Photo: Saute Magazine
Dining around with Andy & Chef Andrew from the SoCal Restaurant Show.
Andrew Gruel, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University and a recognized expert on sustainable seafood, is the CEO and Founder of Slapfish Restaurant Group, the award-winning food truck turned international brick and mortar, based out of Huntington Beach and founder of Butterleaf Restaurant and Two Birds Chicken (two fast-casual concepts in Irvine) and Raw Bar by Slapfish in Huntington Beach.
Andrew Harris, the show runner, executive producer and co-host for “The SoCal Restaurant Show” heard on Saturday mornings in Southern California since 2012 on the 50,000 Watt AM 830 KLAA – The Home of Angels Baseball, is a veteran specialty radio show producer. Harris also is an accredited food, wine and travel journalist. Harris’ earlier background was as a respected, hands-on food and beverage professional.
As co-hosts of the “SoCal Restaurant Show,” the question we are asked every day is, “Where should I go for (insert cuisine type here)?” We eat out a lot and cover a huge listening area of dining opportunities, from Santa Barbara on the north to the Mexican border on the south and Inland to Palm Springs and points farther east. Our O.C. suggestions are far from a comprehensive directory. For the meritorious O.C. chefs and restaurateurs whose fine establishments we also frequent that were inadvertently not included, our profuse apologies.
Recently gone to full table service with incredible, from-scratch baked goods. Try the rich Kouign-Amann French pastry. It’s the ultimate breakfast pastry. If you’re hungry go for the chilaquiles.
You do typically wait in line here but it moves fast, and the prices are surprisingly reasonable. Inspirational immigrant success story and lovely family. Highlights for breakfast are the guava & cheese pastry and the bacon omelette panini.
Chef Ross Pangilinan (ex-Leatherby’s Café Rouge) has made a bit of an unlikely spot into a deserved destination. Our dish of choice for Sunday Brunch is the Duck French Toast. It’s a spot-on balance of sweet and savory flavors.
It’s an unusual, seven days-a-week Alsatian-inspired Brunch here (extra Specials on The Weekend) at this proudly veteran-owned and veteran-staffed establishment that truly impresses. Their Monte Cristo Sandwich (sautéed in butter until golden brown) stands tall along with their serious beverage program.
Chef Henry Tran is from the TAPS Fish House & Brewery, so he understands that for a casual pub with a lot of seats the food needs to be just as good as the wide variety of incredible craft beers available on tap. Also vegan options. We especially enjoy the miso-marinated sesame crusted salmon with Thai chili oil matched with Right Said Red (an Irish red). Family and dog-friendly, too.
This was Orange County’s first gastropub and the creation of Lawry’s Restaurants Inc.’s Corporate Executive Chef and Vice President, Ryan O’Melveny Wilson, who represents the 4th generation of Frank/Van de Kamp family ownership. SideDoor pioneered charcuterie and cheese plates which were a rarity in Orange County when it launched in 2008. They even have a super-knowledgeable, in-house cheesemonger. One of their secrets is a revolving offering of unusual, premium wines by the glass. Of course, the iconic prime rib sandwich au jus with house-prepared potato chips is a standout.
It’s all about the crave-worthy banh mi here served on a French baguette. The sandwich features cucumbers, cilantro, pickled daikon and carrots, jalapenos, aioli and soy vinaigrette with your choice of protein. Think braised pork belly with fish sauce and anise.
Chicagoland has a love affair with Portillo’s. They arrived here in Buena Park in 2005. The sandwich of choice is the signature Italian beef dipped in their famous recipe gravy. Go the distance and get it with hot peppers and Mozzarella. The French bread used is brought in from the Chicago bakery (Turano Baking Co.) Portillo’s has been using since 1963.
Proprietor Sal Maniaci is obsessive about the authenticity of his Neapolitan pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven imported from Naples. The master pizzaiolo is, of course, from Italy. The crust is soft yet crispy and thin but slightly chewy.
Although not from Chicago, Founder & Executive Chef Rance Ruiz has a passion for Chicago stuffed pizza. Through extensive trial-and-error, he perfected his recipes for stuffed, pan and thin crust pizzas. The dough, sauce and salad dressings are made from scratch. Be patient – it’s worth the wait.
Here you have an accomplished fine-dining chef (ex-Bastide) creating the better burger with Nebraska Angus beef. Everything is from-scratch including the ketchup and mustard. The ice cream for the shakes is house-made. As proprietor, Joseph Mahon says he prefers to under-promise and over-deliver.
This spot is hidden away in the Old World Village. It’s a quality burger at an affordable price with perfectly griddled meat, a soft buttery bun, and crisp lettuce.
With apologies to Gustavo Arellano, there is nothing wrong with the Americanized Mexican fare (think combo plates) we grew up with in Southern California. What we really crave is the authentic regional Mexican fare that is now available to us. An appealing example is, Urbana, hidden in plain sight on the lower level of the Anaheim Packing House. It’s full service. Everything from the salsas to the fresh corn tortillas is house-made. Incredible what they do in 1,800 square feet. We return for the street tacos (think smoked Marlin) and the lime-cured red snapper ceviche with pico de gallo, guacamole and spicy aioli. The extensive cocktail menu is sure to grab your attention, too.
Back in 2001, Zov’s Executive Pastry Chef Michelle Bracken created the spectacular Milk Chocolate Bomb dessert for a wildly successful James Beard Foundation benefit at Zov’s Bistro honoring the late Julia Child and Emeril Lagasse. It’s milk chocolate mousse with a crème brulée center and sugar cookie crust. A mini-version is available at the Tustin location.
Churros are a sweet treat of wonder when they are made with premium ingredients and served fresh and hot. At The Loop, you can get them dipped, glazed or served on a base of soft serve ice cream along with decadent toppings.
This is the area’s standout izakaya. In Japan, guests frequent an izakaya as a place to enjoy food and drink in a casual setting. It’s a big dinner-only menu with items including sashimi, grilled fish, sautéed dishes, rice dishes, deep fried selections and noodles.
Ethereal ramen with Tonkotsu (pork bone) broth (3-day cooking process) with house-made noodles and an array of made-in-house toppings including Chashu Pork.
EXPENSIVE BUT WORTH IT
The Winery started in Tustin and has a new branch in La Jolla, but for a special occasion the bay view from the dining room here is the pick. Service is king at this restaurant group along with a top-notch wine list, but what also separates it from the other elevated steakhouses is the cuisine of Chef/Partner Yvon Goetz. Just one example of his menu creativity is the seafood hot pot with scallops, clams, mussels, catch-of-the-day fish and veggies in a lemon verbena-lemongrass broth. It’s a “secret menu” item so you need to quietly ask for it.
Proprietor/Chef Rich Mead has been passionately cooking field-to-fork way before that was a cliché. He makes the long trek to the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market every Wednesday morning to talk with the farmers and source the freshest, seasonable fruits and veggies for both the restaurant and bar. The outdoor setting in a lushly manicured and spacious garden is unrivaled. A true fine-dining gem.
CHEF JET TILA’S PICK
Food Network’s Chef Jet Tila (“Iron Chef America”, “Cutthroat Kitchen” and “Guy’s Grocery Games”) was the co-host for the first two years of the “SoCal Restaurant Show.” One of his most recommended picks for East Hollywood’s Thai Town is Sapp Coffee Shop. This is where Chef Jet took the late Anthony Bourdain for the Thai Town episode of “No Reservations.” A standout dish is the Thai Jade Noodles (dry) that get their distinctive green color from Mustard Greens. With the wheat noodles are barbecued pork, roasted duck and snow crab meat. It’s bliss in a bowl.
Note from Chef Andrew and Andrew: Some of the establishments included are sponsor partners of the “SoCal Restaurant Show.” We wholeheartedly recommend them all, unequivocally, with great enthusiasm.