Best of 2013: Local Candies

C SALT, the handmade-with-love confections by self-taught Courtney Dudman Donley, has long been O.C.’s candy company to beat. But Donley may have outdone herself with her latest creation—luscious, soft butter caramels with sea salt. We can’t describe them without drooling on our keyboards, but you can pick up your own at any Mother’s Market location. $11 for six pieces; $18 for a dozen.

O.C.’s Best: Reinventing Ice Cream

The bliss-inducing treat that conjures up sunny days and happy childhood memories continues to evolve as small-batch purveyors experiment and reinvent the classic frozen dessert. Whether it’s salted caramel, or blackberry sorbet infused with St. Germain, ice cream has never looked, or tasted, better.

O.C.’s Saturated Food-Truck Market

Q: Any advice on how to stand out in O.C.’s saturated food-truck market? A: The gourmet food truck craze gets several things right: clean trucks, friendly service, changing menus, and quality ingredients. Stick to those. But fusion and freak-show cuisine has been done to death. (Who thought Asian tacos would so quickly go from novelty to cliche?) Surprise everyone by making well-executed versions of foods everyone loves. For instance, if you’re going to make pizza, don’t make a tofu faux-pork-belly pizza with Assyrian woodchuck cheese, seaweed, and kumquat sauce on a wheatless crust. Just make the best possible version of the traditional kind. 

O.C.’s Biggest Export

In the winter of 1985, I had dinner in a tiny Balboa Peninsula restaurant with Steve Hawk, with whom I was sharing an apartment, and a group of his lifelong surfer friends. Freshly arrived from Pittsburgh—and with the Beach Boys and Jeff Spicoli as my only points of cultural reference—I was sure I was in for a vapid conversation about hot babes and tasty waves.