O.C.’s Best 2020! | Food & Drink

Taste decadent mini doughnuts, vegan pan-Asian fare, Indian sloppy Joes, and more of our faves from the past year.
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Charcuterie Boxes
Curb your craving for salty meats and cheeses with Grazing Kitchen. Choose from a variety of made-to-order charcuterie boards and boxes that can feed from two to nine people or opt for the larger Grazing Table for 40 to 200 people. Then customize your options and select the date and time you wish to graze. San Clemente, grazingkitchen.com

Coffee That Breaks Barriers
With years of experience in special education, the founders of Able Coffee Roasters launched the brand to empower those with autism and other disabilities through jobs. The coffee beans are organic, sourced from small farms worldwide, and roasted in small batches weekly ($12 for an eight-ounce bag). Choose from a variety of blends such as the signature Bali Blue sourced from the islands of Indonesia. Look for a storefront cafe coming to Santa Ana. Mission Viejo, theableworkers.com

Ahi Poke
Always fresh as heck, the ahi poke from Bear Flag Fish Co. is sold by the pound and made their way, with soy, sesame seeds, and seaweed. It was one of the first and is still the best, at $18.19 per pound. Grab a bowl and imagine you’re on the islands. Crystal Cove, Huntington Beach, Newport Beach, bearflagfishco.com

Finger-Licking Ribs
The pork ribs listed as starters at Lido Bottle Works are a relatively new addition. Thank heavens chef Amy Lebrun decided to include these lovely morsels on the regular menu. Prepared with a caramel sauce and chicharrones, the ribs will make even the most generous dining partner seem greedy as she demands a whole order to herself. Newport Beach, 949-529-2784

Small Batch Doughnuts photograph by Emily J. Davis

Doughnut Delivery
Small Batch Doughnuts drops off variety boxes of fun-size pastries featuring local ingredients. Try the Citrus Dreams flavor with a glass of Champagne. Santa Ana, smallbatchdoughnuts.com

Entree Masquerading as a Side
Sure, Eddie V’s is adored for whole lobsters and mega Prime steaks, but our frequent cheat is a humble side of terrific fried rice starring lump crab and shiitake mushrooms. The giant portion feeds two, or one twice. Newport Beach, 949-720-9925

Plant-Based Asian Fare
When Naughty Boy Sushi and My Vegan Panda joined forces to open Naughty Panda at 4th Street Market, the founders created a vegan pan-Asian powerhouse the likes of which the county had never seen. Try extravagant rolls and flavorful faux chicken, beef, and shrimp bowls. Santa Ana, myveganpanda.com

Indian Sloppy Joe
Sloppy Khan is chef Imran Ali Mookhi’s indulgent take on a sloppy Joe at Khan Saab Craft Kitchen. The sandwich is a twist on keema pav, a popular Indian street food made with minced meat (chopped wagyu beef here) and peppery spices on a fluffy pav bun toasted with butter. Fullerton, 714-853-1081

Mark Twain cocktail; Photograph courtesy of the Guild Club

Luxurious Cocktail
If you’re looking for an upscale, relaxing drink to upgrade any outing to a special occasion, try the Twain at Guild Club. Using Pappy Van Winkle bourbon for the base, the cocktail also has Angostura bitters. It’s so smooth and delicious, you’ll be mighty tempted to have more than one and linger in the decadent surroundings for the evening. Costa Mesa, 949-500-5561

Soy-Based Sweets
Get dairy-free drinks, snacks, and desserts at the all-vegan Soy Good. The family-owned business was borne out of a passion for tofu and soy milk, the latter made in-house with a higher protein content. Expect unique drink toppings such as black sesame paste and coconut sago. Try the silky sweet soy pudding and savory fried tofu. Garden Grove, 714-591-5653

Fried Chicken Sandwich
Newcomer Porch & Swing’s mighty fine sandwich stands out in a crowded field, thanks to perfect parts: crispy fried chicken, crunchy apple-fennel slaw, house pickles, and a toasty brioche bun. The restaurant promotes itself as a tribute to the cuisine of Charleston, South Carolina, and the kitchen is helmed by chef Justin Werner of Playground and Playground 2.0. Irvine, 949-400-4795

Cacio e Pepe
The classic cheese and pepper pasta is deceptively simple and so hard to find executed with finesse. Enter Oliver’s Osteria, where the comfort peasant dish is a wow meal that we now weigh all others against. Laguna Beach, 949-715-0261

Carrot-ginger soup at Selanne Steak Tavern; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Soup at a Steakhouse
Ordering soup at a restaurant that specializes in steak isn’t the obvious choice. But be sure to indulge in the carrot-ginger soup at Selanne Steak Tavern whenever chef Vincent Terusa makes it available. The exquisite dish adds toasted coconut flakes, crème fraiche, and cilantro for a scrumptious result that will keep you sated no matter the season. Laguna Beach, 949-715-9881

Spicy Cold Noodles
The hotter the day, the bigger the joy of spicy cold beef noodles (liang pi) at Qin West Noodle. Wide and bouncy, the chilled noodles take on hyper-hot chile oil for that pain-and-pleasure flavor dance. Irvine, 949-932-0465

Must-Have Bag
Prove your devotion to dumplings. Din Tai Fung has designed a cool canvas bag, perfect for your xiao long bao and noodle takeout fix. It’s free when you spend $100 or more. No, you can’t buy it separately. Costa Mesa, 714-549-3388

Soufflé pancakes at Burnt Crumbs; Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Brunch Dessert with a Japanese Twist
Discover a fresh take on the traditional pancake stack at Burnt Crumbs. The light, fluffy, and delightfully jiggly Japanese-style soufflé pancakes are the must-have dish on the brunch menu with three flavor options including original with house-made syrup, berry compote with house-made whipped cream, and strawberries and cream. Observe chef-owner Paul Cao’s seemingly effortless mastery of a challenging recipe from the exhibition kitchen. Irvine, 949-502-5998

Peruvian Steak
There’s nothing humble about Costa’s signature lomo saltado. Peru’s classic steak-and-starch dish is boosted here with tender chunks of filet mignon, sizzled to yield juicy bites with caramelized edges. The fluffy planks of fried potato are next-level fries. Costa Mesa, 714-852-3299

Tofu-Skin Salad
Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. Ja Jiaozi’s tofu-skin salad is perfectly timed for the hot summer months. Tofu here is made in-house, so the springy ribbons have notes of buttery sweetness and a tender chew. Cilantro stems supply a cool, crunchy counterpunch. Irvine, 714-786-8999

Puesto tacos photograph by Anne Watson

Tacos of the Month
For inventive tacos that include walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds or fried octopus with chipotle crema, you’ll want to swing by one of the Puesto locations in Irvine. The restaurant lures with its regular lineup, but to expand your horizons and be delighted, try the taco of the month. Park Place, 949-608-7272; Los Olivos, 949-608-9990

Roast Chicken Mainstay
Takeout is second nature to Rosine’s Café, which served its first to-go roast chicken in 1995. Today it’s a landmark for that habit-forming chicken plus an alluring menu of consistently satisfying Lebanese cuisine. Anaheim Hills, 714-283-5141

Pear and Burrata Salad
The Vox Kitchen takes Asian fusion to the next level, incorporating diverse flavors from Vietnam, China, and Taiwan. A unique twist on a classic appetizer, the Vox Pear Salad marries crispy pear, honey-roasted nuts, creamy burrata cheese, tangy fig balsamic, and Champagne vinaigrette. It makes for a great starter before house garlic noodles or crab congee. Fountain Valley, 657-231-6493

Head to orangecoast.com/readersrave to vote for your favorites from this year’s Reader Picks!

Visit orangecoast.com/best2020 for the rest of our Best Of picks.

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