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20 Places We Love for Date Night in the OC and Long Beach

1. Raya

Any date involving a menu from famed Chef Richard Sandoval is sure to shine. Combine that with a dining room complete with floor-to-ceiling windows that grace diners with exquisite seaside views, possible whale sightings, and a lovely spectacle of the nearby Catalina Island, and romance is basically guaranteed. Sandoval’s menu at Raya is in line with the kind of cooking that first made him famous—upscale dishes are approached with a Latin influence, though the items are by no means limited by regional constraints. Lobster Tacos come loaded with black bean purée, chile de árbol salsa, ponzu, and yuca. Large plates like the Chipotle Miso Black Cod with braised lettuce, asparagus, pickled mushroom, dashi, togarashi aïoli, and kabayaki sauce speak to Sandoval’s global sophistication, while the Grilled Prime Filet with crab mashed potatoes, pickled onion, seasonal garnish, chipotle hollandaise, and truffle chimichurri succeeds in the way of classics. The restaurant recommends requesting a window table when making a reservation, preferably around sunset. ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/california/laguna-niguel/DINING/RAYA

2. Sapphire Laguna

Chef Azmin Ghahreman was born in Iran, educated in Switzerland, and received formal culinary training in French cuisine at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. It should come as no surprise that the menu at his Laguna Beach restaurant, Sapphire, reflects a wide international scope. A cozy patio overlooks the Pacific with an equally comfortable dining room, giving patrons a view of the open kitchen. Surprising dishes like the Burmese Fermented Tea Salad—with peanuts, sunflower seeds, fried garlic, romaine, and lemon-sesame dressing—are joined by California-style fare like the Seared Hamachi served with shaved radish salad, pickled kumquat, mint, and yuzu-persimmon purée. While the novelty of the food will surely make for a refreshing experience, the particular intimacy of the restaurant’s layout is what makes the place great for enjoying a date that sits nicely outside the box. sapphirelaguna.com

3. Oceans & Earth Restaurant

Farm-to-table cuisine gets even better when the head chef is also a farmer. In addition to the Oceans & Earth Restaurant, Chef Adam Navidi runs Future Foods Farms—a 25-acre aquaponic farm in Brea, California. The chef’s close relationship with every aspect of the food is neatly reflected by the menu, which sees a variety of Californian and American classics presented with incredible ingredients and undeniable finesse. A nod from the Southern California Food Writers Association for being 2018 Chef of the Year also doesn’t hurt Navidi’s reputation for running a space suited for couples of discerning taste. Cheese is made on-site, all burgers come with grass-fed Kobe-style beef, and creative plating further separates the dishes. Everything on the menu is 100 percent gluten-free, non-GMO, organic, and, frankly, a joy to the senses.”This locavore paradise is perfect for anyone who values freshness and imagination above all else. The restaurant also hosts ticketed, wine-paired dinners ideal for the vine-inclined. oanderestaurant.com

4. Trevor’s at the Tracks

For anyone who sees the old-fashioned romance in train travel, Trevor’s at the Tracks is this list’s obvious choice. The restaurant has conspicuously replaced the San Juan Capistrano Metrolink Station, making arrival best when done by locomotive. The surrounding Los Rios District provides further enjoyment with its historically preserved architecture and general vibe. The tasteful patio is complete with a centerpiece fountain—a relic from when the restaurant was still Sarducci’s—which elevates a venue that is already exceeding expectations in the way of ambience. The ingredient-focused menu provides upscale renditions of classic American fare; there are plenty of vegetarian options like the Vegan Quesadilla with spiced peach barbecue jackfruit, fire-roasted garden vegetables, Daiya vegan cheddar and mozzarella, pica de gallo, and smashed avocado all served in a warm flour tortilla. The wine program (with over 80 bottles) doesn’t hurt either. trevorsatthetracks.com

5. Descanso Restaurant

There is no place more exciting to get tacos in Orange County than Descanso. Dishes are prepared Taquero-style on a traditional plancha. The Chef Counter has the feel of an upscale hibachi, with tacos, alambres, and massive entradas especiales—meat and vegetable platters—being prepared and served fresh from the grill. Chef Sergio Ortega brings classic Central Mexican, street-inspired cuisine made from the freshest seasonal ingredients offered by the region. Taco offerings include Steak, Al Pastor, Pollo, Mahi Mahi, and the unmissable Chile Relleno taco plate. However, it’s the alambres—a popular skillet-style dish of grilled meats and veggies—that have been garnering the most acclaim. The al pastor rendition comes complete with tres quesos, bell peppers, onions, pineapple, avocado and chile toreado salsa, serrano chiles, and a side of warm tortillas. Wash it all down with a Bad Hombres—a margarita fashioned from Herradura reposado, pineapple, serranos, salt, pepper, and lime. descansorestaurant.com

6. Villa Roma

Villa Roma provides a sturdy menu of Italian and Argentinian classics from its humble location in Laguna Hills. Elegant pizzas, empanadas, and a wide selection of pasta and meat dishes lace a sophisticated menu that recalls the kind of pizza joints that can be found on most corners in Buenos Aires. All of the South American class translates nicely to the hospitable dining room. The fan-favorite Chicken Milanesa Napoletana is topped with ham, tomato sauce, and cheese with a side of shoestring fries. Also, for anyone who would prefer a date held in the comfort of their own home, Villa Roma delivers through the Slice app. villaromamenu.com

7. Michael’s on Naples Ristorante

Michael’s on Naples offers a fun twist to dining that is sure to impress date-night diners. Guests can enjoy a chef’s tasting and a pasta tasting, and each one comes complete with five courses, eliminating the guesswork that can come with ordering à la carte while allowing the members of any amorous rendezvous to focus on what really matters. The dual tasting menus show off the best that Michael’s has to offer: the first, favoring local seafood and poultry, the second, a beautiful way to try a wide variety of the location’s lovely housemade pasta. The rooftop terrace provides scenic views and lends a feeling of luxury akin to being on a villa in coastal Italy. For hungrier patrons, Michael’s has big plates, like the Tagliata di Manzo with carved prime New York steak, confit Weiser Farm potatoes, and roasted Romanesco, and the Agnello with a grilled Beeler’s pork chop, potato gnocchi, and roasted broccolini. michaelsonnaples.com

8. Filomena’s Italian Kitchen & Market

Last April, Filomena’s was featured on Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible,” and Celebrity Chef Robert Irvine and crew came in to give the place a proper spruce up. But even before its televised makeover, the menu at Filomena’s was excellent. Owners Kent and Linda Johnsen dish up takes on classic Italian-American dishes that are standouts in the region. The Pappardelle Bolognese, made with fresh, housemade pasta and served in a hearty meat ragu, has long been a customer favorite. Filomena’s is ideal for first dates, with the cuisine providing a strong anchor for anniversaries, celebrations, and other milestone occasions. Also great for date night, snag two spots at Filomena’s monthly cooking classes, where guests can learn Grandma Filomena’s very own family recipes. filomenasoc.com

9. Mama’s Comfort Food & Cocktails

While many date spots strive to be intimate, Mama’s succeeds with a focus on unpretentious fun. Since the original location opened in 2011, Mama’s has managed to become a collection of cozy neighborhood hubs built on home-style cooking and a palpable love for community. The new location in Newport Beach even includes a dock, further cementing the idea that nothing at Mama’s should be taken all too seriously. Mama’s Newport Beach boasts 250 feet of private docks for guests who would prefer to approach the restaurant by aquatic means, or in other words, “dock and dine.” This is a restaurant all about unadulterated enjoyment. The menu serves American classics straight up: The Nacho Mama’s Burger—a chargrilled patty topped with white cheddar, pulled pork, pickled jalapeños, sour cream, chipotle aïoli, guacamole, and fresh pico, then stuffed between two seasoned tostadas and served on a King’s Hawaiian bun—is a good example of the kind of irreverence that can be found and indulged in here. mamason39.com

10. The Boardwalk Restaurant

Open from morning to night as part of The Waterfront Beach Resort, The Boardwalk Restaurant delivers ocean-view dining like no other. Boardwalk’s diverse menu is inspired by the coastal flavors of Southern California, but before you embark on your seafood frenzy, we recommend starting with a few appetizers to share—like the Lamb Sausage Flatbread and Burrata Toast with grilled stone fruit and basil pesto. Linger on the patio before diving into entrée options that range from Diver Scallops and Scottish Salmon to a 40-day aged beef cheeseburger. The stylish, relaxed ambience keeps date night informal and fun without sacrificing quality or flavor. Pair your meal with a selection from Boardwalk’s extensive wine list, or opt for a seasonally crafted, spirit-forward cocktail. For hops-lovers, look for the brews on tap—all are local to Orange County and San Diego. Then, finish it all off with a decadent dessert, like the Mint Oreo Chocolate Trifle (topped with an Oreo macaron). waterfrontresort.com/dining/the-boardwalk-restaurant

11. Cambalache Grill

If you’re looking for a new twist on a night out and are ready to bring a healthy appetite, try Cambalache Grill for authentic Argentine-Italian cuisine. The intimate restaurant is designed to delight with unique culinary experiences that will transport you to “La Boca,” the colorful Argentine neighborhood that started it all. Chef Leo Razo’s unique menu is meant “not only to satisfy the palate, but to satisfy the senses and soul,” because, after all, our hearts are in our stomachs aren’t they? To kick things off, order the Taste of Cambalache: Chef’s assortment of cured meats and cheeses for two. Then move on to try some of the best empanadas in the city, with your choice of beef, chicken, or spinach. While the menu is ripe with sandwich, pizza, and pasta options, we recommend ordering at least one of the grilled Parilla Argentine Style entrées. Give in to temptation with plates of grilled skirt steak, filet mignon, or jumbo shrimp, which come in a variety of styled combinations. All options are accompanied by the house chimichurri sauce, which is reason enough to visit. Cambalache also offers wine and dinner pairings on the last Thursday of each month. cambalachegrill.com

12. Chianina Steakhouse

Chianina’s philosophy revolves around honoring the Italian culinary tradition of using the best ingredients at the height of the season. Warm up with a cocktail at the laid-back bar, which serves up the classics and plenty of adventurous concoctions, too, like the Mortimer’s Cocktail smoked tableside with cherry wood. If you only order one thing, try Chianina’s signature steak: the Bistecca alla Fiorentina. This Italian dry-aged Porterhouse is what Chianina does best, and it’s served family-style and sliced at your table. The steak comes from a single breed of cattle called Chianina, which is simply grilled and basted with rosemary and olive oil before being served. Pair perfect simplicity with a few sides for the table, like Heirloom Carrots and Vermont Cheddar Mac & Cheese. Chianina makes for a romantic escape any day of the week, and on Thursdays you and yours can find a Bubble and Shells deal that includes half-off fresh oysters and $7 glasses of Champagne—oysters are an aphrodisiac, after all, and it’s always a good time for bubbles. chianina.com

13. The Rooftop Lounge

Leave your worries at the door at La Casa del Camino hotel, then head up to The Rooftop Lounge. Up top, you’ll find unbeatable panoramic views of the Pacific Coastline, making it a romantic setting for any date, and a dream locale to watch the sunset. Come for happy hour from 3 to 5pm Monday through Friday, and enjoy half-priced well drinks, beer, wine, and Mojitos. Or, join in for one of the daily specials, including Margarita Monday, Wags & Wine Wednesday (food and wine discounts with pups welcome), and Locals Thursday (25 percent off food and beverages for OC residents). The appetizer menu—which includes Bacon Wrapped Dates, Hawaiian Ahi Tuna Poke, and BBQ Meatballs—is perfect for sharing on a casual night out. It’s recommended to pair your bites with the brand new “Live Like a Local” menu, featuring cocktails from Drift Distillery and beers from Orange County breweries. rooftoplagunabeach.com

14. enoSTEAK

One of Dana Point’s best hidden gems, enoSTEAK can be found inside the oceanfront Ritz-Carlton, Laguna Niguel. The warm, intimate, boutique nature of this steakhouse makes for a setting that’s perfectly romantic. Discover a seasonal, farm-to-table menu that includes grass-fed beef, seafood, local product, and fine wines, with a stunning glass wine cellar in the center of the restaurant. Start with a cocktail at the outdoor lounge, 180blũ, before moving inside. Booking the fireplace table for two is sure to impress your sweetie, and the charcuterie board with artisanal cheeses, salami, fruit, and more is the ideal shared appetizer. For the main course, marry the land and the sea with enoSTEAK’s Surf & Turf entrée, which includes a lobster tail and a petite grass-fed filet (and pairs nicely with a shared bottle of wine from the restaurant’s premium cellar). Date night here ensures a memorable, unique experience with just the right amount of indulgence. ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/california/laguna-niguel/dining

15. Harvest Restaurant

Located at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, Harvest serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day of the week—but let’s talk date night. The indoor ambience is romantic and grand, but the outdoor space is seriously like no other, unveiling stunning views of the Aliso and Wood Canyons. Harvest’s menu focuses on fresh ingredients—some of which are grown on-site—to support thoughtfully sourced meats and line-caught seafood. Head outdoors for live music every evening, along with fire pits and s’mores. Come for the Atlantic Sea Scallops or Golden Beet Risotto or the social hour menu available Monday through Saturday for a selection of appetizers (including the famed Crispy Brussels Sprouts), beer, wine, homemade sangría, and a seasonal cocktail all at a 20 percent discount. Just don’t end the evening without ordering the Triple Chocolate Bread Pudding (no judgment if you order two). theranchlb.com

16. Henry’s Ocean View Dining

For waterfront dining at its finest, and because sometimes more is more, head to Henry’s Ocean View Dining. Henry’s seeks to source the very best and works diligently to present the finest products in interesting, delicious ways. Guests know that Henry’s means perfection, making it a popular spot for both date nights and proposals (no pressure). The staff is even consulted daily to ensure that each guest is catered to properly. The menu is another aspect that’s constantly perfected, with frequent updates based on the team’s inspiration. Looking to earn a few date-night points? We’ve got the move: Start with a bottle of Champagne Sanger and fresh oysters. Then, try the six-course chef’s tasting menu for the ultimate culinary journey. Chef Kenny Seliger creates a unique menu for each table, allowing his creativity to truly shine. waterfrontresort.com/DINING/HENRYS-RESTAURANT

17. Naples

Ristorante e Bar

Naples’ freshly renovated restaurant and picturesque patio make for a prime date night locale—plus the restaurant offers sweeping views of the Downtown Disney® district for next-level people watching. From the Italian wines to the craft cocktails to the Neapolitan-style pizza, there are no wrong decisions here. But for the ultimate evening out, we recommend grabbing an Aperol Spritz and heading to the patio to bask in beautiful SoCal weather. In addition to the pizzas, look for small plates—like the Burrata and Bruschetta—alongside soups, salads, and plenty of pastas for both lunch and dinner. Then, finish it off with a classic dessert like Tiramisù, Cannolis, or Panna Cotta all’Arancia. Plus, you can reserve a table online, so your big meal out together will never venture into hangry territory. patinagroup.com/naples-ristorante-e-bar

18. Plancha Latin Kitchen

Located inside the Long Beach Exchange shopping center, Plancha brings Latin American-inspired cuisine that’s blended, unique, and healthy. The handcrafted, housemade dishes are meant to create nostalgia inside a warm, comfortable atmosphere. Ease in with a selection of six local, Latin-American-style craft beers on tap, five wines, and a signature sangría made with Malbec and seasonal fruit. Once you’re feeling warm and fuzzy, move on to appetizers like the Provoleta (thick slabs of provolone cheese grilled on the plancha until crispy on the outside and gooey and delicious on the inside) with Plancha Tortillas and the House Ceviche—Chef’s take on classic Peruvian ceviche. The menu includes mains like Arepas, build-your-own-bowls, and a Traditional Cubano that can’t be beat. The patio offers views of the courtyard and—daters, take note—a front-row seat to live music on weekends. Plancha always seeks to honor its motto and “feed all who enter with the same love you felt at home.” We’ll take a dessert empanada and cozy up to that. planchalatinkitchen.com

19. Prego

Prego adds a splash of Mediterranean color to the OC dining scene, with an ambience that blends the warmth and rustic charm of Old World Italy with the electricity and vibrancy of a cosmopolitan restaurant. Originally located in Irvine and beloved by patrons for over 30 years, the restaurant’s new location builds upon that success with a freshly renovated interior that’s luxe, romantic, and inviting—ideal for a night out on the town. For the culinary-curious, Prego boasts a lively exhibition kitchen where guests can watch the artful chefs at work. While the outdoor patio is certainly dreamy, we can’t resist snagging a seat inside to watch all the action. Settle in for regional Italian cuisine featuring authentic pizza, housemade pastas, grilled fresh fish, spit-roasted meats and fowl, and an extensive list of wines from Italy and California. From 2 to 7pm, keep it low-key at the bar with timeless cocktails and a special menu of smaller pizzas, pastas, and appetizers. pregooc.com

20. The Reef on the Water

It doesn’t get more seaside-romantic than The Reef on the Water. Posted up on Harbor Scenic Drive, the restaurant offers panoramic views from the Los Angeles River and the Queensway Bay to Long Beach Harbor. Zoom in, and the ambience only gets richer with waterfall gardens, in and outdoor fireplaces, and the highly celebrated sun deck draped with the kind of patio string lights that transform any terrace into romance. A special occasion at The Reef can be found in a candlelit dinner or savory lunch, and even during brunch—an award-winning experience drawing crowds who come for crab legs and carving stations, and where your Champagne glass is never empty. Prime Rib steals the show for lunch, as succulent in the French Dip Sandwich as in the Herb-Roasted entrée. Polynesia also kisses the menu, from Tropical Ahi Poke and the Daily Catch to Grilled Shrimp & Scallops with pineapple-bacon and fried rice. Any dish, at any seat in the house, any time of day is bound to be memorable. reefrestaurant.com