The Playground could be the best new restaurant in Orange County. Located at the corner of a one-way street in Santa Ana, it is driven by Jason Quinn, original chef of the Lime Truck and winner of the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, and his team of alt-centric chefs. The building is located down the street from the art district, far enough to be inconvenient but close enough to be tempting.
The exterior of the building is quiet and unassuming, easily missed if you’re driving by without paying much attention, but this hides an interior that is as lively as the team who run the kitchen.
The room is small, no bigger than the front of the bookstore, but it is planned efficiently. A dark wooden community table stretches across the rear of the room and provides ample seating. A bar stretches along the other rear wall, providing a place to wait for a table to clear up. For those who would who prefer a more private dining experience, smaller tables dot the center of the room, though the wait for them is very long. Reservations are definitely recommended.
The beer list is exceptional featuring beers from the Placentia brewery, The Bruery, as well as other strong craft breweries. Surprisingly, the prices are also very good, comparable to the Anthill Pub.
Most importantly, however, is the food. Yelp says the Playground serves “New American” food. That’s not perfectly correct. They make whatever cuisine the food they get inspires them. Whether it has Asian, European or American influences is arbitrary.
The menu is split into three parts: vegetables, meat and after. There are no real appetizers. I would recommend something, but the menu changes daily. Good thing then, that everything is good. The staff doesn’t serve anything that they’re not proud of.
Things to look out for though: anything with the Wagyu ribeye is amazing. The Playground serves their beef medium rare with no exceptions and it’s wonderful. The sear is crispy, the texture silky and tender and the flavor perfectly beefy.
Don’t come here if you don’t trust people. You can’t make any changes to the dishes. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to pay but don’t dare think about asking them to remove something. But, if you keep an open mind, and trust the people making your food, you’re going to have a good meal and a great night.