Dave's Top Five Restaurants of 2013

Aleppo's Kitchen's pomegranate dip
Aleppo's Kitchen's pomegranate dip
Dave Lieberman

I used to throw this list together; I picked my favorite restaurants and dashed off the paragraphs in just a few minutes. Apparently, though, some of you are foolish enough to give a damn what I think about food.

I'll be frank; I'm jaded. I'm tired of the food hype machine, every PR person's wet dream, tantalizing me with menu descriptions that far outshine the dish they describe. I'm tired of my iPhone's photo roll being full of photographs of mediocre food I took on the off chance I might need it later. I've eaten dozens of disappointing meals this year. I've eaten meals where the chef obviously didn't taste the dish; I've eaten hundreds of thousands of calories in search of something that inspired me enough to write about it.

Here are the top five restaurants in our publication area (our list for Baja California will come out soon). I look forward to the moments in 2014 where I send an excited text message to a foodie colleague in Las Vegas, taunting him that it isn't available there.

5. Aleppo's Kitchen

I was so taken with Aleppo's that I wrote an online sidebar the same day Gustavo published his This Hole-In-The-Wall Life review. The hallmark of a vibrant cultural community is the existence of food specialists, and that's exactly what this hidden gem is: a specialist in kibbeh, the meat-and-bulgur pies of the Levant. It isn't just that, though they're excellent; they also don't pull any punches with flavors. Things with za'atar are like a sesame-scented throat punch; when they use pomegranate, the intense sourness can permeate your dreams.

Dave's Top Five Restaurants of 2013
Courtesy of Broadway by Amar Santana

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4. Broadway by Amar Santana

The shiny-new has rubbed off of Broadway; it's been around for long enough to become a locals' standby. The departure of the screaming Yelpies ("first to review! first to review!") hasn't affected the quality one bit. They still have some of the best fries in Orange County, and while the plates are still ridiculously oversized for the tiny tables, it's what's on the plates that counts. If you really want a fun dinner, sit at the kitchen counter and watch everything from a fryer to an immersion circulator be employed to get you your dinner. And if they have octopus--order it, no matter the preparation.

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