Orange County Restaurants
Ruby’s Crystal Cove Shake Shack
7703 E. Coast Hwy., Crystal Cove
An OC classic, Ruby's has been serving up the best burgers, to-die-for milkshakes, and killer clam chowder since the early 1980's when Doug Cavanaugh and Ralph Kosmides opened their first location on Balboa Pier. Several southern California locations followed, including this Crystal Cove shake shack location, which is a local favorite for grabbing a burger and fries after a day at the beach.
Broadway by Amar Santana
328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach
Chef Amar Santana has rapidly gained a following in the OC culinary world since the 2011 opening of his namesake restaurant. A Dominican Republic native and longtime New Yorker, he infuses a mix of the two worlds in both his menu and space: the food is worldly and inventive, from potato pierogi to grilled quail, and the space is a nod to industrial New York with dark wood and rustic concrete. And the team is pretty serious about their wine. It's fun to score a seat at the chef's table to get a look into what's happening in the kitchen.
The Stand Natural Foods
238 Thalia St., Laguna Beach
Since the mid-70s, this health-centric restaurant has been amassing a huge following for its small-but-mighty 100 percent vegan menu. The tortilla soup is legendary in the goop offices—and the NY Times called their avocado toast the best in the country. The house-made raw organic nut milks, tamales, and sprouted salads are also worth trying. (Tip: Get here early on a weekend—the line can get long.)
3450 Via Oporto, Balboa Peninsula
There are now thirty-two outposts of Nobu—and they draw a devoted tourist-y crowd—but the Newport Beach location, tucked into the charming Lido Marina Village, is worth braving the crowds. The two-story waterfront design is stunning—and to cap off the incredible service Nobu is know for, there's a boat valet, which makes the experience a bit more indulgent.
Driftwood Kitchen & Stateroom Bar
619 Sleepy Hollow Ln., Laguna Beach
Always packed and with patio seating overlooking the ocean, Driftwood Kitchen is a staple for Sunday brunch. Look for a pretty consistently solid menu featuring Crab Benedict, blueberry pancakes, and the Beach Burger—heartily topped with bacon, chipotle, cheddar, and tomatoes.
Bear Flag Fish Co.
3421 Via Lido, Balboa Peninsula
The NY Times may have deemed the fish taco as the unofficial fast food of Laguna, but that's doesn't mean they're all equal. This restaurant-market hybrid continues to impress us with theirs—Baja-style with the freshest catch and house-made slaw. Also on offer: incredible poke, chowder, seafood plates, and one of the best grilled seafood sandwiches we've had. Get here early and be prepared to wait—but trust: it's worth it. (Or if you're looking to cook, head to the market section for the daily seasonal catch and a few lemons, then head home to make the perfect meal.)
2301 San Joaquin Hills Rd., Corona del Mar
This farm-to-table restaurant is situated on more than seven acres of greenery inside Roger's Gardens—fitting, given the menu concentrates on locally-sourced produce. Chef Rich Mead serves up a mix of excellent salads and seafood for lunch and dinner. It's particularly festive around the holidays and, thanks to its popularity amongst locals, requires a bit of pre-planning to secure a reservation. Food photograph: courtesy of Diana Hossfeld
Zinc Café and Market
350 Ocean Ave., Laguna Beach
We've been fans of Zinc since it first got its start Orange County before expanding to other locations (there are similar outposts in Corona del Mar and DTLA). Like its sister locations, the Laguna Beach space is bright and airy making it a great spot for a low-key breakfast or lunch meeting—it's also perfect for carry-out. Go for the salads (tri-colore and avocado), baked goods (scones, croissants, and gluten-free muffins), and wood-fired pizzas (margherita, funghi, pesto).
The Crab Cooker
2200 Newport Blvd., Balboa Peninsula
We're all about fresh, no-frills seafood (charcoal broiled shrimp and scallops on a skewer, Maryland-style crab cakes) and this Balboa Peninsula space is consistently a go-to when we've got out-of-town guests to entertain. Place an extra order of king crab legs with lots of fresh lemon and butter. (Trust.) Photo: Megan Converse.
Selanne Steak Tavern
1464 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach
The fact that we're not big red meat eaters doesn't deter us from a night out here. Chef Joshua Severson delivers classic American dishes, including an excellent Jidori chicken, plenty of fresh veggie sides, and pretty delicious mac 'n cheese. The adjacent gourmet shoppe next door offers a good mix of made-to-order favorites from the chef.