NB Eats Cheap & Chic

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Fast Casual Cool

Fashion Island’s family-friendly food scene gets a major makeover.- By Kedric Francis

Fashion Island has had a serious aesthetic upgrade ($100 million worth!) in the past few years with new shops and fountains and such, but there’s also been a less noted makeover of the fast, casual food offerings at the top shopping address in NB. And for those who don’t still mourn the loss of Mickey D’s or more recently, Red Robin at the center, the changes are an inspired upgrade.

Wahoo’s Fish Taco and Subway moved from the upper level down to the Atrium Food Court in part to make way for the new upscale Island Cinema, which offers a bevy of alcoholic beverages and better concession stand choices. The reserved theater seats are comfy and spacious, and it’s cool to sip Veuve Clicquot, Schramsberg or a Stella while watching a film that’s free from the gaggle of giggling tweens that make Fashion Island their personal playground. Only two theaters allow alcohol, and they’re 21+ only. However, the food failed to impress. It’s definitely better than Regal’s norm, but we expected more from the menu, which doesn’t measure up to the wine list. The chipotle chicken panini was tasty, but cold in the middle, and the hot dog condiments still come in little plastic packets. But the staff is earnest and enthusiastic, so we’ll hope for an upgraded (if not gourmet) menu in the future.

For now, our pre-film fast and casual meal will be at Wahoo’s, which has a full bar at its new location down the escalator where Design Within Reach once wasn’t—within reach, that is. That place was pricey! Wing Lam and his brothers have outdone themselves with the new location that includes patio seating on the up-to-now underutilized plaza between Dick’s Sporting Goods and Barnes and Noble. We imagine it will be jamming come summertime.

Up where Wahoo’s once was, we’ll soon be able to satisfy our vegan urges (hey, it could happen!) when Native Foods Café opens later this year. We love our meat, but chef/owner Tanya Petrovna’s restaurants at The Camp in Costa Mesa and up in Aliso Viejo offer oddly (for us!) satisfying meatless meals. Perhaps it’s because you can get anything there on the spicy side, which is also why we love Five Guys Burgers in the Atrium Food Court. It may be sacrilege in SoCal, but we prefer the newcomer to In-N-Out. It’s all about freedom of choice, and at Five Guys, the spicy condiment choices trump all that “animal style” off-the-menu stuff.

If you need some sweet after all that spice, follow the line of tweens to the new Casey’s Cupcakes by the kid-friendly Iris fountain. Former O.C. celebutante Casey Reinhardt and family should be proud of their burgeoning business. While most of the other Laguna Beach show beauties are still famous for doing little but starring in subsequent reality shows, Casey is actually working for a living and doing quite well at it, as her sweet empire continues to expand. ,

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