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Tom’s Foodie Blog’s Best Food in Orange County (2012)

Tom’s Foodie Blog’s Best Food in Orange County (2012)

Dear Readers, 2012 was an exciting year for my humble  food blog, as I have experienced some of the best food in Orange County  and met some awesome people .  As can be expected, I had some really bad meals and some amazing ones that have raised the bar on my expectations forever. Just so you guys know, I do have a personal life outside of food blogging, so I still have a long bucket-list of restaurants I want to try. This post is a 2012 year in review about my best food experiences in Orange County.

The Best Experiences of 2012 in Orange County

The Playground Best Food in Orange CountyThe PlaygroundMy favorite restaurant of 2012. Chef Jason Quinn does what he wants and results in some pretty amazing food. The Playground’s menu is chef-centric,  ingredient based and places a premium on experimentalism.  The menu regularly pushes the limits and just asks the customers to come along for the ride. I really liked their halibut cheek in beef tendon broth. This dish may sound crazy, but it was really delicious. Although, my all time  favorite dish was their maple glazed pork chop. My Blog Review of The Playground. The Playground has some of the best food in Orange County. 

Haven Gastropub Best Food in Orange County

Haven Gastropub –I have been to Haven Gastropub several times this year and they consistently produce some of the best food in Orange County. Chef Greg Daniels, in my opinion, has become one of the one of the vanguards in the Southern California culinary scene.  One of my favorite experiences of  2012 was attending a whole pig feast at Haven Gastropub, something everyone should try at least once in their life. My Review of Haven Gastropub’s Whole Pig Dinner.


pigfeetSam Woo  Chinese Birthday–I enjoyed one of my more favorite meals of the year at this restaurant for a Taiwanese baby party. We experienced a custom 16-course menu in the Taiwan tradition.  During this meal I experienced a couple dishes that could turn into mainstream including pig feet with noodles,  fish served with head and tail intact.

Broadway by Amar Santana  Best Food in Orange CountyBroadway by Amar Santana – Chef centric meals and classic prohibition cocktails. Chef centrism was a common theme amongst the best restaurants in Orange County in 2012 and perhaps it is a sign that the foodie scene is evolving in O.C.. Chef Amar Santana is another innovative Chef that is helping to evolve the Orange County food scene. A couple items that I really loved at Broadway was their risotto with squid Ink , Brussels sprouts with Chinese sausage and their prohibition era cocktails. My review of Broadway by Amar Santana

20121221_191107118 Degrees – 118 degrees was one my most recent restaurant experiences and perhaps one of the most eye opening. I have grown to love vegetarian and vegan dishes over the course of the past two years; although, raw was something new for me. 118 degrees literally cooks nothing over 118 degrees, the temperature where vegetables lose their nutrients. I was pretty impressed by their ability to make some delicious dishes from raw vegetables. My favorite was their raw lasagna, made entirely of raw vegetables. Blog Post Coming soon. 

Deemer’s American Grill –There are several  restaurants in Orange County that make a mean burger; although, Deemer’s American Grill can make a claim for being one of the best burgers in Orange County.  What makes the difference? They ground their meat in-house, utilize buns baked that morning, source produce from local family farms and make many of their condiments from scratch. ! My favorite dish was their goat cheese burger,  juicy and delicious My Review of Deemer’s

SlapFish goes brick and mortar – One of my other favorite restaurant openings of the year. This modern seafood shack only utilizes sustainable seafood and produces some really amazing dishes. Chef Andrew Gruel blew my socks off several times this year with his dishes including a pan seared Mahi Mahi in Carrot sauce, Wasabi Tuna Towner and one of the best fish and chips in California. My Review of SlapFish


Sol  Cocina –Another one of my favorites for the year. Chef Deb Schneider’s recipes come from her culinary residency in Mexico. If you like spicy, you must try her tacos Vampiro! Blog Post Coming Soon.



Back Bay Bistro– A surprise for me, I didn’t think a restaurant located within Whole Foods, Newport Beach would be good.  I was pleasantly surprised by their food quality and service. My favorite item was their seared scallops. My Review of Back Bay Bistro



Sea Birds Pop Up Restaurant at the Back Bay Bistro – Chef Stephanie Morgan. from the Seabirds Truck, took over the Back Bay Bistro and rocked the house with her vegan dishes.  Stephanie later told me that it was the biggest sales weekend over for the Back Bay Bistro. I really enjoyed her squash puree enchiladas, they made me cry with joy. Tom’s Review of Seabird’s Pop Up

Chapter One: The Modern Local – A very impressive gastro-pub meal and classic cocktails. Although there were a couple misses during our visit, I am still craving to go back.  I recommend the steak cullate with the Belly of the Beast Bacon Bourbon cocktail. Trust me, you will be craving to go back for more. My Review of Chapter One.

Updated Five Crowns and Side Door –  The Five Crowns in Corona Del Mar recently  modernized their restaurant and brought in Chef Greg Harrison to oversee the revamp of their menu.  Although The Five Crowns still has their famous Prime Rib and other favorites, they now feature some really exciting and creative dishes. The new menu is perfect for even the snobbiest of foodies. My favorite new items was their sous-vide octopus! My Review of Five Crowns.

The Winery- Mahi Mahi

The Winery – Consistently my favorite white table cloth restaurant in Orange County. They have the unique skill to bring together perfectly crafted food, professional service and world class wines to create a perfect dinner experience. Try the Mahi-Mahi , flat iron steak, or heirloom tomato salad. My Review of The Winery.

Places on my bucket list that I missed

Lucca Cafe – All the foodies agree that this place brings together classic Tuscan recipes with an approach that incorporates modern techniques. Pitfire Pizza –  I missed the opportunity to dine here a couple times, but early reviews from fellow bloggers is consistently impressive. Tamarind of London – From what I hear, this restaurant produces some delicious Indian influenced meals. The Ranch – One of the biggest restaurant opening in 2012. I have yet to visit (shame on me and my schedule), but the foodie community has been reacting very favorably. 320 Common – One of the restaurants to consistently please their customers with the food and service, but pack customers into a crammed place. I have been dying to try this restaurant. Shuck Oyster Bar– Fresh Oysters Bar right in middle of the hip SoCo Collection. Wait until my 2013 Best Food in Orange County, to see if they make the list. 

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.


  1. Definitely add Red Table in Huntington Harbor and San Shi Go in Laguna Beach to that bucket list. You won’t be sad. Ask for Yuji at San Shi Go.

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