Alcohol isn't the only thing to drink in Orange County (though it's pretty nice). OC all up in that juice crave and can serve a pretty mean cup of coffee. Then again, booze runs the world, so we have for you now a list of the best things to drink in Orange County, from coffee to more coffee to Vietnamese coffee to beer and cocktails.
'Cause eating is nice, but I've never seen anyone shotgun some brussel sprouts.
Best Coffee Orange County 2014 – Jungle Java Café
Psst. Lean in close. We don't want everyone to hear. Because then they'll know. And the line will get longer. . . . Tucked inside a Chevron station on Chapman, just before the 241 and 261 toll roads, is a caffeinated oasis. Jungle Java Café serves up brews of Kéan's fair-trade beans, with the baristas trained to make those specialty drinks to perfection. We haven't had a finer café au lait outside New Orleans. And seasonal, flavored lattes and mochas aren't tooth-achingly sweet, but rather crafted with your taste buds in mind. It's the perfect way to get you ready for your next adventure, even if your grand road trip takes you no farther than your office.
Best Local Roaster Orange County 2014 – Wilson Coffee Roasting
Best Coffeehouse Orange County 2014 – Alta Coffee
What with the new wave of coffee shops and roasters in Orange County the past few years, Alta kind of gets forgotten. That's a bummer because it remains among the best places to get coffee and relax for a few hours. The coffee is well-roasted, balanced and flavorful, and the baked goods are amazing (the carrot cake is some of the best you'll ever have, and the place even has crème brûlée). Meawhile, the food is on point–the sandwiches are filling and hearty, and the burritos won't leave you sleepy. Plus, the entire place is just pretty: The outdoor seating is comfortable, the indoor seating is cozy, and the decoration doesn't try too hard. Yeah, there might be a lot of trendier cafés, but there's only one you'll always go back to, and if you have any heart, it'll be Alta.
Best Coffee-Shop Girls Orange County 2014 – Café Lu
No, Café Lu isn't getting this award because it agreed to work with the Weekly for our January cover. Rather, it's because its shop is the most pleasant to be in, and the girls there are the prettiest. Café Lu is one of Orange County's only Vietnamese coffee shops to disallow smoking indoors, which means you can ogle for hours without shaving years off your life expectancy. And it employs the most ethnically diverse group of coffee girls around, thanks to Lu's diversified clientele. You get your Asian girls, sure, but you also get Latinas, whites and hapa girls. And when it's time to leave and you feel lonesome? Well, go ahead and take home some Instagram handles.
Best Vietnamese Iced Coffee Orange County 2014 – Pho Saigon Pearl
Too often, a glass of Vietnamese iced coffee (ca fe sua da) lacks proper balance between strong coffee and creamy sweetened condensed milk. The problem either originates with the coffee, brewed to the point it's bitter and acidic, or with the condensed milk, poured so liberally the coffee may as well not be there. The iced coffee at Pho Saigon Pearl in Irvine, however, is the Goldilocks glass. The restaurant, one of the best Vietnamese joints in South County, starts with rich, dark-roast coffee that is remarkably non-bitter and combines it with enough condensed milk to achieve a silky mouthfeel. A hint of unidentified spice furthers the depth of flavor–the owner calls it a secret ingredient. It may be liquid crack because it's hard to not finish the glass before any food hits the table. It's a shame because the cool, silky beverage is the perfect contrast for slurping down hot noodles.
Best Margarita Orange County 2014 – Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen
Gabbi Patrick's high-end take on Mexican food was a pioneer when she opened Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen in Old Towne Orange seven years ago. And it's still pushing the area's MILFs and sugar daddies toward higher, better realms. Consider the margaritas. Served in a large glass with a generous (but not too much) coat of salt on the rim, it packs a stiff punch and tingles the tongue with its sweetness, yet it never overwhelms the complex flavors of Patrick's dishes. If you want to taste the liquor, order it on the rocks; the blended version is ideal for the lightweights. And if you're looking for a different spin on the classic, Gabbi's has margaritas in different flavors, from midori melon to tamarindo to jalapeño pepino.
Best Signature Cocktail Orange County 2014 – 320 Main
Not enough bars use applejack, which is a shame because it's the only spirit more American than whiskey. Laird's, which started out in New Jersey but now distills in Virginia, produces a fine applejack, which Jason Schiffer at 320 Main combines with Cynar, lemon and honey, then tops with IPA. The Detroiter is a million things happening at once, but you'll drain it faster than you thought you would.
Best Martini Orange County 2014 – Paradise Piano Bar
Sometimes, a simple twist can elevate an old classic to whole new levels of taste-bud-explosion. This is the Dirty Bird at Paradise Piano Bar, and what starts as an impeccably made vodka martini gets turned up to a fiery heat–it's composed of Belvedere vodka, just a little olive juice (it's not quite a dirty martini, just a little naughty) and a few dashes of Tabasco, finished off with a skewer full of blue-cheese-stuffed olives. Shaken to an icy froth, the Dirty Bird is smooth, spicy, tart, creamy, everything you never knew you wanted in a cocktail. And something this savory and full-flavored can easily stand alone as your appetizer–or, hell, even dessert.
Best Bartender Orange County 2014 – Jarred Dooley
At Playground, Jarred Dooley's title isn't bartender, mixologist or anything like that. He's the director of libations. Dooley came from the beer world–as proven by the incredible list of beers that hangs over the bar, all of which cost a paltry five-spot–but when the opportunity came to get a general liquor license, he dove right into the fray and taught himself how to make a damn good cocktail. These days, he allows superstar Joe Valdovinos–our Best Bartender of 2013–a free hand, but he's a dab hand behind the stick himself, as well as the reason there's such a great liquor selection.
Best Shot Orange County 2014 – Hotel Maya's Fuego Restaurant
You might recognize the Hotel Maya in Long Beach from the scene in Oliver Stone's Savages in which the protagonists, a pair of pot-growing pals, meet up with representatives of the Mexican cartel who are threatening to kill them if they don't give the cartel an exclusive distribution deal. Fuego Restaurant is bisected by a rolling window that opens out at night to provide a stunning view of the lit-up cityscape across the bay. (Just next to the restaurant is a hookah bar.) The food is fantastic, but the true delight is the bar, which features a broad selection of hand-crafted tequilas and fine mezcals. One of the best is the sublime Ilegal Mezcal, a Oaxacan brand that got its name from the owner's stint as a bar owner in Antigua, Guatemala; he used to bootleg the hooch across the border from Mexico, evading army, police and immigration control, as well as gangs and common thugs, to bring the sweet booze to thirsty folks. It's a dirty, cruel world, but this smoky sensation makes sense of the madness.
Best Beer Selection Orange County 2014 – Hollingshead Deli
With the rise of Southern California's craft-brew industry and the proliferation of beer-centric dining in Orange County, it's becoming increasingly difficult to rate this category. But it's not impossible: Hollingshead Deli, the 51-year-old institution behind Duke's Hamburgers in Orange, has a bottled beer selection featuring more than 500 labels from around the world. It offers prices by the crate, with a minimum 10 percent discount. Because it's an eat-in sandwich deli, there's also a nice array of draft beer–25 or so IPAs, Belgian, German and American ales–that changes regularly. You can even check what's on tap via the website.
Best Drinks to Fuck You Up Orange County 2014 – Don the Beachcomber
When you're really looking to get sauced–not just white-girl wasted, but epically fucking hammered–order a Zombie at Don the Beachcomber. Then order another one. And then–oh, that's all you get because these drinks are so strong there's a two-drink maximum. Created in the 1930s by Mr. Don the Beachcomber himself, the Zombie is a famously lethal recipe of three different rums, tropical fruit juices and several other assorted liqueurs. The sweetness of the fruit juice completely masks the insane amount of alcohol the drinks contain, so they're especially easy to knock back. They should come with an automatic Uber reservation–you've been warned!
Best Juice Bar Orange County 2014 – Brianna's Ice Cream
Sure, Brianna's Ice Cream doesn't resemble one of the fancy cold-pressed-juice shops popping up like toadstools in fancy neighborhoods. Juice isn't even in its name. But look to the left as you walk in, and you'll see names in Spanish and English of made-to-order juice combinations that predate the fancy juice trend. Try the vampiro (with beet juice because it looks like blood), alta presión (for people with high blood pressure) or hígado (liver) for people who have overindulged. You can even get a fancy green juice like the ones you see Newport housewives on cleanses gulping. It's just called verde here and costs half as much money for twice as much juice.
Best Brewery Orange County 2014 – Noble Ale Works
First, there was Naughty Sauce, the coffee milk stout that causes a bum rush for the bar on its quarterly release dates. Then it started the "Showers" series of single-variety hopped beers. The latest craze was Tongue Tickles, Noble Ale Works' double IPA that may be the best beer it's ever brewed. Of course, the fact that you can park there for free on game nights, have a great beer for five bucks, and then walk to Angels Stadium or the Pond doesn't hurt.