Some meals are worth the drive.
For Los Angeles diners, that means making a trip down south or Orange County to eat at Santa Ana’s loncheras or the best Vietnamese food in the country in Little Saigon.
Here are the four Orange County restaurants that made our 101 Best Restaurants list.
3. Taco Maria
At his Costa Mesa restaurant, Carlos Salgado’s cooking is intellectual, syncretic and modernist, bound up in personal history, heritage and years of fine-dining training. You can see these disparate forces at work on the Taco Maria lunch menu, when you can try Salgado’s cooking a la carte; recently there was aguachile made with Hokkaido scallops; wood-fired pork cheek glazed in dark sugar; and ancho-almond mole draped over Jidori chicken. Salgado’s culinary vision is most fully expressed at dinner, when the restaurant switches to a taco-centric, four-course tasting-menu format.
3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 538-8444, tacomaria.com
64. Chaak Kitchen
At her sleek Old Town Tustin restaurant, chef Gabbi Patrick pays homage to her family’s Yucatecan heritage with time-intensive interpretations of the region’s revered dishes. Banana-leaf-wrapped cochinita pibil, smoked over red oak for 11 hours, is intensely succulent. Her pavo en recado negro — braised turkey rubbed in a blackened chile paste — celebrates the dish’s natural earthiness and pungency. A take on tamal colado, masa strained into a pudding-like cake, is dessert-like in its decadence.
215 El Camino Real, Tustin, (657) 699-3019, chaakkitchen.com
89. Brodard Chateau
Brodard Chateau in Garden Grove is owned by the Dang family, Orange County food royalty who oversee a small empire of distinguished Vietnamese restaurants. The dish that built the family’s reputation is the nem nuong cuon, grilled pork spring rolls, each bite vivid with crunchy bits of meat, chives and bracing hints of mint. The rolls are served with a sweet dipping sauce that has developed a cult following all its own. Beyond the requisite nem nuong, order the bun cha ha noi, beautifully smoky pork patties served with a slightly sweet fish sauce. The crisp rice flour saucers called banh khot are exquisite, each one cradling a springy, well-cooked shrimp.
9100 Trask Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 899-8273, brodard.net/Chateau/
92. Marché Moderne
Marché Moderne is a French restaurant at heart, and its best dishes are an exaltation of classic bistro cooking. That means well-browned roasted marrow bones basted in demi-glace; crisp duck confit with Sauternes-drizzled peach slices; and a tour-de-force coq au vin in an inky wine sauce flavored with burnished onions, mushrooms and lardons. The menu includes everything from kale-and-beet salads to small plates of seared hamachi with jalapeño sorbet. You can lose yourself here in a bowl of celery root soup or a plate of impeccable steak frites. Start with the Bordier butter tasting, infused with flavors like yuzu and Espelette peppers and served with fresh French bread.
7862 Pacific Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (714) 434-7900, marchemoderne.net