We tried to give this award to someone else—we really did. But when we recently visited, we got a surprise: chumiles, a sort of stinkbug. Our guest looked at it and gagged, then actually ate it. Served as an appetizer, it was a small bowl filled with glistening balls. The chumiles had the crunch of corn nuts and the flavor of beef; dressed with salt, lime and pequín powder, this dish alone beats every restaurant in Orange County for originality, sustainability, execution and flavor. That most diners will probably eschew it only shows how backward we remain as a dining county—and how light-years ahead of everyone else Carlos Salgado and his Taco María remain. Better luck next year, OC restaurants who want to become the best in the land, because you’ll need it to topple el rey.
3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 538-8444; www.tacomaria.com.
Readers’ Choice: THE RANCH Restaurant & Saloon