Best of OC

Best Of 2011

Neighborhoods

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  • + Diamond Bar
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  • + Encino
  • + Escondido
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  • + Indio
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  • + Newport Beach
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  • + Oceanside
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  • + Out of Town
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  • + Panorama City
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  • + Santa Ana
  • + Santa Monica
  • + Seal Beach
  • + Sherman Oaks
  • + Sierra Madre
  • + Signal Hill
  • + Silverado
  • + Solana Beach
  • + South El Monte
  • + South Gate
  • + South Pasadena
  • + Stanton
  • + Studio City
  • + Sunset Beach
  • + Temecula
  • + Torrance
  • + Trabuco Canyon
  • + Tustin
  • + Twentynine Palms
  • + Universal City
  • + Unknown
  • + Venice
  • + Villa Park
  • + Westminster
  • + Whittier
  • + Wilmington
  • + Woodland Hills
  • + Yorba Linda
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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Potato Chips

Leave it to this Huntington Beach-based company to make a hell of a classy and crunchy potato chip. Any old frying oil will do, right? Wrong! Vegetable oil? Yeah, right. Olive oil? Nope. Rusty's is all about safflower oil. And what about the salt? Sun-dried, evaporated sea salt from the French Mediterranean. Class-ay! Now, on to the crunch factor of Rusty's chips: very high. You have to chomp each crunchy sucker at least 10 times before you'll feel comfortable swallowing it. You'll notice, too, that they aren't the off-whitish color of most potato chips. Unlike most places, Rusty's doesn't blanch or wash the potato slices before frying them. These chips are the prototype of handmade: Employees slice each potato and fill each bag by hand. The chip kitchen is located in an industrial park tucked behind another industrial park in Huntington Beach, and true to form, the office space is rather homey: lots of posters and newspaper articles tacked onto the walls and a sprawling combination of mail and clutter lines the floor. Founder Rusty Vasterling is an H.B. native, father of twin boys and the onetime partial owner of a sports bar in Costa Mesa. He got the idea for the company after eating some especially delicious chips on a trip to Maui. Rusty's Chips opened in 1985, but he sold the company five years later, and then reopened it in 2000. Check out photos of Rusty's throng of fans on the website's photo gallery, too. One fanatic named Sandy takes a bag of Rusty's with her everywhere she travels. So far, the chips have traveled to the Taj Mahal and a Canadian glacier. Thanks to its delicious chips and homemade touch, the local company has made a name for itself nationwide and garnered lots of media coverage, even from Newsweek. You can buy the chips at various Southern California markets or off the website, or you could just book a reservation at the Wynn resort in Las Vegas, since each room is stocked with a bag of Rusty's Chips. $

(800) 387-0767 | www.rustyschips.com

Best Outdoor Dining
The Beachcomber
Kevin Lara

If your own-of-town guests are keen on experiencing quintessential Orange County, take them to the Beachcomber. Here, they'll marvel at a prototypical OC scene: brunching trophy wives toasting one another on snatching deep-pocketed sugar daddies. Oh, the view of the beach is nice, too; reservations for the summer season are booked fast. What surrounds the beachside shack eatery is a post card come to life. The food is hardly the point. But if it is true that a hot dog eaten at the Grand Canyon tastes as good as a steak, the same concept applies here. The sunsets, the idyllic beach huts and the crashing surf cresting on sand just steps from the entrance are seasonings more essential than salt. $$

15 Crystal Cove, Newport Beach, 92657
MAP
949-376-6900
Best Waterfront Dining
SOL Cocina
Edwin+Goei
%22I+trust+the+chef%22

Dropped daintily on Pacific Coast Highway above Newport Bay is SOL Cocina, an elegant establishment dedicated to bringing the flavors of Baja to Orange County. But this is cuisine with a conscience. The environmentally friendly menu boasts low-fat, healthy items, and almost everything is gluten-free. The chefs use only sustainable fish and humanely raised beef and pork—and many dishes can be made vegetarian or even vegan. Try one of their exquisitely crafted margaritas (we love the cucumber jalapeño), any of about a dozen different salsas and definitely the taco vampiro. Snag a seat at one of the copper tables on the patio for a luxurious view of the boats, docks and houses you'll never afford. We recommend going at sunset, when the water turns as gold as the tequila in your glass. $$$

251 Pacific Coast Highway, Newport Beach, 92660
MAP
949-675-9800
Best Culinary Experimentalist
Dave Emery
JC Vera

What haven't we said about Dave Emery that hasn't already been said? The man is an all-around crazy person—and we mean that with the utmost respect. He insists on making everything he serves at Sol Del Sur Bistro from scratch and doing it all himself, with no assistance from a sous chef or even a dishwasher. All evidence suggests he is self-taught and loves to cook just as most people like to breathe. He has working knowledge of Italian, Japanese, French and Spanish cuisines, gleaned from his travels and bolstered by the undying curiosity of a child. The menu he attempts is formidable and frenetic. When the small room he calls a restaurant is even half-full, he can be easily overwhelmed with orders. He creates a list of a dozen or so appetizers, traipsing borders and using uncommon ingredients, such as crosnes, aji amarillo and uni. His entrées are bold, complex and, at times, beguiling. As of this writing, he is serving grilled strawberries with lamb shanks braised in lavender and honey; by the time you read this, though, that dish will be history. Emery is never satisfied: He thinks of new ways to challenge himself and his customers; and he's been known to introduce a new dish one night and jettison it the next. Don't even try to convince him to edit his menu down or ask him to be less ambitious. We like our mad scientist just the way he is. $$$

31115 Rancho Viejo Rd., San Juan Capistrano, 92675
MAP
949-487-5225
Best New Restaurant
Chapter One: the modern local
Kevin Lara

Former Haven Gastropub partner Jeff Hall throws down the gauntlet with Chapter One, a challenge to not only his former colleagues, but also his neighbors at Santa Ana's burgeoning restaurant scene. The bar pours old-man drinks with equal jiggers of expertise and knowledge of the mixological arts. It's also up-to-date on the local beers. Meanwhile, chef Oge Dalken, a culinary raconteur in a city full of them, brings humor and lightness to dishes that are as fun to eat as they are to order. A beef culotte inspires other chefs to do better with bacon-wrapped steaks. And for a dessert called "Milk & Cereal," the breakfast food of our youths is deconstructed and reinterpreted: Panna cotta becomes the milk, and crispy Greek kataifi plays cereal. You have to order it to get the joke and realize that the culinary punch line is as delicious as the setup. $$

227 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, 92701
MAP
714-352-2225
Best Service In a Restaurant
Old Vine Café
Kimberly Valenzuela

Old Vine is no stranger to these pages, having won Best Restaurant in 2009—and it has broadened its ambitions since then, hosting wine nights and even leading culinary tours of Italy. But the attention of brothers Mark and Brandon McDonald to the homefront hasn't suffered: You still see Brandon every morning through night, guiding customers old and new through the menu, maybe suggesting an omelet or the seasonal four-course chef's menu, and with a memory of the café's hundreds of wines that borders on That's Incredible! territory. Mark is almost as present on the floor, even though he's manning the kitchen, trading jokes with customers and making sure their experiences are always spectacular. Such attention to detail doesn't come out of economic survival or even hipster irony, but rather the McDonalds' honest-to-goodness enthusiasm for great food. They are redeeming their surname in the food industry. $$$

2937 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 92626
MAP
714-545-1411
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Best Potato Chips: Rusty's Chips

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