Orange County – New food in familiar places

The first week of November, I visited my old stomping grounds in Costa Mesa, Santa Ana, and Irvine. I spent nearly one year here on a work rotation. Orange County does innovative, fast-casual well, and there seems to be an unwavering demand for new food. Many west coast outposts start in Orange County. The successful Taiwanese bakery 85°C opened their first US location in the OC. The same can be said of numerous bubble tea and shaved snow chains. The most hyped recent opening is the first West Coast location of NYC’s legendary The Halal Guys.

Halal Guys Falafel
Freshly fried green falafel! @ The Halal Guys

With each new opening, comes fervent lines and social media food porn that outdoes the Bay Area. SoCal’s focus is noticeably more on appearance – bright colors, toppings, and in-your face-indulgence that all lend to drool worthy photographs. My mission on my four day trip was to try all new spots since my July move. It was hard to narrow down to a few dinners, but with extensive research and some luck (short line at Halal Guys!), I felt like I hit a great variety.

Juan & Only Burger and Parmesan Truffle Fries @ GD Bro Burger
Juan & Only Burger and Parmesan Truffle Fries @ GD Bro Burger

Poke is not new to the area, but there has been a rapid growth of new Poke shops in the past couple months. My first meal (actually the back-up after seeing the Sunday evening line at The Halal Guys) was at Calipoke in Costa Mesa. My Chipotle-style poke bowl with tuna, salmon, and yellowtail wasn’t anything extraordinary, but like Chipotle, it was reliably tasty and relatively healthy. For fresher fish, a sushi bar would be better. I guess I still need to go to Hawaii to try the real deal.

Dinner the next night featured the excitingly photogenic red buns at the brick and mortar GD Bro Burger. Their food truck is currently on “The Great Food Truck Race.” I was happy to find the taste to be as intensely satisfying as the visuals here. The meat itself isn’t the best compared to other gourmet burgers, but the toppings were a masterpiece on my taste buds. The parmesan truffle fries were also enjoyable, though it bothered me that truffle oil is too often not real truffle. This was the case here. Be forewarned that is messy meal, especially if you add fried egg to the burger (and why wouldn’t you?)

Juan & Only Burger - Fried egg, jalapeño cream cheese, pico de gallo, avocado chipotle mayo on raspberry bun
Juan & Only Burger – Fried egg, jalepeno cream cheese, pico de gallo, avocado chipotle mayo on raspberry bun @ GD Bro Burger

My final dinner was the best, both in food and experience. I stumbled upon a magic window at The Halal Guys which took me all of 14 minutes to get through a 15 person line. Diners were reporting two hour waits at the month old Costa Mesa location. I felt like the food gods were smiling at me that day. The gyro and chicken bowl was the best Mediterranean style bowl I’ve had. Great flavors and the gyro meat was incredibly juicy. Truly delicious indeed, but I still wouldn’t wait two hours for this. Not sure I would wait two hours for any place for that matter!

Chicken & Gyro plate @ Halal Guys
Chicken & Gyro plate @ Halal Guys

I couldn’t leave OC without bringing back some of the dessert craze with me. I rushed out during my lunch break to grab mini doughnuts at a brand new spot in Irvine. These gorgeous sweets from Poqet Donuts survived the plane ride intact. Mr. A was quite happy that night. The doughnuts were pretty tasty, with some real winners and no duds. Our obvious favorite was the lemon-meringue. Mr. A liked the peanut butter and blueberry ones next, while I enjoyed the tiramisu and maple bacon more.

Mini Donuts from top to bottom: Lemon meringue, avocado, peanut butter, strawberry, tiramisu, maple bacon, blueberry @ Poqet Donuts
Mini Donuts from top to bottom: lemon-meringue, avocado, peanut butter, strawberry, tiramisu, maple bacon, blueberry @ Poqet Donuts

My yelp reviews from this post:

GD Bro Burger – The Halal Guys – Poqet Donuts

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