Best New Restaurants 2013

O.C. is flush with openings, and more heavy-hitters are on the way.

When we brought in the chefs from our 2013 Best New Restaurants for a photo shoot, we also got the inside scoop on life in the restaurant business. Check out the video below for a few juicy tidbits from the chefs!

Here, ranked by preference, are our favorite newbies of the last 18 month

The Ranch
The year’s most dazzling new restaurant graces the most unlikely of neighborhoods—the commercial flatlands of central Anaheim. Dining pundits scratched their heads as The Ranch took form on the ground floor of the new six-story headquarters of Extron Electronics, Andrew Edwards’ thriving global enterprise. 

Edwards tapped wine guru and esteemed hospitality savant Michael Jordan to round up a team of top talent. By the time The Ranch took its first reservation in January 2012, and its adjacent sibling The Saloon readied its dance floor, Jordan, executive chef Michael Rossi, and his brother, pastry chef David Rossi, had developed recipes in an off-site kitchen, and planted a chef’s dream farm on Edwards’ ranch in the Santa Ana Mountains.

Today, cutie-pie two-steppers stand in line for a spot in the Southland’s ritziest honkytonk, and fans snap up tables in the handsome split-level dining room that’s equal parts down home and uptown. The (mostly) American menu covers a lot of ground. Where else can a single party order plump, site-smoked Jidori chicken, sweet and sticky spare ribs that are peel-off-the-bone tender, the finest Muscovy duck leg confit, and pristine Skuna Bay salmon pan-roasted to perfection? The dishes are precisely executed and served with unstuffy grace by a floor staff with the exceptional wine training that is a trademark of Jordan’s crews.

For peak flavors, choose from the weekly chef’s market menu, four courses of seasonal of-the-moment fare (optionally) paired with a wine flight selected by Jordan.

Desserts are also seasonal, and rare treats. The S’more With a Twist is a dense, deconstructed delight; Tahitian Vanilla Bean Crème Brulee is lovely; and strawberry shortcake, another reboot of a classic, pairs moist tres leches cake with ever-heavenly Harry’s Berries from Oxnard. But it’s David Rossi’s lemon poppy seed madeleines that astound, proving the simplest sweets can soar in the hands of a pro. 

The Ranch is Edwards’ lavish gift to himself and everyone else who wants to play along. He’s proud of this baby and should be. That’s why diners are likely to meet him strolling about, wearing a cowboy hat and a wide grin. 

1025 E. Ball Road, Anaheim, 714-817-4200, Mini Review, click here

Juliette Kitchen & Bar
After O.C. star chef Pascal Olhats scuttled his decades-old flagship, Tradition (initially Pascal’s), tears barely dried when Juliette Kitchen & Bar premiered a total revamp. Fine-dining fans instantly swarmed the casual 70-seat space, creating a giddy buzz that remains a steady hum. Juliette is a modern family affair: Hyun-Sook “Juliette” Chung runs the room, husband John Hughes nurtures the attached wine shop, and daughter Erica Choi is pastry chef. Executive chef Daniel Hyatt shares their vision of a limber, market-driven menu of Modern American cuisine. Of course there’s a luscious burger at lunch, and terrific craft cocktails to lure the after-work set. Dinner opens with share-worthy small plates and ramps up to sturdier fare such as fall-apart pork cheeks with roasted garlic jus, or a deftly grilled hanger steak. Charcuterie lovers are all over the gorgeous platters that spotlight players from boutique producers. And the affogato, which comes with fragile, sea salt chocolate-chip cookies, is what memories are made of.

1000 Bristol St. N., Newport Beach, 949-752-5854, Mini Review, click here

Dublin 4 Gastropub
Owners (and Irishers) Darren and Jean Coyle vigorously upgrade the cliche Irish pub with this convivial, civilized gem hiding in a cramped Mission Viejo strip mall. Vivid pop portraits of Irish authors watch over a mixed crowd of imbibers who enjoy fare worthy of the craft cocktails from this swell well. Executive chef Dave Shofner’s considerable fine-dining chops answer that call with his cleverly elevated pub grub—say, cottage pies with gourmet tweaks such as Niman Ranch meats, or puff pastry lids over Maine lobster. Bangers are house-made, salmon is site-smoked, and the fish ’n’ chips star ale-battered fresh Norwegian cod. Or, go thoroughly modern with D4 Reuben Rolls, crispy egg roll wrappers stuffed with corned beef and sauerkraut. Skip the superb house burger if the Prime Colorado lamb burger sounds appealing; it’s a virtuoso assembly of feta, pickled onions, and garlic aioli. And always request thick Sir Kensington’s Ketchup for your chips or frites.

26342 Oso Parkway, Mission Viejo, 949-582-0026 Mini Review, click here

South of Nick’s
Nearly every stool, booth, and table are usually occupado by 6 p.m. at this first Mexican venture from the team behind the beach-burg trio of O.C. Nick’s. Like those spots, this handsomely retooled historical site is anchored by a roomy bar slinging excellent cocktails, though this time, notable tequilas grab the limelight. The one-page menu is diligently limited to items that sound and taste delectable. Minisopes brimming with smoky beef Colorado, and juicy roasted pork are tasty shareable finger food. Terrific blackened shrimp taquitos aren’t the typical deep-fried tortilla tubes. DIY combo plates might pair an exceptional pork tamale with a bacon-wrapped Sonoran hot dog. Chef Omar Gonzalez and crew have a discerning way with seafood, too; grilled chipotle-dusted sea bass in seductive poblano cream sauce, or the chile relleno stuffed with lobster and prawns makes this case clear. Find room for the tall, fluffy tres leches cake. 

110 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, 949-481-4545, Mini Review, click here

Bistro Bleu
As fine dining fades into sepia-hued memory, it seems to be taking French cuisine along for the ride. So the birth of Bistro Bleu, despite its grotty Anaheim shopping center locale, is cause for much cheer. Francophiles who crave bistro chow that recalls a PBS season of vintage Julia Child find the faithful cooking of chef-owner David Kesler a dream come true. Coq au vin, escargot, lobster bisque, duck liver terrine, steak au poivre, rack of lamb, and chocolate souffle are just some of the classics that lure fans back to this tidy blue-on-blue shop. The kitchen doesn’t pack top-tier ingredients, but, as in France, it makes the very most of its modest goods, keeping prices affordable. Alas, Sunday brunch service is no more, but you can still indulge in a ravishing croque madame at lunch, for the appetizing price of $8.

918 S. Magnolia Ave., Anaheim, 714-826-3590, Mini Review, click here

Three Seventy Common
It’s the oldster on our list of newbies, open since November 2011, but Three Seventy Common felt comfortable in its skin right from the start. Maybe it’s because chef-owner Ryan Adams helmed the kitchen at Sorrento Grille before snagging the Laguna landmark from Culinary Adventures, his then-bankrupt employer. Free from corporate overlords, Adams offers a dense menu of feel-good, diet-be-damned dishes that ring of modern comfort food with global inspirations. Hearty share plates can build an entree-free dinner, such as crispy flatbread with wild mushrooms, thyme, nuggets of aged farmstead cheese; blazing-hot shank bones full of rich, sticky marrow ready to spread on yeasty grilled bread; glossy broccolini under a mantle of sizzled prosciutto, fried egg, and asiago bread crumbs. Add crispy-chewy-melty pork belly, or the fluffy kale-pear-currant-pecorino salad, and you won’t have room for the hefty rustic desserts.

370 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, 949-494-8686, Mini Review, click here

Maverick chef-owner Jason Quinn is a media-savvy guy, so it’s no surprise his downtown Santa Ana yearling  populates pages and pages on a Google search. What a relief his exploitation of the me-too media focuses on Playground’s singular and fascinating fare. Naturally, the proletariat-chic room draws a hip foodie crowd up for a culinary romp among dishes inspired by what the season and his offbeat sources offer. The week’s menu premieres Tuesday and evolves as the nights tick by. By Friday, caveats such as “we only have two” or “limited” appear. Roughly 60 percent of the choices change within seven days, so prepare to lose a dish you love, and learn to love again. Hello rabbit mousse, goodbye sweet potato noodles with kimchi and avocado. If a sope of Wagyu beef tartare doesn’t appeal, maybe snow crab legs with habanero butter will. We said he was a maverick. Book a table for the incomparable Sunday Supper if you dare. The prix fixe meal with no menu is a seemingly ceaseless parade of courses served family-style. And stay tuned for future chef nights.

220 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, 714-560-4444, Mini Review, click here

Paul Martin’s American Grill
Paul Martin’s is a handsome, strapping venue that stakes its claim on “no.” No shortcuts. No sauced up, tricked-out dishes. No produce from Peru. No attitude. The familiar fare stands out for its from-scratch preparations and its mission to make the journey from farm to fork as short as possible. The highly seasonal menu is a moving target, oft-changing as founding partner and culinary director Brian Bennett tirelessly hunts down local farms and purveyors of premium crops and goods. Try any chicken dish and taste the difference sourcing makes—all-natural birds from Pitman Family Farms reveal opulent flavors we rarely detect these days. For another palate wake-up call, try the house burger. House-butchered natural Angus chuck is ground only once, seasoned with salt and pepper, then hand-formed into patties bursting with savoriness. Soups are deeply flavored; when it’s available, don’t skip the creamy wild mushroom potage laced with sherry. Avoid filling up lest you miss the banana cream pie with delicate shell brushed with a fine layer of dark chocolate. It’s superlative.

31 Fortune Drive, Irvine, 949-453-1144, Mini Review, click here

Cucina Enoteca
Yet another whopping Irvine Spectrum venue, this breezy Italian loaded with quirky style is a hit with shoppers, large parties, and local desk jockeys. Despite the departure of chef de cuisine Lulu De Rouen, the kitchen hasn’t skipped a beat, likely because her boss, executive chef Joe Magnanelli, is at the helm. Crackling thin-crust pizzas, spotted with char, are super. But don’t stop there—the huge single-sheet menu is a byzantine anthology of dishes and drinks. Strong starters include various spreads packed into mini-Mason jars for smearing on grilled bread. Frito misto with tempura-pale batter is a mix of piping-hot calamari, shrimp, cauliflower, and asparagus that makes for tasty dunking in caper-studded aioli. From-scratch pastas are a menu sweet spot. Risotto carbonara with chewy pancetta sports a just-cracked egg for mixing into the steaming hot pasta. Pappardelle with braised short ribs and creminis is a belly-filling classic. Bucatini all’amatriciana is properly spicy with Calabrian chili. New for spring: a launch of house-made artisan fare, including vinegars, salumi, even cheese.

31 Fortune Drive, Irvine, 949-861-2222, Mini Review, click here

Bring It On! Make It Stop!

Best New Restaurants' Chefs


And Now, Meet the Chefs …
We asked our Class of 2013 about the O.C. dining scene, then let them riff. Here’s what they had to say on restaurant trends, critics, challenges, and more.

Dining Trends

Hyatt Classic cocktails. Big time. A lot of whiskey, a lot of craft drinks—pre-Prohibition style. A real bar scene.

Rossi If it’s pork, it’s good.

Adams Yeah, you can go from nose to tail, breakfast to dessert. 

Quinn And beef off-cuts: shins, shanks, belly.


Worst Criticism

Rossi It’s flavorless.

Quinn That’s brutal.

Rossi That’ll get you really deep.

Kesler When they say stuff’s too salty—I’ll finish a dish with fleur de sel, and they’ll take one bite and say it’s too salty.

Quinn Man, like, have two bites. Hey, three bites. Calm down, it’ll be OK.


Dining Reviews

Shofner I hate Yelp.

Quinn What I like about it is that it’s real people who had a real experience who are telling what happened when they were there. So for me, it’s like not having to pay secret shoppers. You just have to be able to decode the bullshit.

Gonzalez I take every review to heart. Reviewing helps us get better.


Biggest Challenge

Adams Getting people to try new things.

Rossi O.C. is really spread out, so getting them to come back to your restaurant.

Quinn “We came all the way from Newport!” OMG, did you? I’m so sorry. Let’s pull out the carpet for you. From Newport? Do you have an ID? Can we make sure this is true? We’re not gonna roll out the carpet for somebody from Balboa. C’mon. We hear that about four times a week.


The Diner’s Quest

Mangnanelli A good time. They want to eat out twice a week, they want it affordable, but they want high-quality food.

Bennett They’re looking for smaller plates, and they’re looking for the opportunity to try more than one thing. They want a little more of a party.

Quinn They say “Oh, it’s a recession.” But people spend money, they just want to know they’re getting good value.  


Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi

To purchase a print or digital copy of the April 2013 issue, click here.

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