Edwin's Top Five Restaurants for 2013

Edwin's Top Five Restaurants for 2013
Edwin Goei as drawn by Edwin Goei

I'm going to do my list a little different than my esteemed colleagues. This year, I'm not going to list them in a countdown order; I'm going to do mine alphabetically. Why? Well because it was hard enough to narrow down the hundreds of restaurants I've eaten at this past year down to five; but most of all, I want you to visit and try ALL the one's I've narrowed it down to.

Without further ado, here are my picks for the five best restaurants of the year.

1. Coconut Rabbit

Edwin's Top Five Restaurants for 2013
Photo by Edwin Goei

Though it's located in a nondescript section of nondescript Katella Avenue in nondescript Los Alamitos, the room it occupies is an elegant, intimate, carefully curated boutique of sorts that's worthy of royalty or, at least, a first date. The restaurant is owned and operated by a woman and her niece, both formally trained by Le Cordon Bleu and bringing with them a lifetime of experience cooking Thai food. You can expect a flawless pad see ew and a curry-laced pineapple fried rice, as well as stuff you'd never see at Thai Nakorn: a carpaccio of wild king salmon, sliced thin, resting atop tumbleweeds of shredded romaine hearts; corn fritter hors d'oeuvres, each served in a tiny, crispy shell; and a panna cotta that could win top honors at the Bocuse d'Or.

2. James Republic

Edwin's Top Five Restaurants for 2013
Photo by Amanda DeFrancis

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James Republic has such lovable quirks as using jars for just about every appetizer and dessert, and recycling its old menus as doilies. And because €”what they cook changes daily, they've got a lot of old menus to go through. Named after chef Dean James Max--€”the empire-building, James Beard-nominated chef responsible for other high-achieving restaurants--€”the place counts the time since it opened, with its days printed atop the menus and scrawled on a chalkboard near the kitchen. How a dish reads one day will be different than the days before or after. Get the potato puree, which will be served in a jar you wished you had longer fingers to squeegee, and then finish with the warm, sticky toffee bread pudding, which is actually served on a plate.

3. Ritter's Steam Kettle

Edwin's Top Five Restaurants for 2013
Photo by Dustin Ames

Sit at the counter, and you'€™ll see Chef Ritter of his namesake restaurant, tend to a row of 12 stainless-steel, steam-powered kettles that look like a series of exposed plumbing. As though a priest blessing his congregants with holy water, he flicks minced garlic into each kettle with tongs, then squirts in some oil; he deposits a pre-measured amount of raw seafood into one, chicken in another, sauteing them. Next, he ladles in prepared simmering sauces from a big container. Seconds later, the stews begin to bubble, the whole thing roiling, sputtering like an evil witch's brew. The smells are intoxicating. After a few minutes, a clean bowl is set underneath, and with a quick pull on a lever, the whole thing pivots, pouring out the orders of jambalaya, etouffee, gumbo and seafood pasta. Eat them hot and fresh, and then tell your friends you've just discovered the best Cajun restaurant in OC.

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