Niyaz Pirani, Knife & Spork Public Relations
Niyaz Pirani has been active in the Orange County food scene since the mid-2000s when he was a news reporter and food writer at the Orange County Register. He later worked in local and statewide politics while freelancing for OC Weekly. In 2015 he founded his own PR firm, Knife & Spork Public Relations, where he focuses on building communities of regulars and super fans for restaurants through social and traditional media. He loves his family, his cats and Coachella.
Being in PR and being a reporter is essentially the same job, just on opposite sides of the workflow. You spend your days sitting at a desk or working on-site, and there’s a lot of driving involved. I’ve spent a lot of years around O.C. so I know where to go when these cravings hit.
Break of Dawn Restaurant, Laguna Hills: Global brunch through the eyes of Vietnamese Chef Dee Nguyen. Order the Eggs & Bacon (tempura eggs & pork belly)and the (Mexican chocolate-flavored) Creme Brulee French Toast.
Royal Capital Seafood, Westminster: House Special Squid, Kung Pao Chicken, Sweet & Sour Pork.
Thai Nakorn, Garden Grove: Spicy Beef Panang, Chicken Phad Thai, Coconut Fried Fish.
Meat Up BBQ, Placentia: Luis Flores makes hickory-smoked BBQ with 25 craft beers on tap he can tell you all about. Ask for the Mac Attack Fries, Spare Ribs or Farva Burger.
L.A. Brisket, Costa Mesa: The kind of brisket all your friends post from South by Southwest is exactly what you’ll find here. Go with the sandwich that’s meat, bread and sauce. Nothing more needed.
Orange Cafe, Orange: Super tiny, but you can’t go wrong here. EVERYTHING is amazing. Expect a wait unless it’s early.
Snooty Fox, Lake Forest: Pillowy biscuits smothered in gravy.
STACKED, Huntington Beach: The epitome of fluffy pancakes. And you can customize them however you want!
TK Burgers, Multiple Locations: There’s no better burger in OC. They taste like someone made them on their backyard grill with a ton of love. Ask for extra TK Sauce and crispy fries.
Royal Donuts & Burgers, Mission Viejo: Another solid old-school burger joint, but this one has a drive through and they also throw a donut in with your combo.
Ravin Buzzell: My favorite bartender in O.C., formerly of YNK. The man is a magician. I’ll take a Smoked Cardamom Old Fashioned any day, all day.
LSXO, Huntington Beach: Gangster rap, beach views and a very, very strong drink (meant to be shared) that’s served in large copper pineapple.
Heidelberg Pastry Shop, Laguna Hills: The fudge walnut brownies sell out daily, and early. Order ahead and pick them up. You won’t regret it.
Michael’s Coffee Shop, Lake Forest: The Chocolate Chip Muffin is 70 percent muffin top and 100 percent textural perfection.
Creamistry, Multiple Locations: Nutella Ice Cream with Cocoa Puffs. Tastes like Ferrero Rocher.
MEXICAN FOOD IN SANTA ANA
El Pico De Gallo Grill: Corn and flour tortillas to-go, fish tacos, asada and al pastor.
Burritos La Palma: Beef birria tucked in taco-sized flour tortillas and rolled into mini-burritos.
Alebrije’s Grill: Taco Acorazado with milanesa, rice, avocado, tomato, cactus and queso fresco. Add a suadero taco if you’re still hungry.
MEXICAN FOOD NOT IN SANTA ANA
Taco Maria, Costa Mesa: Campechana if it’s available. The dish is electric and will send shockwaves through your body. Editor’s Note: This dish is no longer available. Cross your fingers and maybe it will come back as a special?
Sol Agave, San Juan Capistrano: Shrimp Taquitos. The best in the biz.
Centro Collective, Lake Forest: Half-taqueria, half Roman-style pizzeria. Wholly delicious. Chicken Chicharon & Pork Belly Tacos, plus a slice of the Throwdown Pizza.
Sabrosada, Multiple Locations: Open late, always satisfying. Nachos and burritos, especially.
Orange Home Grown Farmers Market, Orange: My favorite breakfast, Gaytan Family Farm Eggs, plus Orange County Baking Company and Crema Cafe sell here!
Ochoa’s Chorizo, Santa Ana: Nearly greaseless chorizo. Go with the Spicy and Green varieties.
Big O’ To-Go, Mission Viejo: No other pizza like this around. Canadian Bacon only, add a Root Beer.
Mozza, Newport Beach: Nancy Silverton is a queen. Order meatballs, arancini and any of their Neapolitan pizzas. They’re all winners.
Zov’s, Multiple Locations: The first real culinary experience of my life was at 22 years old, eating a Lamb Burger at Zov’s the day I was hired at the Register. Fanciest I’d felt to that point. I choose the Chicken Paillard Salad these days—it’s fresh, vibrant and herbaceous.
Crave, Santa Ana: I lived on their salads for years when I worked in Downtown Santa Ana. Lots of variety and some of the best bread and croutons you’ll find anywhere.
Gulfstream, Newport Beach: Splurge on the Crab Cake Salad with Star Ruby grapefruit, avocado and Champagne vinaigrette.
Rendezvous, Corona Del Mar: A better Croque Madame than I could find in France, with a thick, peppery bechamel that holds the ham, cheese and bread together like spackle.
Ike’s Love & Sandwiches, Multiple Locations: NorCal turned SoCal, just like me. Choose any sandwich, but order it on Dutch Crunch bread.
Philly’s Best, Multiple Locations: Founded in Fountain Valley with authentic ingredients brought in from Philly. Been eating these cheesesteaks since I was a teenager.
Vaca, Costa Mesa: Bikini Sandwich. The triangular cuts of this sammy are filled with Iberico ham, Manchego cheese and black truffle, just like you’ll find ‘em in Barcelona.