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DINING GUIDE CHA CHA’S L ATIN KITCHEN This addition to the restaurant family owned by industry vets Don Myers and Peter Serantoni is an inviting casa with a menu of modern Mexican fare boosted by commendable new dishes that blur some borders—sopes, empanadas, aguachile, and pozole to name a few. The indoor-meets-outdoor patio by designer Thomas Schoos is a fine upgrade of the Brea flagship. Weekly specials add value and excitement. Impressive tequila menu. 13126 Jamboree Road, 714-408-7819. See Brea location. $$ CUCINA ENOTECA This 285-seat operation from San Diego’s Urban Kitchen Group offers two sprawling patios and a huge, lively dining room with bar and wine minimarket, and the scene oozes chic with scads of handmade furnishings for sale. The Cal-Ital menu is equally large and inventive, from spreads in Mason jars and salumi platters to handmade pastas. Particularly good for large parties. 532 Spectrum Center Drive, 949-861-2222. See Newport Beach location. $$ HABANA We waited 22 years for this glamorous Habana sibling, and it was worth it—a sprawling 300-seat compound that co-opts Cuba’s frozen-in-time splendor. A roomy patio open to the sky is made intimate by high walls and lots of beautiful props and vignettes, with alcoves dedicated to house pastries and coffees. Despite the impressive scale, the menu hews tightly to the focused offerings at its Costa Mesa original. 708 Spectrum Center Drive, 949-419-0100. See Costa Mesa location. $$$ JA JIAOZI It’s all about handmade dumplings here. They grace every table, anchoring meals rounded out with other hot and cold dishes. First-timers, ask your able server for help. Top picks include steamed Flaming Hot and boiled Signature jiaozi, along with refreshing tofu-skin salad. Top-notch shrimp fried rice is a winner, too. Watch the masters at work from a five-seat bar. 13776 Jamboree Road, Irvine, 714-786-8999. $$ MEIZHOU DONGPO Good seating, engaged service, and touches of elegance elevate this classy Sichuan dining room, a retool of a 6,000-square-foot Marie Callender’s in bustling Culver Plaza. Access is easy, and plentiful parking is free. Beyond that, it’s all about the Beijing-style roast duck (whole, $77; half, $40), meticulously sliced into petals of tender meat crowned with crackling amber skin, for rolling into thin crepes. Weeks of aging, drying, and lacquering coax out heady flavors. Spicy values include dan dan noodles and country-style sliced pork. 15363 Culver Drive, 949-433-5686. Beer and wine. $$$ PORCH & SWING This delightful indie serves a “taste BEST NEW RESTAURANT of Charleston” starring original riffs 2021 on American classics and cocktails by Andrew Parish. Must-try dishes include roasted pork jowl over grits, amazing creamless creamed corn, and gorgeous salads. House-baked breads are a strength, too. 2010 Main St., 949-418-7988. $$ PUESTO San Diego’s high-profile taqueria has two Irvine options. Delectable tacos are the main event, elevated by crispy griddled Oaxacan cheese, and tortillas made by hand from organic, non-GMO, blue corn masa. The cheese is especially brilliant on vegetarian tacos. Ask about the monthly taco

98 Ora nge C o a st •  September 2021

Beet and goat cheese tortellini at Porch & Swing special. The Park Place venue is intimate and colorsplashed. Park Place, 3311 Michelson Drive, 949-6087272; Los Olivos Marketplace, 8577 Irvine Center Drive, 949-608-9990. New locations (not yet reviewed) at Bella Terra in Huntington Beach and The Westin Anaheim Resort. $$ SESSIONS No. 3 is a charm for O.C.’s indie chainlet of “West Coast” delis. Expect terrific sandwiches that eat like a meal for two, gourmet creations that are meticulous stacks of top ingredients with exacting ratios, so every ’wich is scrumptious. From-scratch soups, sides, and dressings. A beguiling lakeside setting beckons for lazy breakfasts featuring Kéan coffee and house-made granola. 4736 Barranca Parkway, 949-333-3949. See Huntington Beach and Newport Beach locations. Fourth location (not reviewed) at 101 Newport Center Drive. $ SAM WOO RESTAURANT Many don’t know this reasonably priced, no-frills place is not named after someone called Sam Woo— the term actually refers to the Chinese notion of harmony. Yanked-from-the-tank seafood is a specialty, as are dim sum and Hong Kong noodle dishes. Service is reliably speedy and brusque. For faster carry-out meals, try the express buffet next door. 15333 Culver Drive, 949-262-0688. $ TACO ROSA With agave-sweetened margaritas, daily aguas frescas, and house-made churros, these flagships of the Taco Mesa chain take fresh Mex to the max. Try the Oaxacan enchiladas. 13792 Jamboree Road, 714-5056080. See Newport Beach location. $$ TWO LEFT FORKS This inland sibling has the strong appeal of its now-closed original Dana Point location, except the coastal site has been swapped for a roomier space with easy parking, as well as lunch and weekend brunch service. Come here for bananas Foster pancakes or an open-face sandwich with burrata, prosciutto, avocado, and eggs your way. Popular for happy hour. 6511 Quail Hill Parkway, 949-387-6700. $$$

LAGUNA BE ACH BROADWAY BY AMAR SANTANA Boy wonder chef Amar Santana and industry vet Ahmed Labbate decamped Charlie Palmer to create this sexy urban bistro. Fans old and new keep the tight quarters humming to the backdrop of an open kitchen and vintage flicks playing on the flat-screen over the expansive bar. Santana’s dishes are opulent and intense. The wine list includes many notable half-bottles. 328 Glenneyre St., 949-715-8234. $$$ CARMELITA’S KITCHEN DE MEXICO This is the boutique version of Rancho Santa Margarita’s sprawling shop, but both offer top-notch Cal-Mex fare. Expect Prime beef in the steak tampiqueña, and Kurobuta pork in the wonderful carnitas. Don’t miss costillitas—baby back ribs topped with fried onions. Outstanding margaritas. Warm, spiffy service. 217 Broadway St., 949-715-7829. See Rancho Santa Margarita location. $$ THE DRAKE The grown-ups sipping cocktails are here for a full serving of primo live music paired with the cuisine of Paul Gstrein (ex of Bistango and Bayside). Laguna’s own Alec Glasser prevails in creating a dashing joint where the musicians and the kitchen have serious chops. Diners dig into Euro-inflected dishes (try the lamb lollipops, the Alpine Melt, the chile-lime swordfish). The room generates a superlative groove. 2894 S. Coast Highway, 949-376-1000. $$$ DRIFTWOOD KITCHEN With its gorgeous seaside panorama, this place perfectly illustrates the food-versus-view gamble. Prudent choices on chef Rainer Schwarz’s seasonal menu include whole fried fish, an unusual entree pairing of butcher steak-pork belly, and tarts by pastry chef Rene Baez. Brunch items and craft cocktails also are good bets. 619 Sleepy Hollow Lane, 949-715-7700. $$

photograph by E M I LY J . D AV I S

Profile for Los Angeles | Orange Coast | Pasadena

Orange Coast magazine - September 2021  

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