Build-your-own is hot in the world of Middle Eastern cuisine, and Sajj is a prime example of the trend’s rising prominence. Sajj—named after the convex frying pan used for heating flatbreads—is steadily growing its presence across California, most recently opening in Rancho Santa Margarita. The Chipotle-meets-Middle East concept has seen great success across multiple locations in the Bay Area, and is on pace to do the same in Orange County.
Sajj has tweaked classic Middle Eastern flavors just enough to make them approachable for the masses. Steak and chicken shawarma, falafel, hummus and toum [Lebanese garlic sauce] are key staples, as well as a few fun additions like pomegranate-marinated chicken and roasted cauliflower. Spicy tahini, feta and even guacamole finish off wraps, pitas and bowls for new flavors with comfortingly familiar elements.
A plethora of locally sourced vegetables allows Sajj to become a healthier alternative as well. Fresh lettuce, arugula and kale from San Juan Bautista, tomatoes from Carlsbad, and cabbage from Santa Maria are just a few ingredients that go into Sajj’s veggie selections for wraps, pitas and bowls. Additionally, Sajj prides itself on sourcing meats with no hormones and no antibiotics.
Specialty drinks such as mint lemonade and tamarind add to the Sajj experience, as does the Sajj itself, where wraps are heated before staff build them in front of you.
Sajj Orange County is located at 22245 El Paseo Suite A, Rancho Santa Margarita CA 92688. Open 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. 7 days/week. Avg. out-the-door price for entrée and drink is ~$15/person. For more information call (949)-709-7779 or visit Sajj online.
Deep in the suburban Orange County community of Rancho Santa Margarita lies the Blind Pig. Humbly perched in a shopping mall overlooking the manmade Lago Santa Margarita, this place could just as easily find itself in the heart of a bumping urban downtown or along a string of posh beach gastropubs steps from the ocean. Part small plates, part gastropub and going 5 years strong with an expansion in the works, The Blind Pig proves that haute cuisine can live outside your traditional haute neighborhoods.
The eclectic, ever-changing menu is purposefully small, with Executive Chef Karl Pfeider laser-focused on executing 18 dishes perfectly rather than doing twice as many half as well. The Blind Pig’s offerings change with the seasons, but consistently feature familiar dishes from across the world with dazzlingly unfamiliar twists woven in.
The Blind Pig’s bold, global flavors are easily explained in their Parisian gnocchi—exceptional pasta pockets flash-fried just enough to make things interesting, beautifully complemented with intense Portuguese sausage and a spicy arribiata sauce that makes your tastebuds dance. The Korean short ribs then take you a few thousand miles east with dense oriental flavor that makes you wander how you’re still in Orange County.
They've got texture down to a science here, accentuating flavors with gems of crispiness to bring out all that’s already rich and filling. The mushroom saltado, a play on the classic Peruvian lamb dish, integrates puffed rice to give four types of wild mushrooms an elegant finish. For dessert, the panna cotta comes topped with sweet granola and paper-thin dark chocolate for multiple layers of sweet indulgence.
The drink menu is just as interesting, with local beers on tap, a solid wine list and a craft cocktail lineup that emphasizes novelty and complexity. The extensive Moscow mule selection is tough to turn down.
The Blind Pig is located at 31431 Santa Margarita Pkwy, Rancho Santa Margarita, CA 92688. Open 3 – 11 p.m. Tue, 3 – midnight Wed/Thu, 3 p.m. – 1 a.m. Fri, 11 – 1 a.m. Sat, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Sun. Closed Mon. Avg. out-the-door price for 2 orders and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$70/person. For more information call 949-888-0072 or visit The Blind Pig online.
Sea Change is one of three restaurants housed in Redondo Beach’s Chez Melange, a quaint retreat just steps from the beach. Run by Executive Chef Robert Bell and Co-Owner Michael Franks, who have been in business together for more than 40 years, Chez Melange is both homage to decades of friendship and a modern player in the realm of sophisticated fare.
Pass through Bouzy Gastropub and Oyster Bar, Chez Melange’s other micro-establishments, and a museum-style corridor allows for a glimpse of the past—photos of Robert and Michael from the early 90’s, menus from their previous restaurants, and even painted portraits of the two in action. From there, enter Sea Change, a small but mighty dining room hustling and bustling with the regulars, who are just as familiar with each other as they are with the servers who see them ever so frequently.
Friendly Becoming part of the family is easier than anticipated, with friendly staff that greet you with a warm smile at first sight. The difficult part comes with placing your order. Chez Melange’s massive menu with inspirations from across the globe speaks to Chef Bell’s range, and fresh fish specials that change daily take it up a level further.
At the top of the list stands the Zarzuela, a Spanish stew of scallops, shrimp, mussels and other seafood in an addictive bisque-like base. The New England dry pack scallops are the perfect golden brown, taken off the frying pan not a second too soon or too late, served with rich bacon cheddar mashed potatoes. The Pacific rim tostadas bring together sashimi-grade ahi, Japanese salsa, avocado, spicy aioli and pickled ginger atop wontons that contain just the right crunch.
Portion sizes are another strong suit at Sea Change. It’s a surprise to see guests finish the mountain of parmesan truffle fries, or have room after the delightful baby beet salad. The drink selection follows much the same face, containing a long list of wine, beer, craft cocktails and a homemade ginger lemonade that’s absolutely worth trying.
Chez Melange is located at 1611 S. Catalina Avenue, Redondo Beach, CA 90277. Sea Change is open 5:30 – 9:30 p.m. Sun, Tue – Thur, 5:30 – 10 p.m. Fri/Sat. Sunday brunch served 9:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. Closed Monday. Out-the-door cost for split appetizer, entrée, split dessert and 1 – 2 drinks is ~$79/person. For more information, call 310-540-1222 or visit Chez Melange online.
Benjamin Brown is a seasoned restaurant writer and hospitality consultant, serving up SoCal's hottest food news and reviews.