Outdoor Dining in Orange County

So I am arranging a business dinner in March (just me and one other person), Orange County being the most likely location. This is huge for me given that I have not dined at a restaurant, inside or outside, since March 2020. I absolutely will not do indoor dining (not even sure if Orange County is open for indoor dining) and I’m also still uneasy about outdoor dining as well, even though I am fully vaccinated.

So does anyone have any suggestions? Budget is not an issue. Normally all I would care about would be the food, but since I’m still uneasy about Covid (vaccinated or not), at this point in time, a nice safe outdoor environment is top priority so long as the food is not awful.


The Ranch Restaurant in Anaheim.
THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon

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Go to Marche Moderne , had a great outdoor dinner there in October


I went to the Ranch in November for my parents anniversary. If you are concerned about sitting indoors and haven’t dined at a restaurant since March the Ranch might not be for you.

Much of the “outdoor” seating area is indoors in a big room with all of the large doors and windows opened. The spacing was less than ideal. Many of the the tables were pretty close together.


The Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens might be a good option given your concerns.

Playa Mesa is great. The chef (Roland Rubalcava) came from Taco Maria. We had brunch there last week (chile verde benedict is amazing), and they have a great dinner menu. They have outdoor seating, and they have some indoor tables that are up against huge open windows.

The patio at Sushi Ii in Newport Beach. Ocean view ain’t too bad either and food is top tier.

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Anyone have any post-Covid intelligence at Harvest at The Ranch in Laguna Beach or The Loft at the Montage? I’m doubting that I’ll want to drive back to L.A. after dinner, so thought I would stay down in O.C. and it’s always nice to be able to tumble back to your room after dinner, although the downside is that hotel food is rarely the best.

The Montage seems grossly overpriced – saw on TripAdvisor someone complaining about a $1,000 a night room and shabby hallways – so not sure if it would be worth the splurge, but maybe if the outdoor spaces are fabulous. I’ve been basically cooped up inside for a year due to Covid and walking beautiful grounds (with a N95 mask on, which are suddenly, now that I’m vaccinated, available to the public) sounds rather enticing.

@A5KOBE Sushi Li sounds fabulous, including the ocean view, but alas I don’t think my guest is a big sushi person.

We have decided on Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak at the Waldorf Astoria (fka St. Regis) in Laguna Niguel.

If nothing else, it sounds like a nice setting. By the pictures, the interior of the restaurant looks kind of generic hotel ugly, but of course we will be dining outside and the reservations clerk said that what they set up for outdoor dining is very nice. I’m psyched about tip-toeing back into the world, and will report back.

So we had our dinner at Bourbon Steakhouse at the Waldorf. The Cliff’s Notes version is that dinner for 2, with tax and tip and $45 corkage fee (i.e., it’s not like we broke the bank with an expensive bottle of wine) was $354 and the best course was the complimentary french fries. Felt a little cheated for my first meal out in over a year given that I can think of a lot of places where you could have a very nice dinner for two for $350 or not much more.

When you sit down at Bourbon Steak, they bring you those complimentary french fries with three different tasty dipping sauces and a very nice roll with truffle butter – the roll was my second favorite bite of the evening. The fries are fried in duck fat, but the person I was with is a pescatarian, so they whisked the fries away and brought us some fried in something else. The fries were so good that I went back the next evening and ordered some to take to my room and I got the duck fat ones and interestingly, I thought the non-duck fat version was much better. I think the duck fat was a bit too much of gilding the lily and that a perfect fry is better standing on its own rather than with the strong flavor of duck fat. So I’m glad I happened to dine with a pescatarian the prior evening.

For an appetizer, we ordered “Michael’s Ahi Tuna Tartare - Asian pear, pine nut, ad scotch bonnet, mint and sesame” which is apparently a Michael Mina signature dish. It had a very retro '80’s and '90’s feel when “tall food” was the rage and was pretty tasteless. Kind of like what you would get at a fast food poke bar, except it was tall. Worst course of the night.

For our main course, we had broiled New Zealand Tai Snapper (for $150 - which was a big driver of the $354 dinner tab). It came with a ginger scallion garnish and was just okay, a bit overcooked. The portion was big enough for 3 or 4 people and I took half of it back to my room and had it cold for breakfast and I actually enjoyed it better cold for breakfast than for dinner.

For dessert we had the “Bourbon Chocolate Bar” and the warm spiced beignets with creme brulee. The beignets were really good and were not sickly sweet. I found the chocolate bar too sweet and, for my taste, it had too much peanut butter (if you love peanut butter YMMV).

It was pleasant eating outdoors. The part of the balcony we sat on was narrow so there was just one row of tables and other tables were separated by pillars, so it felt private and, more important in the age of Covid, safe. As of today, they back open for indoor dining.

For breakfast, I ate at the hotel’s more casual restaurant Aveo and had the single worst huevos rancheros I’ve ever had (and for $25!). They were so bland and tasteless that I asked for some salsa on the side to make them taste like something, but that didn’t help much because they brought me some obviously store bought bland tasteless salsa. I was bummed that I didn’t order the omelet instead since most hotels can make a decent omelet. My favorite meal out is actually breakfast – something I have really missed during the pandemic – so this breakfast was a real disappointment.

When you stay at the Waldorf, you have access to the private Monarch Bay Beach Club, which also has a restaurant. The restaurant is right on the sand and you can literally park yourself on the sand and eat, or there are tables on the patio that look straight at the ocean. It’s very pretty and I think the access to the Club was the nicest thing about staying at the Waldorf, but I didn’t get the chance to try the restaurant. I’m guessing the food probably isn’t great though, because the point of beachside restaurants is rarely the food.

So the Waldorf was kind of a bust foodwise, which is a shame because it’s an easy getaway from L.A. Not sure if the food would have been better at the Ritz Carlton or the Montage, but the room rates at those two hotels was considerably higher and I usually prefer to spend my travel dollars on food rather than on room.

Next weekend getaway is going to be Vegas, where I know I can get amazing food!

Goes to steakhouse. Orders exclusively fish.

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Sorry…too late of a response. But gonna leave this here to help anyone else with this question.

Off-peak time at Water Grill wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t crowded. We sat on the patio where they had partitions for each table. It was thrilling to have freshly made cocktails and snacks. Can I say that I adored the hand-cut fries…so crisp and they are fried a touch over to have that nutty flavor. Had some oysters and Peruvian scallops…no surprise, my favorite oyster came from waters off the coast of MA like my beloved Island Creeks. And I took a conference call with while I was there…not too shabby.



We went to Pizzeria Mozza in Newport Beach for a few nice meals in their converted parking lot. The entire lot was transformed into outdoor tables. We last went in November so I’m not sure if they still have the outdoor tables but worth looking into. The pizzas, salads and pastas were all excellent as usual.

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Mozza still had the outdoor tables when I was there early last month.

As much as we miss Pueblo, we’re really enjoying it’s replacement in SoCo. Butcher’s Brasserie; they have an outdoor seating area, although we’re usually at the bar.

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