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Tom’s Foodie Blog 2012 “Must Try” Restaurant Bucket List

Tom’s Foodie Blog 2012 “Must Try” Restaurant Bucket List

2011 was a great year for http://tomsfoodieblog.com, I logged in a couple new pounds from the great tasting food and made a couple new friends along the way. This year I tried over 40 different restaurants and about 25 different food trucks.

Believe it or not my fellow foodies, I am really behind in trying new foodie friendly restaurants. My Wife’s group buying obsession has led us to discover some really nice restaurants, some featured in this blog;  but at the same time, we have experienced some really big disappointments.  The true downside of this group buying experience is that I yet to experience some foodie centric restaurants that have been open for several months.

My New Year’s resolution is to make up for lost time by dining at all the new foodie centric restaurants in the O.C. and providing you my loyal readers detailed reviews. See I am a giver, I am doing the hard work, so you dont have to gain the extra pounds from bad food.

This is my 2012  restaurant bucket list, if you think I am missing anything good,  please leave me a suggestion! Also if you think one of these restaurants is a waste of my time, please let me know.  Please take the poll on the bottom of the page and let me know which of these restaurants look the best to you:

Former Food Trucks Going Brick and Mortar

  • The Playground – Former part owner of the Lime Truck, Jason Quinn, struck it out The Playgroundon his own using his winnings from the Great Food Truck Race to start-up this brick and mortar. The restaurant has been open for a couple of months and has already created a loyal following by offering chef centric and foodie friendly dishes. The menu tends to change daily as well, so all dishes are very seasonal. The Playground’s website


  • SeaBirds Brick and Mortar Shop – One of my top 10 food trucks of 2011 is going at it in a brick and mortar style, sometime in the first half of the year.  I have nothing but good expectations for this restaurant, as owner Stephanie Morgan makes Vegan food extremely enjoyable to eat, even for non-vegans.  I will be posting details when an opening date is announced. Rumor has it that a location has been picked in Santa Ana. OCWeekly article on the new restaurant 
  • Short Stop BBQ Brick and Mortar Shop – This Southern BBQ truck, opened their Brick and Mortar restaurant  last week. I read the menu and they were offering duck on the menu…my ears perked up. It is located at 711 N. Placentia Ave. in Fullerton, just east of the 57. Their website doesn’t give the address or hours, so I suggest you call or check their Facebook page if you plan on visiting.
  • Slap Fish Truck’s Brick and Mortar – Chef Andrew Gruel’s sustainable seafood truck is opening a brick and mortar establishment somewhere in Huntington Beach. If the restaurant is anything like his truck, expect extremely fresh and seasonal seafood that you can feel good about. I think a brick and mortar restaurant will give him a little more room to show his flair for the dramatic. I’m looking forward to seeing what he will pull off. No word yet on the restaurants format. OC Weekly Article on anticipated restaurant opening.


Pizza and Italian

  • Pizzeria Mozza – –This is Los Angeles eatery that is the brainchild of Mario Batali, Nancy Silverton and Joseph Bastianich. This restaurant features authentic rustic and sophisticated Italian Cuisine. this restaurant has already attracted large crowds in it’s first couple months. It is located at 800 Coast Highway Newport Beach.Pizzeria Mozza Website
  • Cucina Enoteca – A new Italian restaurant in the Irvine Spectrum which opened in December 2011, with positive reviews from my foodie circle.  This restaurant represents an expansion from it’s San Diego sister restaurant Cucina Urbana. I have heard they serve upscale Italian with dishes in the mid $20’s price range for foodie friendly choices. Cucina Enoteca Website

Chef Centric & Farm to Table

  • Paul Martin’s American Grill – This “Farm to Table” and “Chef Centric” restaurant  that recently opened in the Irvine Spectrum in late 2011, under the Guidance of Chef Paul Martin. This restaurant has turned into a favorite among Orange County foodies. This restaurant features sustainable seafood, all-natural meats and organic produce. Paul Martin’s American Grill Website
  • Tamarind of London – This is a London-based restaurant that opened an O.C. version in the Crystal Cove Promenade in Newport Beach.  I do not know much about this restaurant except reports that the London restaurant earned several Michelin Stars and features “Indian Cuisine and cross-over dishes.”  I checked out their online menu and sides range from $7-13 and mains range between $16- 22 for most items. The menu looked yummy! Tamarind of London Website  Link to Yelp Reviews
  • Charlie Palmers – One of the restaurants that helped put Orange County on the Foodie Radar. I am very embarrassed to say that I have never dinned at Charlie Palmers, even though it has been open for a couple of years. This restaurant had amazing reviews, although they have recently started taking a hit on yelp (perhaps due to Chef Santana’s departure?).  I will let you know the results of my investigative eating.   It is located at Bloomingdales in South Coast Plaza.  Charlie Palmers Website Yelp Review for Charlie Palmers Yelp Review for Charlie Palmer
  • The Ranch – This Anaheim restaurant is the creation of Disneyland’s two culinary geniuses and also highly respected members of the foodie community, Michael Jordan and Michael Rossi of Napa Rose fame. I have no doubt that the food will be amazing with these two at the helm.  The restaurant is part Country Western Saloon and Part Fine Dining. Does this concept remind anyone of an upscale Crazy Horse Saloon? Website for The Ranch Restaurant and Saloon   Yelp Review for the Ranch
  • The Eatery – This upcoming restaurant featuring “upscale and nutritious comfort food” according to the “Kick Start Funding Website”. The restaurant will be operated by three award-winning chef’s including Anahita Naderi. This restaurant will open in Anaheim in 2012. Not much is known about this restaurant , but I will be reporting when I get more details. News from the Eaterys KickStarter Investor’s Page
  • Three Seventy  Common – This Laguna Beach restaurant occupies the former Sorrento Grill locationand is another Chef Centric restaurant that features bold menu choices that are chef centric and wine friendly. The menu appears to have everything from steak to Foie Gras, something for foodies and the timid eater.  Three Seventy Common Website  Yelp Reviews
  • Broadway by Amar Santana – Amar Santana is the former Chef at the Arnold Palmer Restaurant and his new restaurant Broadway offers a Chef centric menu,  featuring “Classic Modern Cuisine of the Americas.”  This restaurant looks very promising and a has been doing a brisk business every weekend.  Broadway by Amar Santana Website  Yelp Reviews for Broadway by Amar Santana

Something Eclectic

  • Bruxie – A Quick Service Restaurant that specializes in savory and sweet sandwiches stuffed in WAFFLES! Yes you read that right. Some of their offerings include a Chicken and Waffle sandwich to a banana and Nutella dessert offering.  This restaurant has gained a cult following on Yelp / Urbanspoon and is another restaurant that I am embarrassed that I have yet to try. There are two locations one in Brea and the more popular one in the Old Town Orange.
  • Anaheim Food Hall   – This is an upscale food center based inside a Spanish Revival Architecture building that was originally used as a citrus packing center, dating back to 1915. This venue will house 25 food concept vendors. Early committed restaurants include Pitfire Pizza. This concept is an experiment for Orange County, but similar ventures have been successful in places like New York’s “Eataly”, by Mario Batali.  OC Register Article on the planned venue:

Chains that have put on a big flashy bet on Orange County

  • Saddle Ranch Chop House – This chain restaurant is known for being

    a flashy “rock-western” chop house that prides

    itself on the rock and roll attitude of its staff. I tried one of the restaurants at the Universal City walk and it had good food and a fun vibe. Rumor has it that they will even have a mechanical bull.  This will their 5th restaurant, but their first in Orange County located at Triangle Square in Costa Mesa. Saddle Ranch Chop http://www.srrestaurants.com/

  • Wood Ranch BBQ and Grill – This upscale western themed chophouse that has a very strong presence in Southern California, including Rancho Santa Margarita. The new restaurant is located in the Irvine Spectrum is reported to have good food and ambiance. 
  • Capital Seafood –  This Chinese / Dim Sum restaurant has received some good reviews so far on Yelp and from friends who have tried it. The new Irvine Spectrum location is supposed to be their ritziest venue yet with a 8,000 square foot restaurant and upscale décor. 
  • P.F. Chang – Already reviewed this place but putting this on here as a reminder that you should try it as well. Great open floor design and awesome revamped menu. My blog Post on the revamp:  Tom’s Foodie Blog Review of P.F. Chang’s:/
  • Pitfire Pizza– For anyone who has lived on the border of Newport and Costa or even hung out at Peirce Street Annex, this new restaurant occupies the old Marie Calendars location. This restaurant features rustic pizzas that are cooked in a pit wood-fired pizza oven. This venue will have a large patio and fire pit, perfect for getting some food before hitting up my favorite dive bar across the street. I wonder if they will deliver to Pierce Street.

Gourmet Burgers

  • 25 Degrees – A upscale Burger and Wine Bar, that also serves alcoholic shakes, in a swanky French bordello ambiance. This Huntington Beach restaurant has an ideal location, just on Main Street to attract their target audience. Initial reports indicate this place has, “Giant and Juicy Burgers that will make you Tap Out half-way though.” Yelp reviews are mostly high with a couple bitter reviewers in the mix. 
  • Unami Burger -This upscale version of Fuddruckers is opening two locations in Orange County, Anaheim and Laguna Beach,   and is generating a good deal of buzz. According to their website the ground their own beef, process their own cheese and pickle their own vegetables. I admit I am curious about this restaurant, despite the gimmicky name.
  • DG Burger – The sluttier side of Charlie Palmers Bloomingdales restaurant that features gourmet burgers that will make you salivate. Yelp and Urban Spoon reviewers are giving it either very high or very low reviews. The DG in its name stands for “Dam Good”, I will have to bring back a report. r


Gastro Pubs

  • The Side Door – A gastropub attached to the Five Crowns restaurant in Corona Del Mar. Each time I visit the Five Crowns for dinner, I secretly want to go The Side Door instead.  This is a British themed Gastropub and there is a heavy emphasis on chartuerie, cheese, sandwiches.  
  • Lola Gaspar – A Gastropub in the Santora building of Santa Ana Artist’s District. This Gastropub that has generated a solid buzz among the foodies in my circle of friends. Rumor has it that this venue has great food and a nice craft beer selection. I am told this place might remind you of visiting a tapas bar in the alleys of Barcelona  
  • Haven Gastropub – I am been here but never written a review, I will be back to take pictures and get a feel for the quality, service and seasonal menu on my return visit. Their food is spot on and always has a great craft beer selection. I have never been disappointed by a meal here, although recent Yelp reviews have seen complaints about the price to quantity ratio. I will do my due diligence and eat here to write a blog; again I will make the sacrifice for my readers 😉  
    • Bru – New establishment in Lake Forest attempting to blend chef centric and craft beer in a Gastropub setting. Bru has an interesting  wholesale wine purchase / Corkage  system as well. Does the concept work in the bedroom community of Lake Forest? Let’s find out. 


About Tom Holmberg

Tom grew up in a cultural diverse neighborhood and a culturally diverse family, so he has learned to appreciate all types of food. "I am not a Chef, nor do I play one on T.V., but I have learned to appreciate food from years of eating and cooking." Tom also spent 10 years in the restaurant industry in various roles, from Prep Cook to server.


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