I don’t frequently blog about restaurant chains. Sure some restaurants are popular and have a few locations driven by an entrepreneurial and business savvy chef/owner. But the food at these restaurants never has that taste of “mass production” a la Cheesecake Factory and the like. North Italia is a chain owned by Fox Restaurant Group, which feels like it has “corporate” written all over it. They are responsible for a multitude of restaurant concepts mainly focused in Arizona and California, including the health-focused True Food Kitchen. Despite being a chain, North Italia tastes nothing a Cheesecake Factory. North Italia specializes in Italian food with a modern approach.
Italian Meatballs marinara, pecorino, grilled bread
I suppose there’s nothing particularly modern about meatballs. Nevertheless, they hit the spot, moist, hearty, with plenty of rich tomato sauce.
Chef’s Board prosciutto di parma, artisan cheese, marinated eggplant, roasted pepper, roasted asparagus, castelvetrano olive, marcona almond
This is my second time enjoying the delights of the chef’s board. It is really a wonderful mix of meat, cheeses, and veggies with an Italian flare. I especially liked the tender yet crunchy asparagus.
For my vegetarian friend, we kindly asked the prosciutto to be plated separately.
Heirloom Tomato romaine, avocado, sweet corn, marcona almond, pecorino, basil vinaigrette
I’ve tried a couple of their salads and enjoyed all of them. They are well balanced with varying textures of vegetables, nuts, and cheeses. The dressings are perfectly herbaceous and tangy. This heirloom tomato salad totally nailed it with the avocados and corn for me.
Squid Ink Mafaldine white shrimp, calamari, acqua pazza, mint, fennel pollen, calabrian chili
I haven’t tried all the pastas, but this an easy favorite of mine. The seafood is plentiful and fresh. Nothing old and rubbery here. The tomato sauce has some real kick. The pastas are all made from scratch, and you can really tell by the fresh chewy yet al dente texture. YUMS!
Funghi roasted mushroom, cipollini onion, smoked mozzarella
On my previous visit, I had the margherita pizza which was tasty. The mushroom pizza is the best by far. In fact, it might be the tastiest pizza I’ve eaten all year. I’m not quite sure what makes it so good, but the mushroom flavor is deeply aromatic. I thought maybe there’s something truffly in here, but no such cheat is listed on the menu. Maybe it’s the onions or smoked mozzarella? One thing is for sure, no meat is needed or wanted here. Soo YUMS!
Burrata Tortelloni heirloom cherry tomato, basil, pecorino, rustic tomato sugo
We needed another vegetarian dish, so we opted for the tortelloni. It was solid but nothing particularly amazing.
Bombolini meyer lemon curd, vanilla mascarpone
The Italian donut holes were fluffy and chewy. The tangy lemon curd and the sweet creamy mascarpone added varying sweet depth.
Salted Caramel Budino creme fraiche, maldon sea salt
Creamy, smooth, sweet with a little bit of a salty finish. Utterly delightful.
North Italia is really one of the best additions to the Irvine dining scene. I can’t speak for all of OC, but I definitely think it’s probably one of the best Italian restaurants here. Chain or no chain, it delivers high quality food that tastes like it’s made with great care and attention to ingredients and the whole process of cooking. The ambiance is inviting and laid back with solid service to back it up. I’ve been here multiple times and can safely say it deserves two thumbs up! This is sure to become one of my regular haunts.
10 – You NEED to eat here
9 – Awesome
8 – Very good
7 – Good
6 – OK
5 – Average
4 – Not bad
3 – Not good
2 – Terrible
1 – Do NOT eat here