We’re serving up the third installment of EAT THIS CITY, a new Uproxx series in which premier chefs tell us where to eat when we’re in their town. Up this week: Orange County!
Picture this: the Real Housewives of Orange County walking into a restaurant, and not being able to make substitutions. No dressing on the side. No gluten free option. A restaurant where the chef stays true to his vision of the food no matter what — despite the age old adage that the customer is always right.
As you might imagine, this approach throws a few Orange County diners for a loop, but Chef Jason Quinn — who holds this policy dear — doesn’t worry about that. He may not allow substitutions but he’ll gladly take items back. He’s been called “cocky” and “arrogant” but insiders know that he’s fiercely loyal to his staff, his family, and his food.
In the four years that it’s been open, Quinn’s restaurant, The Playground, has been a Santa Ana smash — allowing him to expand rapidly. He’s also had success on TV, winning The Great Food Truck Race, and starring in MTV’s Snack Off. Best of all, the dynamic chef has helped progress the staid dining habits of the area. Quinn told Uproxx that the night they put lamb testicles on the menu they sold out — a true testament to the changing palates of the dining public, the desire for food “experiences,” and the widely-noted evolution of the OC food scene (“Don’t call it that!“).
Now, friends, with Chef Jason Quinn’s substitution-free recommendations you can eat your way through Orange County like a boss. Open up to the experience. There’s a lot to eat in the OC (and millions of personal trainers who will help you work off the calories).
You should probably also blast Phantom Planet’s “California” on the way to all these restaurants, but that’s really up to you.
I am a pizza snob, no one really likes eating pizza with me. For me there is Neapolitan style pizza and then there is garbage. The only place I don’t order margarita is Pizzeria Ortica and there I get the Milanesa pizza with fontina, mascarpone, asparagus, a fried egg and I add prosciutto.
The place has great lepoarding on the crust — they’re using a 300 year old “biga” starter from Italy, so you know it’s good.
There are a lot of pretenders in the Orange County Mexican food scene — it can get a little depressing at times. One of my sous chefs hosts a taco night and a progressive Mexican night at our smaller restaurant, but saying those are “the best” is a little bit of a homer pick.
For me, the best is a place called Taco Maria, definitely my favorite restaurant in Orange County. While tacos are usually only served during the day, the food at night is a cerebral experience. I’ll happily eat any dish that comes out of that kitchen.