Welcome to our annual Top 5 countdown, where most of our our SAFII writers tell you what impressed them over the past year! Here, former intern Cynthia Rebolledo tells you what impressed her most this year—eat up!
As our Mexican-in-Chief accurately predicted early in Irenia’s run, “You see the makings of a great, bold restaurant” — dubbing it one of OC’s most important restaurant openings this year. And with Orange County undergoing a Filipino food moment, Chef Ryan Garlitos is spearheading his fellow chefs in bringing unapologetically Pinoy flavors to the forefront. 400 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (657) 245-3466; www.ireniarestaurant.com
2. Wheat and Sons
Not quite a restaurant per se but a pop-up, we vouch for Wheat and Sons when we say that Chef Nate Overstreet and Ashly Amador are Orange County’s next great chefs. Their too-infrequent popups featured the makings of what will become an auspicious eatery. For the next popup, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org
While he opened Mercado Modern Cuisine in SanTana earlier this year and is about to debut Maestro in Pasadena, Danny Godinez isn’t slowing down at his original Anepalco's (which he now lovingly refers to as Anepalquito—Little Anepalco). His French-Mex cuisine continues to stun after all these years. And remember, James Beard judges: Chef Godinez did it first in Southern California this generation around. Anepalco's Cafe, 415 S. Main St., Orange; (714) 771-2333; www.anepalco.com
4. Pizzeria Ortica
For seven years now, Pizzeria Ortica has dished out delicious Napoli-style pies and heart-warming Italian -inspired dishes. Combined with an exceptional cocktail program, it continues to become better as an overall restaurant every year. Pizzeri Ortica, 650 Anton Blvd., Costa Mesa, (714) 445-4900; pizzeriaortica.com
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Sichuan Impression, sister restaurant to the famed Szechuan Impression of Alhambra, made its entrance into Tustin this year, bringing along an assortment of pungent flavorings and incendiary chilies. We now know why the SGV Szechuan game is fire — it burns so good. Sichuan Impression, 13816 Red Hill Ave., Tustin, (714) 505-9070