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By Ashley Ryan | Contributor



There’s no doubt — spring is in the air. After the dreary winter rain, sunshine and fresh fare are just what the doctor ordered. Luckily, Orange County is filled with alfresco patios that make it a joy to dine outdoors. Whether you’re surrounded by colorful flowers by day or strung lights by night, the laid-back atmosphere of these restaurants will have you opting to sit outside all season long.



This patio is one of the best in Newport Beach. It’s located at a plant nursery, where trees, plants and florals create a dining hideaway in a garden setting. The chef visits a farmers market every week to procure only the finest produce, ensuring that the menu is fresh as can be (and absolutely perfect for spring). A local favorite is the Today’s Pizza, which changes regularly, but you’ll also find veggie-forward dishes, seafood, sandwiches, an array of small plates and crisp salads packed with ingredients. There is also a vast cocktail program, which includes sips benefitting rotating charities. 


Photo credit courtesy of Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens



With a menu of locally acquired but globally inspired cuisine and a unique atmosphere — within an Amtrak depot in San Juan Capistrano, in a building that was constructed in the 1800s — the outdoor courtyard at Trevor’s at the Tracks is a sight to behold. Red brick and a tranquil fountain lend themselves to the historic vibe that you’ll enjoy as you dine on dishes such as a California-shaped charcuterie board, sushi-inspired Tokyo Tacos, the No Lettuce salad, chargrilled flatbreads, burgers, Brazilian flat iron steak, Thai curry cioppino and more. You can also listen to live music on the patio seven days a week.


Photo credit courtesy of Trevors at the Tracks


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Few scenes rival those found at Lido House hotel in Newport Beach, where the Topside rooftop deck offers sprawling views of the coastline, the city and, if timed correctly, the vibrant sunset. Don’t worry about the cool ocean breeze — the fire pits will keep you warm. Current menu offerings include crispy Jidori chicken skewers, yellowtail ceviche, a prime skirt steak quesadilla, truffle fries, crispy avocados, organic hummus and a churro funnel cake for dessert. As for libations, you’ll find great variety such as spirits, wines by the bottle, zero-proof drinks and cocktails like the Topside margarita adorned with a seasonal ice pop. Among the other creative sips are the Under the Sea cocktail featuring gin, kiwi and lime, an espresso martini, the yuzu-lavender Sandbar and more.



Photo credit courtesy of Topside of Lido House



Though there is also a patio at the Irvine location, Bosscat Kitchen & Libations in Old Towne Orange offers some extra historic flair. The building was a beloved liquor store for more than 70 years as well as a gas station, automotive garage and horse-drawn carriage repair shop. Nods to this storied past, like old gas pumps and antique metal pieces from the horse-and-buggy repair shop, make this a truly special spot to dine. On top of that, the delicious comfort food will make it tough to choose. Don’t miss the spicy chicken and cheese dip, shaved pork chop sandwich, 12-hour beef short rib, Carolina barbecue salmon or, for brunch, peach cobbler waffles.



Photo credit courtesy of Wales Communications


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Set on Lake Mission Viejo, you’ll feel as if you’re transported out of Orange County as you relax at this wine-centric restaurant. While exclusive tasting experiences and winemaker events are the norm at A Hidden Vine, there are also exceptional food pairings to accompany your vino. Try small snacks, like marcona almonds, a vegetable and hummus plate or burrata with pita bread and arugula, or order custom charcuterie boards in various sizes with cheese, cold cuts, crackers, nuts, dried fruits and jams. A Hidden Vine also offers flatbreads that are baked to order with artisanal cheeses in flavors such as sweet brie, chicken bacon ranch, fig and goat cheese, chicken pesto, a vegan option and more.



Photo credit courtesy of a Hidden Vine




Sit right above the sand and listen to the crashing waves at The Deck, a Laguna Beach hot spot that features an outdoor dining room next to the sea. Open for lunch and dinner, this eatery serves up sensational seafood options like the opulent seafood tower, tuna tartare, Mexican white shrimp tacos, steamed clams and mussels, Dungeness crab Louie salad, a grilled mahi-mahi sandwich, pan-seared local halibut and much more. Of course, there are options for those who aren’t seafood lovers as well, but that is definitely the main focus.



Photo credit courtesy of The Deck




Filled with greenery and vintage decor, the patio at Habana will make you feel as if you’ve been transported to a Cuban eatery. There are two locations in Orange County — one at The LAB Anti-Mall in Costa Mesa and another at the Irvine Spectrum Center. Start with The Taste of Habana, a platter that offers varied bites, including pork croquetas and both chicken and vegetable empanadas, all served with a banana-habanero ketchup. As for entrees, enjoy classic dishes such as ropa vieja, paella, el churrasco, medianoche, plantain-crusted chicken and salmon a la parrilla.



Photo credit courtesy of Habana



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What’s for dinner — steak or sushi? At this new hot spot at the Pendry Newport Beach hotel, which opened late last year, you don’t have to choose. Both are exceptional. Build your own plate from a list of classic cuts, dry-aged dishes, wagyu choices and large-format steaks, then customize your choice with sides and sauces. As for sushi, SET offers specialty rolls such as the Surf and Turf, the Green Goddess and the Toro Toro Toro, but the restaurant also has unique menu items including a bluefin tuna pizza, whole lobster tempura, a caviar tower and specialty nigiri flights. And with a patio that looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale, with glowing fire columns and round lanterns hanging from sprawling trees, it’s perfect for date night, too. 



Photo credit courtesy of SET Steak & Sushi



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Certain cities in Orange County have a booming culinary scene while others are more up-and-coming. Brea is definitely the latter, though Julep Cast Iron Kitchen + Drink stands out. The airy patio is a great place to unwind; Julep also offers heaters and blankets to stay cozy if it’s chilly out. The cocktail game is strong here with shareable drinks for groups, a whiskey flight and Irish coffee in addition to Prohibition-era classics and signature drinks. As for fare, weekend brunch highlights include cast iron skillets, biscuits and gravy, and a Julep Benedict. The lunch/dinner menu features dishes such as rock shrimp beignets, short rib sliders, a barbecue chicken salad, jalapeno grilled cheese, Southwest burger and a steak sandwich.



Photo credit courtesy of Julep Cast Iron Kitchen + Drink



Santa Ana is filled with restaurants that have quaint patios on which to relax, sip a drink, have a meal and people-watch. Strung lights and modern furniture just add to the peaceful setting at Benchmark. On the menu, you’ll find approachable culinary creations with a lot of shared plates, such as ahi tuna, tandoori roasted carrots, Korean barbecue tacos, salmon rillette, roasted grape and goat cheese salad, Parmesan herb fries and more. Larger plates are available as well, from the Benchmark burger, gochujang fried chicken and cacio e pepe to shrimp and broccoli risotto — plus three types of cake for dessert: butter, chocolate and carrot.



Photo credit courtesy of Benchmark


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Rising above Pacific Coast Highway in Huntington Beach, this “treehouse” at Paséa Hotel & Spa is a fun hangout for drinks, snacks or watching the sunset. The rooftop spot features fire pits, cabanas, plush sofas, swinging chairs and a central, light-up bar that looks like a real tree. With happy hour deals during the week and live DJs on the weekends, you can’t go wrong, whether you want relaxation or to turn up with friends. Dine on dishes such as crab cakes, wild-caught fish tacos, truffle Parmesan fries, cauliflower ceviche, crispy jumbo chicken wings, a lobster roll, sea bass ceviche or a burger. Everything pairs well with cocktails like the Monkey Business, LD’s Catalina Island Iced Tea, Pink Flamingo, Havana Memories, Serenity Cove, HB Dahlia and more.



Photo credit courtesy of Treehouse on PCH


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Inspired by the underground music scene in Orange County in the 1990s, this is a unique spot with a fun patio out front. The cuisine is elevated and casual all at once — think shrimp scampi, meatballs with goat cheese, roasted mushroom fondue as well as soups, salads, charcuterie boards and paninis. The eatery also offers bruschetta boards, which are great for wine pairing and come with four varieties of your choosing (favorites include warm artichoke spread; brie, apple and fig; and Mexican street corn). Several infused lemonades are available, but you’ll want to sample the vast selection of wines. Enjoy vino by the bottle or the glass from California, France, Italy, New Zealand and beyond.



Photo credit courtesy of Postino Park Place



Soak up the sunshine on the roof of the historic La Casa del Camino hotel in Laguna Beach. Known throughout Orange County as the perfect waterfront dining spot with rolling blue waves as far as the eye can see, The Rooftop Lounge is especially famous for its fresh mojitos. Other cocktails available include a pomegranate martini, Rooftop Spritz, Squeeze of Summer, Lime in the Coconut, sangria and more. In addition, enjoy a menu of flavorful dishes such as a Nashville hot chicken sandwich, spaghetti fra diavolo, seared sesame ahi salad, spicy fish and chips, Mediterranean hummus, farmers market street corn and crispy jerk wings. 



Photo credit courtesy of The Rooftop Lounge


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After being in business in Yorba Linda for 30 years as Fitness Grill, a recent rebrand to become Versai Kitchen & Wine Bar reinvigorated this eatery. Italian and Mediterranean fare mingle flawlessly, with separate menu sections for each style as well as for pizzas, salads, shared plates and handheld items. Some standouts include the Napa Berry salad, Mexican short rib pizza, shrimp and scallops, lamb chops, saffron chicken kabob and buffalo lasagna. Grab a seat around the patio fire pit to enjoy one of the decadent dishes paired with a wine flight, cocktail or coffee drinks.



Photo credit courtesy of Versai Kitchen & Wine Bar

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