Fifi Chao

Executive Dining Reporter

Fifi Chao is a chef, lecturer, author, educator, radio personality and publisher of Chao's Dinesty, a private subscription restaurant, wine and travel newsletter. She has been reviewing local restaurants for the Business Journal since 1990.

Recent Stories

Fifi Polishes Off Best Menu Of All: A Delightful Career

Veteran Business Journal Dining Columnist Retires

Retirement from one’s occupation is expected eventually, and I’ve been thinking for a while about mine.

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Island Hotel Eateries Spiffed Up, With Side of Friendly

Aqua Lounge, Oak Grill Menus Focus on Healthy

During the past two years, Island Hotel has made some tremendously good-looking changes in its Aqua Lounge and Oak Grill dining rooms. There’s also a new chef on board whose food pleased us very much in recent tastes.

Vaca Preps for Buzzworthy James Beard Benefit Meal

Meanwhile, New and Old Everyday Spots Entice Us

This Thursday, one of summer’s most exciting culinary events will take place: a Friends of James Beard Benefit dinner at Vaca, the fascinating Spanish-inspired restaurant in South Coast Metro’s arts district in Costa Mesa.

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Unpretentious, Delicious ‘Middle Menus’ Gain Steam

In Most Every Town, But Hop In the Car For More

For some reason, I recently had the thought that Orange County has a knot in its britches about who and what we are in the culinary psyche. People will not leave their hometown enclaves to experience things across the county. No wonder the jammed traffic saps the adventurous spirit to try what’s new.

Greeley to Hand Over Golden Truffle After Long Reign

Esteemed Chef-Owner On to Fla. After 37 Years

You’ll be sad to hear that Alan Greeley, a chef held in the highest regard by his peers, is selling his Golden Truffle restaurant in Costa Mesa after 37 years.

New Offerings Offer Multitude of Tasty Dishes

Porchetta, Hot Pots And Memorable Italian Shine

Hendrix at Laguna Niguel’s Ocean Ranch Village is brand-new, good-looking, very energetic and delicious.

When One Restaurant’s Door Closes, Another Opens

Plenty of Changes On OC’s Dining Menu

The freeway of restaurant openings, closings and moves is staying busy with lots of traffic.

Food Dreams on Okinawa Unfold at South Coast Plaza

Sushi Master Lives To Delight With His Creations

This is a story of a little boy in Japan who knew what he wanted to be when he grew up, and us food lovers are all the better for it.

Dine Around the World One Tasty Plate at a Time

Fifi Tours OC’s Under-The- Radar Ethnic Restaurants

Orange County keeps getting richer and richer with dining possibilities. We are lucky to have so many family-owned, individual places interspersed with the big, fancy restaurants.

New Year Offers New and Tried-and-True Options

Pascal Lorange Crudo To Ex-Pinot Provence Spot

The French food at Pinot Provence hit a graceful note when the restaurant opened many years ago in the Westin Hotel in Costa Mesa, but the truly French decor probably got as much publicity as the Gallic food.

2016 Taste Bud Pleasers and a Pig’s Head on the Brain

New Vietnamese Eatery Fresh Fifi Favorite

This is the month when I look back at the past year, remember the best dishes, and look forward to the broad restaurant scene that is ever changing. There were many superb meals, and a lot of interesting restaurants visited.

2016 Nears Close With Entrepreneurial Flurry

Chefs, Owners Branch Out; Plus Fifi on Water Grill

More changes and circulating stories in the industry.

Changes at the New Ritz a Charm This Time Around?

Some Welcome Switch Following First Year

My readers know by now that I don’t do hatchet jobs on restaurants. My husband and I spend a lot of money trying out restaurants that you never hear about in these columns.

Chefs Hopscotch Around OC, Keeping Eats Fresh

Roger’s Gardens Cafe Opens to Crowds

The chef shuffle has been quite the popular dance lately.

Plenty of Taste Temptations Pop Up Around County

Food Hall to Join Growing List of Poke, Burger Spots

Trends are exploding all over the county.

Out With Old Tastes, in With New Across County

Laguna Niguel Loses Two; Bistango, Others Refresh

Savannah Chop House at Golden Lantern and Camino del Avion in the Ocean Ranch Village of Laguna Niguel is closed.

Generation or More Proves Eateries’ Recipes Timeless

Survivors Mix Consistency, Warmth to Stay at the Table

I did not realize until I started researching for this mini-tome that we had so many restaurants that have endured for at least 25 years in Orange County. I’d been to some of these in the reasonable past, but not all, so I was a busy gal catching up on the status of the others.

Italian With Drive to Cook Realizes Food Lover’s Dream

Family Ties, European Training Fuse at The Ranch

It’s part of my job to watch what a lot of chefs are doing. Some, of course, are more impressive than others. Watching a fine chef open a restaurant and keep on doing his job so well that the public, year after year, continues to embrace the concept and the food makes for a great candidate for Chef of the Year.

Fresh Eatery Arranges Its Plates in Agreeable Row

Ironwood Impresses With Unexpected Food, Facility

Ironwood in Laguna Hills opened only a month ago, and we have been busy introducing friends via word of mouth and by taking them there. It’s rare for me to keep wanting to return to the same restaurant—there are just too many places I need to try, and there’s only one of me. To say that Patrick and I are quite taken by Ironwood would certainly be an understatement, and we are enjoying our multiple visits a lot.

South County Gains in the Gastronomic Department

South County is getting more sophisticated on the dining front.

South County is getting more sophisticated on the dining front.

News Flows From All Corners of OC’s Food World

Novel Ventures; Cookbook Morsel; Retooled Irish Fare

After decades in South Coast Plaza’s Crate and Barrel/Macy’s Home Store wing, Nello Cucina is no more. Antonio Cagnolo shuttered the operation in late February, focusing on his three other restaurants: Antonello Ristorante, Quattro Caffé and Antonello Espresso Café.

Restaurateur of the Year Built 2nd Career on Memories

Italian Food at Home, Trips To Italy Inspired Eateries

Cathy Pavlos, co-owner and chef of Lucca in Irvine and Provenance in Newport Beach, has earned her place as one of Orange County’s most admired chefs. She is our 2016 Restaurateur of the Year.

Supper Club Gets Love From Culinary Friend and Fifi

Brasserie Just Ahead Of Admirer’s ‘Farmhouse’

It’s refreshing to see restaurateurs help advertise each other’s new venues. In this case, Rich Mead, highly regarded for his former Sage restaurants, sent out positive commentary on Jack Jasper and his Campus Jax restaurant—full name Campus Jax, a mindful kitchen, brasserie & Supper Club.

Favorite Dining Choices to Help Start 2016 Off Right

Plus Fifi’s Rundown Of Departures, Newcomers

As I start the new year, I think back on good food I’ve had and what I look forward to now.

Dine in Holiday Style With the Best Seasonal Trimmings

Eateries Put as Much Time Into Decoration as Food

This is the time of year when all sorts of nostalgia takes over. We used to stop by and see the decorations at some of the upscale restaurants—there are now so many.

Recent Restaurant Closing No Surprise, Another Sad

Tamarind Dashed Hopes, Scott’s Ends on High Note

Double bombshells hit diners in the past month with the sudden closing of Tamarind of London at Newport Coast and news that Scott’s would be closing at the end of the year.

New Chefs, Enriched Eateries Offer Fresh Opportunities

Bistro Comes Into Its Own, Plus OC’s Best Indian Food

I mentioned two months ago that Little Sparrow in downtown Santa Ana had parted ways with its chef.

Restaurant Anniversaries Coincide With New Players

Plenty of Stalwarts, Fresh Fare Options to Browse

Moulin Bistro, Newport’s cute little culinary bôite filled with French aromas, ambiance, food and wine, and happy patrons, celebrates its first anniversary this month.

Abundant Restaurant News Starts Sad, Ends Glad

Chef Departs, Kids Fed, Laguna ‘Reunion’

Lots of Tidbits today: • The sad news: The shock of the month came with the announcement that Bruce Marsh, owner of Little Sparrow, the darling little restaurant in downtown Santa Ana, let chef Eric Samaniego go.

Fifi's Best

It always happens.

Golden Truffle’s Alan Greeley Has Recipe for Satisfaction

Creative, Eclectic, Friendly Style Cooks Up Delicious

I don’t even want to count how many restaurants I have eaten in this past year. But I can tell you that no chef has consistently impressed me more over a few decades, and still does, than Alan Greeley, the chef and owner of Golden Truffle in Costa Mesa. This special guy is my pick for Chef of the Year because he thinks globally about food and he makes culinary memories for all of us.

Lark Creek Recalled as Group Partner Cuts New Path

Chef Ogden Opens Diners, Works With New-Chef Son

Still sad over the quiet closing last month of the Lark Creek restaurant in Fashion Island. It had some of the best food in that upscale center.

Musings on Departing Eateries, Good, Bad Memories

Charlie Palmer Latest In String of Closings in OC

It came as a shock to serious diners that Charlie Palmer is closing his eponymous restaurant at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza at the beginning of May.

Chef Built Beloved Restaurant on Natural Talent

Mixes Ethnic Food Smarts, Hunger for Better Dining

Our now legendary Orange County lady chef and restaurateur Zov Karamardian set out to introduce the dining public to Mediterranean food 27 years ago.

Upscale Bars Offer Comfort, Sociable Dining Alternative

Claim Center Stage With Inviting Decor, Food, Drink

Having a glass of wine with friends is no longer the cutting-edge trend. We are now having cocktails.

Ode to Local Pioneer; New Twists in Familiar Places

Larry Cano Left Stamp On Ever-Dynamic Food Scene

We recently lost Larry Cano, a true icon not only in Orange County dining but a major player in introducing America to sit-down Mexican dining and cuisine at a sophistication level way above the familiar taco genre.

New Option at Spectrum, Old Standby in Anaheim

High Marks for Del Frisco; Jägerhaus Back on Radar

Del Frisco’s Grille opened recently at Irvine Spectrum.

Take It From Tommy Bahama: Follow-Up Matters

Take It From Tommy Bahama: Follow-Up Matters

This tidbit about a restaurant doing it right, doing what hospitality is really all about, seems like such a good way to start the column.

Upscale Dining Weekend, New Eateries on OC’s Plate

Famed Italian Chef Stars At Festival This Weekend

There’s a very special event happening at the end of this week.

OC’s First Din Tai Fung and Other Worthy Food Adventures

Chinese Dumpling House Delights With Each Morsel

Din Tai Fung, the famed Chinese dumpling house, opened two weeks ago at South Coast Plaza (entrance on the upper level next to Sears). I surmise that, having heard the buzz about its international reputation, the crowds will flow.

Café Tu Tu Tango Still Tempts Taste Buds for Less

Spanish Menu Served Up in Boho Indy Style

People always ask restaurant journalists: “What is your favorite restaurant?”

Dining on the Latin Side Vibrant, Tasty, Unexpected

Traditional, Progressive Eateries Serve Up Magia

This is the first time I have rounded up a group of Mexican or Latin-themed restaurants for Fifi’s Best. There are lists of the Best Tacos, the Best Margaritas, the Best Mexican Restaurants, and more in so many publications and online. I’m taking another avenue.

Recent Changes Stir Orange County Fine-Dining Pot

Some Very Good, Another Remains to Be Seen

Restaurants keep opening, many of them good, but when we spent time at the new Watertable in the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Hotel & Spa, we realized dish by dish that there are still culinary frontiers being conquered and ways to set the bar much higher. It has been one of the most eye-opening, palate-pleasing forays into fine dining on a comfort-food level that I’ve come across in a long time.

Same Place, Fresh New Vibe at Vine in San Clemente

Offers Warm, Affordable ‘Wine Country’ Experience

Old venues can rev up a lot of new excitement when someone with a strong restaurant background and reputation for being warm and respectful to his employees comes along as owner and offers up a singular kind of affordable wine country experience.

Seafood Lovers, Food Writers Mourn Chef’s Passing

Bluewater Grill Veteran Shared Passion With Smile

Orange County lost a beautiful person and passionate chef last month in Brian Hirsty, executive chef of the Bluewater Grill restaurants. He was only 48, and though he had a rare bone marrow disease, his death was completely unexpected.

Passion for Food, Sharing It Make Dubray Stand Out

Pelican Hill Executive Chef Leads With Strength, Smiles

Our Chef of the Year, Jean-Pierre Dubray, has been engaging the public in appreciation of gorgeously showcased and inherently delicious food for more than three decades.

Pelican Hill Offers Food, More for Locals, Guests

Trio of Restaurants Get Fifi’s Seal of Approval

There’s so much happening at The Resort at Pelican Hill all during the year. I’ll try to capsulize it but nevertheless want to bring you the best of the resort.

Primo Restaurants for Fresh, Creative Spring Fare

From French Countryside to Sushi With a Flair

Springtime brings thoughts of colorful flowers emerging, a climate conducive to beaches and boating, and getting out as the winter fades, even though we’ve had such a mild winter.

It’s Hard Keeping Up With Pascal Olhats These Days

Brasserie Pascal Closing, Epicerie Moving—Where?

A couple of Pascal Olhats surprises popped up recently, and they do not make me happy.

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Balboa Bay Club Vet Hissin to Island Hotel as GM

Club Nabs Lesage From St. Regis, Plans Revamps

The exodus of the three well-known faces of the Balboa Bay Club and Resort is complete.

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