O.C.’s Best 2017! | Food & Drink

Twelve months spent researching, making lists, and checking ’em more than twice, and it all pays off in this issue. Here’s our definitive guide to the county’s best foods, drinks, fun things to do, places to shop, and people who can fix just about anything.

Breakfast Potatoes There are hash browns, and then there are Zov’s Hash Brown Cakes. Simply seasoned, and with a perfectly fried exterior, this take on breakfast potatoes elevates the side dish and proves how special the starchy comfort food can be. $4. 17440 E. 17th St., Tustin, 714‑838-8855, and six other locations, zovs.com

Tasty Fish ComparisonsSeafood savvy Bluewater Grill offers monthly “Second Tuesday” tastings of classics, such as July’s tuna prepared four ways (seared, grilled, poke, and spicy rolls), matched with wine or sake. September features paellas paired with Spanish wines. 630 Lido Park Drive, Newport Beach, 949‑675‑3474; 2409 Park Ave., Tustin, 714-258-3474, bluewatergrill.com

Salumi Steal For just $10, Pitfire Artisan Pizza serves slices of A+ meats such as La Quercia Prosciutto and Zoe’s Salami, staggered like solitaire cards on a platter, along with whole-grain mustard. Sometimes we ante up $7 for a side of just-charred flatbread with whipped ricotta, fresh oregano, and extra virgin olive oil. 353 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 949-313-6333, pitfirepizza.com

Occasion CakesBemoaning the loss of Corona del Mar’s Sweet Lady Jane bakery and its acclaimed Triple Berry Cake? Head to Final Touch Bakery in Little Saigon for a gorgeous knockoff. The bakery has long been a secret of savvy brides and those in the know looking for modern, delicious, and beautifully designed occasion cakes for less than what upscale bakeries charge. Six‑inch cakes start at $30. 15056 Weststate St., Westminster, 714-894‑3393, finaltouchbakery.com

Island RefresherTake one sip of TLT Food’s Fresh Fruit Limeades and be transported to an island oasis. The bright magenta color of the Tropical Thunder (dragon fruit) is enough to reset your spirits. Pink Guava and Mango Madness are wonderful, too, but coconut is the best. It’s rarely available, though, so get to one of the two O.C. locations and keep your fingers crossed. $3.50. 705 Spectrum Center Drive, Irvine, 949‑727‑1414; 1332 Bison Ave., Newport Beach, 949‑873-5332, tltfood.com

Beer Buzz Proving that beer can be a stimulant, Evans Brewing Company’s Chocolate Porter,
with espresso, is concocted with a coffee bean blend by Portola Coffee Lab and cacao nibs from TCHO chocolate. About $5 a bottle. The Public House by Evans Brewing Company, 138 W. Commonwealth Ave., Fullerton, 714‑870‑0039, evansbrewco.com

Vegan Shake The ultimate guilt-free vegan dessert comes in liquid form—Active Culture’s Naked Coconut Shake ($7). A thick blend of house-made almond milk, agave nectar, and frozen coconut base, it’s so rich and sweet that sharing is the way to go. 1006 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 949-715‑5188; 111 S. El Camino Real, San Clemente, 949-276‑4625, activeculturecafe.com

Surprising ThaiThe Outpost Salmon at Aussie-style Outpost Kitchen is a salad rimmed with poached salmon chunks. Its center is piled high like Grand Teton with a tangle of bean shoots, Thai basil, cilantro, coconut, and peanuts, tossed perfectly in a piquant lime juice and fish sauce dressing that puts some Thai restaurant salads to shame. $14. 1792 Monrovia Ave., Costa Mesa, 949-873-5123, outpostkitchen.com

Bowl BlissThe build-your-own options can overwhelm at Cava, a Mediterranean chain that boasts locally sourced ingredients. If you can’t decide between saffron basmati rice or black lentils, hummus or spicy harissa, falafel or braised lamb, pickled onions or kalamata olives, lemon herb tahini or Greek vinaigrette—get it all. More is more. $9. 3972 Barranca Parkway, Irvine, 949-200-7998, cava.com

B. Candy photo by Priscilla Iezzi

Remove-a-Layer-of-Your-Tongue Hot Sauce We heard that the hot sauce at the Halal Guys would singe our jaded taste buds. We didn’t believe. We showed our contempt by putting an entire packet on our combo chicken and gyro (starting at $9). We broke into a sweat, screamed in agony, finished our amazing bowl, sweated, and screamed once more—in happiness. 3033 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714‑850‑1080, costamesaca.thehalalguys.com

Rustic Dessert Chef Pascal Olhats visited the island of Macau and we scored. The Portuguese egg tart he discovered there inspired the Macanese Egg Tart on his Pascal menu. Its tender sweet pastry crust holds a creamy flan filling flavored with Tahitian vanilla and a hint of citrus. $3. 31451 Rancho Viejo Road, San Juan Capistrano, 949-488-0031, cafesanjuancapistranoca.com

Soup With A View | Nothing’s better on a sunny day than a patio table at Zinque Café and a bowl of Broccoli, Spinach, and Green Curry Soup ($9). This emerald concoction might look creamy, but there’s no dairy, just the richness of the pureed vegetables, a little heat from the green curry, and the cooling powers of luxurious coconut milk. Lido Marina Village, 3446 Via Oporto, 949-612-7259, lezinque.com

Royal LunchDine like a king on a pauper’s budget at Royal Khyber’s genteel $10 lunch. Entrees include spicy kebobs, tandoori chicken, and chicken curry. Each comes with soup, basmati rice pilaf, seasonal veggies, and hot, char-blistered naan. 1621 W. Sunflower Ave., Santa Ana, 714-436-1010, royalkhyber.com

San Shi Go

Coastal Cookie ArtSeeing the adorable sugar cookies in B.Candy’s pastry case, you know artists are at work in the kitchen. Here cookies are whimsically shaped canvases, and frosting is used to paint sunglasses, palm trees, sea creatures, unicorns, cupcakes, and surfboards. $4. 3100 E. Coast Highway, Corona del Mar, 949‑675-3910; Pacific City, Huntington Beach, 714‑374-0866, bcandy.com

Omakase Experience | If you’re a hard-core fan of omakase, you know what awaits at San Shi Go on Balboa Island Peninsula. First, you eat whatever chef Daisuke Noguchi and his team place in front of you. In return, you’re treated to pristine sushi. Loyal and longtime customers might also receive quite the farewell: Chefs sometimes line up outside the door and bow as you exit. Omakase starts at $85. 205 Main St., Newport Beach, 949-673-3724, okidoki345.com

Mash-Up PastryThe cruffin, a croissant-muffin hybrid from Mr. Holmes Bakehouse, is genius, its burnished cone of sugared pastry caressing a cream-filled center. The list of flavored creams du jour is endless, but we’ll take vanilla pineapple or coconut ($4.50). Sold out? The bakery’s rich, chewy cornflake cookie ($3) is by no means a booby prize. Union Market, 2497 Park Ave., Tustin, 714-380-0418, mrholmesbakehouse.com/OC

Reborn Dive Bar Three years ago, Stag Bar owner Mario Marcovic renovated and expanded this booze and former gambling joint (est. 1908). Now it has a complete kitchen that serves better‑than‑bar‑food and weekend brunch, and includes other upgrades (bigger bathrooms, banquette seating) that don’t scream gentrified. Still, it’s an over-21 joint, so ditch the kids for this outing. 121 McFadden Place, Newport Beach, 949-673-4470, stagbar.com

Tropical NightcapChef Ryan Garlitos’ Irenia continues to impress with its thoughtful, modern interpretations of Filipino cooking. But just as good are the restaurant’s cocktails—bright, vivid drinks that reflect their tropical lineage. Try the Purple Drank (a kind of violet-hued piña colada) or the Calamansi Sour enlivened with tart calamansi citrus juice. $11. 400 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, 657-245‑3466, ireniarestaurant.com

Tea of the SeasonStep into a gentler time at McCharles House’s lovingly restored 1885 Victorian cottage. Enjoy tea with chef Vivian Heredia’s seasonal dishes. A standout is the chicken Magdalena: slow-roasted chicken with balsamic, dried apricots and plums, brown sugar, and spices. You’ll want to lick the plate. Complete teas, $55 to $65; extra with wine and Champagne pairings. McCharles House Restaurant & Gardens, 335 S. C St., Tustin, 714-731-4063, mccharleshouse.com

Group-size Danish PastryNeed a shot of happiness? The Great Dane Baking Company’s Chocolate Kringle coffee cake ($11) is like an éclair for breakfast. This Bavarian-cream-and-almond-paste delight sells out early, but you can call the day before to order one. Another blues‑buster is the Blue Velvet Cake ($4 a slice). All you need is coffee. 6855 Warner Ave., Huntington Beach, 714-842-1130; 11196 Los Alamitos Blvd., Los Alamitos, 562-493-6899, greatdanebakery.com

Poke and Hawaiian Vibe | It’s the mix of food and atmosphere at Uroko Cafe that wins us over. The freshness of the fish, generous portions, perfectly cooked rice, abundant sides and seasonings— as well as the laid-back shorts-and-sandals atmosphere—make it our favorite poke place this side of Hawaii. Bowls start at $8. 3030 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-436‑5798; 103 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 949-873-5808; 5895 Katella Ave., Cypress, 657-465-1300, urokocafe.com

Burmese CuisineStanton’s Irrawaddy is the county’s sole ambassador of Burmese cooking, a kind of hybrid cuisine that melds its own unique flavors with those of neighboring India, Thailand, and China. The spritely ginger salad ($11) is a wild and addictive assortment of tastes and textures, and makes a perfect pairing with the tender tea-leaf lamb. $14. 7076 Katella Ave., Stanton, 714-252-8565, irrawaddytaste

Lemonade Chocolate chip cookies.

★Staff Expert★
Best vegetarian burrito
Bona fides: Deputy art director Victoria Alvarez has been eating meat‑free in O.C. since her days at
La Habra High.
Decision: Albert’s Mexican Food’s chile relleno burrito has almost an entire egg‑battered chile relleno inside. Every bite is full of flavor and cheesy goodness. 701 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra

★Staff Expert★
Most unexpectedlyphoto-worthy dish
Bona fides: Staff photographer Priscilla Iezzi has photographed and sampled dishes by nearly every chef
in the county.
Decision: The second I saw Burnt Crumbs’ spaghetti grilled cheese sandwich on Instagram, I knew I had to have it. It’s generously packed with warm, home-style spaghetti and oozy mozzarella between two buttery, toasted slices of sourdough bread. Uh, yum! At Pacific City in Huntington Beach and Los Olivos Marketplace in Irvine, burntcrumbs.com

★Staff Expert★
Best chocolate chip cookie
Bona fides: Design director Mindy Benham has baked hundreds of batches of cookies and has a blue ribbon from the O.C. Fair to show for it.
Decision: I evaluated 20 local cookies for taste, texture, and consistency. The winner is a no-nut version that’s fully baked, chewy, buttery, salty, and stuffed full of Guittard chocolate wafers. You’ll find it at Lemonade, where $3.5o buys you nearly a quarter pound of cookie goodness. Three locations in O.C., lemonadela.com


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