Gustavo's Five Favorite Restaurants of 2013!

2013 ends as another great year for OC cooking, with our chefs continuing to push themselves to bigger and better heights. You can find most of the young guns represents in the lists of Edwin, Dave, Shuji, Anne Marie, Niyaz, and Charles.

I, as always, mostly eat at the holes-in-the-wall, but agree with the general consensus that this was Little Sparrow's year (you'll read more about them in our cocktail lists next week, too). So while my year-end restaurant lists usually veer toward the holes, newer places usually sneak in, as well. Anyhoo, enjoy and pass it on!


5. Donde Adela

Faithful readers know I freak out whenever I find a Colombian restaurant in OC, and it happened again this year with this Orange strip-mall gem. But mere representation isn't why Donde Adela lands here; the tiny spot goes beyond the expected (bandeja paisa, sancocho, empanadas) and offers specialties that even the Colombian restaurants in Southern California don't bother to offer.

4. C4 Deli: Cure for the Common

I have eaten everything on the menu here at this SanTana newbie, and the results are almost always spectacular. And if you have a problem, bring it up to owners Jeff Hall and Jeff Jensen–within 24 hours, they'll address it as if they were culinary psy-ops shadow men. Best of all? The deli is still unfolding its ambitions–the cured meats are a'coming. In the meanwhile, enjoy your umpteenth pickled egg, just like I do.

3. Aleppo's Kitchen

Little Arabia continues to grow, but the talk of the town was this Syrian stunner, with nine types of kibbe, a secret walnut paste, and even more coming. And don't forget its hidden entrance–really, don't, because if you do, you'll no doubt enter the Thai massage place and find a delightful misunderstanding.
2. Vishnu Restaurant

2013 was the year Ram Kadiyala, OC's maestro of South Indian cuisine, returned to the restaurant world at Vishnu Restaurant in Irvine after a couple of years on the Indian wedding catering circuit. No joke: I eat here at least once a week, not just because it's about three minutes away from work, but because Kadiyala continues to introduce new items almost weekly. Just the other day, he offered whole Indian eggplants stewed in a peanut sauce–AMAZING!

1. Taco Maria

My favorite Taco Maria story, and one that shows not only chef Carlos Salgado's extraordinary food powers, but also indicates how transformative his cuisine is. I, of course, have already raved about Salgado's aguachile, a refined take on the legendary Sinaloan seafood specialty that was nevertheless manly enough for the plebes at Mariscos Hector. On a recent trip to the OC Mix, the chica and I wanted to stop at Taco Maria just for a snack before trying other restaurants. Curious about the aguachile, she asked for a sip. Six bowls later shared between the two of us, we drove home, the world electric, the night young.

As I wrote about Taco Maria over at this week's Drink: if you've yet to come here, you deserve deportation–my words, and mine alone.

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