Hello Dear Readers! It's the end of October, but more importantly, our annual Best Of issue has hit news racks across the county. You know what that means: For the next few days, I'll be throwing up these super-duper Best Of lists on the blog for your reading pleasure. If you don't want to wait, head on over to the main feature over here. Otherwise, read on for the best things to DRINK — caffeinated, alcoholic, and otherwise –in Orange County this year. Looking for a new Vietnamese coffee spot? Sick of $2 boba? We've got the places for you..
Best Vietnamese Iced Coffee Orange County 2015 – Contra Coffee N Tea
At this small SanTana spot, you don't get the T&A of its elders–just sweet, young Vietnamese-American millennials doing jolts of caffeine so strong it makes cold brew about as potent as tap water. But Contra tapers down its take on café sua da in a way that makes it accessible to hipsters and offers other wonderful drinks. Start with the coffee: By this time next year, expect it to start getting attention from the Eaters and Refinery29s of the world.
605 E. Santa Ana Blvd. Santa Ana, CA 92701. 714-696-8793
Best Coffee Orange County 2015 – Kéan Coffee
The sun has barely risen on a Sunday morning, and most of OC is still sleeping, but there are always a dozen bikes chained to every possible place outside Kéan Coffee, where master cafetier Martin Diedrich came home to roast. Done to his specifications, the roasts are lighter than you'll find elsewhere, which means you'll still taste the coffee after doctoring it up with sugar and milk. And there's nothing better than sitting outside on a warm morning with an Italian cappuccino and a pastry before tackling those last 20 miles.
2043 Westcliff Dr. Newport Beach, CA 92660. 949-642-5326
Best Boba Orange County 2015 – Class 302
The heyday of honest-to-goodness boba shops is ending. After all, two of the most exciting Asian-chic drink shops of the past year, Snow Monster and Contra Coffee and Tea, don't even serve the tapioca pearls. That just means it's now as American as nachos, especially when you have them at this Taiwanese café. Class 302's milk teas feature boba that's beautiful, pliant and soft, served in cups sized so you'll feel like royalty, so have it your way.
18090 Culver Drive. Irvine, CA 92612. 949-552-0555
Best Signature Cocktail Orange County 2015 – Lola Gaspar
It's 100 degrees outside, the wind is sucking every drop of moisture out of the air, and you stumble onto the patio at Lola Gaspar. "Paloma," you croak out, and in minutes, you're sipping on tequila, grapefruit soda and lime juice, the deceptively simple and addicting national cocktail of Mexico. It makes summer in inland OC bearable.
211 W. Second St. Santa Ana, CA 92701. 714-972-1172
Best Brewery Orange County 2015 – Barley Forge
Tucked away in the back of an industrial complex, just as are so many other breweries in Orange County, Barley Forge offers a surprisingly beautiful brewery and tasting room, with a kitchen (and full menu) featuring happy, engaging bartenders and brewers. Though barely a year old, its beers are quickly becoming permanent taps at other bars–try the Don Perfecto, its horchata witbier.
2957 Randolph Ave. Costa Mesa, CA 92626. 714-641-2084
Best Martini Orange County 2015 – 320 Main
This Hall of Famer can make any drink in Bacchus' realm, but ask the bar to make you a classic martini. Drink it, and your resulting verve makes James Bond seem as suave as Fat Bastard.
320 Main St. Seal Beach, CA 90740. 562-799-6246
Best Juice/Smoothie Shop Orange County 2015 – Organic Tree Juice Bar
Organic Tree Juice Bar uses the Living Juice Extractor! Not because it sounds menacing, but because not an enzyme is altered as the machine does its thing. Whether you've got deep juice knowledge or are just a regular human wanting the occasional dose of noncaffeinated energy, you'll like this breezy place that has honest-to-goodness quality paintings hung on the walls. While you decide what to order, notice Organic Tree sources its organic fruits and vegetables by perusing the shipping boxes, half-unpacked and stacked all about. Proof those sourcing choices are wise is that even the greenest juice blends here are absolutely yummy.
24901 Dana Point Harbor Dr. Dana Point, CA 92629. 949-276-7202
Best Local Roaster Orange County 2015 – Lord Windsor
As with most coffee shops in Long Beach, Lord Windsor is too cool for you. The quaint name and low-lit shop with minimalist décor, exposed-brick wall, and black-and-white checkered floor immediately tell you that you should have rode your fixed-gear bike here and that the coffee is going to be fucking impeccable. The husband-and-wife owners source quality beans from throughout Central and South America and roast them in-house using the most beautiful equipment. Try a smooth, rich latte made by one of Lord Windsor's talented baristas, or take home a pack of the top-of-the-line, flavored cold brews.
1101 E. Third St. Long Beach, CA 90802. 562-901-2111
Best Coffeehouse Orange County 2015 – Green Bliss
Here is the epitome of a sustainable coffeehouse. Green Bliss supports Orange County artists with a locals-only boutique wall; offers a community board for jobs, housing and events; only carries products that are organic and fair trade; AND makes a damn fine cup of coffee. It's located in downtown Fullerton, with a tiny front patio and a few tables inside, but the tour-de-force is the back patio in the beautiful, Spanish-style Villa del Sol center. Enjoy the light breeze and relaxing fountain while you sip a frothy cappuccino, nibble on a vegan cupcake, or kill a hangover with a kale-ginger smoothie, our favorite.
305 N. Harbor Blvd. Fullerton, CA 92832
Best Margarita Orange County 2015 – South of Nick's
When you order a flavored margarita, it often comes from synthetic premixes. At South of Nick's, flavored margaritas abound, with a menu full of fresh and inventive cocktails–no premix in sight. Take the spicy watermelon margarita, a salt-rimmed mix of muddled watermelon, Milagro silver tequila, lime, agave and the unexpected zip of Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur. It's tart, a bit spicy and sweet–a summer fruit salad in cocktail form.
110 N. El Camino Real. San Clemente, CA 92672. 949-481-4545