Photographs by Emily J. Davis

Fantastic Falafel

Fans of the golden, fried orbs popular throughout the Middle East have long awaited a stellar and authentic version to appear in Orange County. Open since 2020, Sababa Falafel Shop gets it right and knows it, too, judging from the way the casual restaurant hands out pieces of falafel like candy to guests waiting in an ever-present yet quickly moving line. Get the herby and never-dry chickpea balls in a bowl ($12) or pita ($10) with unlimited toppings. 11011 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, 714-242-8977

Teddy Bear Souffle Pancake

There are five flavors of souffle pancakes at Baum Tee & Coffee, but only one variety that might be too cute to eat. The towering custard souffle pancake is light, silky, and mildly sweet, topped with dollops of cream and chocolate chips, which make it resemble the face of a teddy bear ($8.90). Pair it with one of the many splendid teas available. 13955 Yale Ave., Irvine, 949-978-7122

Critic’s Choice Sandwich

We tasted the best crunchy turkey panini around this past year at Mangi Con Amore bistro, hidden in an office park. Perfect ratios of sliced breast, crisp pear, Muenster cheese, baby spinach on deeply savory bread ($14.55). Quinoa salad and ribboned pepperoncini on the side. 26941 Cabot Road, Laguna Hills, 949-367-0778

Traditional Old-Fashioned

Overheard from one of our food writers after tasting the Old-Fashioned at the Sweet James Bergener Bar at Orange County Museum of Art, mixed specially by an earnest bartender: “Every time I think I want to clean up my act, something like this comes along!” Simple, yet perfect, with Buffalo Trace bourbon, two kinds of bitters, ice, and an orange peel. It’s just what you want the classic cocktail to be in an elegant setting surrounded by art. 3333 Avenue of the Arts, Costa Mesa, 949-470-2298

Sneaky Snails

If you think you’re not into snails, think again. Chef Nick Weber’s escargot ebelskivers at Populaire will change even the most skeptical minds with four puffy rounds of fresh-off-the-griddle dough served on buttermilk emulsion with parsley. Pop a whole one in your mouth at once and be prepared for treat. 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-760-4555

Ornate Cakes

Whether it’s for a birthday, promotion, or holiday, there’s nothing like a cake to celebrate. Bako Baked Goods takes it a step further with adorable and extravagant designs that will make everyone participating pull out their phones for a picture. Pricing varies based on shape, layers, flavors, and more. Tustin,

Photo courtesy of Skal Pizza

Pizza Spot With a View

Try Skål Pizza’s variety of pie options including artichoke and white sauce ($20) and Everything crust and lox ($19) while taking in the views of the marina. To pair with your pizza, opt for a wood-fired veggie dish such as the celery root ($14) or the carrots with labneh ($14). 3400 Via Oporto, Newport Beach, 949-270-6100

French Flair for a Party

CrepeStars, a family-owned business based in Placentia, delights with 26 varieties of handheld crepes made fresh at your event. Savory options such as honey mustard chicken or Philly steak pave the way for decadent dessert crepes, including several with Nutella and the Strawberry Supreme: strawberries, cinnamon, whipped cream, and Grand Marnier. Placentia,

Trés Bon Bonbons

Classically trained Luisa Cuevas turns out sublime handcrafted truffles and bonbons daily, but custom orders are her specialty. Her collection of 1,000 molds means your chocolate gifts, party favors, and desserts can play up any theme, from sports to seashells to stilettos. Unlike mass-market chocolate, every super-fresh bite from Luisa Chocolatiere is transporting, unforgettable. 26941 Cabot Road, Laguna Hills, 949-582-5867

Happiest Hours

Orange you glad the city’s premier Happy Hour is in Old Towne? Finney’s Crafthouse generously discounts a dozen best-selling appetizers and gallons of boozy beverages every midweek afternoon. The signature pepperoni pizza is $7. Well drinks are $6. Five bucks buys a draft beer from 30 taps. This family-owned hangout is so inclusive, your kids are welcome, too. Monday through Friday from 3 to 5 p.m. 204 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, 714-278-3010

Natural Wine at a Boutique Liquor Store

Hi-Lo Liquor Market supplies everything from nutritional yeast popcorn to sake in a juice box. But for natural and organic wine lovers this shop is a must. The back wall of the store has an easy-to-see display area so you can select your wines with ease. The helpful staff will guide you to your favorite funky varietal. 2981 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 949-991-0181

Worth-the-Splurge Side Dish

The roasted garlic and rosemary potatoes ($7) at Milligram Coffee and Kitchen stun, cooked delightfully crisp on the outside while still being soft and delicious inside. The garlic aioli on the side provides the perfect dip. Can there be such a thing as too much garlic? Nope! 234 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 949-612-7272

Alkaline Coffee

Avoid the harsh acidity of your favorite morning beverage with Alkaline Coffee Company’s cold brew. It’s treated with natural minerals to neutralize the acids, leaving it with a pH of 8.0. It also satisfies 15 percent of your daily potassium needs. Cypress,

Seasonal Hand Pie

Despite the name, this pie is served on a plate with a house-made puff pastry crust and fruit to match the season at Selanne Steak Tavern. It’s not listed on the menu, but servers will inform you about the latest iterations from pastry chef Theresa Ebilane. A recent example included a medley of honey crisp, red delicious, pink lady, and green apples sauteed in brown butter, vanilla, apple cider, cinnamon, and a hint of orange. Warm caramel with rosemary drizzles over it for a truly decadent finale to your meal. 1464 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-715-9881

Panang Curry

Hanuman Thai Eatery’s version marries sweet coconut and savory peanut butter, then elevates it with house-toasted spices, shelled edamame, aromatic kaffir lime leaf, chile threads, and prettily drizzled coconut milk. Slices of hanger steak, chicken, shrimp, or tofu stylishly fan out over rice alongside ($19). 1835 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, 949-519-0775

Breakfast Biscuit Sandwich Selection

ake your pick of half a dozen breakfast biscuit sandwiches ($8 to $12) at Hola Adios Coffeeshop. Whether you choose one with barbacoa, bacon, carnitas, chorizo, spinach, or avocado, you can’t go wrong. Available only at the Tustin location, each sandwich features an egg and potato frittata as well as a spectacularly buttery house-made biscuit. 434 El Camino Real, Tustin, 949-329-8987

S’mores Tart

Located in a converted house, Crocker’s Cafe and Bakery offers a large selection of baked goods made from scratch. One highlight is the s’mores tart ($8.50) featuring graham crackers, dark chocolate, and marshmallow—an elevated version of the iconic treat. Enjoy this dish on the front patio or in the backyard garden. 132 E. 19th St., Costa Mesa, 714-679-7226

Cotton Candy Art

Families line up–sometimes for up to four hours—at Polar Playground for a chance to watch sugar being spun by hand into eye-catching works of art. The cotton candy creations ($20) range from unicorns to Pokemon; the Instagram lists dozens of edible characters customers can choose from. 16891 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach,

Fish and Chips

Despite an expansive menu spanning wild mahi-mahi tacos and huge lobster tails, the biggest draw at new Simply Fish delivers three large pieces of white fish and generous fries, both components beautifully crisped and seasoned, plus coleslaw ($14). It easily feeds two. 1534 Adams Ave., Costa Mesa, 949-393-7401

Chocolate Emoji Buns

What’s better than a soft and sweet bun filled with dark chocolate and vanilla bean custard cream? One that’s decorated with a kaomoji, or Japanese emoticon. At Okayama Kobo Bakery & Cafe, the chocolate buns ($3.50) are topped with this style of emoji character—rabbits, pigs, and more—and made fresh daily using 100 percent Hokkaido flour. 155 W. Center Street Promenade, Anaheim, 714-603-7332

Summer Cocktail

The summer menu at Harvest at The Ranch Laguna Beach includes the gorgeous Laguna Breeze, a drink as pretty as it is refreshing. Guava rum, peach liquor, yuzu, and cranberry combine to delight your tastebuds without being overly sweet. A perfect way to relax on the deck for a summer evening. 31106 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-715-1376


Popularized in South Korea, the croissant-waffle hybrids have recently spread to Orange County. Here are three spots to get them.

Artisan by 7 Leaves

Fountain Valley

The Artisan Croffle, accompanied with your choice of vanilla cream, salted caramel, or jam


Maison de Croissant


Seven varieties of croffles, from strawberry and chocolate to caramel and tiramisu


In-sīt Coffee

Buena Park and Costa Mesa

Regular croffle or specialty croffle (strawberries & cream, tiramisu, matcha)

$5 to $8.50