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“Very Creative” 4 of 5 stars
Review of The Playground

The Playground
220 East 4th Street, Santa Ana, CA 92701
(714) 560-4444
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Ranked #1 of 608 Restaurants in Santa Ana
Price range: $15 - $30
Cuisines: American, International, Californian, Gastropub
More restaurant details
Restaurant details
Dining options: Breakfast/Brunch, Reservations, Late Night
Dining style: Casual Dining
Cross street: Spurgeon
Description: Chef driven, ingredient driven affordable small plates and craft cocktails and beers. A young and creative team of chefs led by Executive Chef, Jason Quinn, change up the menu daily to keep the dining experience fresh and exciting. Orange County's "Best Bartender" making exciting craft cocktails and Santa Ana's best beer program, with 15 craft beers on tap and approximately 60 bottled beers, including many rarities. The dining experience is different at Playground: You're expected to share, so don't think in terms of my dish or your dish, and we're stubborn about our no-modification rule. If you're adventurous you'll probably love it; if you need control over your dish preparation, you probably won't.
Santa Ana, California
Senior Reviewer
9 reviews 9 reviews
8 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 4 cities Reviews in 4 cities
3 helpful votes 3 helpful votes
“Very Creative”
4 of 5 stars Reviewed April 15, 2014

The menu here changes based on the fresh ingredients that the chef procure. One must be a food adventurer to try out a place like this. From the sides to the main entres, the chef does not dissappoint. I am a regular and I am never bored of the dishes. If you are afraid to try new food, don't go here.

  • Visited March 2014
    • 3 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 3 of 5 stars Service
    • 4 of 5 stars Food
Was this review helpful? Yes 2
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
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99 reviews from our community

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Date | Rating
  • English first
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English first
Anaheim, CA
Top Contributor
344 reviews 344 reviews
238 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 90 cities Reviews in 90 cities
184 helpful votes 184 helpful votes
“Visit with an open mind”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed April 3, 2014

Updated review:

You will either love the Playground or think its not for you. Those who don't care for the Playground are usually the picky ones, and not willing to experiment. If that's you, then I suggest trying another place.

I used to go weekly with my gf's when Playground first opened, and then we all got busy. It was Shellie and my birthday, and we decided to meet up and celebrate. O-M-G.. I forgot how much I missed The Playground!! We ordered all of our favorites like Uncle Lou's fried chicken, the Maple Glazed Pork Chop, and the "Secret" Playground Burger. We added a few other dishes, and feasted!

This is the neighborhood restaurant where you come after work, relax with friends and enjoy a really really really good meal. The food is fresh, there's color in your food, and its a place where the veggies are as good as the meats.

You won't find commercial sodas, or even tea. You can find a cup of Portola coffee, served black, to go with your dessert. Like a Playground, you learn to share, whether its your food or your table.

Bring your appetite, and definitely come with an open mind.. and your credit card. Its not cheap, but Jason refuses to compromise quality.

  • Visited April 2014
    • 4 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 4 of 5 stars Service
    • 5 of 5 stars Food
Was this review helpful? Yes 1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Anaheim, California
Top Contributor
158 reviews 158 reviews
105 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 71 cities Reviews in 71 cities
64 helpful votes 64 helpful votes
“Coolest Restaurant in OC!”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed March 28, 2014

Oh my gosh! This place is worth the many 4.5-5 star reviews that have been boasted on TripAdvisor! I heard about this hipster-inspired restaurant through a foodie friend of mine. I had never heard of it, checked it out on various review sites, and low and behold: Over a thousand reviews saying this place is a gold mine for foodies everywhere. The ambiance is fit for a date or a night out with friends. It's very chill there and reminds me of the trendy restaurants in major metropolitan cities.

Parking: I was fortunate enough to find street parking and pay only $0.50 for it since there was already 26 minutes left on the meter and after 8 PM they don't charge. You also have the option of parking in the parking garages in the area.
The wait time: Don't be surprised if you wait 30 min to 1 1/2 hours during peak dinner hours. This place isn't the biggest, but they do have a bar where you can grab a drink while you wait. There is also outdoor and indoor seating. The host, Kenneth, was a really stand-up guy and made my wait totally worth it, updating me on what was going on and not to mention he was very inviting. Very professional!
The bar: Not too big and only just that: a long bar with a couple of TV screens, but the bartender is very attentive, and you can eat at the bar too. They have a full bar, including liquor, a variety of beer ($6), and a limited variety of wine.

What's unique about this place is that the menu changes everyday. In fact, you may never see the same things twice. Additionally, NO CORKAGE FEE. I repeat, NO CORKAGE FEE. I brought my own bottle of malbec here, and they were very cool with it.

It's always crowded here, so reservations are highly recommended, especially for Friday and Saturday nights. I didn't come with a reservation, but I did come very early, so I was able to sit for dinner around 7 PM. My friend and I were cheerfully met by our server (Brock?). He was very knowledgeable about the menu and provided excellent service. They divide the menu into first plates and second plates, as well as desserts. We ordered the following items:

-Pork belly buns: you need to order this. This might be the only repeat item on the menu as I've read other reviews about it. They're $4 each and worth every dollar. The pork belly is wrapped in a bun similar to banh beo (Chinese buns), and they taste awesome!
-Chef's Mystery Plate: This ended up being a sashimi-style trout. Damn, it was so good! The fish was fresh and very tender. $14
-Wagyu Tri-Tip: This just melted in my mouth. The meat was tender and flavorful, and the mashed butternut squash was a great accompaniment to the dish itself. $26
-Duck Breast: This was just as good as the Peking duck I've had in Beijing. The duck was lean, tender, and just tasted like a choir was singing in my mouth. I actually liked this dish over the Wagyu, which I originally wanted just for myself. $26

I would not hesitate to come back here. Not only was the service exceptional, but the food also hit the spot. You feel like you're in a world-renowned chef's restaurant for a fraction of the cost. If you live in Orange County and never make it out here, you are missing out!

  • Visited March 2014
    • 4 of 5 stars Value
    • 5 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
    • 5 of 5 stars Food
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Robert Q, Owner at The Playground, responded to this review, March 30, 2014
What a great review to wake up to. Thank you very much.

You may be happy to learn that we're breaking ground this week on a new artisan cocktail bar and dessert restaurant above Playground. If you do end up waiting for a table, you'll be able to do it in the comfort of a spacious lounge, or on the outdoor balcony watching the activity on Fourth Street, while warming up for your evening with one of Joe Valdovino's award winning cocktails. (Joe was OC's 2013 Bartender of the Year.) And when your table's ready at Playground, one of our hosts/hostesses will escort you down and get you settled. With a bit of luck we'll have it done by the end of the summer, but we've learned there's little luck involved in a restaurant build-out.

Thanks again for taking the time to write your review. We really appreciate it.
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Fayetteville, Arkansas
Senior Reviewer
6 reviews 6 reviews
Reviews in 6 cities Reviews in 6 cities
4 helpful votes 4 helpful votes
“The strangest restaurant I've ever been to”
2 of 5 stars Reviewed March 20, 2014

Do not get the fried chicken!!
They soak bone in thighs and drumsticks in a sweet vinegar and then bread and fry it and serve three of each in a bowl with nothing else as a side, no garnish, just six piece of greasy, sweet sour bone in fried chicken in a freakin bowl?

  • Visited February 2014
    • 2 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 4 of 5 stars Service
    • 1 of 5 stars Food
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This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.
Robert Q, Owner at The Playground, responded to this review, March 25, 2014
Boy were we mismatched.

It saddens us greatly to get a score of two in a review, but as I read yours I have an idea why you were disappointed. Unfortunately, you had several chances to avoid that disappointment:

First, we are a strange restaurant and I do my best to discourage diners who find strangeness disquieting. We are nothing like any other restaurant we know and, apparently, not at all what you expected. We have several examples of people coming in expecting what they're used to and not being in the mood for something very different. Sometimes we convert them and sometimes they go away wondering what all the fuss is about. Managing your expectations is one of the primary reasons I respond to so many reviews. I want you to know what you're walking into and I want you excited about it. We want you to throw away your dining inhibitions and preconceptions and try something way outside the box. We spend all day preparing a new menu featuring the finest available ingredients and we want you to come in, share as many dishes as you can so you can experience what our team of chefs can do. We definitely do not want you to come in with the intention of eating a traditional three-course meal.

Second, you apparently ordered (two orders of?) Uncle Lou's Fried Chicken. Uncle Lou is a chef my son met in Memphis when my son, Jason, was filming the Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. Jason fell in love with the vinegar and spices used by Uncle Lou and when he started his own restaurant he sought to replicate those flavors. Uncle Lou approved of his effort and shared some secrets. (If we didn't make it well, blame us, not Uncle Lou.) We know this style of fried chicken is not typical and rarely what a guest expects. That's why we wrote on your menu: "the one exception! if you don't know what you're getting yourself into, get something else." You apparently chose to ignore our warning and ordered two orders! What more can we do?

Third, if you didn't like it, you could have told us so. We would have taken it off your check. In your case we might have grumbled because you ordered two of them and we went to extremes to warn you. It really wouldn't have been fair to ask us to take it off, but we would have.

I'm sorry you did not enjoy the Playground; it sounds like you expected something much more traditional. I would invite you back, but I can't imagine your ever having a good time with us.
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Santa Ana, California
Senior Contributor
36 reviews 36 reviews
16 restaurant reviews
Reviews in 19 cities Reviews in 19 cities
24 helpful votes 24 helpful votes
“Unique, well-managed and outstanding food”
5 of 5 stars Reviewed March 4, 2014

The Playground is one of those special restaurants that defies most conventional wisdom. A daily menu based on what is available at the wholesale market. Beef, pork, chicken and vegetables are cooked with flavors and approaches that will be new to you. Exploratory, experimental and experiential. The staff are knowledgeable and inform you the customer what the chefs have in mind. No night is the same although their best dishes appear night after night. A lengthy beer menu that is ever-changing. Reservations are tough to get. Mid-week and early dining is the secret. Fridays and weekends at mid-evening hours takes several days or more to get a reservation. There nights go from good to mind-blowing.

  • Visited January 2014
    • 4 of 5 stars Value
    • 4 of 5 stars Atmosphere
    • 5 of 5 stars Service
    • 5 of 5 stars Food
Was this review helpful? Yes 1
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC.

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