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Click to view the 2022 Irvine Dining Guide.

Award-winning writers Benjamin Epstein and Margaret Short have been tasting and writing about the Orange County food scene for more than a decade.

Irvine’s dining scene is a tapestry of the familiar and unfamiliar, a wonderland for foodies who, by their very nature, embrace diverse culinary traditions.

For anybody who likes to dine out, restaurants are among the amenities that make the city one of the best places to live.

Irvine’s dining scene is hot, be it Chengdu hot pots or Nashville hot chicken. It’s cool, a springboard for new concepts. It embraces the traditional – a recipe might date back 1,000 years. It’s also of-the-moment: Indian burritos or soufflé pancakes, anyone?

Here are 31 global favorites.


⋅ Little Sister

Irvine Spectrum Center

Powerhouse indie chef Tin Vuong pulls off his biggest Viet bistro yet with this chic location for spot-on faves, including an overstuffed Viet crepe, popular Shaky, Shaky Beef and a standout papaya salad. Look for his first-ever lunch offerings – gentle rice porridges and deluxe banh mi sandwiches streaming out of the open kitchen to a bustling dining room. The roomy bar pours spirit-forward cocktails well suited to spicy bites like crab dumplings or beef tartare. Vintage West Coast rap tracks and ace servers keep the vibe lively.

⋅ PhoTasia

Parkview Center

Nam Tran’s grandmother opened her first restaurant four decades ago; today, the family has six. Vietnamese musical instruments hang on the walls at PhoTasia. The menu offers 16 noodle-soup versions and dozens of add-ons, but Tran puts first-timers at ease: “There is no wrong way to eat pho,” he says, “and no wrong pho to eat.” Start with the crispy egg rolls. Coming soon: banh mi empanadas and banh xeo tacos.


⋅ DonerG


The Bosphorus Bridge in Istanbul connects Europe and Asia. Family-owned DonerG serves the dishes of the landmark juncture – Turkish cuisine with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean influences. Doner kebab from the vertical rotisserie stars in generous gyros, pita sandwiches and salads. The Istanbowl features the beef and chicken versions; the Original Fladenbrot, a house favorite, overflows with beef doner kebab, fries, spicy chile-garlic sauce and lots more on grilled soda bread.


⋅ Javier’s Cantina

Irvine Spectrum Center

Don’t let the term cantina fool you – Javier Sosa runs a hot spot worthy of the lushest Mayan Riviera resort. Always bustling, the sprawling venue offers equal parts posh margaritas, luxury feasting and fascinating people-watching. Satisfying Mexican classics – Michoacán-style carnitas, zesty ceviche and Oaxacan chocolate ice cream – are made with top-notch ingredients. Tequila drinkers choose from one of the finest collections in California.

Javier’s Cantina, a signature restaurant at Spectrum Center since 2004, recently added an expansive patio with a full bar.

⋅ Puesto

Los Olivos Marketplace

First-generation Mexican-American brothers, an entrepreneur and a “tacoteur,” opened the first of their five O.C. hip and stylish locations in Irvine. Mexico City-inspired tacos layer blue-corn tortillas with crispy melted cheese and toppings such as filet mignon. Starters include “crackling pork magic” chicharrones; unforgettable guacamoles, one with pomegranate, another with Parmesan cheese; passionfruit-mango shrimp ceviche; and creative margaritas. Little-known fact: Puesto makes its own tequila rosa.

Mix-and-match taco trio with blue-corn tortillas and crispy melted cheese at Puesto at Los Olivos Marketplace.

⋅ Taquiero Taco Patio

Campus Plaza, Oak Creek Shopping Center

One partner is from Tijuana, and the other was raised in O.C. and lived in Mexico for 10 years. Together, they serve Tijuana-inspired tacos shaped like cones – tacones? – that are among the county’s best. The marinated rotisserie al pastor taco is a favorite. Insider tip: “Request keto-style,” says co-founder Roberto Fierro. “The tacos use cheese tortillas.” Mulitas are two-tortilla quesadillas with melted cheese skirts on both sides. Don’t-miss salsa: macha with peanuts.

Taquiero Taco Patio in Campus Plaza serves fresh-made “Tijuana-style” tacos.


⋅ Zov’s

Orchard Hills Shopping Center

This beguiling offshoot of the legendary Zov’s in Tustin is the go-to cafe for elevated brunches and dinners of Mediterranean fare with a California accent. The luscious spiced lamb burger, mezze platter and housemade pastries are standouts. Check out the stunning new patio and bar for maximum alfresco magic, especially when live music is added. Owner Armen Karamardian (Chef Zov Karamardian’s son) notes that impromptu parties often occur when neighbors cross paths here.

Zov’s offers plenty of patio dining in Orchard Hills Shopping Center.

⋅ Irvine Grill

Quail Hill Shopping Center

Locals know that sisters Mahta Aria and Ali Ayarad serve some of the finest Persian fare for miles. Their all-day menu brims with generously portioned appetizers, grilled kabobs, rices and stews. Beef barg – charbroiled filet mignon skewers – is a top seller. Platters and preset family meals make it easy to entertain a crowd at home or on the restaurant’s roomy patio.

Charbroiled chicken with Tahchin and Shiraz salad.


⋅ Falasophy

Irvine Spectrum Center

What began as Rashad Moumneh’s food truck is today this cheerful kitchen counter turning out wholesome Lebanese street food with creative twists. Of course, there are top-notch falafel salads and wraps, halal beef kafta kabobs and a splendid chicken shawarma. But don’t overlook offbeat mashups with a high fun factor: crispy taquitos oozing with Lebanese cheese, Nashville hot chicken shawarma or vegan pita pocket sandwiches.


⋅ Goo-Yi 9.2

Northpark Plaza

Servers at elevated Korean destination Goo-Yi 9.2 cook tableside on elegant grills. “Grill” and the number 9.2 are both goo-yi in Korean; native speakers call the restaurant goo-yi goo-yi, which also translates “barbecue barbecue.” The prime boneless short rib is a top seller; the prized prime rib-eye cap is limited to five orders per day; adventurous eaters clamor for the three-cut beef-intestine combo. The shareable steamed-egg starter is a must.

There’s plenty of patio seating to enjoy Goo-Yi 9.2’s elevated Korean barbecue in Northpark Plaza.

⋅ Yup Dduk

Campus Plaza

Yup Dduk, whose name translates to “bizarrely spicy rice cake,” promises Korea’s spiciest street
food at locations worldwide. Heat from “extra mild” to “challenge” derives from ttangcho peppers; mild equates to the spiciest ramen at Asian markets. The signature dish comes with rice cake, fish cake, tiny sausages, cabbage and green onion topped with mozzarella cheese; add-ons include deep-fried Spam. You’ll find banana milk under the menu heading Calm Yourself.

⋅ Urban Seoul 2.0

Irvine Spectrum Center

Turns out the idea of a Korean-Mexican gastropub – presenting fermented foods “crafted from the Seoul” with south-of-the-border flair – is nothing short of inspired. Colorful Urban 3B, traditional bibimbap “our way,” is only the start. Don’t miss the outsized flavors of the bulgogi tacos with gochujang aioli or the deeply satisfying chorizo kimchi fried rice skillet. Owner Charles Kim favors his pork-belly bun with cucumber kimchi, inspired by celebrity chef David Chang.


⋅ O Fine Japanese Cuisine

Quail Hill Shopping Center

Cobalt blue backlights the sleek white-on-white surroundings at this polished destination for deluxe sushi and exquisite sashimi. Catch of the day is a long list of high-grade seafood, much of it just in from Japan’s famous Toyosu Market. Regulars praise pristine chirashi bowls, the signature O Roll and the sublime omakase. Entrees from the kitchen include melt-in-your-mouth prime short rib, A5 wagyu steak and wild-caught Chilean seabass. Late summer is perfect to try the scallops with peaches and plum sauce.

⋅ HiroNori Craft Ramen

Sand Canyon Plaza

Old-school recipes, new-school vibe … Hiro Igarashi and Nori Akasaka offer three ramens, two of them with chashu pork – tonkotsu, in a rich pork-bone broth boiled 24 hours, and shoyu, using imported soy sauce barreled two years – and O.C.’s best vegan ramen, whose broth blends six imported misos. Start with the eye-catching crispy rice with spicy tuna. Five years after HiroNori started in Irvine, its fast-casual 10th location brings it full circle.


⋅ Angelina’s Pizzeria Napoletana

Los Olivos Marketplace

Fans rave over the “incredible, perfect” thin crust on the wood-fired pizzas you’ll see on almost every table at this chic choice for authentic Southern Italian fare. Sip a classic Negroni as your pizza bubbles in the 800-degree oven – the Diavola with spicy salami from Naples is a top seller. Savory polpette meatballs are discounted at midweek happy hour, a good time to beat the crowd at the handsome bar. For dessert – the fluffy tiramisu is always trending.

Angelina’s owners Filippo and Sho Fusco have been serving authentic Neapolitan pizza since opening in 2016.

⋅ Cucina Enoteca

Irvine Spectrum Center

Stately olive trees and a chic pergola lure diners to this summer-vibe hot spot for from-scratch Neapolitan-style pizzas plus praiseworthy Italian eats like the beloved fried squash blossoms, roasted branzino and a soulful bucatini amatriciana. Happy hour nibbles are ideal for sharing over jazzy cocktails and affordable wines.


⋅ Maast Indian Creative Kitchen

Alton Retail Center

Indian-flatbread quesadillas, chutney-topped tots … Comfort-fusion dishes rule at Maast, but many, notably the curry bowls, are traditional. “Maast Indian translates to good Indian,” says Kshama Patel, whose family owns and operates the 2-year-old spot. The O.C. Register agrees: Its top 10 sandwiches in 2021 included Maast’s tandoori chicken sandwich. Patel and her mother, chef Rita, hand-painted the wall that says, “Together is a beautiful place to be.”

⋅ Curry Up Now

Irvine Spectrum Center

Indian street foods such as the Vada Pav fritter sandwich are the calling card, but culinary mashups such as tikka masala burritos are the specialty. Tacos top the Street Snacks; the Naughty Naan – think Indian pizza – and Sexy Fries, a sweet-potato poutine, also blur culinary lines. Choose your bowl by regimen: Keto, Paleo or Peace-Love-Vegan. Carnivore? Head straight for the Meat Sweats thali platter. An exuberant Indian street-art mural sets the mood.

Try the Thali Platter at Curry Up Now.


⋅ Pokeworks

Culver Plaza

Casual, bright and cheerful, this build-your-own poke counter earns raves for uncommon options like kale noodles, Spam musubi and the elusive-but-beloved Dole Whip soft serve. Start with cubed fresh ahi, salmon, tofu or sesame chicken. Servers assemble your bowl, burrito or salad as you choose mix-ins, toppings and pick from eight signature sauces. Look for weekly special combinations.

⋅ Da Lu’au

Cypress Village Shopping Center

Build a Hawaiian-grill platter – “just like da kind on the Island!” – around chicken katsu, spicy kalbi or other tasty options and two sides such as Asian coleslaw and Potato Mac Salad. Or go straight to a combo special: No Ka Oi (The Best) – brings barbecued chicken, grilled salmon and coconut shrimp. Oxtail soup is an excellent alternative. Start with fried dumplings. Enjoy it all amid tasteful island decor.


⋅ Pandor

The Market Place

Pandor combines an artisan bakery, café and then some. Enjoy oh-so- French fare such as a breakfast Croque Madame or anytime-of-day Croque Monsieur tartine beneath wall art of farmhands gathering hay in the countryside. Crepes can be savory (smoked salmon) or sweet
(French Kiss); there’s an array of coffee drinks and a gelato bar. The bakery presents alluring pastries and five kinds of baguette; its butter-generous croissant is one of O.C.’s best.

Tiffany Sepetjian


⋅ Habana

Irvine Spectrum Center

One of the county’s few Cuban culinary destinations, this sprawling 300-seat compound seductively echoes Cuba’s frozen-in-time island splendor. A roomy patio open to the sky is made intimate by high walls and a cool soundtrack. On the menu, classics include exemplary empanadas and pork croquetas. Skirt steak and pork osso bucco are savory, plentiful entrees. Drop by the bakery counter (try the guava croissant) and coffee bar if you need a fast morning jolt.


⋅ Capital Seafood

Irvine Spectrum Center

Fans adore the sleek, chic backdrop and oceans of options here, complete with a dining room ideal for large parties. Peking duck is a top seller, but look for honey walnut shrimp that Yelpers rave is “addicting.” Insiders know the bar is a speedy shortcut for couples heading to a movie. Dim sum admirers appreciate the vast selection offered daily.

⋅ Meizhou Dongpo

Culver Plaza

The elegant surroundings at Meizhou Dongpo belie its bold and fiery Sichuan cuisine, served exactly as it is at the restaurant’s many locations in China. Many consider the Beijing-style roast duck and its elaborate fixings to be Southern California’s best. Other showstoppers include the five-alarm-fiery Chinese Royal Hot Pot, served in a vessel fit for royalty, and the spectacular sweet-and-sour tilapia, painstakingly sculpted into the shape of a pine cone.

A chef at Meizhou Dongpo carves roast duck. The restaurant at Culver Plaza is known for its spicy Sichuan cuisine.

⋅ Nice to Meet You Skewer Hot Pot

Culver Plaza

The sheer variety of usual and highly unusual ingredients at this attractive new spot makes every visit an adventure. The Chengdu hot-pot-style chuan chuan translates to “fragrant skewers” – skewers of meats and vegetables cooked in boiling broth at your table. Choose two broths, from mild tomato to blistering spicy beef; choose your skewers and self-serve toppings and sauces. What can we say but “Nice to meet you, skewer hot pot!”


⋅ Fogo de Chao

Irvine Spectrum Center

Massive, soaring doors welcome lovers of fire-roasted meats into this sultry Brazilian steakhouse for sophisticated churrasco feasts. Expect continuous offerings of 18 different grilled meats carved tableside at your pace. Sirloin cap, pork ribs and rib-eye are big favorites, but definitely leave room for trips to abundant feijoada (side dish) buffet for salads, soups, cured meats and seasonal vegetables. Pro tip: Consider weekday small plates at happy hour on the inviting patio.

Steakhouse Fogo de Chao offers dinner with sides and dessert for pickup or delivery.

⋅ Texas de Brazil

The Market Place

Gaucho-style grilled meats with a lot of Texas swagger attract serious carnivores and keto fans to this spirited, all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbecue spot. Endless servings of flank steak, lamb chops, pork loin, filet and more earn raves, while veggie-lovers fill up on a buffet of 38 salads, cheese bread and surprise, surprise – the mega-popular lobster bisque. And to drink? A caipirinha, of course – it’s Brazil’s national cocktail, made with cachaca, a rum-like spirit from sugar cane.


⋅ Burnt Crumbs

Los Olivos Marketplace

Burnt Crumbs motored to fame as a food truck then settled in as a beacon for creative, handcrafted, mouthwatering gourmet sandwiches such as the crispy spicy pork belly and Nashville hot chicken. Owner-chef Paul Cao’s Spaghetti Grilled Cheese has always gotten attention, but the spotlight of late has been on his famously fluffy, iggly-jiggly, downright heavenly soufflé pancakes. Cao won the Food Network reality cooking show “Chopped” in 2020.

⋅ The Cut

Westpark Plaza

Five years ago, Steve Kim’s food truck morphed to a brick-and-mortar go-to for “intricately simple” wagyu brisket-chuck burgers. The Grand Cut, with braised roast pork, bacon jam and Comté-havarti fondue, lives up to its name; the Cut – new and meat-centric, with 60-day-dry-aged, ground-in-house prime rib-eye and 2-year-aged white cheddar – is arguably grander: “That’s a pinnacle burger,” Kim says. Hot tip: Add bone marrow to any burger. Finish with the corn-cookie ice cream sandwich.

⋅ Paul Martin’s American Grill

Irvine Spectrum Center

Modern takes on classic American fare make this an MVP for all-day dining, be it lunch, brunch, dinner or even a sterling daily happy hour. Look for soulful beef short rib, sassy fried chicken, and the fabled butter cake, sizzling in a mini iron skillet. Seasonal cocktails keep the bar buzzing, while dark woods and golden lighting lend a clubby vibe to the dining room.

⋅ Sessions West Coast Deli

Woodbridge Village Center

Founded by local surfers, this lakeview stop works for fat breakfast burritos, signature sandwiches and vibrant salads that fuel busy days. All with housemade sauces and fresh bakery breads plus gluten-free and keto options. Don’t overlook the avocado toast with a cult following, or the Summer Zephyr, voted Sandwich of the Year by the O.C. Register. The peaceful patio out back beckons for family chow or lingering over cold brews or craft beers.

Sessions owner Matt Meddock, left, credits customers and other families for the Woodbridge deli’s best year ever.