Executive chef Thomas Crijns of Brussels Bistro teams up with fellow Belgian Philippe De Smedt and French restaurateur Thierry Perreau to give his seasonally inspired menu of Belgian-style cuisine a French twist, earning the restaurant recognition as one of the 2012 Top 10 Orange County Bistro Restaurants in Gayot and named Best French Fries in 2008 in OC Weekly for their signature side with dipping sauces. With live jazz music each Tuesday through Thursday and DJs spinning music under pulsing colored lights Fridays and Saturdays, it is not surprising that OpenTable also took notice of the spot and awarded Brussels Bistro the Diners Choice for Late Night Find.
While known for its late night offerings, Brussels Bistro features a menu of lunch fare including quiche Lorraine packed with gruyere cheese, tomatoes, and bacon and savory ham-and-cheese crepes. Diners may opt to share their bountiful pots of mussels and Belgian-style fries on the sunny outdoor terrace while sipping one of nine Belgian beers on tap or 15 bottled varieties each served with a signature glass etched with its family tree.
Patsy's dishes out a menu of authentic Irish eats prepared with palate-pleasing meats, fish, cheeses, and veggies. Tongues can start by wrapping themselves around the Donegal, a serving of gently fried calamari strips ($10.75), or the Dublin, a heaping helping of taters covered in melted cheese and blanketed with bacon, corned beef, or chicken ($9). Nine sandwiches pay homage to America's newest territory, such as the Derry, an irish pork banger playing drums on a flaky roll and accompanied by colcannon and gravy ($6.75). Kate Kearney's fish and chips ($11.95), Coyle shepherd's pie ($8.75), and the Liffey mixed grille—packed with a lamb chop, irish bacon, two bangers, mushrooms, and grilled tomatoes ($13)—take the stage for the main act, sending taste buds into a fit of merry river dance and joyous jigging.
The Taco Surf empire grew from the dream of a father and son who, in 1988, decided to found a restaurant that captured the distinctive flavors as well as the festive spirit of Baja California. Basing the menu on generations-old family recipes, the duo stick to tradition by making everything from crispy tortilla chips to tamales in-house. Charbroiled flank steak, slow-cooked pork, and grilled chicken appear throughout the menu; however, the ocean's influence is unmistakably prominent. The iconic Baja tacos arrive brimming with breaded white fish and drizzled with a signature spicy Baja sauce, which the restaurant generously sells by the bottle and by the thimble.
Located on the gorgeous shores of Lake Mission Viejo and decorated with hand-painted murals, the picture-perfect hacienda features a menu packed with Mexican favorites. House specialties include carnitas (fresh, Mexican-style pork with frijoles, arroz, salsa fresca, and guacamole, $14.95) and the mole Maria (tender chicken topped with homemade mole sauce, $14.95). If you bring a Valentine's date, the platon de tacos (for two people, $26.95) gives you both ample opportunity to eat from either end of a custom-made taco and meet in the middle—a couples activity as romantic to experience as it is disgusting to watch. Seafarers will dig the marinated convergence of raw fish, lime, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro in Tortilla Flats' ceviche ($11.95) or the sautéed crab and shrimp medley of chimichanga de mariscos ($18.95), while herbivores can savor some deep-fried tostadas stuffed with veggies ($10.95). Chase it all with a dessert of fried ice cream ($6.95) or caramel flan ($4.95). Tortilla Flats also offers a respectable wine list.
Modeled after an Old World wine cellar, WineStyles's shelves are lined with rare bottles accrued by its staff of in-house experts hailing from quality vineyards across the globe. The shop's bounty includes handcrafted gift boxes and baskets and merchandise, such as guidebooks for translating secret codes etched in cork. Along with retailing wine and imbibing gear, WineStyles's crew grants guests the opportunity to sample new pours at frequent events and two-hour tastings three nights a week. For dedicated aficionados, the chief wine taster chooses two bottles to send to wine-club members along with tasting notes that detail their origins, a winery description, and suggested food pairings.
Make lunch or dinner into a fun foodmersible with submarine-shaped appetizer rolls such as the seared ahi tuna variation with mango, mint, avocado, and wasabi-ginger soy sauce ($7), or yam-tempura-coated fish sticks ($7). Meat goes best with meat, which explains why bold dishes like the rau ram salad with chicken, cabbage, green mango, and apple ($11) and the braised anise shortrib ($22) stand out so well. Quietly confident plates such as the tofu with eggplant, mushrooms, and Thai basil ($12) or the lemongrass jalapeno wok (tofu, $13) are equally delicious, but are more susceptible to noogies.