Hint to restaurants: you'll get in my better graces if you offer great, non-alcoholic drinks. Beverages rank high on my palate, and I'll never forget the banana soda offered by a long-gone Honduran restaurant. Here, then, were my favorite drinks of the year.
1. Maker's Mark, neat, at Memphis at the Santora. Yes, you can get Maker's near everywhere, since the cool kids want to play hillbilly nowadays (but do they know the joys of getting blotto in high school on Jim Beam while cranking "Rocky Top" by the Osborne Brothers, followed by Hank Williams? Don't ask). But Memphis' bartenders remain top-notch, the danger for random hectoring is always amusingly high, and the cast of regulars is fast approaching Cheers level. Memphis at the Santora. 201 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 564-1064; www.memphiscafe.com.
2. Rosewater at Cafe Matinee. This Lake Forest Lebanese treasure actually sells two other drinks--date and mulberry juice--you probably won't find anywhere else in the county. But it's their rose water that is the best revelation, something so luxuriant you'll want to pour on someone and get, um, romantic. 23532 El Toro Rd., Ste. 15, Lake Forest, (949) 588-7511.
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3. Mint tea at Kareem's Restaurant. I did this review years ago, and the quality of the food has never suffered. The falafels are still the best in Orange County, the owners still kind. End all meals with the mint tea--you'll never use sugar again. 1208 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim, (714) 778-6829.
4. Whatever the hell green or red syrup a lot of Thai restaurants sell. You know what I'm talking about--a Christmas-red or -green drink usually called "red syrup" or "green syrup" or--in the mysterious case of Wheel of Life in Irvine--"blue boy." Is it native to Thailand? An Americanized take? Nothing more than syrup? Whatever it is, it's liquid crack. At most any Thai restaurant in Orange County.
5. Free water virtually at every restaurant. Better be grateful for what we have now, amigos!
Thus ends my blogging here for 2008. Gracias, thank you, gracias, to the loyal readers I can think off the top of my head (Melissa, hungrymomma & poppa, Cesar, Wonginator, DiamonDog, DanGarion, Ben Dayhoe), to the rest of you, and to all the commentators. Tune in on Monday, Jan. 5, for more great restaurants, crappy openings, scandals, and a lot of other desmadre. In the meanwhile, "Rocky Top"!