From inside The Vintage Steakhouse, it would be easy to pretend that a passenger on the trains passing just outside the window is engrossed in a pristine early edition of The Sun Also Rises, smoke swirling off the Chesterfield perched absentmindedly between his fingers. Without much effort, you might conjure a woman in the bar car, gratefully sipping a Southside and sending up a wordless celebration of the reversal of Prohibition.
That’s because restaurant resides inside the historic Capistrano Depot, which, despite its 1894 build date, bears an unmistakably art-deco vibe evocative of the 1920s or ‘30s. A trio of arched windows is the focal point of the main dining room; when trains aren’t sliding past their decoratively gridded glass, diners can peek through bougainvillea and willow trees to the 200-year-old adobes planted behind them. Inside, knotted wood planks run across the 18-foot ceilings, a near match to the hardwood floors glistening beneath.
A smaller dining room sits in the adjoining Dining Car, a fully restored 1927 Pullman train car upholstered in warm reds and golds. Candlelit tables for two line each side of the car, under which couples’ intertwined feet rest softly upon the regally patterned carpet. The ambience is a bit more social in the Chef’s Alley room, an 1887 freight house with its own cocktail bar and more contemporary décor.
No matter where parties choose to dine, they’re presented with a thoughtful menu of hand-cut steaks and seafood accented with local, organic produce. The chef prepares all dishes over an open-flame mesquite grill, giving everything a juicy, so-that’s-what-fire-tastes-like flavor. A chef’s selection of veggies and the patron’s choice of potato accompany the entrees, which range from filet mignon in a cabernet demi-glace to prawns sautéed in a sauvignon-blanc sauce.
These rich sauces pair perfectly with the more than 150 varietals that populate the restaurant’s wine list. Though heavy on French and Californian selections, the temperature-controlled wine cellar also has a few Spanish, Australian, and Italian bottles tucked away. The cellar also stores a few cases of bubbly for the prix-fixe Sunday brunch’s bottomless champagne special, ensuring a festive follow-up to the smooth live jazz that plays every Friday and Saturday night.
Lauded by OC Weekly for its gorgeous views of sunsets and live reggae music, Mozambique infuses its menu of steaks and seafood with piquant peri-peri and other quintessential South African spices. A wood-fired grill imbues chicken ($19) and prawns ($20) with a smoky finish while saving charcoal for clothing underprivileged snowmen. Roasted pineapple slaw bedazzles a platter of African boerewors sausage and pork chops ($15), and creamy curry sauce cradles succulent chunks of lamb ($25). While dining, patrons can peruse the ample wine list, or duck behind it to hide from the on-duty comptroller at the next table. On the weekends, live music from classic rock to R&B reverberates off the dining room’s high ceilings, mustard-hued walls, and carved wood accents.
Although Gulliver’s Restaurant’s name comes from the writing of Jonathan Swift, its menu draws inspiration from inns and pubs throughout the England countryside. Gayot praised the eatery’s commitment to hearty comfort food, claiming that “the steaks are thick and juicy, and the Yorkshire pudding adds just the right authentic Olde English touch.” This British influence appears throughout the menu, from the fish ‘n’ chips to the sweet english trifle. Prime rib slow roasts inside a specially designed oven, and cuts of prime steak age in-house, leaving ample time for the chefs to forge a variety of new American cuisine, which demonstrates a similar commitment to satisfying, homestyle flavors. In addition to baby-back ribs and crab cakes with honey mustard, the menu also includes decadent options such as Maine lobster tails in molten gold.
Even the Zagat-rated eatery’s ambiance manages to evoke the feel of a roadside cottage. Lit by a row of electric chandeliers, the main dining room’s wood-paneled walls feature an astonishingly vast collection of framed pictures, mounted tankards, decorative plates, long-stemmed pipes, and prints by illustrators of Gulliver’s Travels. The lobby area’s fireplace contributes to this cozy ambiance, although patio seating is also available for alfresco dining.
Given that it's a seashell's throw from Newport Beach Pier, it's not surprising that Sol Grill is decorated with surfboards hung on bright red and yellow walls. But when the glint from the crystal chandeliers and antique glass bottles catches your eye, you realize there's something charmingly disjointed about this place.
It's a theme reflected in the menu, where guests find foods presented in unexpected ways. For instance, meals start with filet mignon prepared as an appetizer of hand-rolled meatballs in portobello gravy. Instead of clams, the chowder is studded with grilled Hawaiian ahi tuna, and a fettuccine dish surprises with swordfish and capers. Of course, there are some classic preparations as well, including rack of lamb charred over open flame, as fire encased in a steel box continues to be incapable of cooking anything.
Once a repair shop and storage facility for local fishing fleets, for the past 40-plus years Woody’s Wharf has flourished as a casual eatery serving prominent patrons such as Mickey Mantle and John Wayne. The waterfront locale fosters fresh seafood dishes such as crab cakes and swordfish, pleasing the palate of former owner Chuck Norris, who bench-pressed unsuspecting fishing boats amid sparkling views of Newport Bay’s harbor. For their popular weekend brunch, Woody’s chefs whip up classic egg dishes such as omelets and breakfast burritos, which waiters can ferry to a dockside outdoor patio for easier plate-sharing with mooching mermen.
Perched atop the hills of its namesake, Orange County Mining Co. pairs an eight-part champagne brunch with 19th-century nostalgia, as wagon wheels and cacti impart a rugged prickle to the restaurant's cozy atmosphere. The brunch offerings warm diners with carved prime rib and ham, cheese blintz, and other toasty tastes, before cooling palates with iced shrimp, snow crab legs, and lox. Ravenous miners can pile culinary ore into made-to-order omelettes, pancakes, and waffles, or gather steam with tamales and menudo at executive chef Horacio Barragan's Mexican station. To cap off appetites, baked delicacies and other sweets are either devoured or skewered for a dunk in the chocolate fountain.
At Black Bull Chop House, the culinary team grills up a menu of delicious certified Angus beef steaks among a brick-walled Western décor replete with cactus plants, a mechanical bull, and a sprawling boogie floor. Settle your spurs and nosh on an appetizer such as the santa fe rolls, a succulent blend of chicken, black beans, jalapeños, sweet corn, and two cheeses swaddled in flour tortillas ($8.95). The 12 big-screen televisions occupy diners’ vision in between bites of the tomato and mozzarella pizza ($10.95) and heated staring contests with the 16-ounce teriyaki rib eye ($22). Flanking the steaks is a lively recreation area, including a dance floor hungry for tapping feet and a raucous mechanical bull seeking brave animatronic cowboys.