property. 22701 S. Pelican Hill Road, Newport Coast

Insider’s tip Book an opulent wine-paired tasting dinner at Table 200 upon return.

THE BOUGIE BRUNCH: MARCHÉ MODERNE

This Sunday brunch from chef-owner Florent Marneau and his wife, Amelia, the pastry chef, is decadence at its finest thanks to Everything Coconut brioche French toast with coco-mango gelato. 7862 Pacific Coast Highway, Newport Beach

Insider’s tip Ask about the off-menu Marche Fleur cocktail.

THE WEEKEND WONDER: CDM RESTAURANT

While the food and gorgeous interiors upstairs are enticing, the party crowd heads to the downstairs speakeasy for cocktails by Ravin Buzzell, the Golden Foodies’ Bartender of the Year. 2325 E. Coast Highway

Insider’s tip Let Buzzell create a custom sipper for you based on your poison preferences.

THE HOTTEST TABLE IN TOWN: FABLE & SPIRIT

This fellow Golden Foodies winner (best new restaurant) is the place to try this season, whether you’re dining with your family or enjoying a date night for two. 3441 Via Lido, Newport Beach

Insider’s tip Owners Darren and Jean Coyle are as hospitable as can be, and the snug booth is the most coveted table in the house.

THE GOURMAND'S GETAWAY: HOTEL JOAQUIN

Book a room at this petite resort—after all, you must be an overnight guest to dine at Saline, where chef Leo Bongarra is serving one of the best menus in town. 985 N. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach

Insider’s tip Order the off-menu cacio e pepe, which Bongarra learned to make in Rome.

THE DINNER WITH A VIEW: LOUIE'S BY THE BAY

Restaurateurs Ron Salisbury and Piero Selvaggio have made this waterfront wonder one of O.C.’s best newcomers. Try the housemade gnocchi with pomodoro sauce, a recipe from the family of restaurant namesake Louis Zamperini. 2801 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach

Insider’s tip On warm nights, sit at table 12 for a primo waterfront view. When temps dip, cozy up by the fireplace at table 43.

THE DATE-NIGHT DO: THE GUILD CLUB + ARC

These adjacent concepts from owners Noah and Marín von Blöm are the perfect marriage of sexy and sophisticated. Start with cocktails at The Guild Club (now open to the public), then head to ARC to indulge in chef Noah’s shareable plates. 3321 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa

Insider’s tip Food offerings at The Guild Club differ from those at ARC, so order an app with your drinks.

THE FAMILY FAVORITE: HARLEY LAGUNA BEACH

Chef-owner Greg Daniels serves dishes that pay homage to his familial roots, and named his sharp concept after his grandfather. 370 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach

Insider’s tip On Sunday evenings, Daniels serves an ever-changing family-style menu known as Harley’s Get Together.



Photography by: Photo courtesy of Hotel Joaquin