Best New Restaurants 2020: Benchmark Is A Santa Ana Hot Spot With Alfresco Dining

Seared scallops with gingered carrot puree and pea shoots; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

No one suggests Benchmark to first-timers without mentioning the distinct tree-shaded setting. Quirky but capable, this Santa Ana newcomer goes all-in for alfresco.

Butter-yellow canopies, string lights, and a matte gray shipping container bar grab attention in this vintage residential spot, crumbly curbs and all. Because there’s limited indoor space, you get today’s forecast with every order. Earnest servers and chatty bartenders make up for rickety heaters and midsummer fly invasions. Weekend brunch has a backyard party vibe. Group snacks—say, warm, soft Bavarian pretzel dippers for artichoke fondue—lure the after-work pack.

At brunch, clever soju cocktails allow low ABV daytime drinking with eggy sandwiches and veggie omelets. Dinner surprises with upmarket dishes such as airline chicken breast with roasted mushrooms and quinoa, New York steak with green garlic emulsion,  and a gluten-free upside-down brown butter cake that bests those ho-hum rivals. Credit the catering chops of the operating team for delivering on a higher plane. Hard-hat alert: Added indoor space is expected to join the private dining room in the building next door.

Benchmark was a private home, built in 1918.

601 E Santa Ana Blvd, Santa Ana, 714-480-0225

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