L.A. doesn’t need any more restaurants. There are more than 10,000 of them within city lines, the market is already struggling to keep up with rising labor and real estate costs, and we’re seeing restaurants close at an alarming rate. But, come onnnnnnnnnn—having 10 more couldn’t hurt, right? Orange County, long considered L.A.’s less-cultured younger sibling (I grew up there so I can say that), has had a huge uptick in restaurants that I would totally stuff my face at if it weren’t for the completely insurmountable barrier of driving more than 10 miles on the 405. Here are the 10 O.C. restaurants that I would like to formally and selfishly urge to open in L.A. proper:
Look at that crab and lobster grilled cheese. Just look at it. It’s glorious. It’s like the first ray of sunshine breaking through a cloud, or a dog with a funny hat on. Slapfish is what happens when you have a bunch of fresh seafood, a chef with ingenuity, and you’re not bound by long-held tenets of culinary morality like,”don’t eat fish with cheese,” or “don’t put lobster on a hamburger,” or “what the hell, are those clam chowder fries?”
Don’t write off the bright red, raspberry-flavored buns as an Instagrammable gimmick—there’s some genuine charbroiled genius going on between them. GD Bro Burger started as a food truck (it appeared on Food Network’s Great Food Truck race season 6) and, with investment from the founders of megaviral After’s Ice Cream, eventually opened brick-and-mortars in Santa Ana and Signal Hill. Burgers like the Italian Stallion, which has mozzarella sticks, spinach, marinara sauce, pepperoni, and ranch, border on comically absurd, but they always make sense in your mouth. Also, if GD Bro Burger were to open in L.A. proper, they could start an epic rivalry with Fat Sal’s.
Carlos Salgado’s modern Mexican spot in Costa Mesa, which primarily operates on a four-course pairing menu, has already been adopted on behalf of L.A. via JGold’s list of the 101 best restaurants. But I don’t want a nominal adoption, dammit, I want to eat Salgado’s inventive tacos on handmade, non-GMO, blue corn tortillas without getting emotionally destroyed by the 405.
Barring a few exceptions, you either have to drive unreasonably far East to the SGV, or unreasonably far south to Little Saigon to find great Vietnamese food. Which is why I would like to import my favorite Westminster spot for bún thịt nướng chả giò—AKA rice noodle salad with grilled pork and shrimp egg rolls, AKA the greatest dish of all time—somewhere within walking distance of my crappy apartment in Palms.
Orange County may well be the world capital of freewheeling limitless stoner fare, and Dos Chinos may well be the capital of that capital. One of their most popular items is literally called stoner fries, which comes with carne asada, five-spice pork belly, chorizo fried rice, a fried egg, cilantro, onions, and salsa verde. There’s also a lobster elote, which makes a surprising amount of sense if you really think about it. Chef Hop Phan is like the Roy Choi of Orange County, if Roy Choi was super hopped up on Mountain Dew, chronic, and Instagram likes. And I genuinely mean that as a compliment.
Brodard’s nem nuong cuon are incomparable. Springy, bright pink and slightly sour pork sausages are grilled over charcoal then wrapped in translucent rice paper with herbs, carrot, cucumber, and shatteringly crunchy fried egg roll skins. They’re served with a sugary dipping sauce and they’re little texture and flavor bombs and they’re way too far away from me right now and that is my only complaint.
First: I’ll eat anything from anyone that has ever been on Top Chef because I was born in the Food Network generation and that’s how I interact with the world. Second: Chef Brian Huskey from season 11—who was formerly the sauce man at Picca with Ricardo Zarate—is making a California cheesesteak with fried onions on it that I really want to put in my mouth. There are also breakfast burritos, fish tacos, banh mi, and avocado toasts, which makes it seem like Huskey was in my head and typing out a list of my favorite foods to make up the menu.
First: I’ll eat anything from anyone that has ever been on Top Chef because I was born in the Food Network generation and that’s how I interact with the world. Second: Amar Santana, who finished a pretty damn close second place last year, opened his Spanish tapas bar/steakhouse with an intense dry-aging program in Costa Mesa last year and JUST LOOK AT THAT STEAK.
Have you ever had a cheeseburger taco? No? Well then you see the problem. If Pour Vida Latin Flavor were in L.A., maybe you would have had a cheeseburger taco, and you would have known it was awesome. Jimmy Martinez was formerly the executive chef at BOA Steakhouse, and now he’s slinging some incredible fusion tacos in Anaheim, which is far too many miles away from me.
We had you East Borough. And then we lost you. And for that, I am truly sorry. #RIPEastBorough #EastBoroughComeBack #EB4Lyfe
Josh Scherer is the Senior Food Writer at Los Angeles magazine. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram @CulinaryBroDown. He has a profound emotional relationship with Hot Pockets.