Last April, when Porch & Swing launched, feels much longer than 12 months ago. Executive chef Justin Werner and bar boss Andrew Parish were this close to welcoming diners, but then had to deliver their “Taste of Charleston” in a different way than they planned. Their inaugural menu was so heady, we had no choice but to follow this enchanting newcomer anywhere things went.
Parish’s discerning cocktails lean hard into bourbon and whiskey libations like good Southerners do. A veteran of boldface kitchens such as Thomas Keller’s Per Se and Michelin darling Noma in Copenhagen, Werner did time most locally and recently at Playground. He applies rigorous technique to classic regional dishes chosen for their, as he puts it, “America-ness.” Scratch breads dazzle, and imaginative salads like the Ride or Die are impressively sourced. This shop has a way with weaving high-volume flavors with elite ingredients. The menu rotates alluring protein mains and super-seasonal vegetables. Hyper-tender Sakura pork jowl atop divine grits is moan-inducing. Sweet tubby scallops with preserved lemon are blissful. Hand-crimped beef tortellini are a stunning detour from the Carolinas—as delicious as you’ll find at any Italian place, at any price. Desserts are a select few of in-house productions, fleeting but worth stalking.
“Already I feel a loosening in 2021 that might allow us to refine our act beyond comfort cuisine. I look forward to exploring finer flavors and intricate plating.”
—Justin Werner, chef at Porch & Swing, our Restaurant of the Year
Lonely office towers above bless these sprawling patio digs with ever more space—for easy parking, for distanced tables, and even live music. It’s so heartening to watch Porch & Swing notch incremental wins amid months of loss. If this is the next normal, we’ll take it.
2010 Main St., Irvine, 949-418-7988
Orange County’s Best New Restaurants of 2021