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The 50 Finest!

If there’s truly no sincerer love than the love of food, then we’re crushing like crazy over the exciting new restaurants and hot chefs driving Orange County’s dining scene right now. They’ve won our hearts with concepts that fan our flame, dishes that make us swoon and inventive twists on popular trends. And here’s the proof.

Justin Miller of Pizzeria Ortica

ARC restaurant’s Noah Blom is firing up our foodie flame.


1. Adam Navidi
Talk about a guy with fresh ideas... He owns the greenest “restaurant” in O.C.—a 25-acre farm in Brea. Navidi earned his cooking cred at dining spots near and far. But at Future Foods Farms, he practices aquaponics, an organic self-sustaining growing method that combines aquaculture and hydroponics. Fish provide nutrients for the produce, and everything is repurposed—from Styrofoam boxes to salad bars. Book a visit, and you’ll be treated to a tour and a tasting of his fresh crop of exotic greens, edible flowers, and organically raised tilapia and chicken.

2. Bruno Serato
This toque was just appointed a knight of the Italian Republic. His opulent Anaheim White House serves the world’s dining elite his gourmet Northern Italian cuisine, and top-quality cuts of hormone-free beef and game daily, then dishes out 300 free dinners to kids living in motels every night through his nonprofit Caterina’s Club, named after his mother. (Be still our hearts.)

3. Helene An
She’s the matriarch of a dining empire that includes AnQi at South Coast Plaza and its sister restaurants (Crustacean and Tiato) in San Francisco, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. If you’ve been to AnQi, and we’re guessing you have, you know it’s the amalgamation of fine dining and fashion. But the empire grew from humble beginnings. She arrived in Cali’s Bay Area in 1975, after fleeing her homeland as a refugee (her father was senior royal court advisor to the emperor of Vietnam) and joined her mother-in-law in a restaurant venture that became the House of An.

4. Seakyeong Kim
We love this chef’s creativity and daring, and we adore how those character traits are carried out in the menu at Charlie Palmer’s South Coast Plaza resto. Sure, you’ll find mainstays like the spicy lamb meatballs. But then there are some nice surprises, like the escargot. It’s prepared as a dumpling, and it’s seasoned with Asian spices as well as garlic and butter—a pillow of heaven.

5. Justin Miller
He worked everywhere from the Balboa Bay Club to a cruise ship before landing as a line chef at David Myers’ Pizzeria Ortica in 2009. Within a year, the O.C. native moved up to chef de cuisine. Now he’s the executive chef and works with Myers crafting authentic dishes with flair and flavor. The pizza dough is made from an ancient Neapolitan recipe, the pasta is perfecto, and the Mediterranean octopus with potatoes, celery hearts and Sicilian capers is simply sublime.

6. David Slay
For Slay, a garage is a space to create an enchanting destination where you’ll dine under the stars and next to—of all things—a tractor. Yes, Il Garage sits just behind his retro-inspired Park Ave eatery in Stanton. Slay seasoned his skills in his father’s kitchen, then moved to Vegas to apprentice with European chefs before opening his first resto at 20. Whether you’re dining on housemade strozzapreti at Il Garage or pan-seared scallops with edamame and summer corn succotash at Park Ave, it’s darn good.

7. Louie Jocson
He’s friendly with a flair for elevated cuisine—that’s Jocson, an adored local chef who gains more fans by the minute at his eclectic, yet sophisticated Red Table restaurant in Surf City. He founded the eatery in 2011 with a group of friends, and they consistently deliver on service and atmosphere, and the bold, fun and comforting fare.(Try the slow lamb poutine—a customer fave.) Even better, in the past year, he and his resto have given more than $10,000 to local orgs through Red Table’s weekly Community Mondays program.

8. Alan Greeley
Every day’s a delicious surprise at Greeley’s Golden Truffle. The menu changes daily, depending on the fresh ingredients he picks up that morning. And he does it all—French, Italian, Mexican (you should taste what he makes for SOS’ Wild & Crazy Taco Night), as well as down-home American. Then there’s his Soul Food Wednesday menu. And he’s perhaps the most down-to-earth, unpretentious chef we’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.

9. Gabbi Patrick

This sweetheart of south-of-the-border cuisine has elevated Mexican food to a gourmet level. Her Gabbi’s Mexican Kitchen dishes out traditional favorites (you might find ingredients like cactus worked into the mix) in a fresh, artful way. It’s what we’d expect from a gal who grew up working in her family’s restaurants before studying culinary arts at UCLA and Greystone Culinary Institute in Napa.

10. Alfonso Ramirez
It’s a thrill to watch the upward trajectory of a favorite chef, so it was a joy to see Ramirez leading the kitchen at Patina Restaurant Group’s Pinot Provence. He first spent time in the kitchen at Joachim Splichal’s beloved flagship. Now we can’t wait to see what he creates at this fine dining destination.

Click here to read more of "The 50 Finest!" in the digital edition of Riviera Orange County!