Best of OC

Best Of 2017

Neighborhoods

  • + 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
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Food & Drink

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

Best Middle Eastern Restaurant
Olive Tree Restaurant

It has been a long time coming, but Olive Tree Restaurant is finally expanding into its own prowess. The Palestinian-owned eatery in the heart of Anaheim's Little Arabia boasts a new location, logo, menu items, outdoor patio seating and late-night hours. And while we miss the old location just on the other side of Little Arabia Plaza, all the growth doesn't come at the expense of anything that made Olive Tree heavenly in the past. The kitchen still serves up legendary lamb shanks so tender the meat slides off the bone and into your stomach. Olive Tree offered mansaaf specials (a Jordanian lamb dish soaked in a yogurt sauce) on Fridays before anyone else in town did, and it's still the best way to start a weekend off right. And with bigger digs? The restaurant's amazing iftar buffets draw huge crowds during Ramadan, but without the long lines of old.

518 S. Brookhurst St., Ste. 1, Anaheim, (714) 535-2878; facebook.com/OliveTree.AnaheimCa.

Readers' Choice: Olive Pit Grill

518 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, 92804
MAP
714-535-2878
Best Korean Restaurant

The kind, middle-aged women at Mhat offer home-style dishes—comforting soups and stews and things that warm you from the inside out. Their signature dish is dahk galbi, a stew that morphs into at least three other dishes as you eat it. What begins as a soup of dark-meat chicken swimming in a gochujang-tinted broth with sliced potatoes, cabbage, chewy rice cakes, hard-boiled eggs and perilla leaves transforms as you eat it. The soup reduces and thickens into a spicy glaze that coats everything. And when you're nearly finished, one of the women will add rice to the dregs and stir-fry it to make a risotto-like dish. You leave with a distended tummy and a feeling as though you've been fed and coddled by a Korean mom.

8412 Moody St., La Palma, (714) 252-5033.

Readers' Choice: Hashigo Korean Kitchen

8412 Moody St., La Palma, 90623
MAP
714-252-5033
Best Restaurant
Taco María Critics' Pick
Taco María

We tried to give this award to someone else­—we really did. But when we recently visited, we got a surprise: chumiles, a sort of stinkbug. Our guest looked at it and gagged, then actually ate it. Served as an appetizer, it was a small bowl filled with glistening balls. The chumiles had the crunch of corn nuts and the flavor of beef; dressed with salt, lime and pequín powder, this dish alone beats every restaurant in Orange County for originality, sustainability, execution and flavor. That most diners will probably eschew it only shows how backward we remain as a dining county—and how light-years ahead of everyone else Carlos Salgado and his Taco María remain. Better luck next year, OC restaurants who want to become the best in the land, because you'll need it to topple el rey.

3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 538-8444; www.tacomaria.com.

Readers' Choice: THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon

3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, 92626
MAP
714-538-8444
Best Meat-and-Potatoes Dish

You'll never regard Costco's chicken the same way again after you see what Hendrix is able to do with an oversized Ronco rotisserie. It produces chicken so juicy and a porchetta so sumptuous it becomes a stinging rebuke of every dry chicken and pork chop you've ever had. But the best thing that comes out of that rotating contraption is actually the lamb. Brought out sliced on a warmed dish, it's served above a pool of chicken jus and alongside tiny potatoes roasted by the meat drippings. It's easily OC's best lamb outside Anaheim's Little Arabia.

32431 Street of the Golden Lantern, Laguna Niguel, (949) 248-1912; hendrixoc.com.

32431 Street of the Golden Lantern, Laguna Niguel, 92677
MAP
949-248-1912
Best Chef
Dee Nguyen Critics' Pick
Dee Nguyen
Kimberly Valenzuela

His 17-course pop-up dinners are the stuff of legend and sell out within hours of being announced; South County housewives ditch their Pilates class for a chance at Nguyen's cast-iron desserts and tempura Scotch eggs. Friends and family indulge in his homemade mead or tepache, while everyone can take home a bottle of his Viet-Mex hot sauce, equal parts tangy and chingón. Instagram followers get daily lessons of Nguyen's foraging adventures in the Orange County wilderness. And the Break of Dawn owner has a heart: When Hurricane Harvey wrecked Houston, Nguyen immediately announced a fundraiser, with all funds going to a legit nonprofit that will spend the money to feed folks immediately. All humans should aspire to be like Nguyen, and all chefs should try to pal up with him to learn even a little bit. And Nguyen? He just does him.

Break of Dawn, 24291 Avenida de la Carlota, Ste. P-4, Laguna Hills, (949) 587-9418; breakofdawnrestaurant.com.

24291 Avenida de la Carlota, Laguna Hills, 92653
MAP
949-587-9418
Best Burrito

Albert Bañuelos' burritos are small and slender, no bigger than a New York-style egg roll. There's no bulk from rice, guacamole or sour cream. Instead it's laser-focused on two things: the tortilla and the meat. The flour tortillas are from a secret family recipe and, quite frankly, are the best ever constructed by a mortal man not from Sonora. On the inside, it chews like the doughy part of a buttery croissant, but on the outside, it's as delicate as a crepe. Most important, these tortillas aren't dry or mealy. And when they're wrapped around Bañuelos' wet fillings, they create a burrito that has no equal.

410 N. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (657) 266-0575; www.burritoslapalma.net.

Readers' Choice: El Pollo Norteño

410 N. Bristol St., Santa Ana, 92703
MAP
657-266-0575
Best Hot Dog/Brats

If you've eaten at a better sausage sandwich restaurant than Wursthaus, you were probably at LA's Wurstküche, the original hipster sausage-sandwich joint that inspired this place and others of its kin. Even if Wursthaus is the "Blurred Lines" to Wurstküche's "Got to Give It Up," it gets the details right. The beer collection is good. The sausages are juicy and full of snap. The pretzel buns are hearty, and the sauerkraut crisp and fresh. This is imitation at its most flattering and delicious.

305 E. Fourth St., Ste. 106, Santa Ana, (714) 760-4333; wursthausdtsa.com.

Readers' Choice: Portillo's

305 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, 92701
MAP
714-760-4333
Best Fish Taco

Brent Omeste is the taquero behind Centro Collective, the dueling taco-and-pizza shop in Lake Forest he opened this year with partner Chad Urata. Omeste makes all kinds of tacos, from a chicken with crispy wisps of meat easily mistaken for carnitas to a vegetarian with a fried-cheese disc enveloping squash blossoms, mushrooms and zucchini that even a carnivore would love. But his masterpiece might be the beer-battered fish he cradles inside a soft tortilla with a caesar-dressed slaw. But you shouldn't stop at the tacos. Have a few of Urata's pizzas, too. When you're lucky enough to be in a restaurant that honors two of the most assimilated ethnic foods in America under one roof but isn't a Pizza Hut and a Taco Bell, be sure to have everything.

24531 Trabuco Rd., stes. E-F, Lake Forest, (949) 305-5224; www.centrocollective.com.

Readers' Choice: California Fish Grill

24531 Trabuco Rd., Lake Forest, 92630
MAP
949-305-5224
Best Bakery

Started 40 years ago in Glendale, Porto's has since become not only the quintessential immigrant success story, but also a Southern California institution. The cheese rolls are always ethereal and crisp; the potato balls, soft and fragrant of cumin. But the real reason everyone waits in line at the Buena Park location (or heck, every branch) is because of how low its prices are. Where else can you get a birthday cake that serves a dozen people for less than $25 that actually tastes good? In fact, Porto's has become so prevalent and beloved for those cakes that it would be strange to encounter a birthday party without one. And it's for this reason that Porto's may be the best bakery of our generation.

7640 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, (714) 367-2030; www.portosbakery.com.

Readers' Choice: Porto's Bakery & Cafe

7640 Beach Blvd., Buena Park, 90620
MAP
714-367-2030
Best Malaysian Restaurant

The Chinese Malaysian place Khim and Soon Teoh opened in Anaheim isn't the only restaurant to serve Malaysian food in the county. It's actually the second. But Seasons Kitchen USA might just be the only one that matters. The char siu that tops the oil-dressed noodle is pork candy. The traditional Malaysian desserts are sublime. And though you've always been able to get nasi lemak at OC's other Malaysian restaurant, Seasons Kitchen's version is better by a thousand miles. The nasi, the fragrant rice enriched with coconut cream and pandan, is scrumptious—a satisfying meal on its own. But surrounded by satellites of sides such as ikan bilis (fried anchovies with peanuts), slices of cucumber, tomato, hard-boiled eggs, sambal, and a potato-and-chicken curry, the Teohs' nasi lemak runs laps around the competition—even if there really is just the one.

641 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, (714) 829-4213; seasonskitchenusa.com.

641 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, 92801
MAP
714-608-1375
Best Juice/Smoothie Shop
Cancun Juice

When you come to the realization that smoothies from the national chains are too expensive, too artificial-tasting and too loaded with calories, go to Cancun Juice and get yourself an agua fresca. You'll quickly discover these are the drinks you actually wanted when you thought you wanted a smoothie. Best of all, a Cancun Juice agua fresca will cost you almost half the price and half the calories. Then there's flavor. Without sherbet or yogurt, every agua fresca tastes like the fruit from whence it came. The watermelon agua fresca tastes like watermelons, and the strawberry agua fresca tastes, well, like strawberries! The only thing added is water and sugar. And isn't that the whole point? If you still want smoothies, Cancun Juice does those, too, but you can bet it'll still taste better and cost less than those made by the chain that rhymes with "samba shoes."

Various locations; cancunjuice.net.

Readers' Choice: Juice It Up!

Multiple Locations
Best Italian Restaurant
Salerno

Through his many restaurants, Alessandro Pirozzi has proven he knows how to create the perfect Italian eatery. For Salerno, he revamped an old red-sauce joint and transformed it into something that's simultaneously modern and classic. No, you can't get pizza (there's simply no room in the microscopic kitchen for a proper oven), but you can—for the first time in a Pirozzi-branded place—customize your meat entrée and sauce from a variety that includes elk and ostrich. Since pasta is the main draw, everything from squid-ink-tinted noodles to ravioli stuffed with rabbit can be had. With the three other Pirozzi restaurants and now Salerno, you never need to do the Never Ending Pasta Bowl® at Olive Garden.

220 Beach St., Laguna Beach, (949) 497-2600; salernolb.com.

Readers' Choice: Roma D' Italia

220 Beach St., Laguna Beach, 92651
MAP
949-497-2600
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Best Middle Eastern Restaurant: Olive Tree Restaurant

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