In the shadows of historic church bells that ring in a nearby tower in the heart of Santa Ana is the new modern eatery known as Benchmark. Since opening its doors this past July, the upscale casual restaurant has quickly gained in popularity.

Occupying the space once held by Dear Lacy, Benchmark—whose kitchen and bar are housed in storage containers with glass walls—features outdoor atrium seating amongst eye-catching drought tolerant landscaping.

Owned and run by Duane Greenleaf and Pedro Arizmendi, Benchmark offers up fresh, seasonal fare paired with local craft beers and regional wines.

“One of our most popular entrées is our Gochujan Fried Chicken, which includes radish, Napa cabbage, red onion, cilantro and aioli,” says Arizmendi. “Another favorite is our Fresh Fig salad with herbs, ricotta, pistachio, petite greens, cardamom gastrique and red onion. The Lamb Ragu is also popular, as are our Benchmark Burgers.”

So that the whole family is happy, there are also Chicken Nuggets and Mac and Cheese for the kids. In desserts, they have the popular Brown Butter Cake with pecan praline, sage and goats milk ice cream, as well as Seasonal Sorbet.

The wines found at Benchmark are all from the Paso Robles area, where Greenleaf and Arizmendi, now married, were engaged and visit a few times a year. The beers come from small local breweries.

Opening Benchmark was a dream come true for the couple—both of whom had always wanted to own and run a restaurant. Greenleaf is a hospitality and food service veteran with nearly 30 years’ experience. He worked as a Regional Director for American Golf and as a Food and Beverage Director at Surf & Sand Resort. In 2004, he became co-owner of Colette’s Catering & Events, a full-service catering company in Fullerton.

Arizmendi was born and raised in Mexico and has experience in the bar industry. He moved to the U.S. with the dream of opening a restaurant here.

“It’s our goal to provide a warm and welcoming place for people to come and hang out,” says Arizmendi. “We like to make people feel as if they’re at a friend’s house enjoying good food and excellent service.”

In order to expand their food and beverage offerings and have a place for customers to dine out of the elements when the weather isn’t agreeable, they’re expanding to the space next door where Gusto’s Italian Subs and Gelato Shop used to be located. (That establishment is moving to another Santa Ana location.)

“We’re in the process of determining how to connect to the building that housed Gusto’s,” says Arizmendi. “Once we do, diners will have even more space in which to linger and enjoy good food and friendly company and conversation.”

601 East Santa Ana Blvd., Santa Ana / 714-480-0225

Article Published in the
Nov / Dec 19 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Don Cribb photos provided by Lauren Scott
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