Welcome to our annual Top 5 countdown, where most of our our SAFII writers tell you what impressed them over the past year! Here, restaurant critic Edwin Goei tell you what he loved—enjoy, and drink up!
5. Shimauta Awamori at Habuya
If you settle on the Shimauta Awamori at Habuya, the only Okinawan restaurant in OC, you'll find it's as harsh a drink as any of the others on the list. It burns and is unapologetically alcoholic, but also with a delicate and subtle herbal note as soon as the initial sting burns off. The longer you let it get diluted in the ice, the softer its bite gets and the more pronounced its other qualities become. But it's actually the perfect Okinawan drink to accompany the goya chanpuru, a stir fry of bittermelon and Spam, which is as quintessentially Okinawan as the awamori. 14215 Red Hill Ave., Tustin,
4. Hawaiian Pineapple Cosmopolitan at Seasons 52
Happy Hour (which lasts from 4-6:30 p.m. on weekdays) is the best time to go to Seasons 52. The small plates are offered for about $5 a pop, but most importantly, the Hawaiian Pineapple Cosmopolitan is sold for $8 when it would normally cost $13. When you consider that the drink is almost all alcohol (made with pineapple vodka and Patrón Citrónge) and they give you the shaker in which the bartender shook the thing with shards of ice, it's a bargain no matter how you, er, shake it. You'll consume what ends up being two and a half martini glasses of the fruity elixir. 3333 Bristol St., #2802, Costa Mesa
3. Bloody Mary at JT Schmid's
Unlike most trendy Bloody Mary's out there these days, JT Schmid's Bloody Mary comes with nothing but the requisite garnishes: olives, a celery stalk, lime, and a salt-rimmed glass. It's all that's needed and necessary to complement the drink's spicy tang and vodka burn. And it's the perfect drink to balance the rich and runny yolks of the huevos rancheros you should also be having. Why does it match so nicely with the dish? Because there's really only a fine line between a Bloody Mary and a big glass of boozed-up salsa. 2415 Park Ave., Tustin,
2. Old Fashioned Chai at Wokcano
The Old Fashioned Chai at Wokcano is the kind of cocktail you sip with one elbow propped up on a leather chair while calling your secretary "doll" on the office intercom. The main components are a Japanese whiskey called Iwai and Laird's, an all-American apple brandy. There's also Indian chai in it, and an orange peel, but they're in the background. Instead, the first sip numbs the tongue as though it's covered in fur—a testament to its potency and the ice that's shaped into a ball to delay dilution. 3015 El Camino Real, Tustin,
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1. Popping Blood Orange Boba Martini at Din Tai Fung
If you're going to order alcohol at Din Tai Fung, it might as well be the Popping Blood Orange Boba Martini, a martini that's equal parts James Bond and Jackie Chan. It's a particularly strong drink, with Ketel One Orange, Solerno Liqueur, and lemonade shaken so vigorously, the surface glistens with fine ice crystals. But then, the boba goes in and so does one of those giant neon-colored boba straws. You probably won't ever catch Agent 007 sipping this drink, even if Din Tai Fung ends up sponsoring the next film. Not even Daniel Craig can make sucking up boba from a martini glass look cool. 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, CA 92626