Our favorite eateries, from San Diego to Santa Barbara
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Andrea Gómez Romero
Superba Food & Bread
If Superba Food & Bread owner Paul Hibler has his way, nondescript Lincoln Boulevard will be the next Venice strip in the spotlight. He's off to a good start with Superba. Executive chef Jason Travi—formerly of Spago Beverly Hills—oversees the menu, which includes an upscale take on the breakfast sandwich (linguiça, slow-cooked egg, and braised kale on a housemade bread), plus daily dinner specials: rotisserie-cooked rib-eye on Saturdays and fried chicken on Sundays. From 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily, the bakery produces fresh-from-the-oven loaves and croissants, while at a walk-up window, baristas serve cold-brewed coffee and espresso, made from Stumptown Coffee Roasters beans.
Little Sparrow Cafe, a 42-seat bistro, is the epicenter of a second wave of great restaurants to open in Santa Ana's historic core. Locals quickly warmed to the eatery's timeless look—tile floors, plain blond-wood tables, and a wood-paneled lounge—and chef Eric Samaniego's innovative cooking soon began drawing diners from Anaheim, L.A., and beyond. The menu features shareable plates, like housemade charcuterie and rosemary madeleines, along with simple but perfectly executed entrées: seared scallops with long beans and grilled pork chops with tomatillo sauce, red quinoa, and asparagus. 300 N. Main St.; littlesparrowcafe.com.
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T. Tseng, via Flickr Creative Commons
Playa del Rey
A speakeasy sharing space with an ice cream shop? It might sound like a stretch, but at Playa Provisions, the combination works. The brainchild of Top Chef runner-up Brooke Williamson and her husband, Nick Roberts, the multi-indulgent spot includes Grain, a whiskey bar featuring classic cocktails; Small Batch, a sweets purveyor with housemade ice cream and popsicles; King Beach, a counter market for breakfast and sandwiches; and Dockside, a seafood-centric sit-down restaurant—all in one 7,000-square-foot space. Provisions' spot takes advantage of its oceanside setting, with walls of windows and plenty of outdoor seating. 119 Culver Blvd.; playaprovisions.com.
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You might recognize Aussie chef Curtis Stone from television shows like The Celebrity Apprentice and Top Chef Masters, where he became something of a culinary heartthrob. But until now, few on this side of the Pacific had tasted his food. Named for his grandmother, his Beverly Hills prix fixe spot, Maude, is his first restaurant as owner. Each month, Stone chooses one seasonal ingredient and challenges himself to include it in each of his tasting menu's nine courses. Think of it as cooking-competition show meets fine dining—or a good excuse to return each month.
The sister restaurant to Pacific Beach's The Patio on Lamont preserves many of the brand's hallmarks: farm-to-table eats, living-plant walls, furniture made from fallen Torrey pines. Still, it has its own tricks too. In addition to more seafood options, such as housemade cioppino, spicy crab claws, and octopus with pine-nut butter and pork belly, the Goldfinch outpost features a robust cocktail menu and cheese cave as well. The eatery even recycles table scraps into dog treats that your four-legged pals can enjoy on the name-sake patio. 4020 Goldfinch St.; thepatioongoldfinch.com.
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Kettner Exchange's menu spans American, Thai, and Italian flavors, including the spicy tofu coconut soup with shiitake mushrooms, bok choy, and fresh cilantro, and the not-to-be-missed zeppole dessert, a deep-fried, cream-filled Southern Italian delicacy. Food aside, the two-story stunner includes a salvaged tree branch chandelier in the downstairs dining area, a loungelike rooftop with private cabanas and a swinging daybed, and a well-heeled crowd to match. The result? A see-and-be-seen vibe with substance and serious culinary cred.
Alimento means "food" or "nourishment" in Italian, and the menu seems to adopt that as a kind of comfort-food mantra: Tortellini in brodo is akin to soup dumplings, bursting with rich broth upon bite. Fusilli is dressed with clams, fava leaves, serrano chiles, and smoked butter. Then there's a spelt pastry appetizer stuffed with braised mortadella, stracchino cheese, sweet tomato jam, pickled mustard seeds, and brovada, and named "pig in a blanket."
History is one of the main ingredients at Neal Fraser's restaurant, Redbird, housed in a stunning landmark building that was formerly part of the Cathedral of St. Vibiana. The design allows diners to steal glimpses of the stately bell tower through the retractable roof. The airy courtyard dining room sets the backdrop for ordering artful dishes, such as Rabbitchetta—rabbit wrapped in porchetta and served with pea tendrils and a thyme sauce. The menu denotes what year each drink was invented, like the Kinsale King from 1862, with Irish whiskey, stout reduction, lemon, and barrel-aged bitters. 114 E. Second St.; redbird.la.
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Dylan + Jeni
Odys + Penelope
La Brea District, L.A.
Husband-and-wife chef team Quinn and Karen Hatfield have perfected cutting-edge fine dining (at Hatfield's) and farm-to-table baking (at The Sycamore Kitchen). Now they're adding another culinary genre to their skill set at Odys + Penelope, their exposed-brick temple to South American wood-fire grilling. Prehistoric-looking short ribs sizzle off the smoky Argentinean brasero grill while porchetta gets cooked Brazilian-style on the massive churrasco barbecue pit. 127 S. La Brea Ave.; odysandpenelope.com.