When we initially began compiling our list, it appeared relatively easy. But when we got to talking to others about their love of all things pizza, pasta and marinara, there were so many more places to consider. We're certain your place for that perfect slice is missing from our ranks, so make it known. Start a thin crust debate!
10. Francoli Gourmet It's always a good sign when other Italians recommend an Italian ristorante. That seal of approval is enough for us. Despite an unplanned move from Fashion Island to Old Towne Orange, the proprietors at Francoli haven't skipped a beat with their attention to detail, service and lively entertainment. Savor their homemade tiramisu in a neighborhood that embraces entrepreneurship.
9. (tie) Il Dolce The first of our "Il" duo, this Costa Mesa heavy-hitter plays on the same pizza level as their formidable neighboring competitors, Ortica and Mozza. Bignes' Neapolitan crust knows no bounds, except when holding up his special combinations. Take for example the asparago pizza-- a trio of cheese and asparagus worlds temporarily collide over one pie. A student of (Wolfgang) Puck, he also pays homage to his mentor with a stellar barbeque-chicken pizza, flavored exactly the way one would imagine.
David Slay has got to be the craftiest most resourceful inventor of restaurant concepts, converting his adjacent Park Avenue garage into al fresco dining space and aptly naming it so. While orders are routed thru the same kitchen, your selection is vastly different, embracing what the surrounding garden has to offer. Look forward to seasonal antipasti fit for vegetarian royalty, plus thoughtful pastas and seafood offerings to round out your feast.
Strutting a newly designed small plates menu (plus excellent brunch), Cathy Pavlos breathes life into the sleepy corner of 405 and Sand Canyon. Relax in the heated patio and ease into the crispy pork belly. Coddled more than any egg, its juicy layers cause us to temporarily forget about any and all other pork products. We are teased by its modest portion, gently resting on a dollop of kernel-mascarpone polenta. Finished with dried apricot chutney and a garnish of microgreens, the compounding flavors transforms any rowdy table into one where chewing and silent worship rule.
6507 Quail Hill Pkwy, Irvine, (949) 725-1773; luccacafe.net.
7. Cortina's Italian Market
We bestowed the title of Best Italian Restaurant to Cortina's in 2010, and for good reason. Not just a meat market, they are a smorgasbord of tastes. From vino to capicolla, their 50+year tradition of quality meals is a mainstay in the neighborhood. Stock your kitchen and order a pizza, both without requiring one to stop at Costco or move your car.
6. Franco's Pasta Cucina Food court feasts are few and far between, yet we have a favorite plaza which meets one of our basic needs: a go-to pasta. Found thisclose to John Wayne, Gloria Mogollon continues a tradition of garlic-infused dishes and a spot-on linguine and clams-- toothsome and herbacious with every bite. It's the stuff dreams are made of; we simply request fresh grated Parm as our silver lining.
South county gets a slice of heaven over in Real Housewives territory. Down by "the lake" in Rancho Santa Margarita, we are introduced to an exceptionally tasty pie. Served unsliced, we experiment with Sicilian white anchovy, California garlic and oregano. Fired up in a 850-degree oven, its delicate crust is easily responsive to our fork-and-knife approach. Our bites aren't fishy, but mildly savory to our palate and easy to digest, since this is a cheese-less pizza we're appreciating. Next time we intend to hoard a Parma ham with house roasted mushroom, just as soon as their Yorba Linda spot opens.