You won’t find South of Nick’s or the world-famous Raya at the Ritz Carlton on this list. We all know those restaurants are great. This post is dedicated to the restaurants you may not have heard of. Consider them for your next evening out.
555 N El Camino Real, San Clemente
We’ve dined here a few times now and it’s one of the best dining experiences I’ve had in Orange County–and it isn’t even because of the food. The food is good, but the ambiance and service are what make this place special. There is kind of a dark, saloon vibe. The bar area is great. Live music is great (and not so loud that you can’t hear the person sitting next to you).
As for the food, we got the fried green tomatoes to start. The goat cheese made that dish. I got the red snapper with the cheesy grits and collard greens. It was nice to have something DIFFERENT for a change. They have great cocktails, several good beers on tap, and an extensive wine list.
34235 Doheny Park Rd, Capistrano Beach
When we moved to Capo Beach, we were obsessed with finding “our place”–somewhere unpretentious where we could watch sports, drink good beer, and eat some acceptable food. I think this is the spot.
Don’t be fooled by the sort of odd location or the blacked out windows. It looks shady from the outside, but it’s fun inside. It definitely feels like a “local hangout.” Even though it’s a bar, lots of families come here. It’s a really chill, friendly atmosphere.
They have a great beer list–lots of craft selections. And the menu is surprisingly varied. I always get one of their huge burgers and I’m never disappointed.
24312 Del Prado Ave, Dana Point
If you like good Italian food, Luciana’s is an excellent choice. The ambiance is great–dim mood lighting, cozy decor, laughter, wine flowing. It has a very homey, authentic Italian vibe. The food? Good, overall. Try the calimari fritti or the lasagna and you will not be disappointed. Prices are reasonable. It would be good for a date or for a family dinner–anything really. We’ll be back!
Tavern on the Coast
34212 Pacific Coast Hwy, Dana Point
We’ve been here for brunch and dinner and they’ve always impressed us with quality food and stellar customer service. The short rib lasagna was very rich and delicious. For brunch, I’d highly recommend the breakfast burger with one of their morning cocktails. The bar area is really nice. They have a TV and it’s a more laid-back vibe than the rest of the restaurant–though the whole place is pretty casual. We’ll be back… at the bar!
24582 Del Prado Ave # A, Dana Point
Very cool outdoor seating, swanky couches and intimate tables inside, a big, central bar with a TV, and a dude playing a guitar. What could be better? They have a pretty good happy hour menu, with $3 domestic beers and $4 craft/international beers. Not bad. We got the flatbread toscana and the bruschetta sampler off their happy hour menu too. VERY GOOD. This is a perfect place for sharing lots of small plates. Their menu has a ton of options.
156 Avenida Del Mar, San Clemente
The only negative thing I have to say is that it’s crowded. That’s not really their fault, though. They’re just that awesome. Our waitress got us beers while we waited, so that helped. It’s first come, first served–no reservations taken–so be prepared to wait a bit.
Everything we ordered was delicious: Black bean hummus, Crostino, Kale and black bean flatbread, Mac n’ cheese. But the best part about this place is the great wine and beer selection. Service is super friendly. Piano music starts at 7pm. What else can I say? We love it.
211 N El Camino Real, San Clemente, CA 92672
We really, really loved this place. It’s charming, aka small. I’d recommend reservations. We sat on the patio, which was nice and mellow. The inside is more of a pub atmosphere. Everything we ate was great: english pea and garlic confit ravioli, Mediterranean sea bass, mac-and-cheese, chocolate souffle. You get the sense that real people run this place– not some distant company. We’ll be back.
34143 Pacific Coast Hwy, Dana Point, CA 92629
This is the best sushi restaurant in South Orange County. I feel like I have said enough. End of review.
32860 Pacific Coast Hwy, Dana Point, CA 92629
Sometimes I think, “Pizza is just pizza.” Then there are places that totally impress me and superlatives like “best” come flying out of my mouth. This place has the BEST authentic, Italian pizza. We went on our honeymoon in Italy and realized what sets that pizza apart from American pizza–fresh, flavorful sauce + top notch cheese. The red sauce on Angelina’s pizzas is just like what we had in Italy. I would have enjoyed drinking a glass of it. Try the Margharita or the Vesuvio, those are our favorites!
Sambuca Italian Bistro
31161 Niguel Rd, Laguna Niguel, CA 92677
We had a wonderful experience here. The restaurant is small, with an open kitchen overlooking small tables clustered together. This wouldn’t be good for a big group (unless you arranged with them ahead of time to push together multiple tables). The service is superb. I think our waitress owns the place because she was very attentive and invested in explaining the menu and giving recommendations. The food was excellent. It reminded me of a little cafe in Florence we visited when we were in Italy. They’re known for their black linguini with shrimp and lobster. I cannot comment on many other entrees on their menu because I haven’t been able to get off their black linguini yet!