Before filling up a plate at Hokkaido Seafood Buffet, take a moment to meander past the seemingly boundless rows of fresh crawfish, jumbo crab legs, and oysters, or to marvel at chefs as they toss steak and chicken on fiery teppanyaki grills. Stroll past the sushi station to admire sushi masters as they nimbly slice fresh fish and crispy vegetables into colorful specialty rolls, then saunter by simmering trays of pan-Asian specialties such as fried rice and crunchy spring rolls. The vast buffet abounds with more than 150 hot and cold items, many of which were made with seafood purchased directly from local fisherman.
Out in the spacious dining room, diners linger over last bites of creamy cheesecake and juicy strawberries in cushy booths, sipping imported beers and colorful cocktails. The bright space is decorated with nautical decor, including orange life preservers and impressionist pieces painted by local sea monkeys.
Sitting pretty in the Saddleback Mountains, Ayres Hotel & Spa Mission Viejo indulges its patrons with modern suites and lavish amenities. Free high-speed Internet and a complimentary cooked-to-order American breakfast prevent the need to pilfer passwords and thrust eggs and bagels into barren coat pockets. Sink into the soothing arms of a king-size Ayres Dream Sleeper bed to enhance your REM cycle’s productivity. A bottle of sparkling wine and an appetizer from the hotel’s restaurant ($10 value) stand at the ready to keep neglected hunger pangs from consorting with troublemaking hunger gangs. With a late 2 p.m. checkout, customers can ease into the day or get a head start on the coming night’s slumber.
Ana Maria Montoya Kishihara first landed on American soil in the early 1980s, bringing along her two young children, the traditional Peruvian recipes of her mother and grandmother, and a dream to start her own restaurant. She opened up Inka Grill in 1996, stocking its kitchen with fresh ingredients and setting up a wood-fired rotisserie to roast juicy Peruvian chicken dishes. Today, Ana’s daughter has taken over the family business, whipping up the authentic the Criolla recipes passed down from the three generations of women before her.
Amid the smoky rotisserie and bubbling pots of stew in the Inka Grill kitchen, chefs whip up fresh fish ceviches, savory steak stir-fry saltados, and flavorful seafood paellas. They pair heaping scoops of rice and beans with their rotisserie chicken, a poultry that reporters from Orange County Weekly lauded as “so juicy from tail to sternum you can barely tell the dark from the white.” Servers tote sizzling platters to the dining room, where vivid paintings of Peruvian children adorn the walls and a soft flute plays traditional Peruvian songs, i.e., Wham! covers. The staff pours glasses of the traditional chicha morada corn drink and presents cans of imported Inca Kola to quench the spice of their ultra-spicy green aji sauce, which the chefs have lightheartedly dubbed “Gringo Killer”.
For Fresh Kabobs owner and head chef Rafi, cooking isn't just about feeding people. It's about sharing the flavors of his childhood with strangers. That's why he does his best to make sure his menu of Indian and Pakistani cuisine is made with the finest ingredients possible. He loads skewers with USDA choice Angus beef, Australian lamb, chicken, and farm fresh vegetables, seasons them in a blend of spices from mild to hot, and serves each kabob with a side of goat cheese and strawberries and sauteed veggies and potatoes. But kabobs are just the beginning here. Rafi also wraps his savory meats in paratha and naan bread for Indian-style wraps, and piles them atop beds of basmati rice for the house curry bowls. But no matter how they're served, all of his dishes incorporate spicy sauces made in-house from homemade recipes.
To Master Chef Massimo Navarretta—who grew up farming and wine-making in Campania, Italy—it makes little sense to separate wine from food. At his eatery Onotria, which received Wine Spectator's Best of Award of Excellence in 2011 and 2012, he groups dishes on the menu by wine pairing, rather than by main ingredient or ability to be balanced on the tip of a tiny dessert spoon. Seafood-based plates, such as prosciutto-wrapped tiger shrimp or poached octopus with artichokes, complement a glass of dry, sparkling white wine. Lightly breaded pork medallions accompany a light, dry red, while hearty lamb chops or filet go with a bolder varietal such as zinfandel or merlot. These dishes can serve as tasting plates for groups, entrees for individuals, or finger food for visiting giants.
To create the seasonal menu, the kitchen uses hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, as well as organic and biodynamic ingredients. Meals are served under a high-peaked ceiling with wooden rafters, in a dining room with exposed-brick columns and mottled walls that echo the look of an old-country trattoria.
It's been nearly three decades since the first Taco Factory Inc opened its doors, and though the business has expanded to other locations, some things haven't changed. Chefs at all locations still rely on the same family recipes to craft a menu of authentic Mexican cuisine. The guacamole that tops the restaurant's tacos, tostadas, and burritos, for example, is still made fresh in-house, and the salsas and tortilla chips are always handmade. Breakfast, which is served till noon, features hearty eye-openers like egg and bean burritos or huevos rancheros, while a variety of vegetarian options cater to those in search of lighter fare.