Here’s our annual list celebrating the best O.C. has to offer, including food, drink, fun things to see and do, places to shop and ways to indulge. Join us to sample many of the items in this collection on July 12 at Rancho Las Lomas. Get your tickets now.
Wagyu Flights of Fancy
At Sushi Roku, award‑winning A5 Bungo Wagyu from Japan is prepared one of three ways (your choice) and paired with a trio of Japanese spirits: Kohaku shochu, Soto sake, and Akashi whiskey ($85). Through July. Newport Beach, 949‑706‑3622
Icy glasses of slushy rosé are so 2017. Take it to the next level at The Rooftop Lounge and get a bonus Main Beach view with every Frozé ($11), a summer refresher of Bacardi grapefruit rum, rosé wine, peach, and cranberry juice. Laguna Beach, 949‑497‑2446
Don’t wait for a fancy meal when your choice of four soufflés is always available at family‑run bistro Yves’ Restaurant & Wine Bar. We’re suckers for the house special starring Bailey’s, Amaretto, and Grand Marnier ($11). With ice cream and whipped cream, of course. Anaheim Hills, 714‑637‑3733
At Claro’s Italian Market, you can feed 8 to 10 sandwich fiends freshly sliced ham, capicola, mortadella, salame, and provolone cheese dressed with fresh tomatoes and house Italian dressing with the Ring Sandwich ($30). Stacked on a round sesame‑crusted bakery bun, this version of a party sandwich is so much better than a yard‑long sub. Tustin, 714‑832‑3081
Cold Brews on Tap
With a repertoire of more than 70 cold brews, including dirty horchata and hibiscus blood‑orange tea, Contra Coffee & Tea’s first brick‑and‑mortar tasting room offers a wide array of flavors to sample. Order by the glass or stock up on your favorite brew with 32‑ounce growlers ($10 for bottle; $10 to $12 for fill). Orange, 714‑696‑8793
Pascal Olhats is O.C.’s icon of fine French cuisine, but he has a way of luring you to the grab‑and‑go deli case at Pascal. Clear clamshell boxes of crunchy, squiggly, faintly salted potato strings are the $2 addiction we can’t kick. San Juan Capistrano 949‑488‑0031
Variety of Empanadas
With these tiny pastry purses, flaky and fat with savory fillings and so aromatic, choosing from 15 empanada flavors is a challenge. They’re portable, affordable, and so fresh, you’ll keep returning to Patagonia Empanadas to try them all. Orange, 714‑602‑6945
Secret Cut of Steak
Move over, filet mignon. Make way for the ribeye cap, the tastiest cut on the cow. Beefy and buttery, it’s the butcher’s best‑kept secret. Find the best at Bourbon Steak, where it’s hay-smoked tableside and procured from Snake River Farms ($82). Monarch Beach Resort, Dana Point, 949‑234‑3900
Unorthodox Ice Cream Bars
Meet under the pink, neon “dip me” sign with your custom creation, dipped in Flamin’ Hot Cheetos or maybe one of several breakfast cereals. The out‑there options rotate at South Swell Ice Cream, but classics such as sprinkles and nuts are always available, as are photo‑worthy floats and frozen bananas. San Clemente, 949‑388‑4984
When it comes to the Japanese drink made from green tea leaves, the baristas at Portola Coffee Roasters brew a perfect cup every time. Made with Straus milk and shade‑grown organic matcha, stone‑ground to a fine powder, the result has a frothy, rich flavor. It’s also made with soy, almond, or oat milk ($5.25 to $6.25). Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach, Mission Viejo, Orange, Santa Ana, and Tustin
Fresh Take on a Moscow Mule
Chill and simultaneously be entertained by the bracing Black Sky cocktail at The Mayor’s Table Pacific Pub & Kitchen at Lido House. Beluga vodka and ginger beer are capped with a charcoal lime float that slowly swirls through the crystal clear drink like curls of dark smoke. Newport Beach, 949‑524‑8500
If you’re a cheese lover looking for like-minded friends, get to SideDoor for the Ultimate Cheese Backyard Party ($55). Cheesemonger Tracy Nelsen—whose knowledge about fromage is surpassed only by her passion for it—pairs small, artisan creamery cheeses with beer and wine on the third Wednesday of each month. The restaurant also uses these cheeses in specific dishes that night. The July 18 party is the culmination of the events. Corona del Mar, 949-717-4322
Tiny Vietnamese Treats
Banh beo ($6.25), the delicate little steamed rice pancakes from central Vietnam, are an ethereal treat at Mai’s Kitchen. They’re tender and slippery, savory things topped with a bit of shrimp, fried pork rind, crispy onion, and a splash of chile‑laced fish sauce. Every table orders at least one round—and for good reason. Westminster, 714‑898‑9889
Guilty Pleasure Combo
Centro Collective combines the best of taco art and pizza making. Hungry patrons can choose from signature tacos (think braised short ribs with lime crema) or unique handcrafted options, such as the aptly named Comeback pizza. One taste of its spicy arrabbiata sauce and you’ll be back for more. Lake Forest, 949‑305‑5224
Crunch On This
Some of Orange County’s best fried fowl.
A. Crack Shack in Costa Mesa serves the bird of family picnics: juicy, with a light crunch, and seasoned nicely with a modicum of heat. But Mom never made schmaltz fries and papaya slaw.
B. Lightly glazed, Bonchon’s spicy variety has a salty zing, delightful chew, and a slow burn. Can’t take the heat? Go for the soy garlic instead. Try the killer pot-sticker side at the Costa Mesa outpost.
C. We’ll take the spicy, please, at Rooster Republic in Santa Ana. Made to order, it’s tender, juicy, and has the crunch and heat we crave. The creamy mac ‘n’ cheese cools the burn deliciously.
D. Mouthwateringly good, Furai inside Zion Market in Irvine is foodie fare. Our favorite of the many varieties is Kang Jang — succulent, with layers of umami goodness, and a glazed crunch you’ll crave for days.
E. At Buttermilk Fried Chicken, just opened in Orange, the chicken of Grandma’s Sunday dinners is what it’s all about. So don’t forget the green beans, mashers, and braised greens that keep it real.
At Lulu’s Café, you’ll think you’re dining in Paris instead of Laguna Hills. You’ll find a large selection of sweet and savory crepes ($6 to $14) along with its authentic, ooh-la-la ambience. Hearty portions of French and American fare are available for breakfast, brunch, and lunch. Bon appétit! Laguna Hills, 949‑855‑2222
Modern Gold Rush
Forget chocolate sprinkles; you deserve soft serve with some eye‑popping bling ($15). This treat at Snowopolis is the cheapest 24k gold you’ll ever own, ahem, eat. See how the precious metal is applied as a microthin coating by clicking the 24-karat link on their website. Anaheim GardenWalk, 714‑746‑7300
The warm spinach and duck salad at 2145 is a meal in itself. With duck confit, grapes, cashews, roasted beets, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette, it’s an unexpectedly satisfying and hearty mélange ($13). Paired with a glass of wine on the cozy back patio, it’s an experience that’s hard to beat. Costa Mesa, 949‑873‑5853
Getaway in a Glass
When the workweek wears you down, head to Vacation Bar to punch your passport without leaving Santa Ana. The rotating cocktail list ($12 to $15) is an ode to travel, with drinks meant to evoke memories (real and imagined) of places like Marrakesh, Bangkok, and London. Santa Ana, 657‑266‑0855
New Take on Chicken and Waffles
Boneless chicken thighs get the classic deep-fried treatment before they’re drizzled with a just-spicy-enough chile-maple honey and partnered with three puffy beignets. Saint Marc debuted the brunch dish earlier this year, along with other standouts such as lemon ricotta pancakes and burrata with roasted pears on toasted levain bread. Huntington Beach, 714‑374‑1101
Truffle Mac & Cheese
Overflowing a 16-ounce coffee cup, this winning dish from The American Dream features four cheeses and lots of them: cheddar, Gruyere, Monterey Jack, and Parmesan. Portobello mushrooms and truffle oil combine to make it rich and satisfying ($16). Huntington Beach, 714‑374-1330
Pizza with a Twist
Check out Il Barone’s new airy and modern outpost as an excuse to order its facci re veccia, a light, flaky focaccia dotted with buttery crescenza cheese, achingly fresh Parma prosciutto, and a fine drizzling of white truffle oil, baked till the cheese melts like butter and the focaccia is crisp. Newport Beach, 949‑955‑2755
It takes willpower to adhere to the name of the luscious Last One drink at Olea. With vanilla and orange bitters-infused bourbon, Drambuie and Lillet Blanc, the cocktail sips smooth and easy, without tasting like too much alcohol. Thus the problem with truly making it your Last One. Newport Beach, 949-287-6807
Savory Syrian cuisine
Aleppo’s Kitchen remains one of the few Syrian restaurants in Southern California. There are kebobs ($15 to $20) and the like, sure, but go for the kibbeh, a dish of ground meat and bulgur. Here, there are seven unique varieties, some chargrilled over mesquite ($16) and others cooked in a tart yogurt sauce ($16). Anaheim, 714‑991‑5000, alepposkitchen.com
El Camino Cafe is a neighborhood restaurant as it should be, drawing morning crowds for the impeccable chilaquiles ($10) and excellent huevos rancheros ($8.50).The rest of the menu is worth exploring, too. Whatever you order, wash it down with a dirty horchata ($4.50), shot through with coffee. Tustin, 714‑573‑5898
Reader Raves: Margaritas
We asked our Instagram followers
for their favorite margarita in Orange County.
Sol Agave, San Juan Capistrano
“The cilantro cucumber margarita @solagave is so refreshing and delicious with fresh cilantro and strips of cucumber that will delight your taste buds!” —@t_beythoun
180Blu, Dana Point
“Tamarind‑Togarashi Margarita at 180blu at The Ritz‑Carlton, Laguna Niguel” —@maegan_elisabeth
Ola Mexican Kitchen, Huntington Beach
“Watermelon jalapeno margarita from Ola. Refreshing, with a kick.” —@curlfitness
“Hands down the best is: @urbanaanaheim.” —@mauriceparada
Splashes, Laguna Beach
“The watermelon margarita at Surf and Sand Resort!!! Amaaaaaazinggggg.” —@brandinebarclay
Out of Hand
For these culinary experiences, plates and utensils are not required.
MFK by Aysee honors the traditional way of eating in the Philippines. Chef Henry Pineda’s kamayan service invites you to a family‑style feast meticulously plated on banana leaves in Anaheim. It’s an all‑inclusive meal with your choice of six entrees such as grilled pork belly and mussels. $40 per adult (minimum of two), reservations required. 657‑337‑5288
The star of the meal at Tana Ethiopian in Anaheim is the injera, a sourdough crepe‑like flatbread that serves as the vessel for classic dishes such as yemiser wot (red lentils in red pepper sauce) and zil zil tibs (prime beef marinated in a spice blend). The vegetarian special gets you a shareable array of dishes and sides to feast on ($16). 714-229-1719
Order Cajun‑style seafood by the pound at either the Brea or La Habra locations of On The Hook. The robust menu includes seasonal options such as Dungeness crab. Choose from Cajun, garlic butter, or lemon pepper flavorings, then select your spice level and add‑ins. Freshen up with a bottle of bubbling, foamy soap brought tableside. eatonthehook.com
All photos by Mariah Tauger
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