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.
Even when it gets him into hot water on Yelp. Even when a famous critic doesn’t agree with how he serves the coffee.
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.
Tons of great Asian food in Orange County, really depends on whatever your pleasure is. Thai has been my favorite recently so I’ve been finding myself at Thai Nakorn quite a bit. I’ve finally earned their trust that I can handle spice so now I get some serious sweats when I eat there.
Food served on the street from carts is slightly frowned upon in OC, and definitely not that popular. If food trucks count then I’ll say the Bolsa Roast Pork Belly from Dos Chinos is the best street food around.
My buddies opened a place called Afters that made a ton of noise. They serve what’s called a Milky Bun. It’s two warm doughnuts sans hole with two scoops of ice cream between them. There’s always a line.
Not sure I’ve ever had fine dining in Orange County…
Note: Jason’s typical chef schedule is Tuesday – Saturday nights, so he’s just meaning to say that he doesn’t hit the fine dining in the OC on his nights off. In conversation, he mentioned The Hobbit or Napa Rose as fine dining options, but hasn’t tried either of them, so no full endorsement there.
If nothing is fine dining, then everything is casual right? I feel like all I go to are casual places. I’ll use this as another way to pimp out my friends and say The Blind Pig in RSM.
I’m going to go one step further and say the best vegan food in Orange County is at Seabirds Kitchen. They have fried avocado tacos and smoked jackfruit that I love.
Taco Maria, again!
The only place you’ll ever find me for brunch is Taco Maria…
FOOD IN THE CITY
Salad, dressing on the side. Or Botox.
Question to the world: Is there an iconic food of Orange County? Jason’s answer is tongue-in-cheek, of course, but he says there really isn’t one food that is just theirs.
ODD CULINARY EXPERIENCE
Eating at chain restaurants? I think going to Cheesecake Factory is odd. Who would ever eat there? Yet, they’re always busy.
Warning: Jason Quinn calls this “lowest common denominator eating.” Buyer beware.
Ice cream for sure but that’s available everywhere. I’m going to say Wursthaus is my guilty pleasure because I almost never eat meat in tube form, but whenever I’m up late, they’re open and within walking distance from my house.
Din Tai Fung!!!!!! This shit brings me back to life. Xiao long bao, garlic string beans, shrimp rice cakes, yum!
My wife and I usually do Indian food for our date nights. I love the masala dosa from Annapoorna and the Mutter Paneer.
RESTAURANT RUN BY A FRIEND
Social, my old sous chef, Jeff Boullt runs it and always does a great job whenever we go over there. A very hard place to leave sober…
Stay tuned for more EAT THIS CITY — where each week we’ll feature a premier-level chef in a different city sharing their hometown eating tips! Revisit Boston or Detroit here.
See you next week!