Welcome to our annual Top 5 countdown, where our our SAFII writers tell you what impressed them over the past year! Here, Cynthia Rebolledo tells you what impressed her most this year—enjoy, and dig in!
Cynthia Rebolledo’s Top 5 Cocktails of 2017:
5. Rum and Coke at Habana Irvine
The drink is almost as much a bad Cuban cliché as a daiquiri, but Habana ups the game by deconstructing the ingredients. A tray is brought to you with an 8-ounce Coke, a small bucket of ice, a 2-ounce shot of Bacardi Superior and an empty tumbler so you can make your Cuba Libre to your liking. The flavors of sweet vanilla and almond will have you dreaming of Benny Moré—until the shouting of kids from the Spectrum's giant Ferris wheel reminds you that you're in Irvine. 708 Spectrum Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 450-1004;www.restauranthabana.com.
4. Frosé All-Day at Broadway By Amar Santana
Gabrielle Dion had us enjoying summer through rose colored glasses – with her Frosé All-Day. The vibrant drink incorporates salmon-pink Blackbird Rosé complemented with Cappelletti Aperitivo, an herbaceous mixer with a touch of citrus, bitter undertones and a wonderful dry finish. Add strawberry-rhubarb jam and fragrant grapefruit oils, and the result is full of berry flavor — crisp and refreshing. 328 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, (949) 715-8234;www.broadwaybyamarsantana.com.
3. En Arandas at El Mercado Modern Cuisine
Cocktail chingon Cesar Cerrudo is known to push boundaries, and his En Arandas is no exception. Made of layered Olmeca Altos premium Tequila, tamarind, sharp pink peppercorns, house-made strawberry liqueur and lemon – the drink is bursting with herbal notes and finishes with sweet spice. 301 N. Spurgeon St., Santa Ana, (714) 338-2446;www.mercadomodern.com.
2. Flame On!! at The Blind Pig
We believe in science! A powerful union of Bruxo No.1 Espadin agave mezcal and chipotle-infused Dolin Rouge vermouth becomes tamed when combined with bittersweet Gran Classico and Forbidden bitters, giving off a full-bodied earthy aroma. This drink gets smoked with a large, hand-cut ice cube to stimulate the already peated mezcal. The secret? Science! The result? Delicious and smoky AF! 31431 Santa Margarita Pkwy., Rancho Santa Margarita, (949) 888-0072;www.theblindpigoc.com.
1. Lt. Archie Hicox at Puzzle Bar
A full-bodied cocktail that shows off the rich smokiness of 10-year Laphroaig scotch, it's blended with bitter-sweet house-made Campari-style amaro, salted caramel dry vermouth, and sharp dashes of aromatic bitters, spicy cinnamon bitters and Madagascar bourbon vanilla bitters (all made from scratch). The infusion of sweet and salty accentuates all the flavors for a long, malty finish. Add a flaming orange twist for a redolent final accent, and you have Puzzle Bar’s glorious bastard of a cocktail. 14740 Beach Blvd., La Mirada, (714) 521-0079. Instagram: @puzzlelamirada
Cynthia Rebolledo’s Top 5 Restaurants of 2017:
5. Ember BBQ
Derrick Foster turned in his fine-dining tweezers for some hickory wood and a smoker, and showed Orange County the history, tradition, craft and testament that goes into the KC pit with his barbecue pop-up, Ember. Lucky for us, we didn’t have to wait long for Foster to land a permanent gig – starting January 4th, Ember will be taking over the Native Son Alehouse kitchen and OC will finally get BBQ that’s fire! 305 E. 4th St. #200, Santa Ana, (714) 204-0337; Follow Ember on Instagram: @emberbarbecue.
4. Kaori Sushi
Chef Gino Choi of Kaori Sushi has mastered his craft for 19 years, learning under his mentor Kikuchi at the late Kikusui in Torrance and has since gained his own loyal patrons of locals and non-locals alike. Using the same undisclosed fish distributor for the past 14 years, ordering his selection of fish every night at midnight, to have fresh fish delivered by the morning. Which explains why the salmon is fatty and melts like butter. Soon we’ll be able to enjoy nothing but Choi’s fresh cut’s of fish at a restaurant he plans to open next year offering a more traditional Japanese dining experience through an omakase, a chef’s choice, multicourse menu comprised of whatever fish is in season. 133 W. Chapman Ave., Ste. 103, Fullerton, (714) 871-9395
3. Alta Baja
We couldn’t have gotten through 2017 if it weren’t for Alta Baja owner Delilah Snell who has the elixir to our borracho problems. On the last Sunday of every month, she serves up hearty bowls of pozole rojo (until the kitchen runs out). With generous helpings of tender, slow-braised pork and hominy, the stew's savory broth can bring anyone back from the brink; paired with an ice-cold Mera Mera michelada, it's the cure to your crudo. 201 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 783-BAJA;www.altabajamarket.com.
2. Burritos La Palma
The Bañueloses have started a mini-empire, with a restaurant in El Monte, a food truck and SanTana location – with birria de res and buttery homemade flour tortillas that are combined to form a succulent palm-sized burrito that we can’t get enough of. 410 N. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (657) 266-0575;www.burritoslapalma.net.
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1. Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens
Staying true to his cooking philosophy of sustainability Chef Rich Mead of Farmhouse at Roger’s Gardens has managed to forge long-lasting relationships with the growers he works with to create dishes which can be experienced with his rotating seasonal menu – with Mead’s food, you’re eating what’s available right now, and the result is always spectacular. 2301 San Joaquin Hills Rd., Corona Del Mar, (949) 640-1415;farmhouserg.com.