Anne Marie's Top Five Restaurants Of 2014!

Shellfish at its finest
Shellfish at its finest
Anne Marie Panoringan

I spend the whole damn year thinking about whether a place I'm at could make Top 5. What I've come to learn is that my instinct is generally right. If it's good, I won't have to think about it. I'll go without hesitation, and the menu will make me smile every time.

5. Honda-Ya Box

Comfort food defined
Comfort food defined
Anne Marie Panoringan

When they quietly opened in Costa Mesa over a year ago, it was my answer to the waiting game outside its older Tustin sibling. With a solid menu, zero tatami rooms and fewer alcohol selections (read: not an izakaya), Honda-Ya Box provided the comfort I desired, minus the standing around. Rich curry plates, blue crab musubi and more or less everything else made our meals relaxing ones. Perfect when there's a chill in the air, it fits the bill for any occasion. Just ask Edwin-- I dragged him there for my birthday lunch.

4. Oak Grill

Marc loves his seafood
Marc loves his seafood
Anne Marie Panoringan

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After a massive remodel of The Island Hotel, I wondered what upscale restaurant concept would move in. Resort dining in Newport went up a notch when Oak Grill launched mid-summer, with a tandoori-seasoned ahi I consistently ordered. They may be partially eclipsed by the snow flurries and bustle of Aqua Lounge next door, but that doesn't prevent Marc Johnson (a Le Cordon Bleu grad who studied under Studio's original chef, James Boyce) from serving a refined experience. Bonus points for not having to deal with the parking lot that is Fashion Island.

3. TJ's Woodfire Pizza

Obviously a winner
Obviously a winner
Anne Marie Panoringan

My luxe lonchera days were numbered, having felt as though I've experienced most of what was out there. Also, I am a die-hard, Chicago-style pizza eater. Yet it took one visit with a trusted gal pal to turn me on to the hot grub that is TJ's. Request extra char for pies that are toothsome and made with care. The Prima is brunch when I'm at the Sunday Farmer's Market at Great Park. Old school tastes will want the sausage, pepperoni and Carmelina tomato love that is Big Al's. Tim took a concept that conceptually shouldn't work, and made it his own.



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