What are the best Orange County food experiences?

Answers from Our Experts (3)

California prides itself on being committed to using local ingredients, and perhaps as a result dining in the O.C. is about as luxurious as anywhere else, which matches the area’s serene spas, gorgeous hotels with ocean views and high-end retailers, of course. The best food experiences in Orange County are those that speak to the area’s overall elegance and only-in-Southern-California vibes.

1. Studio at Montage Laguna Beach. Housed in a cozy arts and crafts cottage overlooking the ocean, Five-Star Studio at Montage Laguna Beach is a study in understated elegance. The menu features contemporary California cuisine made with the freshest local ingredients. Settle in for a supper made up of divine dishes such as vinegar-braised short ribs with butter-roasted asparagus. The wine cellar features more than 2,200 bottles with plenty of California selections and wines available by the glass.

2. Stonehill Tavern. Famed San Francisco chef-turned-restaurateur Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern, located in The St. Regis Monarch Beach, is a sleek, intimate spot designed by Tony Chi with comfortable couches, glass-enclosed booths and a large terrace. The menu at this Four-Star spot includes Mina’s signature appetizer trios — three different preparations of one ingredient, such as tuna, lobster or duck, as well as twists on American classics (think fried chicken with mascarpone polenta and a root beer float for dessert). Plus, their impressive wine program focuses on boutique California producers, but also includes a diverse selection from Austria and Burgundy.

3. Andrea. With an elegant interior of natural colors, lush potted trees and a covered terrace providing unparalleled views of the ocean and golf greens, you may think you are in Tuscany when you’re dining at The Resort at Pelican Hill’s Andrea, and that’s before the fresh northern Italian dishes and unique pastas made in the restaurant’s own temperature controlled pasta rooms even hit your table. The friendly service at this Four-Star restaurant will lead you to believe this is a more casual eatery than it is, but make no mistake, the food served here is carefully executed and well-sourced. The typical prosciutto, for example, is elevated with a Zibbibo wine-marinated melon.

4. Balboa Island. This tiny, densely populated man-made island, is one of Orange County’s most popular attractions. Its main street, Marine Avenue, is lined with boutiques, restaurants and ice cream shops selling the popular Balboa Bars, vanilla ice cream dipped in chocolate and then covered with nuts or candy, as well as frozen chocolate bananas. These sweet treats, along with salt water taffy, are an Orange County staple, and can be found at old-fashioned candy shops like Dad’s Donuts & Bakery Shop and Sugar 'N Spice, two local stalwarts in Newport Beach that both claim original ownership of the desserts.

Jean-Pierre Dubray

Andrea’s signature tableside risotto dish is not to be missed when you’re in Orange County. The Resort at Pelican Hill’s signature restaurant focuses on authentic Northern Italian cuisine. Michelin-starred Chef Luigi Fineo creates seasonal risottos featuring local ingredients and imported specialties, like black truffles from Europe and white truffles from Alba, Italy. As an interactive epicurean experience, the risotto presentation is designed to stimulate all five senses, from sight and smell to hearing and touch, and finally taste.

Served from inside a large wheel of imported Italian parmigiano-reggiano cheese, the hot risotto is brought on a cart to the tableside, where a server prepares it in front of the guest. After pouring the risotto into the center hole carved in the parmigiano-reggiano wheel, the cheese is slowly shaved and stirred into the risotto. This creates a rich, creamy consistency and savory, cheese-infused flavor. The risotto is poured from the wheel into a shiny silver staub, then placed before the guest. That’s when we say, “Buon appetito!”

You can view my video of the risotto being prepared and served by clicking the link at pelicanhill.com.

Orange County is foodie heaven, with so many good options that it’s difficult to narrow down the field. Of course, any gourmet will want to dine at Michael Mina’s Stonehill Tavern at The St. Regis Monarch Beach. Other highlights include Nancy Wilhelm’s Tabu Grill and Starfish (two separate restaurants) in Laguna Beach — both are a short drive from the resort. Other exceptional dining experiences are 370 Common in Laguna and a casual yet time-honored tradition — a homemade milkshake at Ruby’s Shake Shack in Crystal Cove!

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