Here are some of my favorite casual restaurants in OC.
East Borough (Culver City and Costa Mesa) Authentic Vietnamese food with a trendy street-food vibe.
New age Vietnamese café that uses fresh ingredients. The location in OC is at the Camp. I like to sit outside at the large wooden table under the awning. Recommend: the pho baguette, the borough spring roll, and pickled mango kale salad. The iced coffee is good too. (5 taste, 5 atmosphere, 5 service)
The Melt (Orange County and Los Angeles) Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
Simple menu with burgers and grilled cheese sandwiches. You can add grilled bell peppers for free. I ordered the cheese steak melt and dipped it in the tomato soup. Great place for kids. Recommend: The cheese steak melt and sweet potato fries. (4 taste, 4 atmosphere, 5 service)
Luna Grill (Aliso Viejo, Lake Forest, and Irvine) Healthy Mediterranean food.
Healthy and quick Mediterranean food. REAL certified. This is awarded to restaurants that use fresh and sustainable ingredients. We ordered the sample plate (falafel, stuffed grape leaves, couscous, hummus, and pita bread), the gryos plate, the mahi mahi plate, and the lamb kabob plate. The plates include rice, grilled tomatoes, and grilled carrots. The mahi mahi was overcooked but overall everything was very tasty. Vegetarian options available. Recommend: The sample plate and the falafel. (4 taste, 5 atmosphere, 5 service)
Urban Seoul (Irvine) Modern and trendy Korean food.
Urban Seoul adds a Korean twist to Mexican/American dishes. They have a kimchi quesadilla, gogi sliders, and pork belly tacos. The food is spicy and flavorful. Recommend: the Kalbi burger and Bibimbap (a classic Korean rice dish). (5 taste, 5 atmosphere, 5 service)
Fins (Mission Viejo) Create your own poke bowl.
Simple and fresh poke bowls. The setup is like Chipotle. You choose a fish (tuna, albacore, spicy crab, or salmon) and rice (brown or white). Then there are a variety of toppings and sauces to add on top. Everything tasted fresh. I only wish they were more generous with the toppings. The bowls are small compared to Chipotle. Recommend: The salmon and sesame dressing. (4 taste, 4 atmosphere, 4 service)
TLT (Irvine and Westwood) Mexican/Asian fusion.
TLT grew out of the Lime Food Truck. The food is unique and full of flavor. They have tacos, sliders, and veggie sides with an added flair. Lots of spices and marinades. They also serve craft beer. On the weekends they have $15 bottomless mimosas and a brunch menu. The photo is a daily special—kogi beef lettuce wraps with peanut sauce. Recommend: PBAT (braised pork belly sandwich), Brussels Sprouts (with prosciutto and chipotle-honey aioli), and Seared-Ahi Tuna Taco. (5 taste, 5 atmosphere, 5 service)
Le Pain Quotidien (LA and OC) French countryside bakery.
Simple French boulangerie-esque café with communal tables. I love their almond milk mocha. The mocha has real cocoa and is bitter unless you add sugar. They have delicious breads and spreads. The photos are of the smoked salmon with dill tartine and the chicken curry with cranberry chutney tartine. The tartines are tasty but would be better if the bread was toasted. Recommend: The Lorraine Quiche. (3 taste, 5 atmosphere, 5 service)