Best of Orange County 2021: Best Italian restaurant

1. Fratellino’s by Cesar Lomeli

600 S. Brea Blvd., Brea, 714-255-9100, fratellinos.com

Established in 2000, Fratellino’s has placed among the Top 3 on this list for 11 years straight. Owner Cesar Lomeli doesn’t take the voters’ choice lightly. “It is a big responsibility, as a restaurateur, to be able to offer consistently what a customer is looking for — quality of food, good service, cleanliness, coziness, ambiance, etc. – at a great value. We’re always working hard on keeping all the variables a top priority with the highest standards. We recognize we have many great restaurants in O.C. and for us to stay on the top favorites year after year” is a challenge.

Walk into the family restaurant and an Old World Italian atmosphere is evident. The menu consists of hearty food portions such as beef lasagna with meat sauce, eggplant or veal parmigiana, shrimp scampi, chicken cacciatore. Then there are traditional pasta, chicken, seafood and meat dishes; pizzas (Margherita, vegetarian), sandwiches (meatball, hot turkey-Francisco style), salads (antipasto, caprese) and wines (sparkling, whites, reds, Italian). Fratellino’s has daily lunch specials and relatively reasonable prices too.

When it comes to the menu, Lomeli believes his customers “want to see the same items every time” they arrive.

“That’s what make them come back in the first place,” he said. “Our business is more than 40% takeout. Party trays are a big portion because the quality of the food we sell at a reasonable price of about $5 per person with a hot meal, salad and bread.”

2. Roma D’Italia

611 El Camino Real, Tustin, 714-544-0273, romaditalia.com

Celebrating its 60th anniversary, Roma D’Italia specializes in pasta classics in a casual rustic space with red checkered tablecloths and a stone patio. A total family operation, second and third generations of the Roma family operate the restaurant.

Alfio Rossetti, part of that clan, says they “regularly welcome guests celebrating family milestones and events of all types.”

Among the lunch fare are grilled salmon salads, homemade soups and sandwiches. Signature pastas, specialty breads, veal, raviolis, seafood, calzone pockets and more comprise the dinner menu.

Rossetti stresses that the restaurant has a “strong desire” to serve fresh quality ingredients — something customers “have come to enjoy … the calamari fritti is hands down, the best around. Our delicious, homemade cannoli, cheesecake, tiramisu, and rum cake desserts continue to be crowd pleasers.”

3. Roman Cucina

211 N. Harbor Blvd., Fullerton, 714-680-6000, romancucinafullerton

From the Italian flag that adorns the outdoor canopy to comfort food passed down from the Roman brothers’ grandmother, a sense of family and authenticity have been important to this restaurant since it opened in downtown Fullerton in 2001.

“We strive to provide the best dining experience by treating every guest that walks through our door like family,” says owner Mike Flynn.

Open at 5 p.m. daily, Roman Cucina’s specialty entree is the Pasta Gianni — shrimp and langostino lobster sauteed with mushrooms in its Bianco Diavolo sauce. Specialty desserts include tiramisu and cannoli. Recently, lobster ravioli and shrimp carbonara were introduced to the menu (with ample pasta choices) and proved instantly popular with customers.

On Mondays-Thursdays, there are special deals involving kids meals, pasta, wine and cocktails.

Yelp reviewer Vicki L. of Irvine said she “got the calamari and pesto with penne. Both were super delicious, and the portion was big enough to be split into a second meal.”

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Best of Orange County 2021: Best Mexican restaurant

1. Avila’s El Ranchito

Multiple locations; avilaselranchito.com

Salvador Avila, who came to the U.S. from Mexico, started his first restaurant 55 years ago in Huntington Park with five picnic tables. Now it has evolved into 13 restaurants throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties run by the Avila children.

Maribel Avila Ley, co-owner of three locations, says consistency in food is guaranteed across all of them. “Customers come back time and time again because they know our staff and they are treated like family.

“My grandmother taught her kids, who have taught us … to stick to the simplicity of great food and genuinely good service. Never cut corners; treat people with respect. Mama Avila (my grandma) had it figured out.”

The matriarch’s recipes from Mexico dating back generations populate the menu items ranging from soups and carnitas to fajitas, enchiladas and more. Of course there are Happy Hour and Taco Tuesday specials as well.

Since last year, the restaurants upgraded their take out business and outdoor dining. “We had a great time getting creative with margaritas to go,” says Avila Ley. “Our very popular party and family packs are always a hit, but now you can add margaritas.”

New specials are posted to the locations’ Instagram pages regularly. The Mercado Margarita in Huntington Beach available on Tuesday nights is “made from ingredients from the Surf City Farmers Market right out front. It’s a great way to support locals.”

2. El Farolito

201 S. Bradford Ave., Placentia; 714-993-7880; elfarolitomex.com

Another family-run business, El Farolito was established in 1974 by the Sandoval Family and serves good old fashioned Mexican food, like combination plates, at reasonable prices.

Register food critic Brad A. Johnson has raved about the restaurant’s steak tampiqueño with grilled jalapeños and caramelized onions and the carne asada nachos in the past. All sorts of egg items are on the breakfast menu. There are lunch specials, large burritos, tostada salads and more.

Yelp reviewer Sandra L. from Orange County said the food is “so flavorful here. I don’t even like refried beans, but El Farolito makes them so good that I am a believer of refried beans now. Portions here are generous. My hubby and I shared a Jr’s Plate and chose chile relleno (additional $0.75) as our one-item and it comes with rice and beans.  We also ordered a cup of Menudo (available weekends only). We loved everything. Every item was freshly made, well-seasoned, and priced well.”

3. El Torito

Multiple locations; eltorito.com

Larry J. Cano founded this Mexican restaurant in 1954 as an outgrowth of an Encino Tiki bar. The first O.C. location opened in Newport Beach in 1973.

Randy Sharpe, El Torito CEO & president says “it is a celebration of family, food and community and is why so many guests feel at home when they dine at El Torito. The fresh, made-from-scratch kitchen and warm hospitality from the staff makes your dining occasion something to enjoy and come back to.”

Regular patrons tend to rave about the tableside preparations, made-to-order guacamole, flame-grilled fajitas, Taco Tuesdays, the Saturday Breakfast menu with bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys. Then there’s the extremely popular Happy Hour drink and food specials for $4, $6 and $8.

“El Torito continues to innovate and present seasonal specials throughout the year,” notes Sharpe. “Our most recent Tacos Vampiros with cheese and jalapeños, grilled right onto the tortilla before being filled with marinated and grilled steak, have been very popular.”

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Best of Orange County 2020: Best sushi

1. Yama Sushi

27782 Vista Del Lago C-22, Mission Viejo; 949-716-9262; yamasushionthelake.com

Yama Sushi uses the freshest and highest-quality ingredients available. Yama Sushi also will not settle for anything but the best and most highly trained Japanese chefs that create the finest sushi rolls on a nightly basis. Diners not only come to Yama Sushi for the terrific sushi and entrees, but also for the environment and swanky ambiance. In fact, Yama Sushi is known for its picturesque views as it sits right on the Lake Mission Viejo.

Yama Sushi also has great prices considering the prime ingredients being used. However, if customers want an even better price on their sushi, Yama Sushi hosts Sushi Tuesday with sushi rolls  40 to 50 percent off the regular price. This Tuesday tradition became a customer favorite in 2008 when the promotion was started, and has been a staple to the business ever since.

Customers also have the ability to choose a variety of ways to eat their food as well. Omakase style is where chefs prepare items of their choosing in front of customers where they can see it being made. There is also a five-course meal that includes a delicious dessert.

Along with sushi, there are also entrees available such as udon or rice bowls. There is also a kids menu available, which has chicken, salmon, and beef teriyaki, chicken nuggets, and kids’ sushi.

2. Full Moon Sushi

Costa Mesa, Fountain Valley, Tustin

Full Moon Sushi opened its doors to its first location in Fountain Valley in 2001 and ever since then it has become an extremely popular spot for diners to enjoy their favorite Japanese delicacies. From there, the restaurant opened another location in Costa Mesa in 2007 as well as in Tustin in 2009. Full Moon Sushi is known for its great service, delicious food, and wonderful selection.

The staff at Full Moon Sushi says every hour is happy hour because the prices are some of the best for sushi in Orange County. Not to mention it is family friendly, which brings guests with kids back to Full Moon Sushi time and time again. Customers can even buy fashionable hats and t-shirts to support their favorite sushi joint too.

Make sure to try the popular Healthy Full Moon Roll, Hawaiian Roll, or a fresh poke bowl. There are also delicious dishes outside of sushi such as vegetable tempura, sesame chicken, gyoza (pork dumplings), and fried tofu.

3. Shunka Sushi

369 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa; 949-631-9854; shunkasushi.com

Shunka Sushi is a Japanese spot specializing in some of the freshest sushi in Orange County. The restaurant only offers classically trained chefs who are known for carefully crafting authentic items using fish bought directly from Japan every day at the sushi bar.

Shunka Sushi also prides itself on using fish so flavorful that no wasabi or other additions are necessary in boosting the flavors of the fish, vegetables, and rice. The fish purchased at Shunka Sushi is not as widely available as your typical sushi joint has to offer, and the sushi the restaurant has available is prepared with the freshest and most authentic ingredients available.

Guests must also try the wide variety of sake the restaurant has available to pair perfectly with their sushi. Choose between everything from a California cut roll, to a salmon avocado roll, or a spice tuna hand roll. Shunka also serves fresh salads and sashimi including big eye tuna, fresh water eel, and albacore. No menu option will disappoint.

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