The year flew by once again and my food journeys from Los Angeles down to San Diego have been mostly successful, although there were several duds along the way as well. My picks for 2013 includes mostly Orange County restaurants, but also, a handful of those from the counties we are flanked by. Please click on the links for an extensive review of each restaurant.
Let’s begin with Los Angeles county and one of our favorites this year was David LeFevre’s Fishing With Dynamite. This tiny eatery is always packed with people and once you sit down to a meal here, you will understand why. The freshest of seafood from raw to cooked will always tantalize the tastebuds.
David Myers’ Hinoki and The Bird was definitely an experience in itself the minute you walk through the doors. Food leans towards Japanese-inspired although there are other Asian countries represented as well. Our favorite was the sambal skate.
Lying on the cusp of LA county and Orange County is Long Beach, where Michael’s Pizzeria is located. The pizza crust here is chewy and toppings unique, but pizza isn’t the only thing on the menu. Duck confit is fantastic and they also do an afogatto well, one of my favorite desserts!
Orange County has seen a lot of restaurant openings this year, but the one closest to my heart is Pie-Not, bringing me a piece of home locally, but in such a delicious manner. In fact, the pies here are so much better than the ones in Australia the only thing I miss is the “tomato sauce” we slather on top (not to be confused with ketchup!).
Next door to Pie-Not is SideCar Doughnuts, possibly the ONLY doughnut shop I frequent. These doughnuts are like no other doughnuts you’ve ever eaten. Flavors change weekly and doughnuts are made fresh in small batches throughout the day. Thursdays and Fridays offer vegan and gluten-free options.
One of my favorites this year has been Mare Culinary Lounge, the brainchild of Alessandro Pirozzi of Cucina Alessa. Not many people realize it is hidden within the Holiday Inn in Laguna Beach off PCH, which is a sad thing because the food is incredible.
I don’t think Little Sparrow requires much introduction because it has been receiving so much press all over. The kitchen helmed by Eric Samaniego has an outstanding charcuterie platter all created in-house and a separate bar area with killer craft cocktails that puts most bars in OC to shame.
It wouldn’t be a Mad Hungry Woman list without a shout-out to an obscure hole-in-the-wall in the middle of Little Saigon. Rice Paper Bistro totally impressed me this year with its fresh, tasty Vietnamese fare by Le Huynh, a self-taught chef. So many favorites to choose from, you’ll just have to read about it yourself.
Last but not least in OC is ARC, the brainchild of Noah Blom and Marin Howarth. The restaurant does not possess any stoves and everything is cooked in a wood-fire oven whether it be meat or vegetables. The house-made bacon is a must.
Surprisingly, San Diego gave us two Japanese offerings beginning with Ristorante Kaz, a Japanese-Italian fusion restaurant with some of the most unique pastas around. The uni spaghetti is a stand out as well as the cold angel hair pasta with shiso leaves.
Last but not least is Rakiraki, a ramen shop with some of the best ramen I’ve ever had. I’ve returned here several times and each time, the consistency has remained the same regardless what time of day you visit. Besides ramen, they also have THE BEST chicken karaage I’ve ever tasted.