Welcome to our annual Top 5 countdown, where most of our our SAFII writers tell you what impressed them over the past year! Here, we have SAFII OG AMP tell you what she loved—enjoy, and dig in!
This has been an assertive year for great cuisine. My favorites go as far north as PCH in Huntington, to Crown Valley and the 5 in Mission Viejo. And the fact that brekkie made it onto my list just makes this past year even sweeter. The following five are worth the drive (And they all have full bar! Coincidence?).
Well before I contributed at the Weekly, one of my favorite places was a modest dining room called Vine in San Clemente. Jared Cook (pause to chuckle at his unintentional last name) was kind enough to be an early On the Line subject back in the day. And as much as I enjoyed Vine, it was a bit of a drive. So when the team behind Vine opened another concept off La Paz, I knew Jared's excellent skills would transfer to Laguna Hills. From those Meyer Lemon and Honey Duck Wings to his version of schnitzel that Edwin approved of in his review, it would be a winner. And residents know, because it's always packed when we want to eat there. Book a res, sit at the bar, or have backup plans; you're gonna need 'em. 25250 La Paz Rd, Ste 100, Laguna Hills, (949) 446-8772; www.ironwoodlagunahills.com.
Days of me craving red meat are few and far between. Those I've dined with will agree. Even when I don't think I want seafood, I find myself ordering poke, smoked fish on toast or simply grilled catch of the day more often than not. Maybe it's a phase, but when Union Market's occupant opened its doors, I was impressed. Impressed that a chef like Michael Pham could bring such finesse to his cuisine in Mission Viejo. In fact, I ramble on about my dining crush on Anchor Hitch here. It may have been months since I last dined there, but the Tom Yum Agnoletti is one of the best dishes I've had all year. 27741 Crown Valley Pkwy, Mission Viejo, (949) 226-8949; www.eatanchorhitch.com.
Mix Mix Kitchen Bar
From the moment Ross asked me what I thought of Santa Ana for a restaurant location, I knew it would be one of my favorites. And not because of where, but because his cuisine has always appealed to my higher-end tendencies. I would've frequented Leatherby's more if it was open more often (only on theater nights/weekends), but now diners have access to chef's greatest hits with his signature style every evening but Monday. And for the record, this is not a Filipino establishment— nor are we related. Yet you can taste hints of his cultural and professional background with every dish he and Donald Harris send out. Request a custom tasting menu for maximum effect. 300 N Main St, Santa Ana, (714) 836-5158; www.mixmixkitchenbar.com.
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Snooze, an A.M. Eatery
A breakfast-only joint with full bar? I stalked this place from the day their sign went up. It might as well be called Snooze, an Anne Marie Eatery, because I can live there. Eclectic tunes, lively decor and an extensive menu mean I have yet to tire of this place. Per my dining companion who loves his morning meals as much as I do, "It's as if Grits (Fullerton) and Break of Dawn had a baby". Yeah, maybe if they had brothers and sisters located in Colorado, Arizona and Texas. I nerd out over their Egg White Frittata, but have been known to sit at the bar for a side of bacon and Bloody Mary. 3032 El Camino Real, Tustin, (714) 415-6269; www.snoozeeatery.com.
The only destination I thoroughly enjoyed more than the rest was a dual concept that appeased both my hunger for Cal coastal fare and Asian cuisine (plus the daily afternoon tea service at LSXO is delightful!). While the din of Bluegold's dining room can be a bit loud, it becomes a non-issue once I start ordering. Serving all three meals, their menu may be intimidating if you don't know what you are hungry for. Trust in the team that helms Blackhouse Hospitality Group. Whether you're present for drinks or a leisurely meal, make a reservation for their 28-seat hidden room before or after your Bluegold visit. Chef Tin's love of Vietnamese food and rap shines in this offshoot of his Little Sister brand. 21016 Pacific Coast Hwy, Huntington Beach, (714) 374-0038; www.dinebluegold.com.