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Orange County Restaurants

Where to eat in the OC

It is easy to get a quick or fabulous meal in the OC - sometimes….you can do both! People from around the world come to visit Orange County and the folks who live here are very diverse. You can literally get any type of food, just about anywhere and anytime. We absolutely have McDonalds, Burger King and Taco Bell to mention just a few but we have some local chains and individual eateries that you may not be familiar with.

Here are some of our favorites you might enjoy:

Easy, Quick, On the Go

in-n-out In and Out - Started in Baldwin Park in 1848 and available now in California, Nevada and Arizona, In and Out is known for its fresh food, simple menu and excellent service. Drive through or eat in - we recommend a Number 1 with grilled onions and a chocolate shake. There are 18 locations in Orange County.

Original Tommy's - The chili smothered burger was created by Tommy Koulax in 1946 and has been delighting folks in Socal ever since. They also have an amazing tamale creation as well as a breakfast burger that you will taste all day long! You will find one in Westminster and one in Fountain Valley in the OC.

The Hat-World Famous Pastrami - the thing about a pastrami from the hat is that you cannot eat the whole thing….and you cannot stop eating it until it is gone! The one in Orange County is located in Lake Forest at 23641 Rockfield Blvd.

Dominos or Pizza Hut - are the two pizza deliveries you can get easily and inexpensively in the OC. Ask for their advertised special and expect to pay about $10-16 for a large pizza picked up and a bit more for delivery (and add a tip).

el conejo mexican restaurant el conejo menu El Conejo Mexican Restaurant - located 25371 Alecia Parkway, this drive through-eat in restaurant has great Mexican food at very reasonable prices. We always get the cheese enchiladas and the taquitos are very tasty too.


Casual Family Style - Eat in Establishments

BJ's - is getting to be a pretty big chain but they got their start here in Santa Ana in 1978 and remain one of our all time favorite restaurants. We had dinner there Saturday night to celebrate JJ's amazing mid term success and of course…..saved room for a world famous Pizookie (chocolate chunk- hello?). It is a HUGE deep dish cookie (you choose your favorite kind) served hot with vanilla ice cream melting all over it. Better yet, eat the Pizookie FIRST and TRY to save room for dinner!

china olive restaurant China Olive Restaurant - is our favorite Chinese restaurant. They serve a buffet with a huge selection. You can collect your meal from the tables of entrees and side dishes or make a plate of noodles and vegetables to have the grill chef mix with chicken, beef or pork on the grill (we give him $1 tip). They are located on Bristol Avenue in Santa Ana, which is an off-ramp from the 405 freeway. They serve the buffet from 11:00am to 9:30pm.

rubys on huntington pier Ruby's Diner - began in 1980 on the Balboa Pier and now has locations in 8 states. Often located at the end of piers in Orange County beach cities….the food, atmosphere and service are simply wonderful. So are the onion rings and the chocolate shakes!


Islands - "Grillin and Chillin since 82" has a wonderful casual island atmosphere and great food. We love the surfing movies shown throughout the restaurants and the excellent service crew. Have some garlic skinny fries dipped in ranch dressing! There are about a dozen locations throughout Orange County.

wahoo's fish tacos Wahoo Fish Tacos -began in 1988 when the three Wahoo brothers combined their love of food and surfing. The food is a Mexican, Asian sort of Brazilian blend and the setting is all north shore SURF! The food is really good and reasonable. There are 15 Wahoos sprinkled around Orange County - just about everywhere you look.

fishermans on san clemente pier Fisherman's Galley -located at the entrance of the San Clemente Pier and across the way - there are 3 choices for the Fisherman and his fare. Great food - fabulous location. We always eat outside and every time we try something new it becomes our new "favorite".

wingnuts Wingnuts - There are locations in Aliso Viejo and Costa Mesa (in the OC) of this fast growing provider of perhaps the best chicken wings anywhere. People crave Wingnuts and drive a long way to eat wings, drink beer and watch a game. Wingnuts is located at 26711 Aliso Creek right next to the Aliso 20 movie theater.

el torito restaurant El Torito - bright, cheery Mexican restaurants with excellent food (always fresh) and an amazing staff. They make guacamole at your table and omg it is fabulous! The serve upscale margaritas and offer a quick lunch for those in a hurry. We have always had a good time and an excellent meal at El Torito. We love the one at the Dana Point wharf because of the added benefit of harbor view.

rainforest cafe Rainforest Café - serves up an experience for lunch. There are stampeding elephants and rain storms, live macaws and volcanoes for desert. The menu is set up for kids and the gift shop set up to encourage begging!!! When my son was very young the Rainforest was a very scary place. As he got a bit older is was totally cool. There is one located in South Coast Plaza close to McDonalds and the carousel. Plan to spend some time and really enjoy the experience.

Knott's Chicken Restaurant - This warm, wonderful family restaurant is just outside Knott's Berry Farm Thrill Park, so you don't need a ticket to try the best fried chicken dinner ON EARTH!!! It has 1930's knick knacks everywhere, cloth tablecloths, heavy dinnerware and motherly waitresses... real downhome decadent victuals. Leave your diet at home.

Lucille's BBQ - Lucille traveled to Long Beach from Greenville just before WWII and brought her granny's secrets to BBQ with her. We have a Lucille's in Tustin and one in Lake Forest. The BBQ is really amazing but expensive. The family style dinners seem to be the best value and I promise you will enjoy anything on the menu!

Very Nice Restaurants

las brisas restaurant laguna beach Las Brisas - is our very most favorite place for mid week brunch (anywhere). The setting is lovely and the view is the ENTIRE Pacific Ocean. Brunch includes an amazing variety of choices and all of them are delicious. They only charge $12.95 mid week but you absolutely must make reservations. They are located in Laguna Beach on Cliff Drive and Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) in a lovely Spanish style hacienda built in 1938. Brunch is served on Sundays but it is more crowded and is more expensive ($30 +). Lunch and dinner is also served at Las Brisas and the menu is actually quite expensive for a family but the menu is dazzling.

Ti Amo -is a wonderful Italian/Mediterranean restaurant located in Laguna Beach just past the Montage on PCH. Built as a home in 1928 the atmosphere is small, unique and always booked. You need to call them at 949 499-5350, leave a message stating when you would like reservations and they will contact you. It is worth the extra effort. The food is fabulous and the view and ambiance unparalleled.

Captain Jack's Prime Rib - located at 16812 PCH in Sunset Beach - it sure doesn't look like much. But the prime rib….well, you just have to try it for yourself! And, yes, it is expensive!

terrace restaurant laguna hotel laguna beach Terrace Café - is located in the Laguna Hotel outside over the beach. They have a great little lunch menu (the pork sandwich is so good I am thinking about going there right now) and it is not expensive AT ALL. I like that they have chicken strips on the appetizer menu that the kids can have and the kids like that they can run down the stairs out on to the beach as the adults linger over coffee or drinks.

The Bungalow - is located where McArthur runs into PCH in Corona del Mar and we have a joke in our family. Should we pay the mortgage or go have dinner at the Bungalow? The prime steaks, seafood (lobster at market prices), fresh fish and 5 star service served with the best martinis on earth makes you wonder how important it is to 'pay the house payment'! Dinner at the Bungalow is definitely a SPECIAL occasion!

There are many more, of course, and I will be adding to this page…. Email "The Dawsons" and I will add your favorites! croc rainforest cafe gorilla rainforest cafe dana point from san clemente pier
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