O.C.’S BEST 2019! | EAT & DRINK

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 25 at Rancho Las Lomas. Get your tickets now.


Photograph by Anne Watson

Fish-Free Omakase
Sushi Roku again proves sushi doesn’t have to include animal protein, this time crafting a four-course prix fixe inspired by vibrant plant-based ingredients, a legit indulgence for even the most uncompromising of vegans. Newport Beach, 949-706-3622

Eatertainment Fiesta
Think Benihana, but better, as Descanso’s cocineros sizzle your feast on a private plancha table. Add mezcal Old-Fashioneds, and it’s a smokin’ hot party for your posse of 8 to 10. Smaller groups are OK, but you might have to share a grill. Costa Mesa, 714-486-3798

Persian Pastry
Tucked in the corner of a huge shopping center, Assal Pastry offers an eclectic array of freshly baked cookies, cakes, and specialty Iranian desserts such as zoolbia and bamieh, two types of fried dough soaked in syrup. Although assal means honey in Farsi, the treats here are subtly sweet, with hints of rose water or saffron. Irvine, 949-733-3262

Menu Switcheroo
Italian American Cathy Pavlos, chef-owner of Eastbluff’s Provenance, is loading her menu with Italian classics such as lasagna Bolognese layered with beef-pork ragu and béchamel. Look for lots more pastas, her grandma’s sauce, and dishes boosted by Italian herbs and veggies from the on-site garden. Newport Beach, 949-718-0477

Photo credit: Anne Watson

Haute House Burger
Pour Company dreams up an impressive Burger of the Month, but it’s hard to best the House Burger: two patties of house ground beef, white cheddar, and bacon-onion jam stacked between toasted buns. No lettuce, no tomatoes, just the good stuff—plus a killer house pickle. Add a house beer, and the pair is $16 at happy hour. Fullerton, 714-525-7468

Place to Play Tourist
Luring visitors all year, Crystal Cove Shake Shack is particularly fetching in the summer. Grab a meal or simply a delicious shake, take it to the tables overlooking the historic district, and savor about 70 years of hospitality, amazing ocean views, and a favorite flavor. Crystal Cove State Park, 949-464-0100

Generous Old-Fashioned
Marché Moderne does many things well. One of the most surprising might be the liberal hands of the bartenders when it comes to pouring an Old-Fashioned. Served in a beautiful cut crystal glass, the cocktail is not just delicious; there’s also plenty to sip over the duration of your multicourse dinner. Newport Beach, 714-434-7900

NonDairy Ice Cream Shop
With intriguing flavors such as Earl Great, Mango Chamoy, Thai Tea, and Sesame Street (roasted black sesame with activated charcoal and dark chocolate), Hug Life draws fans from every corner of the county. The ice cream, cookies, and brownies at its two locations are all plant-based, with many gluten-free and nut-free options as well. Garden Grove, 714-760-4345; Orange, 714-602-8006

Handcrafted Sourdough Boules
Patrick Jeannette’s passion for craft breads is just one of the many organic ingredients he uses to produce Grampy Pat’s irresistible loaves, baguettes, and gorgeous 4-pound boules. Find them only at Old Towne Orange Home Grown Farmers Market, Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Special orders considered. Orange, grampypats.com


Charcoal Mille Crepes

Sold only at Lady M Cake Boutique’s O.C. location, this supremely light confection consists of a stack of 20 handmade charcoal crepes layered with a coffee- and charcoal-infused pastry cream and topped with charcoal ganache and cacao nibs. Irvine, 323-825-8888

Tropical Treats
When you need a taste of Hawaii to lift your spirits, head to Fill on the weekends for malasadas. The Portuguese-Hawaiian doughnuts have been so popular since the dessert shop’s opening last summer that they often sell out. No wonder. They are handmade to order and served warm and luscious, just like on Kapahulu Avenue in Honolulu, but without the flight. Costa Mesa, 949-873-5075

Photo credit: Mindo Cikanavicius

Vegan Cinnamon Buns
You won’t notice anything missing from Cinnaholic’s decadent buns—you can load them up with a variety of toppings and choose from more than 20 frosting flavors, or select from one of the signature varieties such as Strawberries & Cream or Cookie Monster. Even the classic Old Skool Roll is sure to impress. Brea, 888-530-1666; Tustin, 714-709-8655

Lobster Fix
Fabled “Shark Tank” success story Cousins Maine Lobster at last has a truck roaming O.C., spoiling us with authentic lobster rolls and other dishes based around the wild-caught crustacean. Yes, you can have lobster quesadillas, but why would you when there’s creamy bisque with sherry and white pepper. 714-602-1123, couisinsmainelobster.com

Photo credit: Courtesy of The Disneyland Resort

Themed Afternoon Tea
From “Trick or Tea” at Halloween to “A Very Merry Holiday Tea Party” during Christmas, the upscale afternoon tea service at the Disneyland Hotel’s Steakhouse 55 is whimsically reimagined. The current theme is an Alice in Wonderland-esque “Very Merry Unbirthday Party.” Friday to Sunday, noon to 3 p.m. Reservations recommended, prices vary. Anaheim, 714-781-3463

Eco-Friendly Mug with Your Bagel
Step into Our City Bagelry and grab one of the 60 mugs of various sizes and shapes from hooks on the wall. If you’re dining in, you can use the mug instead of a disposable cup for your coffee, tea, or cocoa. Then choose from more than a dozen bagel varieties such as jalapeno, healthy grain, or tomato basil to be toasted or to create a breakfast or lunch sandwich. Placentia, 714-572-0220

Photo credit: Lily Fassnacht

Subterranean Speakeasy
Just below dandy CdM Restaurant hides a 20-seat speakeasy with acclaimed bar guru Ravin Buzzell mixing his oh-so-clever cocktails Wednesday through Sunday. There’s a swell bites menu, too. No reservations, no minimum. Corona del Mar, 949-287-6600

Mac ’N’ Cheese Dumplings
You can’t go wrong with any of the crossover creations from the Mad Dumplings food truck (hello, bulgogi waffle fries!). But for a truly indulgent experience, try The Mac—gooey mac ’n’ cheese stuffed in a dumpling, panko-crusted, deep fried, and served with cilantro mayo and cayenne. An order comes with six big dumplings, so you might want to share—or not. 818-583-7137, @maddumplings

Local Whiskey
Blinking Owl Distillery continually ups its game. This time, wheated whiskey hogs the acclaim. Made with California grains, the latest release to stores and bars is $65 per 750ml, and a craft cocktail with the Ozark barrel-aged bourbon is $17 at the distillery. Santa Ana, 714-852-3947

Local Mexican Brewery
Grab your pup and head to Chihuahua Cerveza Taproom. The brewery on Balboa Peninsula has a dog-friendly patio and a self-pour beer wall featuring six Mexican-style brews, including two exclusive to this location. Enjoy $2 beers and $3 tacos on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to closing. Newport Beach, 949-771-8226

Photo credit: Michelle Pagaran

Low-Carb Tacos
If you’re on the Keto diet or simply looking to cut down on carbs, get your Tijuana-style taco fix at Taquiero Taco Patio, where you can sub the tortillas for crispy cheese taco shells. We love the cochinita pibil taco with a generous portion of Yucatecan-style pulled pork and pickled red onions ($3.50). Don’t miss the variety of local craft beers and the fresh salsa bar with pickled veggies. Irvine, 949-333-1671

Handmade Noodles Your Way
At Noodle St, noodles in four shapes with different levels of chewiness are hand-stretched as you watch. Order them in dishes such as dan dan noodle with ground pork and chile oil, or veggie cold noodle with cucumber and black mushroom. Or create a custom noodle bowl from a good variety of broths, vegetables, and proteins. Fullerton, 657-217-5664


Read the rest of O.C.’s Best 2019 here. Don’t forget to vote for your O.C. favorites for Readers’ Choice!

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