Voice of OC Food Columnist – reporting on industry news, current events and trends. Panoringan’s previous work includes writing about food for 8 years at OC Weekly in which she interviewed over 330 chefs, restaurateurs and industry professionals for her weekly column ‘On the Line’. She has been recognized by the Orange County Press Club and is also a recurring guest on the SoCal Restaurant Show of AM 830.
Going somewhere without any prior knowledge (except what I’ve seen on social media) is how my free time is often spent. While the focus is usually on new things to the food scene, if I haven’t been, it’s new to me.
The next time you’re wondering where to dine, consider using one of these local finds.
Spaghetteria Centro Storico
Spontaneously suggested for Sunday dinner one night, Old Town Tustin’s Storico place his tables close together. While this will accommodate additional seating and encourage a noisy atmosphere, it is also not fully COVID compliant. Despite this, the fresh Italian pasta half and made to order (rapeseed e salsiccia with anchovies, rapeseed broccoli, sausage and heirloom tomatoes was a robust choice) offers the opportunity to enjoy a second course – or maybe an ice cream ? Crisp drinks, including wines from the owner’s Pouzzoli family, are available, but I leaned into Storico’s specialty tea and coffee selections. 405 El Camino Real, Tustin. (714) 258-8817.
I dabbled in Korean flavors in the kitchen while on lockdown thanks to YouTube / Instagram cooking tutorials, so when I heard about kimbap (aka Korean sushi) I wondered why I had never tried one in restaurant. Dosirak sells quick-serve meals in a skyscraper community in Irvine, including half a dozen varieties of kimbap at $ 5-6 for 12 pieces, which is more than enough for a delicious lunch or a hearty bite . SPAM is tasty, but the tuna kimbap rolls (my favorite) filled with pickled vegetables, rice and omelet wrapped in nori is the bag I wish I could have eaten growing up. Stock Exchange 6280, Irvine. (949) 769-3476.
A second location for this egg-centric restaurant that started in The Source in Buena Park, Irvine’s Flippoly caters to both breakfast and dessert lovers, thanks to a surprisingly varied menu. Grilled and scrambled sandwiches are best enjoyed piping hot and ideally ordered online before you go to minimize wait times. I requested a mozzarella version and was impressed with its sturdy packaging, which ensured that the contents would stay put until I started eating a Eggexceptionally (sorry!) cheese lunch. I can’t wait to enjoy a Thai soft or a Dalgona drink next time I’m in the neighborhood. 4001 Jeffrey Road, Irvine. (949) 878-8984.
In business for over two decades, Tustin’s Italian express is a clean, well-lit community mainstay serving hand-made pizzas and a delicious eggplant sandwich courtesy of owner Gus de la Torre. When I pulled up to the unassuming storefront after working out for some well-earned carbs, I noticed the makeshift transparent partition in place at the counter to leave space between customers and the cashier, enjoying the effort of distancing provided by Italian Express. Go for the full menu with weekday lunch specials; return for its quality tariff and reasonable prices. 18331, boulevard Irvine #B, Tustin. (714) 669-3800.
Five wishes for 2022
Instead of resolutions, here are some hopes for the food and beverage industry next year – assuming indoor / outdoor dining is possible.
- No more late night joints. Charlie Palmer inside Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza had a party atmosphere after dark, especially during his late night happy hour. Delicious food and cocktails in a luxurious environment without heavy entrees would be ideal for intimate groups.
- More breakfast foods later in the day. The power of the brunch service has proven itself in recent years. It’s time to enjoy the evening eggs and puffed pancakes. Ideally, this would encompass a nighttime version of Snooze’s morning energy.
- More bars to eat amazing food. The correct term would be gastropub, because when SideDoor transitioned from Five Crowns’ main bar to a stellar beverage program with a separate menu of envious bites, it was a revelation of what OC lacked.
- More Filipino food. Many styles of cooking have had time to shine, but Filipino cuisine is about to break through the invisible barrier, thanks to chefs like Ryan Garlitos and Henry Pineda.
- More love from South County. San Juan Capistrano was the dark horse of 2021, becoming a destination for sought-after ramen, baked goods, barbecue grills, Spanish cuisine, and any reason for me to visit Mayfield. Developers should see the potential in towns south of the “Y” of El Toro.
JD Flannel Donuts and Coffee
Heard the old one was a signature donut at this store owned by a couple of childhood friends who love to wear flannels. John Miller and Dave Rhode from Flannel JD exceed expectations with a range of treats so satisfying that I find it hard to stay away in San Juan Capistrano. JD promotes monthly flavors as well as vegan and gluten-free choices, ensuring that customers will find something to suit their tastes. Pre-order is welcome. And that the old fashioned way? Divine, with a hint of nutmeg. 31878 Del Obispo Street, Suite 122, San Juan Capistrano. (949) 218-4483.
Vietnamese dishes served piping hot on butcher paper tablecloths, the range of super fresh seafood (including crab, squid, snail and lobster) is simply prepared and presented in a family style inside of the Lau Tom 5 Ri of Fountain Valley. Her shrimp hotpot options are great on a chilly evening, drizzled with a cup of pineapple cane juice. A suitable space for gatherings, interested parties may want to book a reservation like this property as it can be crowded with locals any night. Pro Tip: Loyal customers tout salted egg yolk sauce dishes, and with good reason. 17431 Brookhurst St., Suite J, Fountain Valley. (714) 465-9272.
Contemporary Rol Hand Roller Bar
A catwalk style for sushi novices, buns are best enjoyed immediately after being served. Role is an upscale specialty concept that embraces the Japanese method while incorporating cocktails, desserts and a lively atmosphere. I recommend the Big Keeler off the menu for a gluttonous treat. Great for solo dinners or date nights, instead of making reservations online, try calling a few days before to see when the dining room can accommodate you. Bonus: a second branch is in preparation in Fountain Valley. 7862 Warner Ave., Suite 101, Huntington Beach. (714) 948-4287.
Trevor is on the slopes
While waiting for the opening of a neighboring dining room, I noticed Trevor’s wraparound bar on its terrace. Equipped with plenty of seating, this San Juan Capistrano restaurant is centrally located at the train station, combining people-watching with plentiful parking. Indoor seating allows you to dine in the halls of the original train depot, and the outdoor patio (which was expanded during COVID) is spacious. Trevor’s generous footprint allows for live entertainment every night, meaning guests can savor sips with a bite (the toasted fig and mushroom flatbread hits the spot) while soaking up the l lively atmosphere. 26701 Verdugo Street, San Juan Capistrano. (949) 493-9593.
Anne Marie Panoringan is a food columnist for Arts & Culture at Voice of OC. She can be reached at [email protected]
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