Welcome to our annual Top 5 countdown, where our food and drink writers tell you what impressed them over the past year. Here, we have Anne Marie’s list – enjoy, and dig in!
[Editor’s Note: Anne Marie’s lists are in alphabetical order.]
Anne Marie’s Top Five Bars of 2018
The Blind Pig – Rancho Santa Margarita
As someone who spends most of my free time going to different restaurants and exploring new menus, I had a tough time narrowing down what to order at the bar overseen by Ryan Autry. Did I want light and refreshing or something more spirit-forward? Blind Pig’s extensive list will have what you are craving. And don’t get me started on his off-menu experiments. I’m coming back for a mirepoix martini, Autry. 31431 Santa Margarita Pkwy, (949) 888-0072; wwwtheblindpigoc.com.
The Blind Rabbit – Anaheim
Balance and consistency are what I look for in a great bar. You can often send food back for longer cook time, or add an ingredient to fix things up. But I think cocktails are more like baking; precision is more critical. When it comes to precision, Blind Rabbit immediately comes to mind. Every visit is a memorable one, as it should be when I’m dealing with the team that swept this year’s Golden Foodie Awards in their area of expertise. Lynette, Ying, Robert and the rest of the crew set the bar (pun not intended) for how a speakeasy should be run. I can’t wait for their next concept to launch. 440 S. Anaheim Blvd.; www.theblindrabbit.com.
Pacific Hideaway – Huntington Beach
What I appreciate about Kimpton properties is how they strive for their food and beverage outlets to be as elevated as the property itself. While Shorebreak is a lovely place to frequent, there’s usually something brewing whenever Casey Lyons is involved. Whether assisting with an off-menu, ‘dancing’ cocktail, crafting Top Gun-themed drinks in a jumpsuit, or on the ‘gram hinting at a Miracle Pop-up, he’s definitely all in. Casey’s creativity and dedication to keeping things upbeat is why I’m always down for a hideaway. 500 Pacific Coast Hwy. (714) 965-4448; www.pacifichideawayhb.com.
Stowaway – Tustin
My neighborhood bar has not only gone full Tiki, but serves ono grindz! Formerly Hatch, I’ve frequented this watering hole since they originally opened because of their tucked away location at Union Market. An ever-growing list (last count 25+) of boozy beverages paired with all the kitschy decor means hakuna matata after a long work day. And if you’re feeling like a beer, they’re still maintaining the tap list. 2493 Park Ave., (657) 208-2088; www.stowawaytiki.com
Vacation Bar – Santa Ana
Downtown Santa Ana has great drinks, but I was looking for a dedicated bar to linger in. And when that bar includes the hospitality of one Harrison Kho, I didn’t need to look further. Their around-the-world mentality makes me reminisce about my past travels, and dangles wanderlust for future ones. I am partial to ordering a London, England, though. 204 W. 4th St., (657) 266-0855; www.vacationdtsa.com.
Anne Marie’s Top Five Restaurants of 2018
Crack Shack – Costa Mesa
Opening right before Thanksgiving last year, I didn’t think it was fair to make a decision without working my way through the bulk of their menu. Considering I was a fangirl of Top Chef and Richard Blais, it was the right thing to do. So for months, I dined there alone and with friends. What I can tell you is this: They do chicken sammiches right. Do you want to switch that fried clucker with grilled? Not a problem. You’ll find heat, sweet and a brekkie version I devoured. Get sauced in their condiment area, then trek upstairs for a different dining vantage point. It’s a tight operation with super cool staff. 196 E. 17th St., (949) 383-5040; www.crackshack.com.
Journeyman’s Food and Drink – Fullerton
Hotel Fullerton built a custom dining room specifically to showcase Chef Zach Geerson’s talent. And while it may be a hard sell for those unfamiliar with his cuisine (four courses for $75– few places in North OC would dare to charge), I do not hesitate to recommend Journeyman’s. You’ll find three possible options for each round, allowing for the kitchen to steer towards your taste, “We read on in prosaic form of ingredients as they are, but prepared meticulously in grand and simple fashion.” Geerson pushes the diner’s notion of how and what fine dining is in Orange County, and for that I thank him. 1500 S. Raymond Ave., (714) 635-9025; www.journeymanfood.com.
Marché Moderne – Newport Beach
Although they were at South Coast Plaza for many years, moving towards the ocean and offering dinner-only service meant it would take extra time for me to be certain about my thoughts towards Marché. For those who didn’t believe they could thrive in a setting outside of Costa Mesa, I can assure you they are not hurting for business. Go here for all the indulgences: the caviar and oysters, charcuterie, cheeses, seafood, meats and la patisserie! Instead of skipping a beat, Amelia and Florent Marenau expanded upon their own melody. I look forward to their upcoming brunch service. 7862 Pacific Coast Hwy., (714) 434-7900; www.marchemoderne.net.
Ocean at Main – Laguna Beach
Chef Craig Strong’s venture into his own dining space was one of the most anticipated restaurant openings this year. As a loyal patron of Studio, I was both excited and curious about how his cuisine would adjust in a setting not supported by a resort. Strong’s familiar, Zen-like attitude translates in both front and back of the house. Oxtail Kale Risotto warmed my soul, while a solid Margherita Pizza, Seared King Salmon and Craig’s Spice Cake summed up an excellent dinner. Their enclosed patio is a more private setting, while a glass of white at the bar invites socializing. And before you ask about the “Main” in Ocean at Main, he’s referring to the main beach down the street; I was confused at first, too. 222 Ocean Ave., (949) 715-3870; www.oceanatmain.com.
S’wich Bistro – Irvine
Hands down my favorite brekkie burrito this year, I was a bit surprised to learn it was in a busy office park down by Alton and Sand Canyon. Thanks to Troy for introducing me to this hole-in-the-wall, for they do the kind of memorable lunch and breakfast that sustains their weekday-only operation. Go for the burrito, but return for the KBBQ beef sandwich, personable staff, and 80s soundtrack. Oh, and everything house glazed bacon! 16277 Laguna Canyon Rd., Unit B, (949) 753-0227; www.swichbistro.com
A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.