Fri. Sep 30th, 2022

I wrote about Downtown Santa Ana’s upscale hipster restaurant, The Playground, back in January of 2013. At the time their owner, former food truck chef Jason Quinn, was flaming customers on Yelp and his restaurant had been dinged by the Orange County Health Agency for all sorts of hygiene issues.



Well it has been a while since I last scrutinized The Playground but guess what?  Nothing has changed – they are still a mess and many of their patrons are still ripping them on Yelp. And Quinn is still flaming them in response.

Let’s take a look at The Playground’s most recent health inspection, on September 3, 2015. It did not go well. Here are the violations they were issued:

  • Unsanitary Equipment/Utensil/Linen/Plumbing
  • Inoperable/Lack of Food Thermometer
  • Restroom in Disrepair/Unclean/Improp. Use/Supplies
  • Inappropriate Sanitizer Level/ Lack of Test Strips
  • Improper Holding Temperatures of PHF
  • Lack of/Unsanitary/Condition Walls/Floors/Ceilings
  • Lack of/Improper Handwashing/Handwashing Sup.

Does any of that sound gourmet to you?

nightmare burger at The Playground

When you look at the health violations they were issued previously on February 4, 2015, it is apparent that Quinn either doesn’t care to comply with food safety laws or he just doesn’t care about his customers:

  • Unapproved Pesticides/Chemicals/Labeling
  • Evidence of Vermin Activity/Presence of Animals/Insects
  • Lack of/Unsanitary/Condition Walls/Floors/Ceilings
  • Last Report Unavailable/Consumer Access
  • Improper Holding Temperatures of PHF
  • Improper Food Storage/Receiving
  • Unsanitary Equipment/Utensil/Linen/Plumbing

Brussels sprouts Ceasar at The Playground

The evidence of vermin activity showed up when they were inspected on June 27, 2014 as well:

  • Improper Warewashing/Inoperable Dishmachine
  • Evidence of Vermin Activity/Presence of Animals/Insects
  • Lack of/Unsanitary/Condition Walls/Floors/Ceilings
  • Improper Holding Temperatures of PHF
  • Unsanitary Equipment/Utensil/Linen/Plumbing

And also when they were inspected on January 30, 2014:

  • Eating/Drinking/Smoking in Food Storage/Prep Areas
  • Inoperable/Lack of Food Thermometer
  • Uncleanliness of Premises/Trash Storage
  • Improper Holding Temperatures of PHF
  • Unsanitary Equipment/Utensil/Linen/Plumbing
  • Evidence of Vermin Activity/Presence of Animals/Insects
  • Improper Food Storage/Receiving
  • Lack of/Unsanitary/Condition Walls/Floors/Ceilings

Greasy chicken at The Playground

Remember that those who eat at The Playground are paying a premium to do so!  And look at what they are getting.

Here are just a few painful excerpts from Yelp, from former customers of The Playground who most likely won’t be going back:

  • Playground was so disappointing. Why all the hype??? Food was extremely bland. Options were limited and the portions were MICROSCOPIC. Prices were extremely steep too. We spent close to a $100 and still left hungry. I ordered a Moscow mule and the tiny glass was filled to the brim with ice. We are never coming back here ever again. – John D., Irvine, 2/28/15
  • The asparagus comes burnt with stuff that looks like maggots, weird. It could be OK if I were starving to death in a post apocalyptic world. – Mike R., Anaheim, 3/26/15. (Excerpt from Quinn’s response – Sorry you didn’t like our maggots, people have really been responding well to them. )
  • Not a good experience at all from start to finish. We arrived earlier than our reservation time and checked in with the hostess whose station is outside the main entrance. She would not let us wait inside the restaurant claiming that it was at full capacity, despite there being a few tables (and plenty of floor space) available. I informed them that my wife is pregnant and needs a place to sit while she waits, but they refused to let us inside. Once finally seated, we waited 15 minutes without any server greeting us. Finally had to ask someone for our server. The drinks took another 15 minutes to arrive. The food itself was average. The restaurant refused to customize anything and refused to provide hot sauce. V.M., Irvine, 5/5/2015.
  • Horrible experience. Salty and not tasty food, rude hostess and not a great part of town. Don’t bother going. Candy G., Newport Beach, 5/16/15.
  • It’s greasy, tasteless and they won’t let you make any substitutions to your meal due to health issues. Ridiculously over priced and horrible service. Never again! – Luis J.E., Garden Grove, 6/12/15. (Quinn’s response – Good riddance.)
  • The chicken wings were too salty to eat, the mahi was spoiled, portions were small and overpriced. After having to send 2 plates back for being inedible we still paid over $60 and had to go someplace else for dinner. Eileen H., Huntington Beach, 6/17/15.
  • What a disappointment! I’m also a big fan of rare meat… So I had no problem with the way they cook it but it lacked such flavor that it was heartbreaking. As for the fried chicken that they take such pride on… Well… That really blew… They weren’t by any means crispy, just soggy in oil and as excited as I was about he vinegar and salt taste I was told to expect I was extremely disappointed. – Maha M., Huntington Beach, 6/27/15.
  • Worst customer service I’ve experienced in a while. It took 45 minutes for the waiter to even take our dinner order. Water was refilled once during dinner and dessert. Desserts described as “pudding,” “streusel,” and “churro” were actually bread pudding, flourless chocolate cake, and a twisted sesame stick.- Amy B., Costa Mesa, 8/25/15.
  • We had the Brussel Sprout Caesar and Short Rib Pasta. It was waaaay too salty. Beer was really good. Too bad the chef was so heavy handed with the salt. Be ready to drink a gallon of water afterwards. – A.C., Arlington, VA, 10/8/15. (Excerpt from Quinn’s response – It says very clearly on our menu that some of the food may be salty.)

I could fill ten pages with such excerpts. There appears to be consensus on these points:

  • The food is overpriced with tiny portions
  • The service is abominable
  • The food is too salty
  • The food is too greasy
  • The drinks are good although one Yelper said they had too much ice and too little drink
  • Quinn serves the food the way he likes it – and he won’t customize it for you no matter what

If you want to go have a gourmet meal please don’t waste your money at The Playground. I am pretty sure you can do better.

By Editor

Art Pedroza started Orange County's first political blog, the Orange Juice, back in 2003. He now publishes the top civic blog in Orange County - New Santa Ana, plus other blogs including New Anaheim, New Fullerton and the Irvine News Blog, as well as the OC Politics Blog.

13 thoughts on “A Playground for cucarachas?”
  1. This article is garbage. It’s one thing to point out health violations – we all appreciate knowing that. Though, its important to note that very few restaurants pass inspection without at least some faults and nearly all of these are pretty minor.

    Now adding those Yelp reviews? Do you have personal beef with Playground? Yelp is a joke of a review site where anybody for any reason can leave a negative review. You can’t make everybody happy all the time and these reviews really have nothing to do with your initial comments on the health violations. For every negative review on Yelp for Playground, there are 10 positive ones. Why not mention that?

    How about for your next article you focus on one of the mom & pop shops located on or around 4th Street instead of targeting what you call the “Hipster” establishments all the time. I’m sure you will find just as many, if not more, violations and poor reviews.

    1. As I explained what makes The Playground’s health violations even more perturbing is the fact that they keep repeating the same violations. Either they can’ learn from their mistakes or they just don’t care.

      We carefully selected Yelp reviews that were more current and had something of interest to offer. You can put these down all you want but note that Jason Quinn himself has replied to many of these comments. And we don’t trust the positive comments as those could be sock puppets. We provided a link to The Playground’s Yelp page so our readers could see the train wreck for themselves.

      Lastly the reason we appear to pick on the Hipster restaurants in DTSA is that they charge a lot and are supposed to be gourmet. Shouldn’t we expect these eateries to at least comply with Orange County’s food safety laws?

        1. Well, first off, Playground only has a few dishes at that price point. Most are below $25.

          Second, you don’t trust positive comments on Playground’s Yelp page because they might be sock puppets? Out of over 2000 reviews, you think all positive comments are potentially fake? What about the hit job negative comments? Come on man, your argument holds no substance whatsoever. If the Yelp reviews were such a train wreck, then why is their total score 4.5 stars? Oh, must be the thousands of fake positive reviews, I suppose…

          And I will reiterate again, EVERY restaurant gets health warnings. Find me one restaurant in DTSA that hasn’t received one infraction in the last year. Seriously. You clearly don’t work in the food industry because if you did, your ignorance on the topic wouldn’t be so blatant.

          1. But your comment makes no sense. Restaurants are not required to cook food the way the customer demands it. It’s a private business – they can do what they want. Just like you can write about whatever you want. If customers did any research at all, they would know right up front that Playground does not take requests for modifying plates.

            Also, their prices aren’t bad at all. You can split 3 dishes with a date and walk out paying less than $40. Thats a great deal for the quality of food they serve there.

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