Can you believe it's been less than a year?
Can you believe it's been less than a year?
Photo by Charles Lam

Charles' Top 5 Restaurants of 2014

Sometimes, I wish life were more like Last.fm, and I could see all the data behind where I ate and went on a whim (Does Foursquare do this? If it doesn't, it should). That would've made putting this list together a lot easier, because as I scrolled through my Instagram feed I kept thinking to myself, "Yeah, this is a lot of food posts, but I'm sure I ate more".

I mean, I can come up with a list of places I love pretty easy, but what if I'm forgetting someone?

Alas, the Internet does not yet keep track of everywhere I go--and if it does, it won't tell me--so I'll go with my gut. Here are my favorite restaurants food places of 2014.

5. Afters Ice Cream

Can you believe it's been less than a year?
Can you believe it's been less than a year?
Photo by Charles Lam

I'm fairly certain that Afters' milky bun was Orange County's biggest food craze this year, but that's not why this ice cream shop is making it on the list. The reason isn't because I love the story behind it either, no, it's because I truly love their ice cream.

If you still haven't tried it, you should! By now, the lines have died down to still-existent, but manageable, and the flavors at Afters are some of my favorites. Every time I travel, I visit the city's top ice cream spot, and Afters deserves to be ours. Their flavors represent Orange County perfectly, from the jasmine milk tea and Vietnamese iced coffee, to the churro and milk and cereal and cookie monster.

Get it in a milky bun if you have to, but don't feel obligated, because they're good either way. Now if they'd only open another, OC location..

4. The Playground

Can I just taste this forever?
Can I just taste this forever?
Photo by Charles Lam

By now, most of you who would go to the Playground have been to the Playground, I know, but Jason Quinn's restaurant and the darling of downtown SanTana's East End still deserves the love it gets. Whenever people visit (and are from a place with decent Mexican and Vietnamese food), I take them to the Playground. However, their appearance this year is because of one specific dish.

It's their apple cider sorbet.

It's literally one of the best thing's I've ever eaten. If I see it on the menu again, I will most likely be headed there for dinner that night, so yeah, you all should go if you have the chance. 3. Robert Earl's Barbecue

I ate all of it
I ate all of it
Photo by Charles Lam

When it came to American barbecue, I used to be way into pork and only pork. Yes, I love cow, but I never got the whole Texas-style brisket thing. "Why not just make a roast?," I thought.

Well, earlier this year, I ate at Robert Earl's, and my life has changed. I still have a soft spot for pork ribs, but that brisket is ridiculous. It's cut thin, barely needs to be chewed, and actually makes you hungrier as you eat it. There's nothing more you could want. The sides are solid, and everything else is tip top, but the brisket? Unworldly.

So go get it, with their spicy sauce on the side. You can thank me later.

2.Seoulmate

Taking pictures of half-eaten burritos is kind of difficult
Taking pictures of half-eaten burritos is kind of difficult
Photo by Charles Lam

My favorite non-barbecue restaurant in Long Beach is a tiny little purple house on 7th that puts out the best Korean-Mexi-Ameri-fusion burritos in the world.

The filings at Seoulmate are great, and the price point is perfect (and don't get me started on how good the playlist or how cute the seating area is), but the reason the burritos so perfect are because of one single thing: How amazing the flour tortillas are.

They straight up bewilder me. The gluten matrix is strong enough to hold together a burrito that'd put anything from Chipotle to shame, and yet it's just so delicate to the point that you can peel layers off as you eat. Throw in the nice bit of crunch from the toasted burrito seam, and you get a tortilla that's doesn't just hold together some food, you get a tortilla that's legitimately wonderful eat.

And it comes out of a tiny little purple house.

1. Pokinometry

It's so much larger than it looks
It's so much larger than it looks
Photo by Charles Lam

Pokinometry is my most visited restaurant of the year, and I only started regularly going there in September.

I'll leave you now with what I wrote about it during our annual 100 Favorites grind:

First off, it's so humble. The restaurant serves its food in plastic bowls with plastic utensils for goodness' sake, but everything is still so tasty. And then there's the deceptive portions. At $10, the large bowl might not look as big as you thought it was going to be, but it's dense with fish-y, sushi-rice-y goodness that leaves me barely wanting more.

Oh, and the variety. You can get your bowl with tuna or salmon or spicy tuna sure, but why not try some octopus or scallops or shrimp. At five scoops of fish for a large bowl or three for a small bowl, there's no reason not to.

But of course, the most important thing is flavor, and if you didn't read Edwin's review, I'll give you a Tl;dr: Everything there is delightful. The tuna is firm, the salmon is rich, the scallops are delicate. The shrimp and the octopus are both beautifully toothsome. And the rice is light and well-seasoned. The most important part of the bowl might actually be the avocado and surimi. I'm not the biggest fan of fake crab, but when you stir everything together and pop a spoonful in your mouth. Well, it sure does marry everything wonderfully.

So, go and eat, and have a happy New Year, everyone!

Follow Stick a Fork In It on Twitter @ocweeklyfood or on Facebook! And don't forget to download our free Best Of App here!

You can also follow Charles Lam on Twitter @charlesnlam and Instagram @charlesnlam. He's less sardonic there, we swear.

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