If last year was spent finding our footing, this year was spent embracing our
petiteness concentrated awesomeness. On the Line got a nip/tuck, and our subjects had more to discuss than ever (We're talking to YOU, Matt Strickland and Dean Kim). Our culinary crew discussed comings and goings, but we always contemplated our top five.
Where did we find knowledgeable artisans honing in on their craft? Establishments that cared as much about their service as their product. What we concluded surprised even us. Of course, there's a couple of high end. And yes, we found a consistent lonchera and great brekkie. That's what we love, and this is how we roll.
5. The RANCH Restaurant & Saloon
They're a culinary dream team. Andrew Edwards regularly resides in his ground floor ode to rustic cooking and country two-step. Michael Jordan helms an assertive, yet approachable wine cellar. Brothers Rossi run a duo of tight ships--on the one end, high-end hospitality showcasing hearty meats, quirky desserts and that wagon wheel of bread. Next door, a hootenanny of proper country dance with excellent seafood(?), to boot. We'd be out there doing the cowboy cha cha if we weren't busy eating. 1025 E Ball Rd, Anaheim, (714) 817-4200; www.theranch.com.
4. Early Bird
Hands down our favorite meal of the day, a solid breakfast is always welcome. North county needed more street cred, and it was found perched atop a hill at the intersection of Bastanchury and Brea Boulevard. While we're still a little ticked that Mahon took on a pet project while building his burger parlor, this was a fair trade-off. With a savory, non-traditional Benediction and omelets that don't repeat cheeses, we like debating skillet potatoes versus hash browns. 1000 'B' E Bastanchury Rd, Fullerton, (714) 529-4100; www.earlybird.com.
3. Waffles de Liege
Model T Fords and In-N-Out Burgers share a commonality: both are specialized products done well. That's how we feel about the Liege waffles from this particular luxe lonchera. Our sweet tooth can be as unimpressed as a certain Olympic gymnast, but biting into a burst of pearl sugar is golden. This ain't your frozen Eggo; it's the eye candy Instagram accounts were created for. The "Wu-Tai clan" (George and Lawrence, respectively) bounces between counties, sharing their love of Fosselman's and speculoos in Garden Grove, Yorba Linda, Buena Park, even Los Alamitos. If only every al fresco meal concluded with a little waffling over dessert. www.wafflesdeliege.com.
2. Green Bliss
Delicious and meatless are rarely said in the same breath. However, the ladies of Downtown Fullerton's environmentally conscious enterprise please carnivores and herbivores alike with thoughtful sandwiches and flatbreads. Our preferred is the curried chickpea salad panini, where varying texture, color and flavor marry for the perfect bite. Rita Ho and Allison Tan maximize the modest layout with retail and community space for workshops. With the assistance of Alexandra LittleJohn, they were the first in the county to utilize multiple organic coffee roasters. Take your beverage to the enclosed courtyard and sit for a spell. 305 N Harbor Blvd, Suite 103, Fullerton, (714) 773-0018; www.green-bliss.com.
1. Mare Culinary Lounge
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If Cucina Alessa is family-friendly, Mare is where you go for date night. Sharing real estate with a Holiday Inn, it's our hidden gem along Pacific Coast Highway. Open until at least midnight daily, a rendezvous in daylight hours is just as effective as after work cocktails in the lounge. Bathed in icy silver and blue, the sultry vibe entices us to find someone to make out with. Instead, we order the polipo Mediterranean - braised octopus carpaccio with baby caper berries. For us to thoroughly enjoy seafood and carpaccio together is a stretch, yet we simply can't get enough of this nor the limoncello infused mafaldine (signature pasta with lobster tail). Having Alessandro and his team refer to female clientele as "Bella!" is music to our ears. 696 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, (949) 715-9581; www.mareculinarylounge.com.