Orange County Restaurant of the Year 2014: Little Sparrow

This Santa Ana newbie developed a loyal following the month it took wing, by charming worldly diners with its cozy vintage venue and a crew brimming with talent. When partners Jenny Le, Bruce Marsh and wife Naseem Aflakian tapped Eric Samaniego as chef, their intentions were clear: Give Little Sparrow what it takes to soar. Samaniego has serious chops earned at boldface venues such as L.A.’s Comme Ça and Sona, and Chicago’s Charlie Trotter’s. He applies classic European techniques to local ingredients, and the impressive results include crispy sweetbreads on pea puree, the year’s best New York strip steak with textbook romesco sauce, and a splendid charcuterie plate with house-made delicacies. The tightly edited seasonal menu changes often enough to keep diners from obsessing over their favorites. Also felicitous, the 42‑seat bistro boasts the finesse of pastry chef Nasera Munshi—her scratch English muffins make Samaniego’s sublime eggs Benedict worth rising for early on Saturday. Ditto her achingly flakey morning croissant and pain au chocolate. Another plus is the vest-pocket salon behind the kitchen, a moody hideaway with vintage flair and an artistic approach to high-craft libations.

Field Notes Attention wine wonks: The $15 corkage is waived at dinner on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday.

300 N Main St., Santa Ana, 714‑265‑7640, littlesparrowcafe.com

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Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the April 2014 issue.