Behold the beginning of 2013's ends with our annual critic's roundup of their favorite restaurants and cocktails of the year! Starting today and ending next week, check in each day for a different critic's take on eating and drinking in OC. Enjoy, pass it on, and take it, Niyaz!
5. The Greenbird at Umami Burger
The noble hamburger is sacred food in my book. Nothing beats a large, beefy, medium-rare patty oozing with equal parts blood and meat juice, smothered in American cheese and cradled in a super-soft bun. Nothing beats that beef … except for “The Greenbird” turkey burger at Umami Burger. Most turkey patties I've come across cook up mealy and dry, but this ground up Shelton Farms bird is seared just right, sealing all of the delicious juices within.
Sprouts, butter lettuce and “crushed avocado” (the ultimate hipster way to say “guacamole”) provide a fresh contrast to the savory meat, and house-made green goddess dressing adds an herbaceous kick. Umami's “green cheese,” a mix of fresh ricotta and goat cheese, provides a creamy, slightly tart finish to each bite. I quit eating beef about a month ago and this burger was the meal that convinced me I'd be able to enjoy burgers without it. Follow Umami Burger on Twitter @umamiburger
4. House Special Squid at Royal Capital Seafood Restaurant
The best recommendation I had all year led to my current favorite seafood plate. House Special Squid at Royal Capital Seafood is a bountiful plate of steaming, deep-fried squid dressed with splashes of soy and butter. The sauce sticks like a thin syrup to the fried, peppery batter that encapsulates some of the thickest fingers of calamari you've ever seen. Stir-fried jalapeno slices let you flirt with fire, but nothing on the plate leaves you scorched. That every order flies out of the kitchen nearly as fast as it's ordered–and that every order is consistently great–keeps me coming back for more. 10911 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, (714) 638-8315
3. Milanesa de Pollo con Enchiladas de Papas at Potzol den Cano
The only local restaurant hawking regional specialties from Querétaro makes more than delicious pozole and stunning enfrijoladas. Potzol is also home to some of the meanest milanesa in town. This pounded out, crispy chicken breast can be ordered in a torta, but it's best on the combination plate when paired with a pool of creamy, salty bayo beans and two enchiladas, either cheese or potato. I'd say pick the papas, because the combination of soft potato chunks with Potzol's assertive salsa verde, luscious crema and cooling panela cheese is far superior to their cheesy counterpart. In a city teeming with fantastic Mexican options, this plate is up there on a short list with the Taco Acorazado from Alebrijes, the volcan from Reubens and the asada torta at Taqueria Tapatia. 1003 S. Bristol St., Santa Ana, (714) 664-0558; potzoldencano.com.
2. Bean-and-Cheese Burritos From Just about Anywhere That's not Taco Bell
My wife recently gave up eating meat, so I'm having that same "Big Kahuna Burger” conundrum Samuel L. Jackson ran into in Pulp Fiction. It's hard to eat meat around someone who's not, so I've been searching for filling alternatives while I transition from mostly beef to mostly beans. Gustavo had it right when he kicked off this year's 100 Best Dishes with the 1/2 lb. bean and cheese burrito from Del Taco. The bean and cheese burrito is one of those simple meals that's better when you leave it that way–just a scoop of beans, gooey cheese and a squirt of piquant red or green salsa is all you need for one of the most filling meals you can buy on the cheap. Make sure the beans are scratch-made, not canned, and you likely won't go wrong wherever you order from.
No. 1: Cowboy Ribeye at THE RANCH
After trying many times to make it down to The Ranch, I finally experienced everyone's "Favorite Restaurant 2012.” I'm happy to report that more than a year later The Ranch is still cranking out some of the best steaks in Orange County. Their $89 cowboy ribeye is the best of the bunch–a hefty slab of prime beef broiled to perfection, resulting in a caramel-brown crust that protects bright-magenta flesh and clear ribbons of succulent fat. Yes, it's a pricey steak, but at 36 to 40 oz., including a dish of bubbling potatoes au gratin, this order provides more than enough for two people, plus leftovers. I can generally whip up a solid steak dinner, but this steak's a reminder that some cuts should be left to the pros. 1025 E. Ball Rd., Anaheim, (714) 817-4200; www.theranch.com