By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Readers' Choice: Laventina's Pizza
Best Halal Pizza
San Giovanni Pizza
1001 N. Euclid St., Anaheim
Beef pepperoni. Turkey bacon. Turkey ham. Pizza never tasted so good for OC's many Muslim residents who usually have to defer to veggie pieces when ordering their slices. But San Giovanni's offers pizzas with halal-certified meat (no pork; beef and poultry slaughtered and blessed by a Muslim), which is purchased from local halal grocery stores. For those who are not Muslim, you won't miss the pork. San Giovanni's serves up a tasty pizza with a crispy crust, good sauce and generous portions.
Best Place to Drink Sake By Yourself or With Friends (If You Have Any)
18450 Brookhurst St., Fountain Valley
It may sound more like a car dealership than a killer place to down a glass of sake, but don't hesitate to step in—you won't be sorry. Plopping yourself onto a chair at the counter is a capital idea if you're on your own. From there, you'll get a view of the snazzy Japanese grill master and his swashbuckling moves, as he tames the flames and cooks a variety of skewers to perfection. Hakutsuru Draft Sake is a cold, cheap but classy option that tastes great with the tender cubes of marinated meat the Fountain Valley restaurant serves. But for the big spenders, enormous $40 bottles of sake are available—Kappo Honda will even hang onto your bottle if you don't finish it, so next time, you can pick up where you left off.
Best Cheap Drinks at Fashion Island
401 Newport Center Dr., Ste. 987, Irvine
You don't often hear "cheap" and "Fashion Island" together. There are certainly plenty of places to drink, from the upscale Daily Grill to the seaside view of the bar in the Cheesecake Factory. And if you're a guy, there are also plenty of reasons to drink—chances are you're only there to humor your lady's shopping fix, and there aren't a whole lot of obvious "man hangouts" in sight. So pay attention because the cheapest cocktails are somewhere you'd never suspect: Red Robin, the corporate burger joint upstairs by the movie theater. You can't beat a $6 zombie, or a $4.79 Jack-and-Coke—when was the last time you got prices approaching that at an actual bar? Great service, too, and the burgers aren't too shabby.
Best Place to Get Advice About Wine
Symposium Wine Bar
2963 Michelson Dr., Ste. B, Irvine
Wine bars are making a big showing in this year's Best of OC, and there's a reason for that: It's where adults go to have a few drinks, where the floors aren't wet with beer and . . . something wet, and where a jukebox isn't blasting the immortal hits of Journey, Boston or Aerosmith. At the Symposium Wine Bar, there's another reason there isn't any music blasting, and that is owner Don Katz's love of conversation, something that doesn't go with Foreigner. The place is cozy, well-decorated and educational—and the wine is really, really good. Beginners and longtime connoisseurs come to the wine-tasting seminars, and not just to learn what the hell all the swirling, sniffing and swishing is all about. Blind since a bout of spinal meningitis, Katz's sense of taste— taste in wine, taste in style, taste in humor, taste in people—reigns. He'll not only show you what good wine tastes like, but he'll also show you what to look for so you can start deciding for yourself. If you're still not sure what you want, decide on a color, and then order one of the flights ($11-$13), three generously poured samples for you to try and critique. Each wine comes with an identification card, so as you make your way toward the door in a Dionysian stagger, you can hand the card to the cashier, and purchase a bottle to take home. So put down the plastic cup, pick up a glass, and find out what you've been missing.
Best Ice Cream
4523 Campus Dr., Irvine
Strickland's is the lone California outpost of an Ohio franchise. Their claim to fame: soft-serve "frozen custard" sold within minutes of churning from steel contraptions that look like they came out of a '50s sci-fi flick. The ice cream is silken, smoother than Haagen Dazs before it hardens. Always offered is chocolate and vanilla, while two special Flavors of the Day get rotated monthly. The best way to enjoy Strickland's ice cream is in a cone, where their signature conical scoop sculpts the ice cream into stiff, undulating curves that end in pointed peaks. But you can get them to doll it up into a sundae or whipped into a cold shake. Summer never had it so good.
Readers' Choice: Cold Stone Creamery
Bonert's Lemon Meringue Pie
Bonert's Slice of Pie
2727 S. Susan St., Santa Ana
Driving up to Bonert's Slice of Pie's outlet store, sandwiched between factories in Santa Ana, we were skeptical. The place looked too industrial to house the best pie in town. But we were gloriously, fantabulously wrong. Stepping into the little pie shop at the side of the hulking structure, we found the best lemon meringue we've ever tasted. Thick and spongy, the meringue was bursting with vanilla; the lemon filling was tart, but not overwhelmingly so; and the crust was nice and thick. And only $2.50 for the 8-inch variety! On the day we visited, they had a buy-two-mini-pies-for-$1 special. Snag a tempting couple, and see if you don't drive back to work with one hand lifting the meringue to your gluttonous face, the other gripping the wheel.