Shuji's Top Five Restaurants for 2010

Knockout Punch
Flickr user Alaskan Dude

Regular readers know I'm an unabashed champion of the one-dish specialist restaurant. So with this perspective in mind, I offer my top five new-ish restaurants with a very specific focus that knocked me out in 2010.

1. Seabirds Truck

Whatever that is, I'll take two, please.
Whatever that is, I'll take two, please.
Photo by Kimberly Valenzuela

Let's start with the fact that Seabirds serves an all-vegan menu with an appeal to anyone interested in creative, delicious food.  They're on this list because it's the first vegan restaurant that this meatatarian will gleefully return to time and again.

Maybe I'm a little jaded with the idea of fusion tacos from a truck (so 2008!). As we grazed among the ho-hum usual suspects at a recent truck rally, only Seabirds pitched a knuckleball of a dish that brushed past my face and knocked me back on my heels: Jamaican jerk-seasoned jackfruit tacos.

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Just as "green" mangos and papayas are shredded and treated as a vegetable in Thailand, so is the unripe flesh of the jackfruit. In Seabirds' kitchen, the shredded fruit comes out with a texture shockingly like smoked pulled pork. I'm in no danger of going vegan any time soon, but if I did, I'd start by hanging with the flock of Seabirds and learning a few things to add to my bag of cooking tricks. and

2. Valhalla Table

Hot wings from Valhalla Table with Belgian frites
Hot wings from Valhalla Table with Belgian frites

I'm not usually prone to "Los-Angeles-has-so-many-more-and-better-restaurants" whine-envy mainly because I work there, but I felt it when I ate at the hipster lounge of sausage and beer called Wurstküche in the warehouse district of downtown L.A.

After hanging there this summer, I so wanted our own local version, only to learn that Valhalla Table opened in Costa Mesa this past January to fulfill that longing. It's a man-cave of house-made sausages with a carefully selected beer menu. The Indonesian family that owns it also owns Irvine's Layer Cake Bakery, which explains the Asian flavors intermingled with the Belgian-German menu.

Order the Asian-sounding items if you're open to big flavors and a biting heat. The hot chicken wings are sauced with a spicy sambal rather than the more typical Buffalo sauce. I tried and loved the Wild Boar Balinese sausage, with a side order of sambal balado. The sausage is heavily spiked with ginger and lemongrass as the top notes. Topped with the sambal, a chili-spiked fresh tomato concassé, that wild boar sandwich is a hand grenade of heat and flavor waiting to explode.

Pair it with a big, hoppy beer to stand up to all that spice, like the IPA from Anaheim's Noble Ale Works on tap, and all of a sudden, that drive in traffic to downtown L.A. seems all the more unnecessary. 2981 Bristol St., #B2 Costa Mesa. (714) 549-2960.

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