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The Best Drinks in Orange County

Revolutions have been won and lost over drinks
Revolutions have been won and lost over drinks
Photo by Riley Kern/OC Weekly

The humble "drink" doesn't get the respect it should. Centuries ago, tea and coffee houses were the centers of philosophical and political discussion. The Age of Enlightenment conveniently corresponded to the rise coffee shops in Europe, and revolutions were planned around steaming glasses and kettles (in parts of the world, they still are).

Drinks of the alcoholic variety claim an even more impressive pedigree, predating even written language.

But luckily, there are those in Orange County who pay homage to the history of their drinks. We did our best to spotlight them in our Best Of 2013 issue. Best coffee, best boba, best cocktail, best shot, everyone makes an appearance. So whether you're looking for a buzz, or the other kind of buzz, read on and change the world.

Mr. VanBilliard during (slightly) simpler times
Mr. VanBilliard during (slightly) simpler times
Photo by Taylor Hamby/OC Weekly

Best Martini: Memphis at the Santora In this day and age of the cocktail renaissance, where bartenders are digging through dusty Louisville hotel menus or talking to their gramps about the days where Xs signified proof and not porn, serious drinkers have relegated martinis to the realm of Fuzzy Navels and Screaming Orgasms. That's why it's great to see Jefferson Van Billiard, head drinkmeister at the venerable Memphis At the Santora, make the type of martini that once fueled this country's executive lunches. It's a simple thing, really: gin, a solitary olive, vermouth, but the great thing about Van Billiard is that he can go Don Draper on you or ask if he can modify it for one of his experiments. While you should definitely try the former a couple of times, eventually side with the latter: the native of Phelan is a Professor Frink with his efforts--the Frink after drinking Simpson and Son's Revitalizing Tonic, of course. 201 N Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701. 714-564-1064

Readers' Choice: The Cellar

Best Margarita: La Palapa Del Mar If you're going to drink margaritas, you'd better be next to the beach--the cocktail first became popular for Americans in the resorts of Rosarito, of course. And while La Palapa Del Mar ain't in Baja, the view from its seats is pretty damn close. Its original $5 margarita (titled simply "The Margarita") is made with tequila, triple sec and fresh lime juice--that's it. Though you can opt for a fancier version made with pisco, we find that when it comes to margaritas, the fewer ingredients the better. And no salt, please--that's what the ocean air is for. 4020 E Olympic Plaza, Long Beach, CA 90803. 562-433-5702

Readers' Choice: K'ya Bistro

Best Signature Cocktail: Don the Beachcomber While the debate over whether Trader Vic or Don the Beachcomber invented the mai tai will rage as long as the magma of Pele, we've got to hand Don the award for tastiest tropical beverage. Often referred to as "The Original," Don's Own Mai Tai is the ambrosial result of decades of artisan bartending, cocktail crafting and ingredient sourcing, all mixed into one glass tumbler. The initial sip is citrusy and tart, followed by mellow rums and liqueurs, ending with a lingering sweet spice taste. Copycat recipes abound online, and none contain less than 10 components--but it seems only Don has the magic formula. Every time we say we're going to have just one cocktail, it turns into five or six and a taxi ride home. 16278 E Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, CA, 92649. 562-592-1321

Readers' Choice: Hopscotch Tavern

bestof.jpg
Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of OC Weekly® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

 

Short, stout and wonderful
Short, stout and wonderful
Photo by Anne Marie Panoringan

Best Boba: Class 302 Class 302 is one of the many Taiwanese places that have opened up in Irvine in the past few years, but it might be the one that most capitalizes on childhood nostalgia due to its school-room-styled interior. Of course that doesn't detract from the quality of its boba milk tea. Sealed in cups shorter and squatter than the rest, 302's milk tea is mellow, never sickeningly sweet. The cups make you feel like you're drinking more than you actually are and--we swear--they keep the milk tea a more even temperature, though ice does melt faster. The boba--chewy, silky, but still solid--is plentiful and near perfect. If only we weren't reminded of that bitch of a fourth-grade teacher we had every time we step in... 18090 Culver Dr., Irvine, CA 92612. 949-552-0555

Best Black Coffee: Alta Coffee Other places might have better lattes, espresso or flavored drinks, but no one has a better basic black coffee than Newport's Alta Coffee. The Alta Blend might be the most "Californian" coffee ever created--light and mellow with a skip in its step and a small smirk. It's not what you would call "rich," but when warm, it fills the soul, and when iced, it's the perfect relaxation partner. And while it lacks any fancy flavoring from other spices, it doesn't need them. It stands on its own as perfect. 506 31st St. Newport Beach, CA, 92663. 949-675-0233

Won't have to make your own anymore!
Won't have to make your own anymore!
OC Weekly Summer Guide 2012

Best Place to French Kiss the Green Fairy: BevMo! Ah, absinthe: Mind-scourging wastrel of artists throughout the centuries, this anise-flavored, green spirit--watered down and sweetened with sugar--was so high in alcohol content (and so often toxic from poor distillation) that it was thought to create hallucinations and madness. So feared for its hypnotic carnage it was banned in the U.S. for almost 80 years, it slowly made its way back onto our shores in the '90s. Rest assured that if you're creating your next masterpiece and need some liquid inspiration, the varieties available to you now no longer contain the toxins that helped to send Baudelaire to his grave. The delightfully alternative Amanda at the Orange location of BevMo! showed us 14 varieties behind a locked glass case, ranging in price between $40 and $90, and she tells us that the store sells absinthe spoons separately, so you don't have to buy the most expensive one. 2000 N Tustin St., Orange, CA 92865. 714-279-8131

bestof.jpg
Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of OC Weekly® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

 

People line up for a reason
People line up for a reason
Photo by Edwin Goei

Best Use of Sea Salt In Coffee: 85ºC Bakery Café Even after trying to find a parking spot in the always-packed Diamond Jamboree shopping plaza, even after waiting in line for an hour, amazing doesn't even begin to describe 85ºC Bakery Cafe's sea salt coffee. (The staff even put it on tea!) 2700 Alton Pkwy., Irvine, CA 92606. 949-553-8585

Not as great without a view
Not as great without a view
McDonald's

Best Milkshake With a View: Ruby's Shake Shack Don't be intimidated by the line; the folks here work fast, and the shakes are worth the wait, which can be up to 30 minutes on a weekend afternoon. This historic spot overlooking Crystal Cove State Beach has a fantastic view and a great selection of milkshakes and shave ices, as well as standard Ruby's diner fare, such as hamburgers, turkey burgers and hot dogs. Make sure you try the date shake, which you can't find at a regular Ruby's diner--only here, the last vestige of its former incarnation as the even-more-legendary Date Shack. 7703 East Coast Hwy., Newport Coast, CA 92657. 949-464-0100

Nothing like some hair of the dog
Nothing like some hair of the dog
Photo by Meranda Carter

Best Bloody Mary Selection:The Attic Any brunch spot worth a damn will have a Bloody Mary on the menu, but the Attic goes a step beyond the ordinary with its build-your-own-Bloody Mary. First of all--and somehow this sounds more dangerous than it is--you can select your alcohol, and there's a variety of gin and vodka to choose from. From there, you add whatever you wish or simply choose from the various customer favorites. The Attic has not deigned to list this menu online, but if hazy memory suffices, one of them features a pulled-pork slider as garnish. Meat sandwich on a stick, in a glass, in your mouth: That there is some serious culinary panache, son! 3441 E Broadway, Long Beach, CA 90803. 562-433-0153

And the best shot and coffee in Orange County are...

bestof.jpg
Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of OC Weekly® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

 

Not just known for their alcohol!
Not just known for their alcohol!
Photo by Kevin Lara

Best Shot: Chapter One: The Modern Local In addition to commandeering one of the finest cocktail programs in Orange County, the two Jeffs--gabacho Hall and Argie Jensen--behind Chapter One: The Modern Local also have a liqueur set out of Hi-Time Wine Cellars, ranging from South African creams to whiskeys made in a moonshine still from Lookout Mountain. But their rarest is the almost-illegal Agwa de Bolivia, a liqueur made from honest-to-goodness coca leaf. The leaves are illegal in this country, and one taste of the Agwa hints at why--it numbs your lips just so, cools the rest of your senses and functions like a lighter version of Nyquil. Chapter One is the only place in Orange County outside of a caporales that stocks it, and it's advised you drink it neat--after all, that's why we're putting it under this category, cabrones. 227 N Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701. 714-352-2225

SCIENCE!
SCIENCE!

Best Coffee: Portola Coffee Lab When it comes to coffee, what's best today may not be best tomorrow or next week--or even next year. Climate changes affect everything produced by small-lot coffee growers all over the world. But when you take as much care as Portola Coffee Lab does in selecting, roasting and brewing, you make sure that everything you present to your customers is the best. Right now, it's the Elida Estate from Panama, available on the brew bar as well as bagged for you to take home. It's a very forgiving, naturally processed coffee that tastes like blueberries--"forgiving" in the sense that it comes out delicious not only when Portola's expert baristas run it through a siphon, but also when you brew a pot of it in your office coffeemaker that hasn't been cleaned in six months. Although, by the time you read this, Portola will be on to the next best coffee, and you can be certain it will be another hand-picked beast. 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626. 949-284-0586

Readers' Choice: Kéan Coffee

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Want access to our Best Of picks from your smartphone? Download our free Best Of app for the iPhone or Android phone from the App Store or Google Play. Don't forget to check out the full Best of OC Weekly® online at bestof.voiceplaces.com.

Use Current Location

Related Locations

miles
La Palapa Del Mar

4020 E. Olympic Plaza
Long Beach, CA 90803

562-433-5702

www.lapalaparestaurant.com

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Memphis At The Santora - Closed
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Don the Beachcomber

16278 Pacific Coast Highway
Huntington Beach, CA 92649

562-592-1321

www.donthebeachcomber.com

miles
Class 302 Taiwanese Cafe

18090 Culver Dr.
Irvine, CA 92612

949-552-0555

www.class302.com

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Alta Coffee

506 31st St.
Newport Beach, CA 92663

949-675-0233

www.altacoffeeshop.com

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BevMo!

2000 N. Tustin St.
Orange, CA 92865

714-279-8131

www.bevmo.com

miles
85 Degrees Bakery Cafe

2700 Alton Parkway
Irvine, CA 92614

949-553-8585

www.85cafe.us

miles
Ruby's Shake Shack

7703 E. Coast Highway
Newport Beach, CA 92657

949-464-0100

www.rubys.com

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The Attic

3441 E. Broadway
Long Beach, CA 90803

562-433-0153

www.theatticonbroadway.com

miles
Portola Coffee Lab

3313 Hyland Ave.
Costa Mesa, CA 92626

949-284-0596

www.portolacoffeelab.com


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