Best of OC

Best Of 2013


  • + Aliso Viejo
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  • + Azuza
  • + Bakersfield
  • + Balboa
  • + Bellflower
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  • + Costa Mesa
  • + Coto de Caza
  • + Covina
  • + Culver City
  • + Cypress
  • + Dana Point
  • + Diamond Bar
  • + Downey
  • + El Segundo
  • + Encino
  • + Escondido
  • + Fallbrook
  • + Fontana
  • + Foothill Ranch
  • + Fountain Valley
  • + Fresno
  • + Fullerton
  • + Garden Grove
  • + Gardena
  • + Glendale
  • + Granada Hills
  • + Hawaiian Gardens
  • + Hermosa Beach
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  • + Indio
  • + Irvine
  • + Julian
  • + La Canada Flintridge
  • + La Habra
  • + La Jolla
  • + La Mirada
  • + La Palma
  • + Ladera Ranch
  • + Laguna Beach
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  • + Marina Del Rey
  • + Maywood
  • + Midway City
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  • + Montclair
  • + Mountain Center
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  • + Newport Beach
  • + North Hollywood
  • + Northridge
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  • + Oceanside
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  • + Out of Town
  • + Palos Verdes Peninsula
  • + Panorama City
  • + Paramount
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  • + Rowland Heights
  • + San Bernardino
  • + San Clemente
  • + San Diego
  • + San Francisco
  • + San Juan Capistrano
  • + San Marino
  • + San Pedro
  • + 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 Culinary Experimentalist
Shawn Xa

Year after year, this category has been dominated by chefs who change their menus up for the sake of doing it, some of them daily. Shawn Xa has the same kind of restless mind. When he opened Xa Sweet & Savory Café, he served only chicken. And on these perfectly cooked, juice-bursting, tender, breast-meat fillets—a protein usually not apt to being all of the above—he'd shake a flurry of your chosen spice, be it the Japanese togarashi or herbes de Provence. Since then, he has jettisoned the spices for sauces—intensely fruity, savory and complex ones that can be painted on your protein of choice, turning them into something greater than what the less-than-$9-with-two-sides-included price tag would require. Some involve tamarind, others strawberry and chipotle together. There's a maple and spice that tastes vaguely Indian. But Xa's true calling is cookies; this is where he turns on his mad-scientist brain full bore. His greatest creation thus far has been an apple-pie cookie, with real apples where you'd expect chocolate chips and a coat of crunchy cinnamon sugar on top. There's also a cookie with bacon and chocolate chips, another that tastes exactly like tiramisu, and a sticky-chewy wonder with melted marshmallows that's reminiscent of rocky road. One time, he let loose and attempted a cookie that encapsulated his restaurant's "sweet and savory" ethos: a Spam-and-roasted-garlic cookie. What will this cookie Willy Wonka think of next? As with everyone we honor in this category, the best part is finding out.

424 S. Main St., Orange, 92868
Best Filipino Restaurant
Sawali Grill

Seven small tables, one of them covered with cookies, pastries and other Filipino desserts in plastic boxes. Not a single white face in the place. All good signs you're going to be eating the real deal. Go to the counter and tell the woman behind the glass what you want. Served turo turo (cafeteria) style, she drops two huge scoops of rice on a plate and looks at you patiently while you try to decide. Two large barbecue pork skewers, generous with smoky, flavorful meat, not too fatty? Or kaldereta, a hearty, chunky beef stew with bell peppers, chile and other veggies? Beef mushroom overflowing with large sliced mushrooms and slices of beef reminiscent of boeuf bourguignon? The calamares is a little more of an acquired taste for a white palate, but the tender squid is cooked in its own delicious, salty ink.

3414 W. Ball Rd., Anaheim, 92804
Best Breakfast
Blue Frog Bakery
Kate Fancher

If you'd like to get away from the standard artery-cloggers posing as fast breakers 'round town, the Blue Frog Bakery's Vegi-Burrito will stuff your gut without stopping your heart. The O'Brian potatoes, scrambled eggs, avocado, zucchini and tomatoes stuffed into a large tortilla is a two-fister topped off with a side of salsa perfection. If cholesterol isn't an issue, the breakfast machaca's shredded beef, eggs, bell peppers and onions or the insidiously addictive Egg Muffin Breakfast—scramblers, meat and cheese on an English Muffin—beats the hell out of any fast-foody junk you'd pick up elsewhere. The inside can get full quickly some mornings, so get in early and snake out one of the four small café tables under the Bakery's eave. Catch up on your reading, drink a latte and start your day with a full stomach (and mind). Inside tip: If you're into anime or all things nerdist, chat up friendly and funny counter girl Red. She's our favorite.

136 S. Glassell St., Orange, 92866
Best Brewery

"This is my favorite bar that isn't a bar," says a regular inside Left Coast Brewery's tasting room as he sets down two empty growlers and sits at the bar. He picks up a pint glass with the brewery's logo on it and asks if it's the biggest glass they have. It is. You can taste whatever's chalked on the brew board in 5-, 10- or 16-ounce vessels. As the bartender fills the guy's glass with Left Coast Baltic Porter, there's a general discussion about how to pour a black and tan and which Left Coast selections would make one best. Everyone happily disagrees. The guy loves his porter so much he says he'd pour it over ice cream, which leads to a unanimous desire for a stout float. It's Saturday afternoon, and people flow in to get their growlers filled, and all of them stay to have a big glass of something barrel-aged (not available to-go) or dark or hoppy or even double-hoppy—Left Coast claims it's one of the pioneers of the double IPA. Its version is an award-winner called Hop Juice that lures you in with a sweet maltiness, then delivers a multihop wallop of fun bitterness, followed not too long after by the full-body effects of its 9.7 percent ABV.

1250 Puerta Del Sol, San Clemente, 92673
Best Pie

Whichever individual 5-inch pies you choose at this Aussie newcomer, comfort food meets up-to-the-minute freshness and inventiveness. "Shortcut pastry shell with a puff-pastry lid" is how Pie-Not describes the perfect enclosures for the tender, juicy fillings. The Dog's Eye is the place to start, a ubiquitous meat pie Down Under; it's like having the best tomato-basil-mozzarella panini of your life at a Rome train station. The filling comes in many lively variations: two we liked are Shroomin, with crimini and field mushrooms, and the premium Drover, which has petite peas and carrots, topped with garlic mashed potatoes instead of the puff pastry.

270 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 92627
Best Pie You Can Only Get In a Narrow Window Sometime Between Fourth of July and Labor Day
Jongewaard's Bake and Broil
Photo: Christine Chiao

The fresh peach pie is a mountain of sliced-fruit perfection altered only enough to be called pie.

3697 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, 90807

Best Culinary Experimentalist: Shawn Xa


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