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Food

101 Best Restaurants: These are the spots holding it down for Orange County

Callo gratinado and the taco de esturión from Taco Maria.
From left, callo gratinado — scallop, queso chihuahua, squid ink crumbs, chile ancho — and the taco de esturión — smoked sturgeon, peanut, chile morita and cucumber — from Taco Maria in Costa Mesa.
(Mariah Tauger / For The Times)

[Looking for the 2019 101 Best Restaurants in L.A. list? Look no further.]

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.

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The official L.A. Times list of the 101 best restaurants in Los Angeles, curated by our restaurant critics.

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

Taco Maria’s enfrijolada: bean purée, lavender onions, queso fresco and garlic crema.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

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Carlos Salgado on his journey to becoming a chef and embracing his heritage, taken from a talk he gave at Mesamérica L.A.

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

Cochinita pibil
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
The charred habanero salsa at Chaak Kitchen, a Yucatecan restaurant in Tustin, is a fairly alarming thing to behold as far as condiments go — a thick, darkly mysterious sludge that resembles, more or less, a small vat of spent motor oil.

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/

Nem nuong cuon, grilled pork spring rolls, from Brodard Chateau
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
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Critic Patricia Escarcega reviews the newest location of Brodard, an influential Vietnamese restaurant and bakery in Fountain Valley.

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

Coq au vin
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times )
The original Marché Moderne may have been the perfect neighborhood restaurant, if you stretch the idea of “neighborhood” a bit: a sprawling French bistro reached by a short ride up the very swankest escalator in the toniest corner of South Coast Plaza.


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