(credit: ocrestaurantweek.com)

There was a time not too long ago where the Orange County restaurant scene was considered to be nothing more than a boring affair, saddled by too many chain restaurants and not enough culinary excellence. Then again, there was also a time when OC was also thought of as having nothing more than a couple of theme parks and a baseball stadium surrounded by a bunch of orange groves. What we’re saying here is, times change. You see, a funny thing has happened to Orange County’s culinary landscape over the last decade or so. The scene has exploded with an abundance of remarkably eclectic eats and dynamic dining venues, enabling OC to comfortably hold its own amongst the better known, highly acclaimed L.A. dining scene.

Is this a bold statement? Absolutely. But it just so happens to be true. If you want proof of this admittedly brazen claim, there’s no better time to attain it than by making some room on your calendar between February 26 and March 3 and participating in the epicurean glory known as Orange County Restaurant Week.

(credit: orangecountyrestaurantweek.com)

What is OC Restaurant Week?

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During this special seven-day event, one hundred of the top restaurants in Orange County will be rolling out special three-course, prix-fixe lunches and dinners for you to choose from. And “choose” is most assuredly the operative word going on here; all kinds of different dining venues are represented on this impressive list, from health-conscious raw food eateries to super-indulgent fine dining excursions, and everything in between. In other words, there’s enough going on during Orange County Restaurant Week to satisfy even the most finicky person in your entourage.

Now, if you have any qualms about participating in the week-long festival because of the damage it may do to your wallet, have no fear. The singular dining choices offered are specifically designed to be as economical as they are delicious. The prices on the lunch menus range from $10 to $20, while the dinner menus go from $20 to $40. What’s more, a few of the restaurants also toss a glass of beer or wine into the mix for good measure. If you’ve ever wanted to check out a place but were reluctant to do so because of the price involved, this is the perfect time to satisfy your curiosity.

And there really is no better time to come and explore the Orange County restaurant scene in general. While you may not find any orange groves lining the streets of OC anymore, you will certainly discover some substantially good eats.

Some of the participating relationships include:

(credit: theorangehillrestaurant.com)

Think that the best views in Orange County are all along the coast? Think again. Perched atop the foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, this highly stylish venue is offering a three course meal for $40, featuring dishes that manage to make the panoramic view of OC afforded here even better. Select items include: fresh Atlantic salmon with blackened Portobello mushrooms and black Thai rice; roasted breast of free range chicken marinated in sweet sherry and served with potato croquette and fresh vegetables; and filet mignon served in a cognac demi-glace.

(credit: 370common.com)

This hip and trendy downtown Laguna Beach restaurant is a prime example of the new wave of culinary concepts that is sweeping through OC, where simple ingredients are used to prepare beautiful food. For $30, you can come down for dinner and explore this burgeoning form of culinary expression. Selected items include: kale salad with pear, currants and citrus vinaigrette; black cod with chorizo and leeks; pork schnitzel served with roasted apple and spaetzle; and chocolate banana bread pudding.

(credit: chachasbrea.com)

The entire scope of Latin cuisine and influences is well represented in this restaurant, located at the heart of the rapidly growing Downtown Brea district. For $25, you can come down for dinner, grab a classic margarita, and indulge in the culinary versatility of this region of the world. Selected items include; roasted Jidori chicken marinated in Yucatan spices accompanied by seasonal vegetables; wood-oven braised carnitas accompanied by achiote onion and fresh salsas; and chocolate banana “taquitos.”

Rich Manning is a writer in Orange County, who also contributes to OC Executive.