Winner of so many awards
Winner of so many awards
Photo by Dustin Ames

The Best Things to Eat in Orange County, 2015

Yesterday, we went over the best things to drink in Orange County, so today we'll go over the best things to eat. In this list, you'll find the best individual dishes in Orange County, from burritos to breads and burgers to everything else that doesn't start for the letter B. So if you're looking for that great bagel? This is what you want to read. Next week, we'll touch in the best places to eat and drink, so if you want to find your next favorite restaurant or bar, wait until then or check out our full best of feature.

Best Fish Taco Orange County 2015 - El Taco Nazo

These fish tacos
These fish tacos
Photo by Dave Lieberman


Despite our county being so close to Ensenada, our fish taco game is weak. But El Taco Nazo carries the torch in La Habra, where families fill the booths on weekends for crispy fish and shrimp tacos dressed just as they are south of the border. The secret? The batter! Plus, the chiles güeritos are so popular the chefs had to start doling them out from the counter to keep customers from devouring the whole tray.

121 Beach Blvd. La Habra, CA 90631. 562-690-8078. http://www.taconazo.com/ Best Bread Orange County 2015 - Cream Pan

Don't you want them?
Don't you want them?
Photo by Edwin Goei

Épis are almost impossible to make properly. Baguettes are snipped in a way that resembles leaves growing off a branch, and if the "leaves" are too small, they burn and the bread is bitter. If they're too large, they get spongy and unappealing. But at Cream Pan, the obsessive Japanese bakery in Tustin perhaps best-known for its strawberry croissants, the épi is always, unfailingly perfect.

602 El Camino Real. Tustin, CA 92780. 714-665-8239. http://www.creampanbakery.com/ Best Burger Orange County 2015 - The Counter Ordering from the Counter can resemble taking a high-stakes multiple-choice test, but it's an easy A. The build-your-own-burger chain with three OC locations breaks it all down from the bun (pretzel, Hawaiian, brioche style) to the patty (organic Bison or hormone, antibiotic-free beef), plus everything in between. All the ingredients amaze. Fill up on loaded spuds or Parmesan fries while waiting for your masterpieces to arrive. Unhinge your jaw once they do for that first big bite.

6416 Irvine Blvd. Irvine, CA 92620. 949-336-7272. http://www.thecounterburger.com/ Best Ribs Orange County 2015 - Tulsa Rib Co.

Also, some of the best fried potatoes in Orange County
Also, some of the best fried potatoes in Orange County
Photo by Anne Marie Panoringan

"Legendary ribs, truly tasty barbecue, and friendly people" is Tulsa Rib Co.'s tagline, and, folks, there's no greater truth. Eating here is akin to eating at an uncle's house: The chairs are cushy, the servers are casual and nice, and no one cares how much barbecue sauce gets on your face. It's rare to see someone eating alone, but even then, everyone quiets down when the food is served. Deep contemplation ensues: How do the chefs get the meat to be this soft? How does it just slip off the bone like that? Before anyone can answer, there's a glimpse of the Tulsa potatoes--the round, ridged soulmate of the rib--and the eating continues.

954 N. Tustin Ave. Orange, CA 92867. 714-633-3760. http://www.tulsarib.com/ Best Pho Orange County 2015 - Pho 45 In Orange County, pho is there for you. Whether you're in Irvine or Garden Grove, there's likely a first-rate pho joint run by a family that brought its recipes from Vietnam. But there's only one place that has a broth so extraordinary the Phocumentary guys are even raving about it: Pho 45. Take a sip of the broth--or even just give it a sniff--and its complexity, richness and clarity will broaden your senses of taste and smell. Then take in the fragrances of the basil, cilantro and bean sprouts, and you might never want to leave--ever.

9240 Garden Grove Blvd. Garden Grove, CA 92844. 714-537-9000. Best Hot Dog Orange County 2015 - LinX

Just look at 'em
Just look at 'em
Photo by Josue Rivas

There's no party like a hot dog party, and there's no hot dog party without Belgian frites and beer. This is the philosophy of LinX, a small hot-dog joint in Old Towne Orange that embodies the idea of the great backyard hangout. While both the interior and exterior bring this theme to life, LinX's wieners don't--simply because they're too well-made. This isn't a bad thing. Rather, it's fascinating: With sausages sourced from local wholesaler Europa Speciality Sausage and buns from OC Baking Co., the dawgs here are more premium than HBO. Plus, the Belgian fries are hand-cut and come with sauces made fresh daily.

234 W. Chapman Ave. Orange, CA 92866. 714-744-3647. http://www.linxdogs.com/ Best Ramen Orange County 2015 - Ramen Yamadaya

It's pretty too
It's pretty too
Photo by Kristine Hoang

Ramen cults exist because the deliciousness of ramen has merit, just like the New Testament. Simple enough. But that doesn't mean all ramen bowls are made equal. Sometimes, places make their bowls too oily and unbalanced, but that's never the case at Ramen Yamadaya. Order any tonkotsu bowl--even the kotteri kind with black garlic oil--and you'll get piquancy without being overwhelmed. After all, the broth here is boiled for more than 20 hours--the first 10 breaks the bones into flakes, the next 10 solidifies the broth--so how can you expect any less?

1175 Baker St. Costa Mesa, CA 92626. 714-556-0091. http://www.ramen-yamadaya.com/

Best California Burrito Orange County 2015 - La Sirena Grill There's a fine menagerie of dishes available at the "Mex-Eco" La Sirena Grill, from the calamari burrito to the avocado lime salad. But the California burrito deserves a special place in your heart, as it's bound to occupy a large place in your stomach. You'll need to skip breakfast the day you plan to nosh on one of these. The flour tortilla swaddles crispy, golden-brown fries and chopped carne asada, while fresh avocado and pico de gallo add creamy, tangy flavors. The generous dollops of salsa and avocado drip from the burrito's openings, but the side of tortilla chips are especially handy for this "problem." And of course, melted cheese binds together all the inner workings of this savory monster.

347 Mermaid St. Laguna Beach, CA 92651. 949-497-8226. http://www.lasirenagrill.com/

Best Use of Avocado Orange County 2015 - Bánh Mì Che Cali We did an entire list of great uses of avocado on Stick a Fork In It earlier this year, so if you're not into avocado in smashed-up, sweetened, blended form, Google "OC best avocado" and improve our SEO for us. Otherwise, check out the avocado smoothie from Bánh Mì Che Cali. Vietnamese smoothies tend to be icier and less creamy than their western counterparts owing to, well, more ice and less milk, but the avocado smoothie here bucks that trend. It's rich and creamy, almost buttery thanks to that green miracle fruit, yet it's still sweet, refreshing and pretty light. It's not hipster avocado toast, but people are going to stop eating that in a few months anyway, so keep throwing your avocados in a blender.

18122 Brookhurst St. Fountain Valley, CA 92708. 714-593-6300. Best Ice Cream Orange County 2015 - Scoops

Scoops + Contra =
Scoops + Contra =
Photo by Charles Lam

The SanTana outpost of the LA classic is a flavor hound's dream. While other OC ice cream shops tend to keep their lists fairly stable (except for perennial mention/winner Stricklands, of course), Scoops' dozens of varieties rotate daily, save for the brown bread flavor. The list is fanciful and fleeting, featuring everything from black sesame and yuzu to Captain Crunch and apple pie. Find your favorite, but don't get attached, and keep an open mind. Oh, and lactose intolerant peeps don't have an excuse: Each day brings with it a few milk-less flavors.

605 E. Santa Ana Blvd. Santa Ana, CA 92701. 657-210-0399. http://www.facebook.com/scoopsoc Best Pie Orange County 2015 - Pie-Not

Get me a drunken cow
Get me a drunken cow
Photo by Charisma Madarang

Sometimes the pie you want is full of meat, and for those days, head to Pie-Not, that Australian pie purveyor next to Sidecar Donuts in Costa Mesa. This isn't Marie Calendar's pie: The meat pies here have heft, but they leave you feeling more fulfilled than overly full, and they come packed with all manner of meats (yes, even lamb). You'll walk away without mouth burns and be so sure of yourself you might want to try trekking all the way through the outback (don't, though; people die doing that).

270 E. 17th St. Costa Mesa, CA 92627. 949-650-7437. http://www.pienot.com/ Best Sandwich Orange County 2015 - Shwack Beach Grill The grilled-chicken sandwiches are consistently juicy at the Shwack, but our favorite is the Island Chick. To a soft ciabatta bun, the staff add a hoisin-barbecue sauce, Swiss cheese, Shwack's house slaw (it's all about the sesame-ginger vinaigrette) and the aforementioned chicken, then they finish the concoction with a wedge of grilled, fresh pineapple. Order Shwack spuds on the side for a crazy-ass mix of large and small potato gooodness. And Shwack always has 12 beers on draft, mostly from SoCal microbreweries. Don't let a line out the front door deter you; the entrance is very close to where you order your grub.

24502 Del Prado. Dana Point, CA 92629. http://www.theshwack.com/ Best Wings Orange County 2015 - Brü Grill & Market The hot wings at Brü Grill & Market are braised in ale and fried to a light crisp before they're brought to your table, serving as a happy complement to its other food options or alongside your favorite craft beer. The question is how hot do you want them? Impress a date by trying Brü's fifth-hottest wings (properly titled OMGWT*#!&!!!), or take your mouth farther into the depths of hell with the ghost pepper-tinged, off-menu 666 wings? Oh, they also come with blue cheese and celery.

23730 El Toro Road. Lake Forest, CA 92630. 949-305-5757. http://www.brugrill.com/ Best Poke Orange County 2015 - Costco

You read that right
You read that right
Photo by Edwin Goei

There are poke joints everywhere these days. Pokinometry is arguably the best of the bunch, but you know who also does the Hawaiian delicacy right? Costco. Yes, if you've been to the Costcos in Hawaii, you'd know the chain has been offering poke at the deli section in at least four flavors for years: shoyu, limu, wasabi, a spicy mayo and a garlic shrimp, which technically isn't poke. The important thing is that the poke served in the Aloha State's Costcos is the same as the poke most of OC's Costcos now serve. It even costs the same. So take some home, cook some rice or just eat it plain, washed down with a 55-cent soda from the food court.

2655 El Camino Real. Tustin, CA 92782. 714-838-7895. http://www.costco.com/ Best Pizza Orange County 2015 - Fuoco Pizzeria Napoletana

A slice of Italy right there
A slice of Italy right there
Photo by Dave Lieberman

At Fuoco Pizzeria Napoletana, it's not the imported flour or even the hand-built Stefano Ferrara oven that matters most; it's the guiding presence of owner Franco Ceccarelli. He makes a pizza for when you've tried everything else. Each masterpiece is enough for two, bigger than most Naples-style pizzas in OC, with crust that's ebullient, smoky, wonderfully elastic, and tender where it isn't cracker-thin and crisp. If you're new, start with the basic: a margherita with puddles of melted cheese against painterly swipes of tomato sauce. Then advance to the salsiccia e friarielli, with crumbles of Italian sausage and bitter Italian rapini that will make you fall in love with broccoli even if you were previously averse.

101 N. Harbor Blvd. Fullerton, CA 92832. 714-626-0727. http://www.fuocopizza.com/ Best Doughnuts Orange County 2015 - Friendly Donuts

Why go to Glendora?
Why go to Glendora?
Photo by Dave Lieberman

Deep-purple ube doughnuts. Red velvet doughnuts topped with a dollop of cream cheese frosting. Fluffy creations bursting with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Muffiny blueberry rings finished with a delicious glaze. Croissant-doughnut hybrids, here called dossants, stuffed with cream and topped with fresh strawberries and a drizzle of chocolate. These delights sit alongside the classics: raised rings rolled in sugar, cake doughnuts slathered in frosting and sprinkles, and more. It's a pastry wonderland you will never want to leave.

4442 E. Chapman Ave. Orange, CA 92869. 714-538-4942. http://www.facebook.com/friendlydonutsorange Best Deep-Fried Dish Orange County 2015 - T.P. Bánh Bao #2

Fried bao! Think of that.
Fried bao! Think of that.
Photo by Jennifer Fedrizzi

Being the county's first bánh bao specialist doesn't immediately put T.P. Bánh Bao #2 on the map. The steamed buns of bread filled with meat and sweets it's named after are already sold at most of Little Saigon's food-to-go shops and bakeries. But so far, only T.P. Bánh Bao #2 has the balls to deep-fry them, transforming the soft squishy domes into greaseless, golden-brown orbs, with a sweet outer crust that tastes like an old-fashioned cake doughnut--except with meat and other fillings in the middle.

13067 Euclid Ave. Garden Grove, CA 92843. 714-539-4119.

Best Taco Orange County 2015 - Taco María

Winner of so many awards
Winner of so many awards
Photo by Dustin Ames

Carlos Salgado is rightfully getting nationwide accolades for his paisa-pocho experiments at Taco María (which won our Best Restaurant title this year, también). But just when you think he's left this earthly realm for the alta cocina stratosphere, he'll pull out an honest, stunning taco that makes even the finest lonchera seem as vendido as a 2 a.m. Taco Bell run. Try Salgado's version of a carne asada taco: arrachera, featuring the finest beef cut you'll ever taste, in the finest tortilla you've ever had. And that's only his fifth-best taco--WHOA. . . .

3313 Hyland Ave. Costa Mesa, CA 92626. 714-538-8444. http://www.tacomaria.com/ Best Breakfast Burrito Orange County 2015 - Athenian Burgers #3 One day, we're going to give this title to another place. In the meanwhile, ask for extras of the mysterious orange salsa and ponder how the tortilla gets so orange yet remains so firm, a miracle of structural integrity mightier than the Hoover Dam.

8511 La Palma Ave. Buena Park, CA 90620. 714-523-9999 Best Burrito Orange County 2015 - Taqueria Zamora Say goodbye to your comfortable waistband; the initiated know that any meal at Taqueria Zamora is a real commitment, as it offers muy grande portions that all give you the Itis. Plunge into the wet burrito, an oversized, overstuffed beast in a large flour tortilla sitting in a sea of red or green sauce and melted cheese. All the common staples of a burrito exist within: the creamy refried beans, the meat of your choice, sour cream and rice mingling together as though revelers at a quinceañeara. Sharing with a friend is smart. Either way, grab your fork and dig in--and allow yourself to gain a couple of pounds with each bite.

3121 S. Main St. Santa Ana, CA 92707. 714-557-0907. http://www.taqueriazamora.net/ Best Nontraditional Burger Orange County 2015 - Slater's 50/05

I mean, they made this
I mean, they made this
Slater's 50/50

The local chain that started the weirder-is-better burger trend succeeded because it always paid attention to quality: No matter how trippy the offerings were, each was delicious. Case in point: the Peanut Butter and Jellousy Burger--peanut butter, strawberry jelly, bacon and beef, smushed into a mass of sweet-salty beauty.

8082 Adams Ave. Huntington Beach, CA 92646. 714-594-5730. http://slaters5050.com/ Best Bagels Orange County 2015 - Koffee Klatch

Love
Love
Photo by The Mexican

At Laguna Beach's Koffee Klatch, it's not about the bagel itself, but rather what's on it. The "love bagel," a name as straightforward as the ingredients, comes with your bagel of choice (the everything variety is recommended), a thick schmear of cream cheese, freshly sliced tomatoes, red onions and lemon pepper. For a fee, you can add avocado, and you should--it's an entire avocado spread across two bagel halves. The hearty but simple meal is best enjoyed with a heavy dose of Laguna sunlight and strong coffee.

1440 S. Coast Highway. Laguna Beach, CA 92651. 949-376-6867.

Best Cupcake Orange County 2015 - Susie Cakes When it comes to desserts, sometimes the classics are best. Susie Cakes makes its living on this idea, with a whole lot of 1950s nostalgia. You can't beat the beautiful, buttercream cakes made from scratch with simple ingredients, and cupcakes are just a cheaper, mini version. Choose from an array of pastel colors and flavors including red velvet, chocolate, peanut butter and flourless chocolate. If you want to up the cuteness factor, purchase the real mini version and make sure to eat it on some of Grandma's china with a cold glass of milk.

2043 Westcliff Dr. Newport Beach, CA 92660. 949-646-6881. http://www.susiecakes.com/ Best Pancakes Orange County 2015 - Original Pancake House You can get buttermilk flapjacks just about anywhere, so when you visit your local Original Pancake House, you want the apple pancake. What arrives before you is truly a wonder to behold: fluffy yet solid, as tall as a stack of flapjacks, topped with caramelized apples that have been baked in, the smell of cinnamon coating every available surface. Just one is enough to keep you sated all day. (Unless you're a lumberjack; then it'll keep you happy until lunch.)

3322 E. Chapman Ave. Orange, CA 92869. 714-221-8674. http://www.originalpancakehouse.com/

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