Best Santa Ana Restaurants
Credit: David Marano

Benchmark Restaurant Brings Seasonal Flavors and Open-Air Charm to Downtown Santa Ana

Eat With the Seasons at This Neighborhood Bistro

When you walk into Benchmark Restaurant, an upscale casual eatery tucked in the quaint scene of downtown Santa Ana, the invitation is clear: stay awhile. Both a motto and an ethos, this cozy mandate can be felt the moment you arrive—the ambience is made to create an unforgettable dining experience. With a tree-filled outdoor area and an intimate covered patio, Benchmark is a tribute to nostalgic backyard dinners with friends. The food is refined yet approachable—local cuisine that’s meant to be shared.

With seasonality at the fore, Benchmark recently announced its spring menu—featuring everything from bar snacks and table bites to ample plates and a selection just for kids. One visit to Benchmark—sipping regional wines while you watch the sunset through the trees—is enough to see why this restaurant is a local favorite.

Best Santa Ana Restaurants
Credit: David Marano

This Santa Ana restaurant is celebrating its 5-year anniversary, and owners Duane Greenleaf and Pedro Arizmendi remain as passionate about the restaurant as they did on opening day. With a shared desire to create a market-driven restaurant, this duo knew that Santa Ana was the neighborhood for their vision to take root. In 2021, the owners hired Chef Stefano Ciociola to lead the culinary charge, taking an already delicious menu to a whole new level.

Credit: David Marano

“Our menu is all seasonal—it’s all fresh,” Greenfleaf explains. “We all know that in California we get a wide variety of items available all the time. The whole menu concept is designed around what’s coming into season. It’s the same with our cocktails, which we also rotate to highlight the freshest ingredients.”

Credit: David Marano

This spring, Chef Ciociola is thrilled about the new additions. He says, “I’m very excited about our scallop risotto and our tostada with scallop. We don’t use over-fished ingredients. We didn’t use scallops for almost a year and a half! Now that scallops have rebounded, we are using them in two dishes.” The scallop risotto melts in your mouth, each grain cooked to perfection, with a buttery composition worth dreaming about.

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“The steak frites are a classic, a simple staple people are going to love,” Ciociola declares. This dish is grade-A comfort food, an elevated version of the French classic. It consists of medium steak and wedge fries with a brandy peppercorn sauce and garlic aioli—exactly what you’d want in this dish, and perfectly executed. Ciociola continues, “With these ingredients, you just can’t go wrong.”

Best Santa Ana Restaurants
Credit: David Marano

The latest menu is vibrant and bursting with spring colors. Fresh ingredients are selected by the chef, ensuring they meet his high standard of quality. “When I started at Benchmark, I wanted a menu centered around fresh, seasonal vegetables. This spring, you’ll see lots of greens on the menu. We base ourselves on seasonality to keep the vegetables as fresh as possible,” says Ciociola. Needless to say, Chef is very excited about the seasonal selection.

Arizmendi, the mastermind behind the look and feel of the restaurant, says, “In designing the space, I wanted it to feel inviting, like you’re in a friend’s backyard. I wanted to make it feel like you can come casually, relax and enjoy our sustainably focused menu.” Chef Ciociola continues, “I want customers to leave with great memories, feeling like they were at home, in a neighborhood full of friends.”

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The community is so important to the Benchmark team that they keep locals in mind when making decisions about the restaurant—from food and music to pricing and beyond. Greenleaf says, “A lot of neighbors come almost every night to have a drink. People are here sharing wine, having conversations, saying hello to each other. Benchmark is a very vibey, community-centered restaurant. It feels like part of the neighborhood.”

Located near Mariposa Park and not far from Garfield Community Center, the restaurant resides within a residential neighborhood that welcomes the homey setting. On any given night, this Santa Ana restaurant is full of friends, laughing, swapping stories and passing around shareable plates while creating new memories.

Best Santa Ana Restaurants
Credit: David Marano

In keeping with its community focus, Benchmark strives to maintain this environment. They harness natural shade, use biodegradable packaging, and always create with the freshest ingredients. Greenleaf, with a comfortable smile, says: “I was drawn to this natural space. We do what we can to make sure we take care of the environment.” With what the restaurant describes as a “new American perspective,” the space is as important to the team as the menu—all designed to invite guests to stay awhile. 

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Food

Always innovating, Chef Ciociola prepares each season’s menu with locality in mind. The spring menu features staples like steak frites, plus exciting seafood dishes like scallop risotto, tostada with scallop and whole branzino. The salads will be a big hit this season—full of color, flavor and texture.

 

Decor

Credit: Dave Marano

Benchmark’s decor is thoughtfully informed by its surroundings, highlighting the natural features of its open space. With overhanging trees and wood paneling, the sun shines through the branches and awnings, casting beams of light into the welcoming dining area. There’s also a private dining enclave made for special events.

 

Price Point

This neighborhood restaurant in Santa Ana is upscale yet casual, and plates are meant to be shared. Guests can expect to spend between $30-50 each. The owners and chef value the community in this space, striving to make an approachable menu for its clientele.

 

Overall Verdict

Credit: David Marano

Whether it’s a night out with friends, a partner or even an evening alone in a friendly space, Benchmark is an excellent choice and is easily one of the best restaurants in Orange County!

@benchmark.restaurant

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