Welcome to our annual Top 5 countdown, where most of our our SAFII writers tell you what impressed them over the past year! Here, we have web editrix Hellcat Hamby tell you what she loved—enjoy, and dig in!
For reasons unclear to me, I hadn't heard about Zankou Chicken until this year. This year!! The Mexican wrote about Zankou when I was still in elementary school, and the Los Angeles chain has been beloved for three decades now, so why it never came up until a conversation with my Dungeons and Dragons buddies this summer, I will never know. But I assure you I've made up for lost time, having eaten dozens of perfectly roasted birds, my weight in tender tri-tip and enough of that crack-like garlic paste to kill Nosferatu.
In what would become the greatest comeback story of the year, Naugles opened their Fountain Valley test kitchen to the public daily starting in late 2016. The beloved fast food taco chain of the 1970s and 1980s returned to Orange County thanks to the passion of Naugles fan Christian Ziebarth. I never had Naugles in it's original incarnation, but the food Gods have smiled upon me, and the Weekly World Headquarters is now walking distance from the Corporate Kitchen so I have that 'ish weekly.
My personal favorite is the combo cup (or the conejo cup as Gabriel San Blogman calls it). Not a big fan of sodas but their Black Cherry soda with real cane sugar is always a temptation. The best part is you can walk out full, happy, (relatively) healthy and wealthy with most meals under $5.
The SmoKING Ribs
September 2015 changed OC's BBQ game forever when the SmoKING Ribs opened in Garden Grove. This hole-in-the-wall sits just a stone's throw from the Boiling Crab but it sits in no one's shadow. Kenny Tran's hobby turned catering business gone brick and mortar serves up “Bolsa Barbeque”: non-regional, slow-smoked briskets and ribs with just two sauces, sweet and spicy. You can mix the two together to your liking but be warned: the spicy is actually hot and contains ghost peppers, Thai chilis and hot drops. Their sides are just as drool- and Instagram-worthy as the meats with dishes like the mashed potato waffle bowl and cornbread with real blueberries and corn kernels. Here, the meat falls right off the bone and easily falls into your list of favorite BBQ joints in town.
I've said it before and it's still true: the Corner in Huntington Beach is criminally underrated. It never gets the buzz of restaurants in downtown SanTana and it's not likely to get it's own 30-second Buzzfeed video like the Attic in Long Beach. But mastermind Chris Grodec consistently turns out one of OC's most reliable yet innovative seasonal menus. The cocktails, the starters, the main affairs…they're all solid, every time. I always go to try the new dishes and keep coming back for the staples: the tuna tartare tostadas, the mashed potato tacos and that perfect specimen of a whiskey cocktail: the Clockwork Orange Fashioned.
This year saw a mass exodus of beloved celebrities and a giant influx of poke joints. As the number of restaurants serving raw ahi went up, the quality went down almost everywhere. But shout out to Poke District in Orange for keeping it consistent. Their tuna has remained a deep, blood-red color, fresh in flavor and perfect in texture. It's refreshing they haven't adopted the Chipotle make-your-own method; sometimes, it's better to leave it up to the capable hands of people who know better. And it's served with a generous side of seaweed salad and krab salad. Here's hoping Poke District stays around many years after bluefin tuna gets extinct…