Best Restaurants 2017!

No. 1 Restaurant of the Year: Mix Mix Kitchen Bar

Mix Mix Kitchen Bar. Photograph by Priscilla Iezzi.

Not one to seek the limelight, ingenious chef Ross Pangilinan slyly astonishes an unsuspecting audience at his new Mix Mix Kitchen Bar. Alas, his arts patron fan base must trek to downtown Santa Ana for this refined, enchanting cooking. Both camps are in for marvelous cuisine at gentle prices in an unfussy setting.

After six years as the backstage superpower at Leatherby’s Cafe Rouge at Segerstrom concert hall, Pangilinan trades a luxe workplace for artistic freedom and the thrill of producing his own show. Devo-tees might recognize his sensuous soft egg raviolo with guanciale in black pepper pasta. Or his elegant seasonal vegetable soups. Try the local goat cheese toast with prosciutto, honey, and microgreens—it’s a sigh-worthy preview of the graceful acts to come. Albacore tostada-—a ballet of pristine tuna, orange pepper, Sriracha mayo, silky avocado puree, and a bright frill of cilantro—comes carefully composed on a petite circle of crisp tortilla. Pangilinan is a virtuoso with texture and a wizard of balance. No matter the course, nothing tastes off pitch.

The tight menu is just broad enough to appeal to finicky types, unless they’re vegans. Prepare for rich proteins,from fresh chicharrons at the bar to crispy duck leg with risotto, blackberries, and cider jus. Hangar steak bursts with a beefy essence that deepens against a carby foil of potato espuma.

Don’t miss the magical tropical verrine, a modern take on Filipino halo halo. Precise cubes of vibrant lychee, passionfruit, and pineapple atop coconut panna cotta create transcendent mouthfuls that trump the admittedly excellent tiramisu. Best practice here: Feast on the four-course prix fixe menu for $45 or dial back with three courses for $35. Add a crackerjack cocktail (Silly Rabbit, please) from the charming bar, and you’ll taste why Pangilinan deserves this standing ovation for breaking deliciously free from his concert hall roots.

300 N. Main St., Santa Ana, 714-836-5158,