To all our foodie friends out there, exciting news for the Orange County culinary scene in 2018.  Here are some exciting new restaurants opening this year.

1. Urth Caffe in Old Towne Orange

The last we heard from Urth Caffe, renovation crews were uncovering pieces of history from an 1888 building that will serve as the coffee shop’s next Southern California location. Urth’s Los Angeles outlets, frequented by celebrities, are famous for their heirloom organic coffees and pastries. The Orange location, which will serve breakfast and lunch, has a view of the city’s historic downtown plaza — and is ironically surrounded by two Starbucks cafes. Opening: The cafe was expected to open by late 2017. No word yet on when it will open in 2018.  100 W. Chapman Ave.

2. The Hall

Celebrated local chef Amar Santana is giving birth to his third concept: The Hall at South Coast Plaza. Santana’s global marketplace will house two European food stands selling French baked goods, sandwiches, salads, Mediterranean dishes, coffee and fresh juices. Santana, a “Top Chef” finalist, is the chef-owner of Vaca in Costa Mesa and Broadway in Laguna Beach. Those restaurants deliver the goods and we expect this European marketplace to be no different. Coming late 2018 to the old Z-Tejas space.

3. The Rebirth of the Anaheim White House

The restaurant is currently being rebuilt, and restored so it more closely resembles the original features of the 1909 home. Expect a few frescos and dazzling fixtures as before along with a new layout and second floor bar called the B Bar. The restaurant is accepting reservations for an anticipated reopening in February.

5. Steel container food hall in Garden Grove

Orange County diners, who embraced the food hall movement years ago, are slated to get another unique food experience when SteelCraft Garden Grove opens in late 2018.  The food hall project behind Garden Grove City Hall is the second shipping container development for partners Howard CDM and SteelCraft. The two Long Beach companies developed and opened SteelCraft Long Beach in early 2017. Garden Grove’s version will be twice as big with a mix of beer, wine, coffee and dessert shops, as well as five food tenants — all housed in cargo containers as long as 40 feet.  Retailers and restaurants will be announced at Garden Grove’s State of the City address Jan. 31, 2018. The project will break ground Feb. 1.  12900 Euclid St.

6. Mystery restaurants at Irvine Spectrum Center

What exactly is the Irvine Co. building in the old Macy’s space? It’s been almost two years since the developer announced plans to raze the closed department store and replace it with as many as 20 new shops and restaurants. Construction has come along way in recent weeks, yet the Irvine Co. has been hush hush about food tenants. (We know a Sephora is coming.) Will there be a food hall? Will the mobile Hello Kitty Cafe get a permanent home? This we know: the ever expanding Irvine Spectrum Center, which  opened in 1995, is going to get even more crowded.

7. Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak 

On New Year’s Eve Stonehill Tavern served its last meal at Monarch Beach Resort. The critically-acclaimed fine dining venue is being rebranded as Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak. It is slated to open to in February after some minor renovations. Bourbon is Mina’s well-regarded “timeless” and seasonally-driven steakhouse. There, premium cuts of beef including Japanese wagyu are first poached in butter, and then finished on the wood-fired grill.

When it opens, it will join a bevy of modern steakhouses in Orange County: Selanne Steak Tavern in Laguna Beach, Vaca in Costa Mesa and the soon to be rebranded Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge, which is becoming a steak house later this month. Let the “2018 Steak Wars” begin.

8. TAPS Brewery & Barrel Room

At most craft breweries, food is an afterthought. But at TAPS Brewery & Barrel Room in Tustin, the cuisine will be just as important as the quality of the beer. That’s because Orange County’s newest brewery will be run by a company that knows how to give equal time to its brews and food. The 19,000-square foot production brewery and taproom in Tustin will have a 1,900 square foot tasting room, a dedicated food truck, pinball games and plenty of parking — up to 155 spaces.  

9. Italian steakhouse by El Cholo

The closed Ritz Prime Seafood restaurant on Coast Highway in Newport Beach is becoming an Italian steakhouse.Ron Salisbury, the owner of El Cholo restaurants in Southern California, plans to serve prime steaks and classic pastas and salads in a Cape Cod-inspired atmosphere. That means, he’s scrapping all the glitz from the old Ritz to make his waterfront restaurant more approachable. The veteran operator has also negotiated a deal to prevent towering yachts from blocking the pristine waterfront view — something that was a problem for the Ritz. Diners will finally get the sunset view they expect, he said. The yet-to-be named restaurant, at 2801 W. Coast Highway, is slated to open in late 2018.

4. Malibu Farm

Does Orange County need another farm-to-table outsider?  Yes — if it combines a view of Newport Harbor with the rustic luxe look of Malibu Farm. The transformed Lido Marina Village is getting a mashup version of Malibu Farm’s two popular pier venues — a casual breakfast cafe and a separate bar and restaurant. The Lido restaurant will offer a menu of organic and locally sourced ingredients as well as some exclusive specials and handmade ice cream.  Opening in spring 2018.

10. Black Tap at Downtown Disney District

Any restaurant with a trademark menu item called CrazyShakes will always get my attention. Let’s hope the whimsical and over-the-top shakes from New York-based Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beer meet our expectations. I’m especially looking forward to the shake made with Strawberry Pop Tarts. The better burger restaurant by Michelin honored chef Joe Isidori is opening next year at Downtown Disney. (Note: Huge changes are coming to Downtown Disney, where construction is slated to begin this year on a new luxury 700-room hotel that will result in the exit — temporary or permanent — of many food tenants including Starbucks, Earl of Sandwich, ESPN Zone and Rainforest Cafe.)

11. Il Barone relocation

The classic fine dining Italian restaurant owned by Franco and Donatella Barone is relocating to a closed Coco’s, giving the husband-and-wife team a fresh start in a new location.

The remodel of the 5,000-square foot coffee house has taken much longer than expected. Donatella said she expects the new restaurant, which is nearly double the size of the current Il Barone, to debut soon. The 90-seat Coco’s, at 900 Bristol St., will have about 20 extra seats, plus a patio. The restaurant is in the same center as Moulin cafe.

12. Cracker Barrel

OK. Not in Orange County, but let’s face it. Everyone in Southern California who has ever stopped for comfort food and knickknacks at this Midwest staple is over the moon about the pending opening of  Cracker Barrel’s first California location in Victorville.  It’s the first of at least six Cracker Barrel restaurants planned for California. The restaurant, at 11612 Amargosa Road, opens Feb. 5, 2018.

13. The Cauldron Spirits and Brews

It is appropriate for this final entry to land at No. 13. The Cauldron is a sophisticated witch-themed tavern by former Knott’s Berry Farm creative director Lara Hanneman. The intimate bar and restaurant features eclectic antiques, overstuffed chairs, Persian rugs, and ornately-framed vintage illustrations of witches and black cats. Hanneman, the artistic mind behind  multiple Knott’s Scary Farm haunts, is billing her dream tavern as a classy dive bar — with strong pours on traditional well drinks, as well as craft cocktails. The menu features French Provencial-style bites and hearty home-cooked comfort food. The Cauldron is slated to open this month (January) at 8028 Beach Blvd. (across the street from Knott’s Berry Farm). Stay tuned.

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