Ten Great Italian Restaurants In Orange County

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Meranda Carter
Il Garage

When we initially began compiling our list, it appeared relatively easy. But when we got to talking to others about their love of all things pizza, pasta and marinara, there were so many more places to consider. We're certain your place for that perfect slice is missing from our ranks, so make it known. Start a thin crust debate!

Honorable mention: Pizzeria Mozza

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Meranda Carter

While pizza is in their name, Edwin says it best when waxing poetic on Nancy Silverton's salad adoration, ". . . .cherry-sized tomatoes still dangling on their vines are roasted to crinkle the skins and soften the flesh to near-liquefaction. Perched atop a blubbery base of burrata and a slobber of hand-pounded pesto, Mozza's caprese is as perfect on the palate as it is in the photos". We consider it some of the best. Ever.

800 W Coast Hwy, Newport Beach, (949) 612-9579; www.pizzeriamozza.com/NewportBeach.


10. Francoli Gourmet

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Todd Barnes

It's always a good sign when other Italians recommend an Italian ristorante. That seal of approval is enough for us. Despite an unplanned move from Fashion Island to Old Towne Orange, the proprietors at Francoli haven't skipped a beat with their attention to detail, service and lively entertainment. Savor their homemade tiramisu in a neighborhood that embraces entrepreneurship.

100 S Glassell St, Orange, (714) 288-1077; www.francoligourmet.com.


9. (tie) Il Dolce

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Jennie Warren

The first of our "Il" duo, this Costa Mesa heavy-hitter plays on the same pizza level as their  formidable neighboring competitors, Ortica and Mozza. Bignes' Neapolitan crust knows no bounds, except when holding up his special combinations. Take for example the asparago pizza-- a trio of cheese and asparagus worlds temporarily collide over one pie. A student of (Wolfgang) Puck, he also pays homage to his mentor with a stellar barbeque-chicken pizza, flavored exactly the way one would imagine.

1902 Harbor Blvd, Costa Mesa, (949) 200-9107; www.ildolceoc.com.


9. (tie) Il Garage

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Kimberly Valenzuela

David Slay has got to be the craftiest most resourceful inventor of restaurant concepts, converting his adjacent Park Avenue garage into al fresco dining space and aptly naming it so. While orders are routed thru the same kitchen, your selection is vastly different, embracing what the surrounding garden has to offer. Look forward to seasonal antipasti fit for vegetarian royalty, plus thoughtful pastas and seafood offerings to round out your feast.

11200 Beach Blvd, Stanton, (714) 901-4400; www.parkavedining.com.


8. Lucca Cafe

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Mona Shah-Anderson

Strutting a newly designed small plates menu (plus excellent brunch), Cathy Pavlos breathes life into the sleepy corner of 405 and Sand Canyon. Relax in the heated patio and ease into the crispy pork belly. Coddled more than any egg, its juicy layers cause us to temporarily forget about any and all other pork products. We are teased by its modest portion, gently resting on a dollop of kernel-mascarpone polenta. Finished with dried apricot chutney and a garnish of microgreens, the compounding flavors transforms any rowdy table into one where chewing and silent worship rule.

6507 Quail Hill Pkwy, Irvine, (949) 725-1773; luccacafe.net.


7. Cortina's Italian Market

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Dave Lieberman

We bestowed the title of Best Italian Restaurant to Cortina's in 2010, and for good reason. Not just a meat market, they are a smorgasbord of tastes. From vino to capicolla, their 50+year tradition of quality meals is a mainstay in the neighborhood. Stock your kitchen and order a pizza, both without requiring one to stop at Costco or move your car.

2175 W Orange Ave, Anaheim, (714) 535-1948; www.cortinasitalianfood.com.


6. Franco's Pasta Cucina

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Edwin Goei

Food court feasts are few and far between, yet we have a favorite plaza which meets one of our basic needs: a go-to pasta. Found thisclose to John Wayne, Gloria Mogollon continues a tradition of garlic-infused dishes and a spot-on linguine and clams-- toothsome and herbacious with every bite. It's the stuff dreams are made of; we simply request fresh grated Parm as our silver lining.

2222 Michelson Dr, Suite 206, Irvine, (949) 852-4699; www.francospasta.com.


5. Pizza e Vino

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Anne Marie Panoringan

South county gets a slice of heaven over in Real Housewives territory. Down by "the lake" in Rancho Santa Margarita, we are introduced to an exceptionally tasty pie. Served unsliced, we experiment with Sicilian white anchovy, California garlic and oregano. Fired up in a 850-degree oven, its delicate crust is easily responsive to our fork-and-knife approach. Our bites aren't fishy, but mildly savory to our palate and easy to digest, since this is a cheese-less pizza we're appreciating. Next time we intend to hoard a Parma ham with house roasted mushroom, just as soon as their Yorba Linda spot opens.

31441 Santa Margarita Pkwy, Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 713-1500; www.pizzaevino.net.


4. Cucina Alessa


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Edwin Goei

With a trio of spots to host the casual beach communities, Cucina Alessa wins over patrons with solid comfortable eats. Their original location in Newport Beach establishes our faith in seamlessly executed plates of butternut squash ravioli.The Huntington Beach locale never experienced growing pains, as a second story assists with a full bar (previously only beer and wine). However, it's the Laguna Beach branch that continues to impress us with their prosciutto-and-mozzarella bar offerings.

Multiple locations in Orange County. www.cucinaalessa.com.


3. Cafe Hiro

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Anne Marie Panoringan

Our list isn't complete without a mention of the team's favorite gem in Cypress. While we dare use the F-word (fusion, people!) to describe Cafe Hiro's eclectic menu, by far the star of the show is their uni spaghetti. To give credit where credit is due, our resident Hiro fanboy (i.e. Edwin) will describe this most delectable of dishes, "The taste is akin to the richest egg yolk, an orange blob of almost indescribable flavor, except that it's like sea urchin. It has a texture that is texture-less. It's cold, wet, and sexy-- the seawater saliva of a mermaid's kiss. It seems impossible, but having it this way, coating strands of al dente spaghetti, extends a preciousness that usually only lasts a fleeting bite."

10509 Valley View St, Cypress, (714) 527-6090, www.cafehiro.com.


2. Joe's Italian Ice

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Elmo Monster

Who says no to dessert? Being close to the mouse is the perfect excuse to detour over to Joe's after an afternoon of fast passes and parades. Carrying classic sundaes and cones, their swoon-worthy options can be found under the red, white and green awning. El Jefe has trouble deciding between their velvety orange dream (comparable to Orange Bang!) and Joe Latti, among other selections.

12302 Harbor Blvd, Garden Grove, (714) 750-1076.


1. Tony's Little Italy

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Anne Marie Panoringan

Some of us are deep dishers, so we must sing the praises of one of the only Chi-town delights in the county. To quote myself,

"Our pizza is a retrofitted Italian masterpiece, beginning with a flaky, yet sturdy crust as its base. No schmatlzy thin layer of dough overseeing this project. Tony's can withstand and protect precious cargo from the high winds of Chi-town neighborhoods. And how about that layer of mozza? Oozing enough chewy, stringy goodness to spur an oil well. Tomatoes are strewn over like a red badge of courage. They seal in the heat and additional toppings (like sausage, onions, and peppers) during their 30-40 minute journey from counter, to oven, to box, to belly. There's a whole lot more going on than our four food groups being met; it's a renaissance of taste."

1808 N Placentia Ave, Placentia (714) 528-2159; www.tonyslittleitaly.com.


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Location Info

Pizzeria Mozza

800 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, CA

Category: Restaurant

Il Dolce Pizzeria

1902 Harbor Blvd., Costa Mesa, CA

Category: Restaurant

Il Garage

11200 Beach Blvd., Stanton, CA

Category: Restaurant

Lucca Cafe

6507 Quail Hill Parkway, Irvine, CA

Category: Restaurant

Cortina's Italian Market

2175 W. Orange Ave., Anaheim, CA

Category: Restaurant

Franco's Pasta Cucina

2222 Michelson Drive, Irvine, CA

Category: Restaurant

Pizza e Vino

31441 Santa Margarita Parkway, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA

Category: Restaurant

Cucina Alessa

6700 W. Coast Highway, Newport Beach, CA

Category: Restaurant

Joe's Italian Ice

12302 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove, CA

Category: Restaurant

Tony's Little Italy Pizza

1808 N. Placentia Ave., Placentia, CA

Category: Restaurant


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31 comments
Tinroof
Tinroof

I cannot even believe that you gave Mozza an honorable mention while ranking  Il Dolce in the top ten. Mozza is one of the best pizzerias in the WORLD, let alone Orange County. It should have been number 1 on this list!  Honorable mention! It's an outrage!

aldrin james
aldrin james

All the restaurant in your lists are very interesting. On this coming summer, I will try to visit those restaurants and see if they are really the top in that area.

Italian Restaurant

ALEX C.
ALEX C.

Our pick is number two. My sister and I LOVED this place.

It was always wierd though, my Dad and uncle Claudio along with Uncle Chris would dissapear for a half hour or so when we went. They used to tell me "when you grow up Al, You'll get the real Vanilla FROSTING". I never got it.

Now I realize that HIP POCKET is in walking distance!  MMMMmmmmm. Frosting of my own. Mi Gusta Leche! - Now I get it. The hottest spot in OC for Ice Cream and Mexican Gardeners CREAM!

AC

tenjobara
tenjobara

Italian restaurants are usually off limits due to our family having to eat gluten-free, and we have to eat nightshade-free (no tomatoes, no potatoes, no eggplants, no peppers) on top of it.  Most  gluten-free people cannot tolerate nightshades since gluten tears holes in intestines, and the nightshade-disabling enzymes or whatsis is taken care of by the intestines.  Holey intestines = cannot disable nightshade poisons.  

The italian restaurants in the US doesn't have a lot of variety, their basic items all have wheat, tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and peppers.  

Zpizza should be listed as one of the best italian restaurants because they have gluten-free crusts and toppings that are nightshade-free.  

Mike
Mike

Ortica owns most of these places.  Roman Cucina best value pick.  And Basilico's as the old time favorite.  

Herb Toker
Herb Toker

I'm glad Pasta Pomodoro was not on the list - they suck.  This list is a little too artsy fartsy, IMO.  What about Peppinos (original location in LF is best), or Roma d' Italia in Tustin (although not as good after the remodel was completed for some reason), or Roman Cucina, which is consistently good?

Johnny
Johnny

Cucina Aleesa is the best in OC hands down...I am not sure why an Italian Ice place is on this list over say Onotria in Costa Mesa.

Joe
Joe

Extremely hard to make a top 10 Italian list for anywhere, because it is going to have to include pizza, which takes up a lot of room on the list.  If the list included a category for a good, long-established small neighborhood spot which does most things quite well at a fair price,  I would nominate Basilico's in on Magnolia in the hinterlands of suburban Huntington Beach.    

JB
JB

JB: Dislike. 

The list has 4 pizza restaurants, 1 fusion restaurant, and 1 food court vendor.  All of them good, I'm sure, but none of them conjure the dictionary definition of "Italian restaurant" when you hear their names. 

As bleak as things are Italian-wise in our fair orange acres, this isn't Des Moines or Peoria, and we can find 10 great traditional Italian restaurants.  Sorry, but this list is so weak, it reminded me of that review the 85 y.o. woman from North Dakota wrote about another "Italian" restaurant: Olive Garden.  

Jo
Jo

How could you omit Pina's Bistro in Tustin?  That's the best Italian food in OC by far.

20ftJesus
20ftJesus

Just don't say, "I'll have two GOBBAGOOL" because you can't pull it off.

Herb Toker
Herb Toker

All due respect here - if you can't eat gluten, don't eat Italian.  Real Italian has gluten - it's not made with fake substitutes.  I think the gluten allergies are all in your head.  Much like OC cities that ban plastic bags - like banning plastic bags from a few cities is  going to save the planet from its eventual fate.  But I digress - this article is about Italian food and not plastic bags. 

Sam
Sam

Agree. And any list without Sabatino's for their Italian sausage is not a list.

JB
JB

I'm sorry, but I don't understand your comment.  Why does a "top 10 Italian" list "...have to include pizza?"  There was a Ten Great Pizza list a few weeks ago.

I would have liked to have seen a Ten Great Italian list with strictly traditional Italian places, like this Basilico's you mention. 

To make you all *capisce,* I feel like doing what David Letterman did when he hosted the Oscars in the 1990s.  Il Dolce.....pizza restaurant.  Basilico's.....traditional Italian Restaurant.  Il Dolce.....pizza restaurant. Basilico's.....traditional Italian Restaurant. Oprah.....Uma.....Oprah.....Uma.........

kottskerrynore
kottskerrynore

I would not and do not recommend Pina's Bistro to anyone. I don't need the competition for the seating.

In this article, none of my three favorite Italian restaurants were mentioned. Whew!  That was too close for comfort! They have plenty of fans as it is with out the two months of misery garnered by seeding their names to dining tourists (Oooh, pizza!! Meatballs!!)They stunk up Kappo Sui for a good three months before peeling off and blowing away.

JB
JB

Thank you for agreeing that the McDonald Brothers are arrogant by saying Jason Quinn is "much more" arrogant than them. 

But I'll let you go now, since you have the sales VPs at Village Voice Media on the other line wanting to know why a bunch of pizza restaurants are on the "Ten Great Italian" list, and wanting to know how, with the credibility of OC Weekly damaged, they are going to sell advertising for that mobile app which no one is now going to find useful

JB
JB

Johnny and Sam should be Stick a Fork in It bloggers.  We've got a chef-owned, central Italian gem that expertly pairs wines with menu items (Onotria) and a place whose decades-old family sausage recipe is one of the most orgasmic things you will ever eat (Sabatino's)...but no, Cafe Hiro is a great ITALIAN restaurant. 

Really, is this OC Weekly I'm reading, or OC Metro? 

Anne Marie
Anne Marie

A few weeks ago? Try December.

And this was NOT a "Top" 10 list. It's "Great". Not "Traditional".

JB
JB

We aim to please, son!

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

Please don't turn into a pathetic fanboy--you're actually somewhat smart...

gustavoarellano
gustavoarellano

You, expert on Italian food? While hating Old Vine? And excusing Jason Quinn's much-more out-there arrogance? I rest my case...

JB
JB

And Sam, actually, I heard that on the exam to be a Stick a Fork in It blogger, they ask you, "Do you like Break of Dawn?"

If your answer scores in the 90th percentile or less, you fail. 

JB
JB

For the 20th time, my "beef" is not that my "fav" wasn't on the list, but it's the list has pizza restaurants and a fusion restaurant operated by a Japanese chef. 

If this list had 10 TRADITIONAL Italian RESTAURANTS, but excluded my favorites...such as, say, Luigi's d'Italia or Sabatino's...I'd have no problems with it. 

I am a fan of Anne Marie, but the list is just weak.  This is the list you'd see in Peoria Weekly...or in OC Metro magazine. 

Sam
Sam

I'm game to blog for free and hit every new coastal spot from Newport to Laguna at least once, but since I like Javier's....I'm toxic.

Bill T.
Bill T.

Anne picked ten, then carefully pointed out that your fav probably wasn't on the list and explicitly solicited your input. "Where's the beef"?

Bill T.
Bill T.

Ahhh, reading for content, I thought that was cheating ...

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