Best Of Orange County 2022: Food & Drink

Mole Cocktail

Head to Chaak for a Mayan-twist on an Old-Fashioned. The cocktail ($13.50) includes ingredients such as mole, mezcal, and vanilla simple syrup, as well as Gentleman Jack, angostura bitters, orange and lemon oils, and an orange peel to top it off. Pair it with one of Chaak’s popular dishes such as the Sikil P’ak, a pumpkin seed dip ($13). Tustin, 657-699-3019

 

Hand Roll Bar

With warm rice, crisp nori, and delicious fillings, the hand rolls at ROL are not to be missed. The staff recommends first timers try out the set menus, including a selection of five hand rolls for $25, six for $32, and seven for $36. Huntington Beach, 714-948-4287

Brow-butter bourbon and house-made bitters at Knife Pleat. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Herb-forward Cocktail

Brow-butter bourbon and house-made bitters are plenty to draw your curiosity, but add tarragon and the Smooth Operator ($17) at Knife Pleat becomes impossible to resist. Sophisticated and fresh, this one will have you humming many of Sade’s best songs while you sip. Costa Mesa, 714-266-3388

 

Surprising Starter

The spinach, garlic, and artichoke hummus ($16) at Tres Muchachos is delicious and addictive. The artichoke flavor stands out, and the garlic, paprika, and chimichurri combine to make this appetizer one you’ll order every time. The team here aims to impress, not just with the fresh and flavorful food, but also with an impressive, unique wine program. Costa Mesa, 949-220-7811

 

Italian Sub

Partake of the Great Grandpa Joe Italian sub sandwich at Claro’s Italian Market—six meats and cheeses, each hand-sliced while you watch. And happily prepared to your every whim. Served on the Claro family’s renowned rolls, house-baked daily. Closed Wednesdays. Tustin, 714-832-3081

Mazemen noodles at Mogu Mogu. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Mazemen Variety

Mogu Mogu serves up seven varieties of mazemen, ramen’s soupless cousin, including variations with chashu, minced pork, tofu, and even plant-based Impossible meat. Mazemen means “mixed noodles” in Japanese, and it’s tradition to mix the dish well before eating to incorporate the sauce and toppings such as poached egg. Once all the noodles are gone, add in the accompanying white rice to sop up all the leftover sauce. $13 to $16.50. Costa Mesa, 714-760-4811

 

Novelty Dessert

Animal style doesn’t get sweeter than a Circus Animal ice cream sundae at Sugarbuzz, because unicorns are so 2020. This three-ring concoction includes shortcake crumbles, iced circus animal cookies, marshmallow sauce, rainbow sprinkles, and hot pink cherry on top ($9). Anaheim Hills, 714-941-9059

 

Cocktail with a Midwestern Twist

Escape California with a Wisconsin Old-Fashioned ($17) at Old Brea Chop House. The classic gets a Midwestern accent—cognac kirschwasser, bitters, and soda water are stirred and strained into a cut glass tumbler over a mega ice cube. Brea, 714-592-3122

 

To-Go Tea Party

Dainty, crusts-off tea sandwiches made fresh every day are hiding in the grab-and-go fridge at busy Cream Pan Bakery. An assortment of four flavors packed in the “sandwich box” ($4.50) includes ham, turkey, tuna, and a lighter than air egg salad. Tustin, 714-665-8239

 

Japanese Record Bar

The Oak Room attached to Oak & Coal offers a unique chance to enjoy Asian-inspired cocktails and bar bites while listening to records. The first of its kind in Orange County, guests can enter the bar through Oak & Coal and order from the restaurant’s full menu as well. Costa Mesa, 949-287-6150

 

Vegetarian Market

Vege Wholesale stocks a dizzying array of unique and hard-to-find vegan and vegetarian products. Mock meats including fish, chicken, beef, lamb, shrimp, and even lobster line the aisles along with Vietnamese staples and a large assortment of plant-based jerky. Westminster, 714-902-1335

Four Pound Croissants at Le Parfait Paris. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Four-Pound Croissant

Instead of a layer cake for your next birthday party, consider this: Le Parfait Paris offers a croissant that’s more than 10 inches long and weighs a whopping 2 pounds. If you want it filled with vanilla, chocolate, or berry pastry cream, it will weigh 4 pounds. Add a chocolate happy birthday sign and be sure to order 48 hours in advance. $35 to $50. Anaheim, 619-245-4457

 

Waffle Hybrid

Like the cronut before it, the croffle ($2.75)—part croissant, part waffle—made a stir when it launched last year at Artisan, a collaboration between O.C. favorites 7 Leaves Cafe and Crema Bakery. Made by cooking croissant dough on a waffle iron and served with your choice of vanilla cream, salted caramel, or jam, the crispy, buttery treat is the best of both worlds. Fountain Valley, 657-229-4349

 

Onigiri Specialist

A staple at Japanese convenience stores, onigiri are rice balls or triangles traditionally filled with fish and wrapped in nori. The new Ricebunn at Trade Food Hall bases its entire menu around the snack, available with salmon, tuna, shrimp, Korean barbecue beef, and veggies. Get a trio ($12) or order one big rice ball in a bowl as a meal ($14). Irvine, 949-774-1512

Mugwort cookies at Braga Baker. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Mugwort Cookie

A popular herb used in Korean cooking, mugwort has an earthy taste somewhat reminiscent of ginger. The beguiling mugwort mochi cookie ($5.45) at Union Market’s Braga Baker is hefty, packed with almonds and walnuts, and subtle in its sweetness, perfect for pairing with sweetened tea or coffee. Tip: Ask for it to be warmed up. Tustin NO PHONE OR WEB/SOCIALS

 

Arepas on the Beach

After taking over the T-street concession stand late last year, the couple behind West Toast Café transformed it into a site for healthy, organic food perfect for families visiting the beach or surfers needing to refuel after a session. Besides fresh fare such as avocado toast, acai bowls, and smoothies, the cafe also serves arepas (with a veggie twist) and other Venezuelan treats when available. San Clemente, @westtoastcafe

 

Tropical Paletas

Treat yourself to a paleta ($2), a fruity or creamy ice pop, from La Michoacana, “home of the authentic paletería experience.” Flavors range from traditional vanilla to tropical fruits such as soursop and guava. The abundance of flavors will leave you wanting to come back and try more. Multiple locations, michoacana.com

Pulled pork dish at Heritage Barbecue. Photograph by Ron de Angelis Courtesy of Heritage Barbecue

Pulled Pork

There’s much ado about the brisket and ribs at Heritage Barbecue, and deservedly so. But we can’t imagine a meal there without the pulled pork—make that Heritage Breed Duroc pulled pork—whether as the main dish or on the side with pickles and bourbon barbecue sauce or as a taco or a sandwich on brioche. San Juan Capistrano, no phone heritagecraftbbq.com

 

Almond Pastry

Paris Baguette does almond croissants ($3.50) justice with its own take on the traditional French pastry. Rather than an almond croissant with cream filling, the bakery sprinkles almond powder and sliced almonds atop a flaky butter croissant—subtle and delicious. Multiple locations, parisbaguette.com

 

Party Pastries

Stéphane Tréand is irrefutably the county’s most lauded French chef, renowned for his elite patisserie. Two days a week, admirers can buy just-baked delicacies at his jewel box of a boutique, The Pastry School and Shop. Caramelized croissants, dainty eclairs, gorgeous tartlets, and exquisite chocolate bon bons will make you the hero of any party. Available Friday and Saturday. Tustin, 949-500-4807

 

Coconut Coffee

Phin Smith offers traditional and modern variations of Vietnamese coffee drinks, and the coconut coffee is ice blended with an all-natural coconut creamer ($4.75). The unique combination gives way to a flavor that’s the perfect amount of sweetness and creaminess. Bring non-coffee lovers here, and they’re sure to change their minds. Garden Grove, phinsmith.com


Pop-Tarts

You might have grown up eating Pop-Tarts, frosted toaster pastries that have a sweet filling sealed inside two layers of thin pastry crust. Bakeries and coffee shops around Orange County have put their own twists on the beloved treat, offering a variety of unique flavors not found in the typical box on the shelf.

Strawberry Pop Tarts from MoonGoat Coffee. Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Able Coffee Roasters

Huntington Beach

  • Nutella Pop-Tart ($4)
  • Raspberry Pop-Tart ($4)

MoonGoat Coffee Roasters

Costa Mesa

  • Seasonal Flavor (such as strawberry matcha or Earl Gray blueberry) Pop-Tart ($4)

Seabirds Kitchen

Costa Mesa

  • Mixed berry ($4.95)
  • Apple cinnamon ($4.95)
  • Coconut ube ($4.95)
  • Maple brown sugar cinnamon ($4.95)

Crafted Donuts

Fountain Valley

  • Pop-Tart Donut ($4.75)

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