Best of OC

Best Of 2014


  • + Aliso Viejo
  • + Anaheim
  • + Arcadia
  • + Avalon
  • + Azuza
  • + Bakersfield
  • + Balboa
  • + Bellflower
  • + Beverly Hills
  • + Brea
  • + Buena Park
  • + Burbank
  • + Cabazon
  • + Capistrano Beach
  • + Carlsbad
  • + Carson
  • + Cerritos
  • + Chatsworth
  • + Chino Hills
  • + Claremont
  • + Colton
  • + Corona
  • + Corona Del Mar
  • + 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
  • + Highland
  • + Huntington Beach
  • + Indio
  • + Irvine
  • + Julian
  • + La Canada Flintridge
  • + La Habra
  • + La Jolla
  • + La Mirada
  • + La Palma
  • + Ladera Ranch
  • + Laguna Beach
  • + Laguna Hills
  • + Laguna Niguel
  • + Lake Forest
  • + Lakewood
  • + Las Vegas
  • + Lawndale
  • + Lomita
  • + Long Beach
  • + Los Alamitos
  • + Los Angeles
  • + Malibu
  • + Manhattan Beach
  • + Marina Del Rey
  • + Maywood
  • + Midway City
  • + Mission Viejo
  • + Montclair
  • + Mountain Center
  • + Mt Baldy
  • + Newport Beach
  • + North Hollywood
  • + Northridge
  • + Norwalk
  • + Oceanside
  • + Orange
  • + Out of Town
  • + Palos Verdes Peninsula
  • + Panorama City
  • + Paramount
  • + Pasadena
  • + Pioneertown
  • + Placentia
  • + Pomona
  • + Portola Hills
  • + Rancho Cucamonga
  • + Rancho Palos Verdes
  • + Rancho Santa Margarita
  • + Redlands
  • + Redondo Beach
  • + Riverside
  • + Rossmoor
  • + 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
Map It

Sports & Recreation

Food & Drink

Arts & Entertainment

Shopping & Services


Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Vegan Restaurant
Au Lac

One of the oldest all-vegan restaurants in the county remains the best. Au Lac's menu focuses on the Buddhist principle of maintaining a healthy lifestyle through eating a purely vegetarian diet. The chef/owner pushes his devotion to Buddhism to a monk-like vow of silence. You will have to ask his waitstaff to describe the menu, which is split between traditional Vietnamese dishes that are cooked and an equally lengthy menu of "living food," or raw vegan dishes. By not heating them, the enzymes in the vegetables, nuts, legumes and juices supposedly convey all their delicious, vital powers, as nature intended. Au Lac predates all the recent trends and brings a delicious Vietnamese sensibility the new kids don't have.

Multiple Locations
Best Outdoor Dining
Rose Canyon Cantina & Grill

It's a pity OC has a real lack of luscious, outdoor beer gardens. However, a good attempt is at Rose Canyon Cantina & Grill. The sprawling deck is hidden away in Trabuco Canyon and snuggled by shady oaks, so much so you might just drive right past it. Here, patrons drink margaritas instead of beer—and Rose Canyon makes a great one (so long as you have nothing against Patrón). During the day, the wraparound patio gives a gorgeous view of the hills, but we prefer it after dark; as the sun sinks, the canyons get draped in blues and the oaks enclose you in twinkling lights.

20722 Rose Canyon Rd., Trabuco Canyon, 92679
1289 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, 92651
Best Spanish Restaurant That Doubles as a Nightclub

Remember that Arrested Development episode in which Tobias is working at Swallows in Reno, the family-style restaurant by day and anything-goes pan-sexual bazaar by night? TAPAS in Newport Beach is sort of like that, but with fine Spanish food instead of malts and a kicking house-music scene instead of the leather pony. Focus, its Tuesday-night alter ego, manages to pull some great talent, as well as a slew of resident DJs including Nonfiction and Wobs. The dance floor is ample, the outdoor taco grill is more than ample, and the cosmos ($3.50 before 10 p.m.) are affordably—yep!—ample. You'd never guess that, mere hours ago, servers were passing 12-inch Toro Skewers and massive, steaming plates of paella.

4253 Martingale Way, Newport Beach, 92660
Best Bread

If you've dined at just about any restaurant opened within the past three years, chances are you've been served some of the best bread in the county. And it was baked by Dean Kim and his team at OC Baking Co. His artisan rolls house the links at LinX and melt butter at the RANCH. His ciabatta blanket the Italian wonders at Paninoteca Maggio. And his baguettes hug the pickled veggies and grilled meats of East Borough's bánh mìs. But the most magical are the challah rolls, particularly when combined with the slow-roasted brisket at Smoqued BBQ. Get thee to a farmers' market (particularly Homegrown in Orange or the Great Park in Irvine) to pick up some lavish bread (and even lavash once in a while) of your own so you can create magic in your kitchen.

540 W. Freedom Ave., Orange, 92865
Best Bagels
Shirley's Bagels

A bagel has to be pretty shitty to be considered a bad bagel, yet Orange County notoriously lacks many good ones—which makes Shirley's Bagels that much more valuable. Its doughy treats are just the right thickness and taste freshly baked no matter when you visit or which of its three locations you choose. The staff is inviting and helpful, giving the place more of a mom-and-pop feel. And it's so hard to go wrong with something smothered in cream cheese. Plus, the specialties here go beyond (un)glorified turkey sandwiches; try the everything bagel topped with whipped cream cheese and avocado slices, then sprinkled with lemon pepper. You'll never want a plain bagel again.

Multiple Locations
Best Place to Ogle the Waitstaff
The North Left Critics' Pick
The North Left

If you're looking to see half-naked chicks, move along—the Tilted Kilt is just a Google search away. If you want to dine in the presence of real beautiful people, then visit the North Left, and see it as a mere bonus on top of the choice culinary experience. Sure, they're all hipsters—but as much shit as the wait staff get, there's something sexy about a good beard in a button-down and hip chicks with tattoos. You can roll your eyes as much as you want; we'd bring them all home. But the best thing about North Left's staff isn't just their bone structure and sleek dress—it's that they're made even hotter by the conversation. True, North Left was already working with a great staff from the Crosby, and they did pull in much of the best help from around downtown SanTana, but you can never have too much of a good thing.

400 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, 92701
Best Dessert
Playground Critics' Pick

Jason Quinn's attitude may get as much attention as his food, but who cares! We'd rather bow down to the work of art that is Playground's sticky toffee pudding. The fluffy sponge cake is baked with organic eggs and dried figs and arrives at your table under a molten layer of toffee pudding. Upon your first bite, the feeling can only be described as . . . earth-shattering? Mind-boggling? Rip-roaring? The kind of happiness that only comes with 10 puppies? The combination of earthy fruitcake, rich toffee and fresh whipped cream is incredible—so incredible the kitchen often runs out of it. So, if you're planning dinner at Playground, maybe it's best to have dessert first.

Multiple Locations
Best Italian Restaurant

In a dreary strip mall parking lot on Euclid Street in deepest, darkest Anacrime, behind dark and almost uninviting shades, there is magnificent, home-cooked Italian food. Rufino's Ristorante Italiano packs a ton in a little space, and it's no wonder—it's been around since 1967. Slide into a black leather booth, peruse the affordable menu and choose from a dizzying array. After you order, sip on wine and enjoy the complimentary garlic breadsticks that are so good you'll want to pay for them. And don't worry about cleaning your plate—the huge portions taste even better the next day.

938 S. Euclid St., Anaheim, 92802
3012 Newport Blvd., Newport Beach, 92663
Best Coffee

Psst. Lean in close. We don't want everyone to hear. Because then they'll know. And the line will get longer. . . . Tucked inside a Chevron station on Chapman, just before the 241 and 261 toll roads, is a caffeinated oasis. Jungle Java Café serves up brews of Kéan's fair-trade beans, with the baristas trained to make those specialty drinks to perfection. We haven't had a finer café au lait outside New Orleans. And seasonal, flavored lattes and mochas aren't tooth-achingly sweet, but rather crafted with your taste buds in mind. It's the perfect way to get you ready for your next adventure, even if your grand road trip takes you no farther than your office.

8544 E. Chapman Ave., Orange, 92869
2043 Westcliff Dr., Newport Beach, 92660
13681 Newport Ave., Tustin, 92780
Best Local Roaster

Wilson Coffee hits every check mark—organic, fair trade, locally roasted, mom-and-pop—and gets brownie points for being historical. It began as Alta Coffee in 1984 (yep, that Alta Coffee), originally a business owned by Patti Spooner and Tony Wilson; after Alta sold in the 1990s, Wilson opened, well, Wilson. After he retired a couple of years back, a longtime employee asked to purchase the venture—turns out it was Spooner's nephew. Today, the hunky Jim Schwartz runs Wilson as a one-man show out of his Costa Mesa warehouse. His California Certified Organic Farmers-approved organic beans are given a cleaner roast with the fluid bottom method, which means you can actually taste the beans in every cup and one of the reasons why Seaworth uses it for all its cold brews. Buy it at Grower's Ranch in Newport Beach or try it at the North Left, Monkey Business, Ho Sum Bistro and a slew of other hip businesses. Soon enough, you'll understand the slogan "If you're out of Wilson Coffee, you're fucked."

1651 Placentia Ave., Costa Mesa, 92627
Best Restaurant
Taco Maria Critics' Pick
Taco Maria

Each time Carlos Salgado takes on a new challenge, he has not only succeeded—but he has raised a bar that everyone futilely tries to grasp as he goes on to the next stupendous height. When the Orange native returned home from years in San Francisco to open a taco truck, Salgado quickly dominated OC's luxe lonchera scene with nuanced, delicious tacos and burritos. When Salgado evolved from that into a brick-and-motor, he immediately wowed with a four-course prix fixe menu that challenged everyone's idea of what a Mexican restaurant should be. When Salgado finally worked out the opening-day kinks to offer his vision of alta cocina—locally sourced meats and veggies centered on the seasons, but with flavors that maintained Mexican food's wab essence—it immediately called out all of OC's usual fine-dining suspects for their simplicity. And then Salgado offered this H-bomb: aguachile, a seafood dish from the cantina scene transformed into something simultaneously as delicate as papel picado yet as menacing as a Cadetes de Linares accordion riff. Salgado isn't done yet: Taco Maria recently introduced brunch, and the new No. 2 is Roland Rubalcava, giving Taco Maria the best 1-2 punch since Muhammad Ali's jab-and-cross.

3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626
3333 S. Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 92626
Best Breakfast Burrito

We've been raving about the breakfast burritos here for nearly a decade, and this Buena Park dive is finally getting national recognition. In ESPN's Burrito Bracket, which seeks to identify the best burrito in the United States via a combination of data-mining and experts that includes our resident Mexican, Athenian Burgers #3 was placed in the Group of Death, alongside Hall of Famers Al and Bea's, La Azteca Tortilleria, and Manny's El Tepeyac. But rather than fold in the face of Mariana Trench-style pressure, critic Anna Maria Barry Jester gave it 94 of a possible 100 points, losing out on the crown by just two points. "My only complaint," Barry Jester wrote, "was that I couldn't put the burrito down."

8511 La Palma Ave., Buena Park, 90620

Best Vegan Restaurant: Au Lac


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