Welcome to our annual Top 5 countdown, where our SAFII writers tell you what impressed them over the past year! Here, we have food critic Edwin Goei's Top 5 Drinks and Restaurants – enjoy, and dig in!
Edwin Goei's Top 5 Drinks of 2017:
5. Pabst Blue Ribbon at The Cut
Mondays are a drag. But Monday dinner doesn't have to be. That's when The Cut offers a cheeseburger and a beer for $10. The cheeseburger is a two-fisted affair with good meat, a sturdy bun, and melty cheese. And the beer is PBR, nothing more, nothing less. But it's just the thing I want to wash this burger down. I like this deal a lot. My Mondays are better because of it. The fancy microbrews I save for Friday. 3831 Alton Pkwy., Irvine, (949) 386-8547; thecuthcb.com.
4. Ten Fidy at Lido Bottle Works
The ABV of Ten Fidy, a stout that Lido Bottle Works offers, is a whopping 10.5%. But you don't feel it as you sip this viscous and malty brew. Instead you taste hints of chocolate-covered caramel and coffee, almost as if Ovaltine was involved. It goes well with everything, but especially anything Lido Bottle Works' chef Joel Harrington might cook. 3408 Via Oporto, Ste. 103, Newport Beach, (949) 529-2784; lidobottleworks.com.
3. Shiso Naughty at Ra Sushi
Despite being named Shiso Naughty, an eye-roll inducing name if ever there was one, the pink liquid—made from Skyy Pineapple Vodka, X-rated Liquor, yuzu and shiso—tasted as though it was an alcoholic version of a bottle of Snapple Kiwi-Strawberry. It's sticky. It's sweet. And it's probably be the only thing you should be ordering at Ra Sushi the next time you'll inevitably end up here. 2401 Park Ave., Tustin, (714) 566-1700; rasushi.com.
2. Elixirs at Water Brewery
The Elixirs at Water Brewery are as refreshing as the vegetarian food that chefs Carli Savedra and Raya Belna serve at this restaurant/water store. There are various flavors made from goji berries, damiana, graviola, and other ingredients that sound like they came right out of Potions class at Hogwarts. Each drink is named after what they're supposed to do to you once consumed. The Euphoria is a spirit uplifter and the Dream is supposed to elicit lucid dreams. And most can be made alcoholic. Do these drink work as advertised? While I can attest to feeling euphoric, I can't say whether it was the berries that did it or the booze. 1125 Victoria St., Ste. A, Costa Mesa, (714) 499-9977; www.thewaterbrewery.com.
1. Agadir Dunes at Marrakesh
Mahia is the fig brandy of Morocco. Marrakesh uses the cocktail for a drink the restaurant calls Agadir Dunes. Since every other cocktail on the menu are merely rearrangements of vodka and off-the-shelf fruit liquors, if you want a truly authentic Moroccan experience, it's the only drink you should order. Only the Agadir Dunes features mahia. For the cocktail, the 80-proof spirit is paired with sweet vermouth and served over ice. If there was a Western equivalent in flavor, it'd be Maker's Mark, but with a subtle undercurrent of sticky sweet fig and the warmth of anise at the back end. Sip it in between bites of Marrakesh's food, but especially the spicier stews, which complements it well. 1976 Newport Blvd, Costa Mesa, (949) 645-8384; www.marrakeshdining.com.
Edwin Goei's Top 5 Restaurants of 2017:
5. Burritos La Palma
Burritos La Palma are small and slender, no bigger than a New York-style egg roll. There's no bulk from rice, guacamole or sour cream. This is a burrito laser-focused on two things: the tortilla and the meat. The flour tortillas are from owner Albert Bañuelos' family recipe and, quite frankly, are the best ever constructed by a mortal man. On the inside, they chew like the doughy part of a buttery croissant, but on the outside, they're as delicate as a crepe. And when they're wrapped around Bañuelos' wet fillings, they create a burrito worthy of the Gods. 410 N. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (657) 266-0575; www.burritoslapalma.net.
4. Mhat Korean Restaurant
The kind, middle-aged women at Mhat offer home-style dishes—comforting soups and stews and things that warm you from the inside out. Their signature dish is dahk galbi, a stew that morphs into at least three other dishes as you eat it. It begins as a soup, but then the soup reduces and thickens into a spicy glaze that coats everything—the sliced potatoes, the cabbage, and the morsels chicken. And when you're almost finished, one of the women will add rice to the dregs and stir-fry it to make a risotto-like dish. 8412 Moody St., La Palma, (714) 252-5033.
3. Mix Mix Kitchen Bar
Ross Pangilinan's Mix Mix Kitchen Bar is post-Impressionist Filipino—exactly the restaurant I've always hoped Pangilinan (who previously dazzled Costa Mesa theater patrons at Leatherby's Cafe Rouge) would do. This is Filipino cuisine cooked with abstract brush strokes. And as a fan, it was fun for me to look for where Pangilinan has slipped in the patis and the calamansi. Sometimes he does it so subliminally it's like a magic trick. I'm convinced there's nothing Pangilinan produces at Mix Mix that's not brimming with the creativity of an artist in full bloom. He's at the top of his craft and where he belongs: in Santa Ana, which is—to borrow what Van Gogh wrote about the South of France—where the whole future of Orange County food is to be found. 300 N. Main St., Santa Ana, (714) 836-5158; www.mixmixkitchenbar.com.
It can be hard to get a reservation on a Saturday night at this clubby restaurant within a restaurant. You need to plan your dinner at least a month in advance, but it's worth it—and not just for the ambiance but for the food, which is Vietnamese for insiders who already know where to get the best bánh xèo and hu tieu. And for those who are from the same generation as its chef Tin Vuong, he blasts old-school hip-hop that's heavy on Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg. When the whole house sings along to "Gin and Juice," you realize how essential it is to the whole experience as the nuoc mam is to the food. 21016 Pacific Coast Hwy., Ste. D200, Huntington Beach, (714) 374-0083; dinebluegold.com/lsxo.
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1. Roux Creole Cuisine
Roux feels like a neighborhood joint made for locals who know one another by name. There's a noticeable lack of ego here, not just from the staff, but also from the customers. No matter what I've tried, I've not met a dish here that I didn't want to savor slowly and last forever. Even the lowliest side of red beans and rice is scrumptious and addictive, with every forkful of legume and grain bursting with the flavors of ham, andouille sausage and the Creole alchemy of chef Norm Theard. 860 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach, (949) 715-3707; www.rouxcreole.com.