6 Orange County restaurants earn Bib Gourmand awards

Woodfired Bone-In Tomahawk at Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen.
(Courtesy of Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen)

When it comes to restaurant accolades, the Michelin Guide is among the most prestigious. Yet as the experience of dining out has evolved, so has the guide.

Wednesday morning, the guide announced 45 new restaurants in the Bib Gourmand category in California, which denotes an establishment with “excellent food and moderate prices.”

Thirty-seven types of cuisine, from Indonesian to Pakistani, are represented on a list that is decidedly diverse. Among the restaurants honored, six in Orange County are identified as eateries that "offer a full menu of a starter, main course and dessert, making it possible to order two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for around $40 or less (tax and gratuity not included).”

Chaak Kitchen (Tustin), Fable & Spirit (Newport Beach), Heritage Barbecue (San Juan Capistrano), Khan Saab Desi Craft Kitchen (Fullerton), Oliver’s Osteria (Laguna Beach) and Pho 79 (Garden Grove) were all awarded Bib Gourmand recognition.

Due to the pandemic, it has been a tough year and a half for restaurants, and being recognized reminds owners and staff their extraordinary work hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Lead chef Trevor Moak chops up pork lardon that will be used for an arugula salad at Chaak Kitchen in Tustin.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

“Everybody in the restaurant industry has been on quite a ride the last two years,” said Gabbi Patrick, Chef/Owner at Chaak Kitchen. “And we all know that it takes hard work and a great team. We are just so thrilled that Chaak can be a part this recognition.”

Chaak, a Yucatan-influenced restaurant that utilizes fire and smoke to achieve unique flavors, faced challenges this year, and Patrick said this recognition was hard earned.

“We really worked harder than ever before in the many years we have been in business,” Patrick said, “We had everybody pull together, we never gave up and we worked harder and longer hours … getting this recognition seriously brings tears to my eyes.”

Ali Coyle, director of wines at Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach and daughter of owners Darren and Jean Coyle, agrees awards and accolades were the least of most restaurant’s worries.

“To win an award for recognition for Michelin was not something that most restaurateurs were thinking about all,” said Coyle. “So it is kind of extra special because we were just so concerned with providing a safe experience for everyone, with the same creativity and quality that we are used to.”

Fable & Spirit in Newport Beach has been included in Michelin Guide's Bib Gourmand category.
(Kyle Fierro)

Fable & Spirit is an upscale Irish pub that brings the charm of the Emerald Isle to Newport Beach with a sophisticated wine list, curated by Coyle, and classic dishes like fish and chips and smoked short ribs.

In 2020, the Michelin Guide did not publish a California edition but recognized 25 California restaurants as “inspector discoveries.” Fable & Spirit and Chaak Kitchen were the only two Orange County restaurants included in the list.

This year the list includes a wider range of cuisine and service styles, and Coyle says it’s a more accurate representation of Orange County.

“One of the most amazing parts of winning the Bib this year is being in the company of so many different types of cuisine that many people don’t normally associate with Orange County, but is very present here,” said Coyle. “Everything from Vietnamese cuisine, to Halal cuisine to Yucatan cuisine, and Heritage Barbecue and Oliver’s Osteria … It is really special to a part of such a cool group of restaurants.”

The group of restaurants really is eclectic.

Pho 79 has existed for decades in Orange County’s Little Saigon neighborhood, opened by the Trân family in the early 1980s. But the shop tucked away in a strip mall is no stranger to prestigious recognition. In 2019, Pho 79 was awarded the James Beard America’s Classics honor for its contributions to the country’s dining landscape.

Heritage Barbecue, honored with a Michelin Plate award last week, is owned and run by Daniel Castillo and his wife, Brenda, and serves delectable beef brisket, handmade pork sausage and more straight from the smoker. Guests collect their trays of barbecue and settle on picnic benches, Texas-style.

On the coast, Oliver’s Osteria in Laguna Beach serves handmade pasta made with what Michelin called “an authentic flair.” Owner/Executive Chef Erik De Marchi grew up in Imola, Italy, and said being recognized during these trying times is an honor.

“It’s been a challenging time for everyone in this industry and to be able to give authentic cuisine to my community is a blessing and to get a Bib Gourmand recognition is amazing,” said De Marchi.

Chef Imran “Ali” Mookhi of Kahn Saab, also awarded with a Michelin Plate award last week, said in a statement that earning this recognition for Pakistani cuisine means a lot.

“When we first opened as the first high-end Pakistani restaurant in Southern California, we weren’t sure what the response would be,” Mookhi said. “Knowing that our restaurant has fulfilled our vision of being a platform for people, especially those from our culture, to be excited and proud about high-end Pakistani cuisine means everything to us.”

While some argue the guide has a long way to go in terms of the diversity of its award winners, Michelin has evolved in other ways.

In 2019, the Michelin Guide California expanded to include Orange and San Diego counties and in recent years the guide has added more distinctions, like the Green Star for example, which was introduced in 2020 and is awarded to restaurants “that stand at the forefront of a more sustainable gastronomy,” meaning they use responsibly sourced ingredients, minimize waste and are committed to using recyclables.

Plate awards, which were announced last week, spotlight good food. Wednesday’s Bib Gourmand awards come ahead of the highly anticipated stars, which the guide will announce on Sept. 28.

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