Photographs by Melissa Valladares
In the past two years, Irvine’s University Center, across Campus Drive from UC Irvine, has become a magnet for some of SoCal’s best restaurant chains and now offers complimentary lunchtime valet parking. These days, Eureka!, Tender Greens, and these four spots draw the crowds.
The stripped-down decor reflects the simple menu but not the complex flavors in the fish taco ($6.50) or grilled-fish salad ($12). Looking for comfort food? Try the chowder fries ($6.50), natural-cut fries smothered with clam chowder. 4249 Campus Drive, 949-737-2090, slapfishrestaurant.com
This upscale sandwich shop uses ingredients from local farms in classics such as the Farm Club ($10) and vegan options such as the banh mi ($9.65) with tofu and house-made pickled daikon. 4187 Campus Drive, 949-783-2900, mendocinofarms.com
Desserts are big enough to share here, from the shaved snow ($6) to the giant macaron ice-cream sandwiches ($4). Try the Thai iced tea ($6) served in an oversized Mason jar that you can take home. 4255 Campus Drive, 714-582-6023, snowmonsteroc.com
Build your own pizza ($8), and watch as it’s cooked for just three minutes in a super-hot oven. Or pick one of the signature pizzas ($8). We like the Art Lover with artichokes, mozzarella, ricotta, garlic, and red-sauce dollops. 4255 Campus Drive, 949-725-0012, blazepizza.com