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When dining rooms were forced to close, it not only changed the way restaurants operate, it changed the way we all eat. Takeout took on a new meaning, suddenly serving a different purpose. It became less about instant, individual gratification and more about getting food on the table for the entire family.
No restaurant answered that call more heroically than Taco María, where trendsetting chef Carlos Salgado recast his destination dining room known for leisurely multi-course tasting menus as a corner bodega selling carne asada, pinto beans and tamales, completely transforming the concept of meal kits.
Yes, dining rooms are cautiously reopening, but 2020’s not done yet. Many of us are still counting on takeout. And when we don’t have time to cook but still need to put food on the table or stock the fridge, these 10 restaurants can save the day.
Although the menus vary from week to week, Andrei’s typically offers a dozen different family-style meals customized for two to eight people based upon a featured entree such as barbecue pork ribs, beef stroganoff, Moroccan-style kabobs or Vietnamese-inspired pork chops. 2607 Main St., Irvine, 949-387-8887, andreisrestaurant.com
Birrieria el Bandido
Everybody loves taco night, but who’s got the time to make homemade birria? Nobody, at least not when Birrieria el Bandido sells their soulful stewed meats by the pound with enough tortillas and fixin’s to serve an army. Beef or lamb, this is seriously some of the best birria in Orange County. 12081 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, 657-348-9461
Buttermilk Fried Chicken
There’s nothing more comforting than sitting down to a dinner table and reaching a hand toward a platter piled with 20 pieces of crispy fried chicken. Dibs on a thigh, and can someone please pass the mashed potatoes and braised greens? Also, there’s no rule that says you can’t have coconut cake as an appetizer instead of waiting for dessert. 238 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, 714-941-9124, buttermilkfc.com
If it’s true that spicy foods boost the immune system, Clay Oven might be the antidote to 2020. The family packs here are meant to serve at least four people, and you can pick and choose what goes into it. You’ll definitely want to include some black-cobra-chili-infused tandoori chicken and probably some curried butternut squash to help offset the heat. Or maybe the mango-ginger-glazed ribs. Tough choices, but it’s hard to go wrong. 15435 Jeffrey Road, Irvine, 949-552-2851, clayovenirvine.com
There are so many things you can do with a big vat of Dr. Pepper-braised pork shoulder. You could make tacos. Or you could make incredible sandwiches. Or you could just eat it straight. Either way, it comes family-style for two or four, with a choice of two sides. One of those sides should definitely be the Mexican-style corn on the cob. And while you’re at it, you might as well get a pint (or two) of piña coladas. 370 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, 949-715-1530, harleylagunabeach.com
The Kickin’ Crab
You’ll need to stock up on PPE for this one: gloves, bibs, paper towels, maybe even some protective goggles. The restaurant will supply you with enough butcher paper to protect the dining table. Now dump a large bucketload of cajun-style crawfish, crab legs, shrimp, sausage and corn onto the center of the table and let the free-for-all begin. 1534 Adams Ave., Costa Mesa, 714-760-4909, thekickincrab.com; Additional locations in Irvine, Westminster, Santa Ana and Buena Park
The family-style care packages at Lola Gaspar vary from week to week and aren’t always advertised. Sometimes they are teased exclusively on Instagram, so you’ll want to follow along if you wish to catch chef Luis Pérez when he’s butterflying whole chickens and rubbing them with a jerk marinade before grilling the birds over mesquite until the skin has caramelized and the meat is tender and juicy. Don’t forget to load up on mezcal cocktails while you’re at it. They come in the cutest plastic pouches. 211 W. 2nd St., Santa Ana, 714-972-1172, lolagaspar.com
Yes, Noble Bird is in Long Beach. And this is a dining guide to Orange County. The restaurant is located at 2nd and PCH, just a few feet across the border. And because everybody loves rotisserie chicken, everybody needs to know about this place. The chickens are superb, especially the ones that are slathered with Korean chili paste, which prompts the birds to char and blister on the spit. Also, as weird as it sounds, get the black rice with blueberries. And don’t forget the brownie bark. 6460 E. Pacific Coast Highway, Long Beach, 562-431-0445, noblebirdrotisserie.com
When this is all over, let’s hope and pray that Taco María finds a way to keep the bodega staples alive. Because it’s going to be impossible to return to normal if we can’t just go online and order up a family pack of wood-roasted carne asada, a dozen crispy tacos and a quart of pinto beans to-go. And what of that burger that Salgado created? Taco María doesn’t serve burgers, never will, but the bodega does, and they are phenomenal: triple wagyu patties squished into brioche buns with melty, gooey Spanish blue cheese. 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, 714-538-8444, tacomaria.com
Paella or steak? That’s always been the burning question when dining at Vaca in Costa Mesa. And it’s the same dilemma you’ll need to resolve when ordering family-style takeout: a massive dry-aged ribeye, or a big pan of paella Valenciana. Heads, I win; tails, you lose. 695 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, 714-463-6060, vacarestaurant.com