All of Our O.C.’s Best 2020 Winners

Here is 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.
Small Batch Doughnuts; Photograph by Emily J. Davis


Doughnut Delivery
Small Batch Doughnuts drops off variety boxes of fun-size pastries featuring local ingredients. Try the Citrus Dreams flavor with a glass of Champagne. Santa Ana,

Coffee That Breaks Barriers
With years of experience in special education, the founders of Able Coffee Roasters launched the brand to empower those with autism and other disabilities through jobs. The coffee beans are organic, sourced from small farms worldwide, and roasted in small batches weekly ($12 for an eight-ounce bag). Choose from a variety of blends such as the signature Bali Blue sourced from the islands of Indonesia. Look for a storefront cafe coming to Santa Ana. Mission Viejo,

Ahi Poke
Always fresh as heck, the ahi poke from Bear Flag Fish Co. is sold by the pound and made their way, with soy, sesame seeds, and seaweed. It was one of the first and is still the best, at $18.19 per pound. Grab a bowl and imagine you’re on the islands. Crystal Cove, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach,

Finger-Licking Ribs
The pork ribs listed as starters at Lido Bottle Works are a relatively new addition. Thank heavens chef Amy Lebrun decided to include these lovely morsels on the regular menu. Prepared with a caramel sauce and chicharrones, the ribs will make even the most generous dining partner seem greedy as she demands a whole order to herself. Newport Beach, 949-529-2784

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Charcuterie Boxes
Curb your craving for salty meats and cheeses with Grazing Kitchen. Choose from a variety of made-to-order charcuterie boards and boxes that can feed from two to nine people or opt for the larger Grazing Table for 40 to 200 people. Then customize your options and select the date and time you wish to graze. San Clemente,

Entree Masquerading as a Side
Sure, Eddie V’s is adored for whole lobsters and mega Prime steaks, but our frequent cheat is a humble side of terrific fried rice starring lump crab and shiitake mushrooms. The giant portion feeds two, or one twice. Newport Beach, 949-720-9925

Plant-Based Asian Fare
When Naughty Boy Sushi and My Vegan Panda joined forces to open Naughty Panda at 4th Street Market, the founders created a vegan pan-Asian powerhouse the likes of which the county had never seen. Try extravagant rolls and flavorful faux chicken, beef, and shrimp bowls. Santa Ana,

Indian Sloppy Joe
Sloppy Khan is chef Imran Ali Mookhi’s indulgent take on a sloppy Joe at Khan Saab Craft Kitchen. The sandwich is a twist on keema pav, a popular Indian street food made with minced meat (chopped wagyu beef here) and peppery spices on a fluffy pav bun toasted with butter. Fullerton, 714-853-1081

Mark Twain cocktail; Photograph courtesy of the Guild Club

Luxurious Cocktail
If you’re looking for an upscale, relaxing drink to upgrade any outing to a special occasion, try the Twain at Guild Club. Using Pappy Van Winkle bourbon for the base, the cocktail also has Angostura bitters. It’s so smooth and delicious, you’ll be mighty tempted to have more than one and linger in the decadent surroundings for the evening. Costa Mesa, 949-500-5561

Soy-Based Sweets
Get dairy-free drinks, snacks, and desserts at the all-vegan Soy Good. The family-owned business was borne out of a passion for tofu and soy milk, the latter made in-house with a higher protein content. Expect unique drink toppings such as black sesame paste and coconut sago. Try the silky sweet soy pudding and savory fried tofu. Garden Grove, 714-591-5653

Fried Chicken Sandwich
Newcomer Porch & Swing’s mighty fine sandwich stands out in a crowded field, thanks to perfect parts: crispy fried chicken, crunchy apple-fennel slaw, house pickles, and a toasty brioche bun. The restaurant promotes itself as a tribute to the cuisine of Charleston, South Carolina, and the kitchen is helmed by chef Justin Werner of Playground and Playground 2.0. Irvine, 949-400-4795

Cacio e Pepe
The classic cheese and pepper pasta is deceptively simple and so hard to find executed with finesse. Enter Oliver’s Osteria, where the comfort peasant dish is a wow meal that we now weigh all others against. Laguna Beach, 949-715-0261

Carrot-ginger soup at Selanne Steak Tavern; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Soup at a Steakhouse
Ordering soup at a restaurant that specializes in steak isn’t the obvious choice. But be sure to indulge in the carrot-ginger soup at Selanne Steak Tavern whenever chef Vincent Terusa makes it available. The exquisite dish adds toasted coconut flakes, crème fraiche, and cilantro for a scrumptious result that will keep you sated no matter the season. Laguna Beach, 949-715-9881

Spicy Cold Noodles
The hotter the day, the bigger the joy of spicy cold beef noodles (liang pi) at Qin West Noodle. Wide and bouncy, the chilled noodles take on hyper-hot chile oil for that pain-and-pleasure flavor dance. Irvine, 949-932-0465

Must-Have Bag
Prove your devotion to dumplings. Din Tai Fung has designed a cool canvas bag, perfect for your xiao long bao and noodle takeout fix. It’s free when you spend $100 or more. No, you can’t buy it separately. Costa Mesa, 714-549-3388

Soufflé pancakes at Burnt Crumbs; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Brunch Dessert with a Japanese Twist
Discover a fresh take on the traditional pancake stack at Burnt Crumbs. The light, fluffy, and delightfully jiggly Japanese-style soufflé pancakes are the must-have dish on the brunch menu with three flavor options including original with house-made syrup, berry compote with house-made whipped cream, and strawberries and cream. Observe chef-owner Paul Cao’s seemingly effortless mastery of a challenging recipe from the exhibition kitchen. Irvine, 949-502-5998

Peruvian Steak
There’s nothing humble about Costa’s signature lomo saltado. Peru’s classic steak-and-starch dish is boosted here with tender chunks of filet mignon, sizzled to yield juicy bites with caramelized edges. The fluffy planks of fried potato are next-level fries. Costa Mesa, 714-852-3299

Tofu-Skin Salad
Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Ja Jiaozi’s tofu-skin salad is perfectly timed for the hot summer months. Tofu here is made in-house, so the springy ribbons have notes of buttery sweetness and a tender chew. Cilantro stems supply a cool, crunchy counterpunch. Irvine, 714-786-8999

Puesto tacos photograph by Anne Watson

Tacos of the Month
For inventive tacos that include walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds or fried octopus with chipotle crema, you’ll want to swing by one of the Puesto locations in Irvine. The restaurant lures with its regular lineup, but to expand your horizons and be delighted, try the taco of the month. Park Place, 949-608-7272; Los Olivos, 949-608-9990

Roast Chicken Mainstay
Takeout is second nature to Rosine’s Café, which served its first to-go roast chicken in 1995. Today it’s a landmark for that habit-forming chicken plus an alluring menu of consistently satisfying Lebanese cuisine. Anaheim Hills, 714-283-5141

Pear and Burrata Salad
The Vox Kitchen takes Asian fusion to the next level, incorporating diverse flavors from Vietnam, China, and Taiwan. A unique twist on a classic appetizer, the Vox Pear Salad marries crispy pear, honey-roasted nuts, creamy burrata cheese, tangy fig balsamic, and Champagne vinaigrette. It makes for a great starter before house garlic noodles or crab congee. Fountain Valley, 657-231-6493


Minnow Swim; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Kids Swimwear
The colorful line of children’s swimwear from Minnow Swim includes rash guards, board shorts, and a collaboration with J. Crew. The company, started by a Laguna Beach mom, has plenty of stylish options for summer. Accessorize with hats, bags, towels, and even fins and goggles.

Exclusive Line
Top off your favorite summer outfit with a silk duster by Simone Kidd. The line is available exclusively at Amarees and features eight colors made from 100 percent sand-washed silk with prices ranging from $1,500 to $3,000. Newport Beach, 949-642-4423

Female-Focused Scents
Woman-owned and inspired, Thistle + Sage Botanics has candles and perfumes that are vegan, eco-conscious, and clean-burning. You’ll find the company tucked in a vintage Airstream trailer at The Lab. Shop the Femme collection to find scents inspired by Frida Kahlo, Simone De Beauvoir, Emmeline Pankhurst, and Rosa Parks. Bonus: 10 percent of your purchase is donated to a women’s rights charity. Costa Mesa, thistleandsage​

Hello Kitty Collab
Add some kawaii to your beauty routine and shop Impressions Vanity’s collection of LED tabletop, handheld, and compact mirrors featuring the iconic, bow-clad Sanrio character. The mirrors have white- and rose-gold accents and adorable details such as LED strip lights in the shape of Hello Kitty and heart-shaped LED lights, as well as functional components like a USB charging outlet and a wireless Bluetooth speaker. Tustin, 844-881-0790

Photograph courtesy of Elysewalker

Personal Styling
Have a special event to attend or looking to refresh your wardrobe? Take a quick survey from Elysewalker and adjoining Towne by Elysewalker, provide your schedule, and the stylists will have options ready when you come in. The boutiques offer exclusive access to pieces from the runway as well as new arrivals. Newport Beach, 949-612-2646

Luxury Eyewear
Founded by the creator of Chrome Hearts Eyewear, EuroCollective is home to a wide array of high-end eyewear brands including Tom Ford, Gucci, Celine, Maybach, Cartier, and more. Customers can receive eye exams in the expansive boutique, and lens services are offered as well. Newport Beach, 949-301-8001

Psychedelic T-Shirt
The most colorful swag at Blackmarket Bakery is hip kitchen-wear for those who love to wake and bake. The “Totally Baked” T-shirt easily will be the wildest in your tie-dye wardrobe. Costa Mesa, 714-662-3095

Swappable Purse Straps
Switch out any strap attached to a D-ring with the vegan, adjustable Click n Carry straps made from seat belt material at Harveys. Choose from leopard print, colorful polka dots, plain black, roses, and more for an easy way to change up your style. Santa Ana, 877-666-2247

Vintage Flower Truck
Christina Roberts, owner of Petals and Leaf Springs Flower Truck, combines a love of classic cars and florals. She peddles petals throughout the county in a restored 1965 Ford Econoline pickup. Partnering with local small businesses, the mobile flower stand hosts pop-ups where guests can build their own bouquets.

Clay Earrings
Make a statement with the drop earrings at AOK Clay, which are handmade in Orange County. Owner Aileen Klein sculpts each pair using polymer clay, making them unique. The durable yet light jewelry comes in various styles and shapes, with some limited-run designs. Costa Mesa,

Luxe Skincare Center
Experience Irvine-based skincare line ZO Skin Health at ZO Skin Centres. Customers can pamper themselves with various anti-aging services using ZO’s dermatologist-created line at two Orange County locations. Options include facials, peels, and stem cell extracts as well as injectables and laser services. Newport Beach, 949-408-0802; Laguna Beach, 949-298-7452

Forever Jewelry
Founded by the former owner of Yorba Linda’s jewelry pop-up Lemon and Main, Lnx Collection features jewelry with a commitment—the 14-karat gold chain bracelets and anklets in the Forever Collection do not have clasps. Instead, the dainty chain is fitted and soldered on at your appointment.


South Coast Farms photograph by Emily J. Davis

Laid-Back Strawberry U-Pick
An intimate and serene experience awaits in the 10 acres of wide-open fields at South Coast Farms. At $4 a pound, fill your baskets with ripe, organic berries. The small family farm, which has been growing strawberries for more than two decades, is in a rural area off Ortega Highway by Tree of Life Nursery. No time to pick? Stop by the farm stand in Dana Point for fresh produce including vegetables, flowers, and strawberries. San Juan Capistrano, 949-661-9381

Temporary Sculpture Exhibits
If you’re passing Laguna Beach City Hall, chances are you’ll spot one of the temporary art exhibits installed on the lawn. From interactive, stained-glass houses to laser-cut, geometric sculptures lit up at night to provocative hooded figures making a statement about climate change, these outdoor displays are another testament to the artistic spirit of the coastal beach town. Laguna Beach, 949-497-3311

Intimate Music Venue
Not many O.C. arts patrons would think small describes anything associated with Segerstrom Center for the Arts. But the Samueli Theater provides a cabaret spot for performances that are best experienced with a personal touch and a chance for the musicians to connect to the audience directly. The jazz series that takes place there feels like a behind-the-scenes peek at a secret recording session with 300 new friends. Costa Mesa, 714-556-2787

Free Fitness Classes
Whether you’re a yogi or enjoy circuit training, Bella Terra offers free classes that will get your heart rate up. The outdoor area known as The Green, just outside the movie theater, is the site for classes from fitness studios including CorePower Yoga and Orangetheory Fitness. Huntington Beach, 714-897-2533

Memorial Mural
After the helicopter crash in January that killed nine O.C. residents, Social owner Andrew Dorsey reached out to Andaluz The Artist to work on a mural honoring the victims—John, Keri, and Alyssa Altobelli; Kobe and Gianna Bryant; Sarah and Payton Chester; Christina Mauser; and Ara Zobayan. Folks traveled from the ends of the county and beyond to visit the colorful artwork and pay their respects in person. Costa Mesa

Outdoor art at Sherman Library and Gardens photograph by Emily J. Davis

Outing for All Ages
Are you part of a multigenerational group looking for common ground for an afternoon? Check out Sherman Library and Gardens for fresh activities. Adults will enjoy afternoon tea, yoga, and the annual Newport Beach Garden Tour. Engage kids with sculpture art made from discarded beach toys and other trash, a closer look at nighttime creatures near Halloween, and painting classes. And the Nights of 1000 Lights extravaganza in December is a must-visit for all. Corona del Mar, 949-673-2261

Swing Dance Pop-Up
Cooks Chapel at the Packing House is known as a wedding and private event venue, but it hosts a swing dance lesson and dance session with live music every second Tuesday of the month. You can even bring in food from the Packing House. Anaheim, 949-302-8229

Sky-High Thrills
If you’re looking for excitement beyond your usual routine or a thrilling new way to conduct team building, head to Orange County Ropes Course. Climb, swing, zip line, and leap your way through multiple courses filled with individual and team challenges. Plan a visit ahead of time to have the courses specifically tailored to your group. Anaheim, 714-616-1026

Irvine Spectrum playground photograph by Emily J. Davis

Shopping Center Playground
The 2018 Irvine Spectrum expansion brought with it a simple-yet-effective climbing play structure that kids still can’t get enough of. As many parents can attest, sometimes the only way to lure them out is with a treat from neighboring Afters Ice Cream or 85 C Bakery. Irvine, 949-790-4871

College Flashback
University students can’t possibly take advantage of all the impressive events offered on campus each year. Lucky for the rest of us that UC Irvine opens its speaker series, mock trials, and lectures by experts to the public on a regular basis. Whether you want to participate in the jury to decide if Hamlet committed murder, listen to MeToo founder Tarana Burke talk about next steps on college campuses, or just be in the room when national and international luminaries have conversations about civil liberties, health innovations, election results, or environmental breakthroughs, the options are vast. Irvine,

Tour for Baseball Fans
Go behind the scenes of America’s favorite pastime with the Angel Stadium Ballpark Tour. The 75-minute guided walking tour includes the playing field, the Angels dugout, the press conference room, and the broadcast booth. Plus, get an exclusive look at the Gene Autry suite. $10 to $12, June through September. Anaheim, 714-940-2230

Inspirational Variety Show
The Shine is a volunteer-produced pop-up event featuring anything from music and meditation to short films and motivational talks. Think of it as a booze-free happy hour that takes place every few months to nourish the spirit and provide connection.


Ube latte and waffles from Basilur Tea & Cafe; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Move over, matcha. Ube is the latest flavor taking hold in O.C. The sweet purple yam from the Philippines has made its way into many of our favorite desserts and drinks.

Ube Latte and Waffles
Basilur Tea & Coffee, Buena Park

Ube Bingsoo (Korean shaved ice)
Cafe Bora, Buena Park

Ube Cookies and Dalgona Cream Latte
Dough & Arrow, Costa Mesa

Ube Japanese Cheesecake
Fluffie Japanese Cheesecake, Westminster

Ube “Cakies” (Twinkie-inspired dessert)
Jae NYC Eats, food truck

Ube Butter, Cookies, Cake, and More
Kitchen 1726, delivery only

Ube Horchata
MFK by Aysee, Anaheim

Ube Malasadas
Paderia Bakehouse, Fountain Valley

Ube Milkshakes
Polar Playground, Huntington Beach

Ube Taiyaki (fish-shaped cake) soft serve
Somisomi, Irvine

Ube Danish
Sunmerry Bakery, Irvine

When life hands you lemons…

Bella Bar photograph by Emily J. Davis

Have a Virtual Facial Party
Each Wednesday at 7 p.m., BellaBar hosts seven attendees in a facial party on Zoom. The virtual soiree is free to join—you can either use products you have on hand or purchase Bella Bar’s facial kit in advance for $15. The party runs for 30 minutes with an additional 10 minutes afterward to ask questions. Anaheim Hills, 714-874-5872

Try a Blind Wine Tasting
Local wine club Argaux offers blind wine-tasting kits to enjoy at home. Choose from two to four bottles of red, white, or both, and you’ll receive them wrapped in tissue paper with tasting grids to record your thoughts. When you’re done, simply unwrap the bottles to reveal each one. Costa Mesa, 949-284-4917

Dine on Fancy Freezables
Gourmet preppers, this hoard’s for you. Stop by Andrei’s Conscious Cuisine to stock up on fresh freezables—trays of chicken enchiladas, mac ’n’ cheese, and chicken potpie by chef Porfirio Gomez. Feeds one to four. Irvine, 949-387-8887

Start a Local Safari
Trying to find an activity to lift spirits of local residents, Suparna Salil devised an animal sightseeing adventure—Laguna Safari. She and her husband, Alan Boyles, put together a map of nearly 80 spots around town where eager residents put out stuffed animals for wildlife seekers to track from their cars. Laguna Beach

Tune in to Your Skin
Finding your skin is a little lackluster? The Treatment Skin Boutique offers virtual consultations with an esthetician or a physician assistant to discuss any skin issues. They’ll then recommend products or give ideas about how to update your regimen. Newport Beach, 949-468-2905

Get Some Outdoor Exercise
Even when beaches and parks were closed, Back Bay never shut down to bikes and pedestrians. It’s a great place to walk, bike, run, or skate all year, but during a pandemic it proves especially rewarding as people were able to socially distance and still see mustard in bloom and feel some sense of normalcy as they passed each other. Newport Beach

Pick Up Quality Cuts To-Go
Bypass supply chain woes with a concierge butcher. The Butchery Meats hooks you up with dry-aged Porterhouse steaks, Salmon Creek pork chops, and marinated tri-tips you pick up curbside. Your grill never had it so good. Brea, Costa Mesa, Crystal Cove,

Recruit Design Help
Refresh your interiors without having to leave the safety of your home. Send your floor plan or the measurements of the room you’re looking to update to Calligaris along with the furniture pieces you’re interested in. You can meet with a designer virtually and have fabric samples sent to your home. Costa Mesa, 714-884-3346

Refresh Your Closet
Use this downtime to update your closet. Meet with a California Closets designer virtually to discuss your goals, style, and budget. After you’re finished, the designer will create a three-dimensional design so you can see your vision brought to life. Corona del Mar, 949-478-7366; Huntington Beach, 714-899-4905

Enjoy a Drag Show
You can still get your Sunday drag brunch fix with Strut’s live Digital Drag Show on Instagram and Facebook. Simply order in brunch from your favorite restaurant and tune in to watch stellar performances from local queens. Costa Mesa,

Encounter Haunted sites
Explore some local lore with the digital series of exclusive live and online video tours from Haunted Orange County’s historic sites such as the Kellogg House in Santa Ana. Follow on Instagram for ghost stories, virtual panels, watch parties, and interviews. Orange,

Order a Half-Baked Pizza
Although half-baked typically denotes crazy, at Pitfire Pizza it suggests the crazy genius called The Pizza Box. Mix and match four half-baked pies and get Caesar salad and four chocolate cookies to feed four to six for $45. Costa Mesa, 949-313-6333


Cocktails #togetherwetoast, left, and Beets by Drew; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Our picks reveal wildly different inspirations—from Irish folk tales to Manhattan nostalgia to magnified French luxury—but share a confident, indie spirit. And for 2020, we peek back 10 years at these locations for clues to what we loved back then.


Restaurant of the Year: Fable & Spirit

➜ Fable & Spirit Is Our 2020 Restaurant Of The Year

Bello by Sandro Nardone

➜ Bello By Sandro Nardone Showcases Progressive Italian Cusine


➜ Benchmark Is A Santa Ana Hot Spot With Alfresco Dining

CdM Restaurant

➜ CdM Restaurant Is A Lavish Coastal Venue With a Subterranean Speakeasy

Crudo at The Hall Global Eatery

➜ Crudo at The Hall Global Eatery Has An Upscale, Yet Low-Key Vibe

Knife Pleat

➜ Knife Pleat Arrives With Glow of Michelin Starlight

Old Brea Chop House

➜ Old Brea Chop House Sizzles With Steakhouse Classics

Tavern House

➜ Tavern House Pairs Fun Favorites With Fresh Creations

The Drake

➜ The Drake Pairs Distinctive Cuisine With Primo Live Music

The Yellow Chilli

➜ Yellow Chilli Serves Faithful Indian Fare in a Nifty Setting

Head to to vote for your favorites from this year’s Reader Picks!

Visit for the rest of our Best Of picks.

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