the comforts of home at Georgia’s

Last week, we visited a new restaurant located at Anaheim Packing District. A friend of a friend introduced us to Nika Shoemaker Machado and Marlon Machado, a husband and wife team who owns Georgia’s. We were lucky enough to have Nika sit down with us while we ate to listen to her story.

Georgia’s is a tribute to Nika’s mother who owned a catering business with her father, but gave it up when Nika’s father passed away many years ago. Even though the business was no longer, the love of home-cooked meals remain a fixture within their family, which eventually turned into the birth of Georgia’s.


Nika was born and raised in southern California and insists that the menu at Georgia’s is not southern soul food by any means. She calls it southern-inspired comfort food, the kind of meal friends would enjoy if they were visiting her home.

In order to do that, Nika uses her mother’s recipes as the bulk of the restaurant’s menu. It is a family affair with Nika, her mother, Marlon, as well as Nika’s daughter who works the front of the house.

We began with some complimentary corn bread muffins, a delicious morsel with good textural bite. It isn’t overly sweet and a smear of butter gives it a hint of saltiness I do love.


I want to point out that none of the photos depict the a la carte portions. Thanks to Nika, we were able to taste a wider variety of menu items in small bite-sized portions. To give you an idea of what you will get, I have a photo or a full size sandwich as guidance.

Chicken Wings ($8.95/6pcs) come in four flavors: BBQ, hot, mild and lemon pepper, we tried the latter two. I definitely preferred the buffalo sauce flavor even though it is mild. I was told the hot is nice and spicy — definitely for next time.


There are four sandwiches available and we were able to taste three of them. Grilled Chicken ($9.45) has nice flavors and I like its simplicity with just tomato and lettuce and a little aioli.


The BBQ Chicken ($10.45 — full portion shown) is topped with onion straws which gives a wonderful textural contrast. I think when you’re very texture-oriented like I am, this will appeal to you a lot more, however, I liked the flavor of the grilled chicken itself over the BBQ. I forgot to ask if we could add onion straws to the grilled chicken sandwich, but that would be perfect!


I’m not usually a fan of pulled pork so I wasn’t all that excited about the BBQ Pulled Pork ($10.95) sandwich, but surprisingly, I enjoyed it. The barbecue sauce is not sweet and does not overwhelm the pork — a very important thing in my book when eating this style of cuisine.


Of course, if you’re a fan of barbecue, the BBQ Ribs ($13.95) are not to be missed. These incredibly delicious ribs are fall-off-the-bone tender and not smothered with sauce. There is just the right amount to season the meat, while still keeping the integrity of the natural flavors of the pork. The barbecue sauce — like the pulled pork — was not overwhelmingly sweet. My son will love these ribs!


Of course, I always prefer Fried Chicken ($11.45) over ribs and these are definitely worth eating. The chicken is first brined which means you will taste seasoning all the way inside the chicken and not just on the surface. I was delighted to find how moist it was on the inside. The exterior is coated with a cornmeal crust, giving it an extra crispy crunch that is different to the usual batter fried chicken is usually covered in.


The same cornmeal crust can also be found on the Fried Catfish ($11.45). Again, the fish is very moist and flaky, which makes for really enjoyable eating. With the chicken, catfish and ribs, there is also a choice of two sides which comes with the plate.


My favorites are always the sides and the Collard Greens are pretty good and I don’t say this lightly because I make it at home.


Other sides which I really enjoyed was the Hoppin’ John ($7.25) which is black eye peas and rice. There is also Red Beans and Rice ($7.50) but I am partial to the Hoppin’ John for sure.


The Mac and Cheese was also delicious! It is creamy and decadent! I brought a tub home for my son and when I went to pick him up from school he couldn’t even wait until we got home, he ate it in the car!


If you have some room for dessert, try the Peach Cobbler. It will definitely end your meal on a sweet note.


While you’re dining, if you happen to see Nika roaming around the restaurant, make sure you say hi. She is the heart and soul of the restaurant and will be happy you stopped her. And ask her how she met her husband! It’s one of the cutest stories you’ll ever hear!

440 S Anaheim Blvd
Anaheim, CA 92805
Tel: 714-906-1900

Georgia's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

mouth-tingling dishes at Spicy City

I’d have to say, in the 10 years I’ve been Yelp Elite, I have not been to many elite events at all. In fact, these days, I average about one a year, and that is only because it is a special event, or an outing to a restaurant I have not been to and am interested in trying. Therefore, when the invitation came through to check out Spicy City in Anaheim Hills, I RSVPed and joined other Yelp Elites for lunch on a scorching hot day.

My first impressions of the restaurant is that the decor is very modern and pleasant. It definitely has the universal appeal of attracting customers from all ethnicities. I find that usually, Chinese restaurants do not put the effort into making the surroundings a priority, and it is refreshing to see that it is not the case here.

I have to admit, I’ve been to the Spicy City in Irvine — once. I wasn’t impressed and never returned. I was hoping this location would redeem itself and in turn, I would be able to give the Irvine location another try.


I’m going to put it out there, I am not a fan of Chinese American cuisine. It is not reflective of what true Chinese food is, and especially, not the food I grew up eating. However, I am aware that it is difficult for a restaurant in the US to offer a completely regional menu because it will not appeal to a lot of customers who are not accustomed to the hardcore traditional foods I grew up eating. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when we were informed that our meal would include both traditional and American style Chinese dishes.

One of the most ubiquitous Chinese American offerings is Walnut Shrimp (核桃蝦 $15.99) often known as honey walnut shrimp. I’m not sure how this became a staple of Chinese cuisine, but all I know is, mayonnaise is not a Chinese condiment. To be fair, I must preface this by saying I detest this dish regardless, so it really doesn’t matter what I think because a lot of people love it. The shrimp in this dish has a nice snap and is not overly battered, while the walnuts are very crunchy. There was just too much mayo smothering the shrimp and walnuts, making it difficult to enjoy the natural flavors of the main ingredients. Less is definitely more in this case.


Kung Pao Chicken (宮保雞 $10.99) is often the “go-to” dish for people not well-versed in Chinese cuisine, but quite frankly, I love kung pao. I love spicy foods so the dried chile morsels really appeal to me. There are peanuts in this dish so if you have a nut allergy, stay away. This version is respectable and flavorful — I enjoyed it very much.


The next dish is another favorite of mine, but I’m not sure how it differs to kung pao chicken except the chicken is first deep fried before it is stir fried and there are no peanuts. Deep Fried Chicken Cubes w/ Red Dry Chili (辣子雞 $10.99) is dotted with dried chile bits similar to kung pao, but this dish is served without a sauce. Just choose one or the other — ordering both is a bit redundant.


Shredded Pork with Peking Sauce & Lotus Buns (京醬牛肉絲荷葉餅 $12.99) is presented with baos for you to sandwich the meat in. This was delicious, but a tad too saucy which made them very messy to eat.


For me, the traditional dishes are always most reflective of a restaurant’s quality and Spicy City did not disappoint.

Hot Sauce Beef (水煮牛 $12.99) is something I always order when I visit a Sichuan restaurant. It is spicy but extremely piquant and savory. The Napa cabbage is infused with all the great flavors, but I found the sauce a little too “corn-starchy”. We had the beef, but you can also opt for fish instead.


A perfectly executed Fried Rice Yangzhou Style (揚州炒飯 $9.99) arrives and I am impressed. The rice is a perfect consistency with the right amount of “wok hei” (鑊氣) — the heat needed to char and season the ingredients — to give it that taste I want with fried rice.


But there is one more dish, my favorite item of the entire meal. Steamed Fish Fillet with Hot Pepper (剁椒蒸魚片 $18.99) was enjoyed by all because of its complexity overall balance of flavor profiles. I especially loved the fried shiso leaves which added a burst of freshness to the palate. I highly suggest this when you dine at Spicy City.


I will always recommend traditional over American style dishes when eating Chinese. After all, Spicy City specializes in a regional cuisine not often prepared well here in the US. If you’re going to eat American style Chinese, then why bother going to Spicy City? There are a ton of others which will equally provide you with what you’re looking for.

Spicy City
5555 E Santa Ana Canyon
Anaheim, CA 92807
Tel: 714-974-8889

Spicy City on Urbanspoon

a round of applause for ADYA

It is highly refreshing to see an Indian eatery step outside of the box and bring something to Orange County that’s never been seen or tasted before (of course available all over Artesia/little India). ADYA, a new restaurant at Anaheim Packing House and brainchild of Chef Shachi Mehra brings a host of chaat, or Indian street food, to the fore. Gone is the heavy, cloying Indian fare most people are accustomed to eating, and then falling into a food coma for several hours afterwards. In its place, fresh, clean flavors I have only found while living in Asia, and in the homes of my Indian friends.

The informal, casual, relaxed atmosphere is indicative of this style of food, although in India, you would be standing on a street corner battling heat and swatting away a few flies here and there. Here, you can enjoy your meal on the patio outside, or in the various little nooks and crannies the Anaheim Packing House has provided for you to comfortably situate yourself in.


We begin with a variety of chaat (literally translated as “lick” because once you eat it, you’ll want to lick your fingers and your plate) to whet our appetites. I am well familiar with Bhel Puri ($5) a puffed rice munchie usually sold in newspaper cones on the street. Diced cucumbers, tomatoes, dry mango and puffed rice which will make you believe you’re eating something familiar, like cereal due to its texture.


Pani Puri ($6) are little parcels consisting of bite size hollow puri  (an unleavened fried bread) filled with chickpeas and potatoes. A vessel of spicy tamarind water is provided for you to quickly pour some into the opening and immediately pop into your mouth — WHOLE! Do not attempt to take a bite, it’ll be extremely messy!


However, I think the favorite is Chickpea Chaat ($6), with the group naming it “Indian nachos”. This dish is the perfect combination of textures and flavors in one bite. You get the soft, crisp, salty, tart, hint of sweet, from the spiced chickpeas, tamarind and yogurt. Every bite is perfection, and you have an entire bowl of it to savor.


One of my favorites is Lamb Seekh Kebab ($10), cumin seasoned ground lamb grilled on a skewer in the tandoor oven. Tender, flavorful, the accompanying mint chutney adds a refreshing finish on the palate.


Although I enjoy the flavors of the Vindaloo Chicken Pav ($6) tremendously, it is a new experience for me, eating an Indian “sandwich”. This Bombay style sloppy Joe uses an OC Baking Company bun and topped with spiced pulled chicken with a hint of vinegar and chiles — you can feel the heat creep up slowly towards the end.


For those of you reluctant or not adventurous enough to venture outside your comfort zone, there are daily curries and vegetable dishes to choose from. Old Delhi Style Chicken is light, possessing no cream (the way I like my curries), while Dal Makhani (lentil stew) is tender and perfect for vegetarians. I suggest making your meal a thali (+$4) with a side of naan or rice, raita, dal, salad and pickles included.


And on to the topic of sides, the Avocado Raita ($3) is to-die-for. Chef Shachi has put her twist on the traditional cucumber yogurt accompaniment by adding avocado and cilantro. The result is a smooth creamy avocado spread you won’t be able to resist.

Of course, who can say no to naan? Garlic/Butter Naan ($4/$3) is prepared fresh in the tandoor oven and brought piping hot to your table.

True to its name, ADYA (pronounced ah-D-yah) meaning “the first”, will hopefully pave the way for more chefs to step outside of the area’s comfort zone and bring lesser known culinary delights to Orange County.

Want to try ADYA for yourself? I have a $25 gift certificate to giveaway to one lucky reader. Leave me a comment and tell me about your experiences with Indian cuisine and why you want to try ADYA. Don’t forget to leave your FULL name! Winner will be announced Monday June 9th.

at Anaheim Packing House
440 S Anaheim Blvd
Anaheim, CA 92805
Tel: 714-533-2392

ADYA on Urbanspoon

Starting OC Restaurant Week with a bang!

A friend of mine’s birthday falls right around Orange County Restaurant Week, so every year, whenever it came time to celebrate, we have always chosen a restaurant participating in this event. Two years ago, we celebrated at The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon, which had only been opened a few months at the time of Restaurant Week. I am usually left the task of choosing a restaurant and that year, The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon’s menu stood out more so than any of the others. Needless to say, if you’ve been reading my posts on a regular basis, you will know that it has quickly become one of my favorite restaurants in Orange County.

This year, I wanted to start Restaurant Week off right, so I made reservations well ahead of time and gathered some friends together, many who have never experienced The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon before, to eat what is positively one of the best meals this county has to offer.

the ranch

Another thing I want to stress is The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon is one of the few restaurants which offers up full-sized a la carte portions of each dish on the Restaurant Week menu so you’re getting a three-course meal like you would if you were a regular diner at the restaurant. Your dining experience will be exactly the same except for the extremely reasonable $40 price tag. In this post, I will be featuring the entire restaurant week menu for you.

Starting with appetizers, Honeycrisp Apple & Endive Salad is a light starter which packs a punch when it comes to flavor. Every component on this plate comes together to form a complete mouthful of perfection. From the saltiness of the St. Agur Blue Cheese, the hint of bitterness from the endive, to the sweetness of the candied walnuts and, the tartness of the cranberry vinaigrette, everything is precisely balanced on the palate.

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Thai Coconut Curry Bisque was so rich and creamy that everyone at the table sang high praises for it. Its wonderful aromas was on the subtle side — I would have liked a heavier scent of lemongrass and kaffir lime, but it was so silky on the tongue I quickly forgot about it especially, when I found those little bits of North Carolina shrimp in my mouth like hidden treasure. Sublime!

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I’ve had the Hand Crafted Asparagus Cavatelli before and took a taste from my friend’s plate, it was just as good as I remembered. The perfectly al dente house-made cavatelli are so delicious with spears of asparagus and balls of home made pork sausage seasoned with Calabrian chili. The little kick of spice you get at the end is such a delight, and I highly recommend this for all pasta lovers.

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On to entrees and I was happy there was at least one each of everything represented at our table. Chipotle & Sun-Dried Cherry Braised Beef Short Rib is not my choice ever because I’m not a huge fan of short rib. Having said that, its hearty California Pinot Noir reduction was rich and decadent and the accompanying white cheddar grits, butternut squash and Brussels sprouts accoutrements were ideal sides for this very robust dish. My red meat loving friends enjoyed it very much.

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Maplewood Smoked California Sablefish was another entree choice and if you’re not familiar with this particular fish, it is pretty much black cod or butterfish. It is an extremely oily fish and some might find it a little too unctuous on the palate. This was beautifully smoked and reminded me of the smoked sablefish from Russ and Daughters in New York City. Sweet potatoes, King trumpet mushrooms, country ham and cauliflower velouté are well-paired with the dish.

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However, what I came here for was the Confit of Muscovy Duck Leg, which I first sampled two years ago during Restaurant Week 2012. Crispy on the outside and tender on the inside, I wish Chef Michael Rossi would put this on the regular menu so I can come at any time to enjoy this. Beluga lentils with a salty-sweet home made guanciale, cavolo nero (Tuscan black kale) and baby root vegetables combine together for a delightful plate.

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Executive Pastry Chef David Rossi has prepared three desserts for you to choose from. Strawberry Cheesecake with a macadamia nut crust and served with a quenelle of mango sorbet was a huge hit. The cheesecake was light and airy making it easy to consume even after a hefty entree.

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Most of the table ordered Meyer Lemon Creme Brulee, and the ladies were enchanted by the baby blueberry madeleines garnish.

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However, I think everyone was extremely intrigued by the Milky Way With a Twist which was a deconstructed Milky Way bar with Valrhona chocolate, malted nougat discs and quenelles of salted caramel ice cream.

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So there you have it. As always my advice is, if you only go to ONE restaurant, The Ranch is the one to go to. It is always the best of everything from service to quality of food, and you will never leave here still hungry during Restaurant Week!!

The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon
1025 E Ball
Anaheim, CA 92805
Tel: 714-817-4200

the long awaited supper of the year

Last summer, I was invited to a luncheon on the Edwards Ranch Estates, owned by Andrew Edwards, the man behind The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon in Anaheim. It was the media event of the year and I couldn’t stop talking about it. Several months later, I celebrated my birthday at the restaurant and soon after, it was no surprise they made it onto my top 10 pick of 2012.

THE RANCH (640x425)

Since then, I have been patiently anticipating this annual farm-to-table event, and a couple of weekends ago, that day arrived! The weather cooperated this year. Instead of the unbearable heat of last year, we were graced with cool conditions and an overcast sky, perfect for a tour around the farm before sitting down for the incredible meal ahead.

Master sommelier Michael Jordan led us on an exclusive tour, around the grounds, featuring a host of tomato varietals as well as other fruits and vegetables customers dine on every night at the restaurant.

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As we made our way back to take our seats at the table, I sneaked back to catch a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes magical prowess of Executive Chef Michael Rossi and his team. This setup is nothing like the state-of-the-art kitchen they cook in every night at the restaurant. It is no easy feat to create an exquisite feast for 40 people around familiar surroundings, but here, they are only equipped with the basics — some burners and fryers under a makeshift tent.

The first dish to grace our table was Grilled Peaches, something I recall from last year’s spectacular meal. La Quercia Speck, Di Stefano Burrata, wild arugula and lemon verbena honey shared space with the intense sweetness of the peaches.

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I had to mentally remind myself not to take a second helping because I knew there would be tons of food coming. When the second dish arrived, there were oooos and ahhhs across the table. Home Made Charcuterie consisted of everything house-made. The beautiful pickled farm vegetables are all — you guessed it — fresh from the farm and are still crunchy with the perfect balance of acidity.

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The charcuterie included Andouille Sausage, Garden Vegetable Terrine, Applewood Smoked Ham, Country Pate, Truffled Chicken Liver Mousse, Rabbit Rillette, Duck Pastrami, and although everything was delicious, my favorites were the latter three. The richness of the mousse was undeniably addicting, while rabbit rillette was simply sublime.

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The second course was a Chilled Cucumber Soup which I also remember from last year. A tender piece of hot smoked Skuna Bay salmon sits in a bath of the delicate soup, never overpowering the simple nuances of the other.

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The beauty of fresh tomatoes can only be rivaled by its taste. What better way to showcase Heirloom Tomatoes than to allow them to shine on their own? A touch of Maldon sea salt with a drizzle of Napa Valley olive oil were all these lovelies needed. Each variety has its own distinctive aromas and textures which you have to experience on your own. No description can do this justice.

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I’m a huge fan of beets and Farm Beets was right up my alley. There were several different types of beets, tossed with Lola Rosa lettuce, watercress, red flame grapes, Marcona almonds, Manchego cheese and farm Valencia oranges. The different textures melded together for that perfect mouthful of sweet, tart and salty.

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I love the restaurant’s Muscovy duck confit and when I saw this on the menu, my eyes lit up. Tempura Squash Blossom Filled with Muscovy Duck Confit was a different take on the duck I’m used to. The meat is shredded and stuffed into tender squash blossoms and lightly fried. If the blossoms were meant as a vehicle to hold the confit, then it served its purpose. As two equal accompaniments, the fragile flower was overpowered by the robust nature of the duck.

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But that was not all. Under these was a concoction of garbanzo beans, zucchini, eggplant, spring onions in the form of a ragu. How could vegetables be this tantalizing? I couldn’t stop eating it! The little pods of vegetables were braised in a rich duck reduction and decadent enough as a meal of its own. It blew me away and you know it takes a lot to impress me!

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One of my all-time favorites is Country Fried Petaluma Quail and Chef Rossi admits it is one he is not able to take off the menu for fear of customer riots. Once you have a taste, you will understand why. Boneless quail pieces are lightly battered with bits of farm dried sage for a heady and tasty finish. The fowl is oh so juicy and tender making it difficult for me to stop at just one piece. The accompanying fingerling potatoes with home made agave mustard and warm BBQ bacon dressing are good accoutrements, but I didn’t need any of it since the quail is always my shining star.

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A new addition this year was Asparagus Cavatelli, (found on the restaurant’s tasting menu) with a home-made pork sausage with Calabrian chile, yellow squash and ricotta salata in a light broth packed with umami. The cavatelli pasta made in-house is perfectly al-dente and with the flavor-filled broth, I didn’t even need any of the other accompaniments to make this one of my new favorites.

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It is hard to believe that after all that we’ve eaten, we’re only a little over half way done. At this point, Executive Pastry Chef David Rossi graces us with a palate cleanser of Compressed Farm Melons in a Valencia orange soup. Refreshing citrus and nectar-sweet melons meld together resulting in a creation I am happy to end my meal with, but wait….. there’s more!

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My stomach is whispering “no more”, but my mouth salivates at the sight of Certified Sustainable Chilean Sea Bass. Michael Jordan, announces we do not have to finish this entree size portion of melt-in-your-mouth sea bass, but seriously? The Maine lobster risotto it was resting on proved to be my weakness. Dotted with farm English peas and farm spinach, I took a deep breath and managed to savor most of it. Unfortunately, I was only able to put away a third of the fish before reluctantly letting it go. It was a sad moment indeed.

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The Farm Panzanella, served as one of the remaining side dishes was vibrant and rustic in both presentation and taste. Generous chunks of jalapeno cornbread from Dean Kim’s OC Baking Company is tossed with picholine olives, heirloom tomatoes, yellow corn and purple basil is respectable enough as a vegetarian meal.

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If you had room for the other sides, there was a delightful Peas N’ Carrots bowl filled with snow peas, sugar snap peas, Lincoln peas, purple dragon carrots and, sweet treat carrots.

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Or, just a simple sauteed Swiss chard.

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However, everyone was eagerly anticipating the Cowboy Ribeye and when Chef Michael brought it out in its entirety, the crowd jumped up to capture this on camera. One of my friends, who saw the photos, exclaimed “damn! that could have been from one of Andrew Edwards’ horses” — yes it was THAT big!

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In all honesty, I should have stopped eating, but I didn’t. I even had three bites to accompany each of the three sauces it was served with: horseradish cream, bordelaise, oregano chimichurri.

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Looking around the table, I knew everyone was floored by the almost four hours of unrivaled hospitality they had just experienced. When Andrew and Morgan Edwards host a party, you can be sure they are going ALL out from beginning to end. Last year, I hadn’t left a spot of room to even nibble on the desserts by master David Rossi, so this year, I promised to leave a speck in my belly for it.

Black Mission Figs with California almond cake and Drake Family Farms goat cheese was light and luckily, a small portion. I took a bite and waited for the next.

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A huge smile came to my face when I saw Hand Crafted Macaron Ice Cream Sandwiches. As much as I don’t have much of a sweet palate, I definitely AM an ice cream fiend. Caramel popcorn, strawberry and mint n chip adorned the platter, but there was no denying my choice! My favorite ice cream flavor was screaming at me and yes, I ate the entire thing, and even a bite of my neighbor’s strawberry.

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My ‘glorious glutton’ moniker was pushed to its limits that day and even I had to admit defeat. For the next 36 hours, I consumed barely anything other than fruit and water, but it was well worth it! The 2013 debauchery might be over, but just like last year, I relish with glee counting down to what 2014 has in store for us. In the meantime, don’t you think it’s time you paid The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon a visit?

The Ranch Restaurant & Saloon
1025 E Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92805
Tel: 714-817-4200

THE RANCH Restaurant on Urbanspoon

a farewell to 2012 with a year-end round-up

This year has flown by and now we are at my last post of 2012. Like last year, I end with a run-down of my 10 most memorable restaurants/meals of the last 12 months. On my list are two San Diego restaurants and another, which has made my list two years in a row. Thank you to all my readers who have come along for the ride and I hope you will continue to journey with me as we embark into the new year.

I start my “best of” with a casual spot close to home. Mick’s Karma Bar is a small space offering up burgers, and they only have five on the menu. You can choose from a beef, turkey or veggie pattie with a bunch of different toppings, but that’s it. There is also a fish taco on the menu. Order the strawberry basil lemonade as well, it’s seriously addicting! Michael Schepers, owner of Mick’s keeps everything simple, but it is always absolutely delicious!

habanero burger

I’m a huge fan of Lucca Cafe and its chef Cathy Pavlos. Chef Cathy is the warmest, most hospitable woman I know and her passion for food shines through in her wonderful dishes featuring seasonal produce and using the simplest of ingredients at its prime. I love the Sunday Suppers usually held monthly and features an eating debauchery shared family style.

Last year, I featured Anepalco’s Cafe on my year end list. This year, Anepalco’s Cafe opened its second location at Ayres Inn in Orange and there was never a doubt they would make it onto the list this year. Chef Danny Godinez has taken his breakfast and lunch menu to a whole new level by offering dinner at the new location. His dishes reflect his Mexican roots with his experiences in traditional French cuisine. The result is using French techniques and marrying them with bold Mexican flavors. You’ll have to taste it to believe it.

When Mokkoji Shabu Shabu opened this year, I must say my son and I visited so often that when I received my credit card statement, I was shocked at how many of the charges were from there. Chef/owner Tommy Kim, an alumni of the St Regis Hotel uses his fine dining experiences to create an experience like no other. This is THE best shabu places in Orange County. Once you’ve tasted the difference, and experienced the extra mile they go to make your meal delightful, you won’t go elsewhere.

One of the biggest surprises this year has been a little place in San Diego which offers some of the most delicious food I’ve had in a while. Cafe 21 has an incredible breakfast/lunch menu with fantastic pancakes and even better egg dishes. However, their dinner menu also blew me away with fresh, great quality produce, superb proteins leaning towards a Mediterranean feel. Cafe 21 has become a favorite of mine in southern California and they deserve every bit of success they’re receiving!

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On the topic of San Diego, I was pleasantly surprised by Isola Pizza Bar where the pizzas are thin and delicious. Wines are from the owner’s family vineyard and everything they serve is cooked in the oven they imported straight from Italy, including the shrimp dish pictured below.

The Ranch seems to be one of those places where my friends and I go to celebrate something special. Early this year, I celebrated a friend’s birthday here during restaurant week. Then, last month, I celebrated my birthday here with 11 of my friends for dinner. It was a fun-filled evening with delicious food and wine. I returned for a wine dinner a few nights later and that was an absolutely stunning pairing of food and wines. The Ranch remains one of my favorites in Orange County.

This year, The Landmark in Corona del Mar was renovated into a chic, trendy space with new owners and a new chef worthy of praise. Chef Travis Flood, a native San Diegan comes with an impressive resume including Fifth Floor in San Francisco, working under Laurent Gris. The menu is true fine dining style paired with comfort food kicked up a notch or two. Definitely worth a visit.

My new favorite sushi place is Shunka, a little place in a non-descript mall in Costa Mesa. The restaurant serves up beautiful sushi using best quality fish, some of which are imported from Japan. I highly recommend sitting at the sushi bar and ordering omakase and let the chef take you on an incredible ride. Unfortunately I haven’t written up a blog post about Shunka, but this is my go-to place whenever I’m hankering for some top quality sushi close to home!

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Last but not least, this fantastic fine dining establishment recently got a new chef and a new seasonal menu. The hand-made pastas are created in house and definitely worth ordering. They blew me away as I haven’t had anything like this since my trip to New York in the fall. Andrea Ristorante offers spectacular views and if you get there at the right time, you can watch the sunset over the Pacific.

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Well, that’s it! Thanks to all of you who have followed my blog this year. I love all the comments you leave and appreciate your support and enthusiasm! See you all in 2013 and I hope to bring you more tasty places to visit in the new year!