OC Food Diva’s Best Bites (and Sip) Of 2016

2016 was another year of great eats! I love seeing chefs and restaurants re-invent dishes, push the boundaries of the culinary world, and harmoniously balance flavors. These are the Top 10 dishes that gave me such a sensory experience while eating (and drinking) them, that they haunt my dreams (in a good way). The two questions everyone asks me are, “What is your favorite restaurant?” and “What is your favorite food?”. This list will answer your questions, at least, for 2016.
Anepalco’s Lamb Duo“Enhance your palate with the Lamb Duo. It is barbacoa stew, and lamb taco on a nixtamal (treated corn) tortilla. If you love lamb barbacoa, you need to order this! The stew has all of the rich, roasted flavors from the lamb head and thick stew with lip-smacking collagen. The vegetables provide a nice balance of sweet and refreshing flavor. The lamb taco is filled with tender lamb meat along with some of the juices from the stew. The microgreens, cilantro, and radish add texture along with refreshing flavor. The presentation is just stunning!” 3737 West Chapman Avenue, Orange, California
Carolina Italian Restaurant’s Famous Meatballs“Carolinas Famous Meatballs is a platter of delicious meatballs topped with their homemade marinara sauce. These handmade meatballs are meaty, tender, and flavorful. The marinara is hearty and robust. One of the best meatballs around outside of an Italian grandma’s kitchen!” 915 South Harbor Boulevard, Anaheim, California
Copper Top BBQ’s Big Pine Sampler Platter“Big Pine Sampler Platter includes 5 ounces of Santa Maria tri-tip, two pork ribs, a quarter chicken, and a Hawaiian roll. These are all cooked out front in the smoker and grills so you know what you are getting. The tri-tip is cooked Santa Maria-style and seasoned with Hank’s own dry rub. The meat is juicy and full of savory beefy flavor that will have you coming back for more. The pork ribs are BBQ competition worthy with a good bite where the meat is tender but doesn’t just drop off the bone. The flavor has a good balance of smoky, sweet, and savory flavors. The chicken, whether you order white or dark, is moist and tender. The skin has the perfect caramelization with dark golden brown color. You can also taste the freshness of the chicken as it doesn’t have any irony flavor notes at all. The meat is almost sweet and the smoke imparts a great flavor throughout.” 310 North Main Street, Big Pine, California
Good Choice Sushi by the Sea’s Whole Spanish Mackerel Sashimi“Whole Spanish Mackerel Sashimi is beautifully presented. A telltale sign that the fish is fresh is the crystal clear eyes. The mackerel is meaty with a soft bite but the flavor is very mild. If combined with a little bit of seaweed, it gives it just the right amount of salt balance to push the sweet flavor of the fish forward. The seaweed also adds a crunchy texture to the bite. After you finish your sashimi, the head and bones will be fried for a crunchy treat.” 34700 Pacific Coast Highway Suite 106, Capistrano Beach, California
Heritage’s White Trash Croque Madame“White Trash Croque Madame is a grilled cheese toad-in-a-hole with chorizo gravy and potatoes. This is a fantastic combination of flavors and textures from the rich yolk, creamy, spicy chorizo gravy, gooey cheese, and crunchy grilled sourdough. Nothing in this dish is wasted, even the cutout bread for the hole is made into a tiny grilled cheese and used as a topper. The breakfast potatoes wedges are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Use the chorizo gravy for dipping them. No ketchup necessary.” 255 North Virginia Street, Reno, Nevada
Hopdoddy’s Primetime Burger“Primetime Burger starts with Texas Akaushi beef topped with brie cheese, arugula, caramelized onions, truffle aioli, steak sauce, and beefsteak tomato. The beef burger patty has a perfect blend of beef. It is meaty and juicy even at medium rare. Brie adds a creamy, buttery cheese flavor. Arugula adds a green component along with some bitter flavor. The truffle aioli lends a truffle aroma and slight truffle flavor.” 311 Newport Center Drive, Newport Beach, California
Marina Kitchen’s Maker’s Mark MilkshakePhoto courtesy of Marina Kitchen“Maker’s Mark Milkshake ($14) is served with maple lacquered pepper bacon. It has a creamy texture from the ice cream. The Maker’s Mark bourbon packs a punch but lends a caramel-like flavor to the shake. The added bacon shakes things up with a little bit of salty. This also won the “Best Dessert” at the San Diego Bay Food & Wine Festival.” 333 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, California
Plant Food + Wine’s Spring Pea Ravioli“Spring Pea Ravioli made with nettles, pea puree and topped with spring onion soubise. The presentation was beautiful with its organic colors of cream, yellow, and green like the first shoots of vegetation determinedly springing from snow covered ground. The aroma was herbaceous as if walking through an herbal garden. The spring onion soubise was creamy with just the right amount of spring onion flavor without being overbearing. The raviolis were cooked al dente and the pea filling was refreshing with rich flavor, body, and texture.” 1009 Abbot Kinney Boulevard, Venice, California
Puesto’s Puesto Perfect Guacamole“Puesto Perfect Guacamole is made with avocado, parmigiana reggiano, cilantro, onion, fresh squeezed lime and orange, and chile habañero. The parmesan unexpectedly paired perfectly with the guacamole lending its creamy and salty flavor to the mix. The habañero provides a little spicy kick.” 8577 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine, California
Sirena Cocina Latina’s Octopus“Octopus is grilled and served with carrot puree, glazed fennel, roasted Peruvian potatoes, sunchoke, and roasted baby peppers. The octopus is tender with slightly crisp exterior as if dropped into the deep fryer for just a minute. The flavor is sweet and tastes fresh. The carrot puree is reminiscent of butternut squash with a fluffy texture and sweet flavor. It contrasts nicely with the smoky flavor of the grilled octopus. The potatoes are cooked to perfection and the sweet peppers add contrast similar to Potatoes O’Brien.” 1901 Columbia Street, San Diego, California
Hau’oli Makahiki Hou (Happy New Year) and looking forward to more great eats in 2017!