Healthful Options All Over Orange County

Summer snap peas and whole grilled branzino at Mayfield taste like summer. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

When my doctor recently advised increasing my vitamin D intake, I asked if I had to use supplements. She chuckled then suggested extra salmon and sunshine, which I took to mean more patio dining. In that spirit of wellness, here’s a grazing guide to clean summer eats featuring glorious flavors devised with minimal intervention. 

High-octane Viet Crack is the top choice at Kaffeine Alley, an appealing purveyor dedicated to organic coffee and boba teas crafted with house-made syrups—no high fructose corn syrup here. Seeking mellower fuel? Consider the well-balanced Basic Betch (vanilla latte), Salt Bae (salted caramel), or gentle Thai milk tea. Owner Jenn Cao runs a hip little shop with cheerful baristas and cheeky stickers and sign boards such as, Life Happens, Coffee Helps. Hot and iced beverage options are decidedly generous. Commendable baked goods include a standout house banana bread and mochi brownie. Keto and gluten-free adherents will be happy to find fresh items from nearby Keto Bakery Box.

All four seasons are chef Rich Mead’s muse, so August with its abundance of ripening produce is arguably the best time to dine at Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens. His daily “Locals Favorite” pizza riffs on of-the-moment mashups on a whole-wheat crust that always lands in the chewy-crunchy sweet spot. If Mother Nature cooperates, luscious organic peaches from Regier Farms will costar with nutty prosciutto, pesto, arugula, and dribbles of balsamic for a pizza that’s an ideal light solo meal or shareable appetizer. Consider pairing it with a sprightly Garibaldi by inimitable cocktail artist Anthony Laborin—one more excuse to linger longer in the botanical paradise.

Prepare to have your mind blasted by the culinary wizardry set forth in the summer snap peas at Mayfield. Crunchy field-fresh sugar snap peas take on multiple personalities when playing with tart kumquats in vinaigrette, rich toasted Marcona almonds, coconut foam, and curls of white chocolate. Executive chef Jonjon Sarmenta’s creation reveals new harmonies in every bite, but they all taste like summer. It’s a gorgeous “DF, GF, and V” assemblage unlike any you’ve had. Take some of Mayfield’s postmodern boho spirit home with a bottle or three of organic wines sold in the petite market.

Savor the Acqua Pazza at Bello by Sandro Nardone. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Bello chef-owner Sandro Nardone creates perhaps the most refined Italian fare in O.C. His menu can’t contain a creativity that spills over into luxury wine dinners and exquisite tasting events. Lucky us, his nuanced Acqua Pazza (“crazy water”) is always on offer. Starring pristine branzino sourced from Luxe Seafood Company, Nardone poaches the white fillet in a magical stock of olives, pepperoncino, and garlic juice. This oh-so-delicate antipasti pairs well with a glass of Mare Chiare Ciro, 2020—a bracing white from Nardone’s native turf in southern Italy. Add pomodoro, spaghetti with tomatoes two ways, and you have a definitive Italian summer repast best enjoyed on Bello’s irresistible terrazza. 

Vegan Mexican food is trending hard in O.C., but when beloved Santa Ana taqueria El Zamorano sprouted Vegan by El Zamorano in Costa Mesa, we trusted the eats would be worthy. Head straight for the tacos and be impressed by two variations, potato and hibiscus, both in hefty handmade corn tortillas. Stuffed with seasoned smashed potatoes and fried to golden, shattery excellence, the sizzling shell is topped with chilled cabbage, pico de gallo, red salsa, and tangy house-made cashew crema. Ruby hibiscus flowers take on savory notes and meat-like texture when sizzled until the edges are crisp. Guacamole and pineapple complete the tropical vibe. Next time, it’s chilaquiles rojos for Sunday breakfast because those tortillas are so damn good.

A monochrome diet is not a healthy plan. Instead, we’re advised to eat the rainbow, and you can’t find better than the one known as insalata lacinato at Bottega Angelina. In contrast to its sleek white bowl, the sparkling fresh chopped salad is a riot of colors—deep green Tuscan kale, ruffled maroon endive, jade green sugar snap peas, ivory pecorino cheese, all glistening with pistachio vinaigrette. Head to the dazzling coastal view patio and make it a summery meal for two by adding the superior Margherita pizza with both imported DOP San Marzano tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala. 

What an ingredient list: ancient grains, sweet potato, portobello mushroom, avocado, cucumber, broccoli pesto, charred onion, leafy greens, and red pepper miso vinaigrette. The Mother Earth bowl at Flower Child seems ultra-bountiful just as it is. But no. For many, it’s merely a base to upgrade with tofu, chicken, shrimp, or salmon. This explains why diners frequently exit the hippie-chic patio with leftovers. Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair, or better yet try the rose petal lemonade. 

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