Best of OC

Best Of 2010

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Place to Kick Off a Sock Hop
Watson Drug and Soda Fountain

All dolled up in your poodle skirt, polo shirt and saddle shoes, your hair pomaded to within an inch of its life, Daddy's little princess is ready for the big sock hop at the high-school gymnasium. You don't want to be the one who shows up while the decorating committee is still putting up streamers, right? Well, perch your dainty derriere on a stool at the counter of this anachronistic, old-timey drugstore near the Orange Circle and order a malt or maybe a burger while you work up the courage to ask the basketball captain to dance during the Sadie Hawkins number. Oooooh, Johnny Mantle—he's the most! Honestly, Mother. Watson is where it's at; everyone knows that.

116 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, 92866
MAP
714-633-1050
Best Restaurant
Break of Dawn
Photo by Kimberly Valenzuela

Foodies have long loved Break of Dawn for its extraordinary breakfasts and lunches—including this paper, which deemed it Best Breakfast last year. But let's call Break of Dawn what it is—an extraordinary restaurant, period, a culinary treasure with few peers. It's not just the food—chef/owner Dee Nguyen uses his ethnicity (Vietnamese) and experience at the Ritz-Carlton equally, offering everything from abstract chilaquiles to a Hawaiian-style breakfast combining papaya slaw with a purée of green scallions. But Nguyen's great attribute is that he's constantly experimenting, whether offering piping-hot cinnamon buns that are more frosting than bread yet light on the stomach or surprising eaters with a habanero salsa. Add in Nguyen's limited hours, necessitated by his caring for his disabled son, and Break of Dawn becomes as fragile and beautiful—and necessary—as what it's named after.

24291 Avenida De La Carlota, Laguna Hills, 92653
MAP
949-587-9418
Best Restaurant to Take the Kids To
John's Incredible Pizza Co.

A pizza buffet replete with a fresh-doughnut maker and all-you-can-pour soft serve is exactly what parents don't want for their already sugar-loaded, barely controllable offspring. But at least John's Incredible Pizza—a gigantic, kid-friendly über-eatery that takes up almost the entire lower floor of what used to be Buena Park Mall—has multiple themed dining areas, some of them geared toward adults. Plus, there's no giant rodent singing rote songs. Instead, you can train your future Las Vegas compulsives on the excesses of Sin City with token-based games of chance and all-you-can-eat binging. The peanut-butter pizza is exactly as it sounds: terrifying. Same goes for the nacho pizza, which actually isn't that bad. But for an 8-year-old, it might as well be Thomas Freakin' Keller.

8601 On The Mall, Buena Park, 90620
MAP
714-236-0000
Best Restaurant That Will Probably Close Soon
Four Seasons Hot Pot
Photo by Kimberly+Valenzuela
Dunk+on%21

It takes a certain kind of blind optimism to call your hot-pot restaurant "Four Seasons." Such places are decidedly one season. It's a heat-generating meal that's only apt and appetizing when the weather is chilly and you can see your breath. But whatever the climate, the balding owner is always dressed in a suit and tie to welcome guests. In the summer months, most customers shun him and his cook-it-yourself Mongolian hot-pot concept. No one wants to sit over a roiling vat of broth spiced with aromatic spices, ginger and garlic, dipping thinly sliced meats, veggies, and tofu, especially when they've got a day at the beach in mind. But the man is still at it, going on four years. Let's hope he can last till this year's winter.

12119 Brookhurst St., Garden Grove, 92840
MAP
714-636-7168
Best Restaurant In a Cheap, Freeway-Adjacent Motel
Formosa Chinese Restaurant

Motel restaurants, when they exist, are typically eateries of last resort, places where dried-up chicken, overboiled vegetables and bland starches go to die. Open the menu at Formosa Chinese Restaurant, inside a Best Western-turned-Quality Inn, and you'll wonder what it was smoking. The first half of the menu is a depressing hodgepodge of fried junk tossed in sweet, sticky sauces or brown, cornstarch-y glop. The back page, however, contains the reason to seek out the place: a laundry list of Taiwanese specialities, from pai gu fan (pork chop rice) to san bei ji (three cup chicken—soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil, in case you wondered). A bowl of niu rou mian (beef noodle stew), fragrant with ginger, star anise and just a hint of preserved cabbage, is the perfect dish to chase away winter rains or June gloom. The xiao long bao (soup dumplings) are light and juicy, an awesome find so far from their U.S. spiritual home in the San Gabriel Valley. On weekends, stop in for the traditional Taiwanese breakfast of hot soy milk with fried-to-order you tiao (huge savory doughnut twists). Daily specials are written in Chinese on a whiteboard near the kitchen door; insist politely that the staff translates them. Prices are as low as you'd expect, given the proximity to McDonald's.

23702 Rockfield Blvd., Lake Forest, 92630
MAP
949-458-7125
Best Restaurant to Cure a Hangover
Jang Mo Gip

Hangover remedies abound in every culture, from coconut water to tripe soup, but they involve insider information: You have to know what dishes are meant for the overindulgent. In the Korean culture, it's simple: Their hangover cure-all, haejangguk, translates as "soup to chase a hangover." Made of pork bones, doenjang (the Korean answer to miso), garlic, ginger, mushrooms and radish, the soup arrives unsalted; you spoon salt from the large pot on the table to your liking. Die-hard hangover nursers should consider requesting ox blood be added to the soup. Get your fix, which will run you about $8 for a huge bowl, in this pair of no-décor one-stop shops located in the Korean-heavy areas of Garden Grove and Buena Park, and make sure to drink the bland toasted-rice water you'll be given for hydration—the Koreans have morning-after syndrome down to a science.

9816 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, 92844
MAP
714-534-1340
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Best Place to Kick Off a Sock Hop: Watson Drug and Soda Fountain

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