Welcome to our annual Top 5 countdown, where our SAFII writers tell you what impressed them over the past year! Here, we have food critic Edwin Goei’s Top 5 Drinks and Restaurants – enjoy, and dig in!
Edwin Goei’s Top 5 Drinks and Restaurants of 2018:
5. Free Father’s Day Beer at Cafe Hiro
This past year, Cafe Hiro offered a free mug of beer to all the fathers in the house on Father’s Day. It didn’t matter if you were or weren’t actually a father; you just had to say “yes” if you were offered one by the waitstaff. And if you didn’t have any offspring, all you had to do was to think of ways you may have been a father figure to a pet or that clueless intern at work. 10509 Valley View St., Cypress, (714) 527-6090; cafehiro.com.
4. Irish Stout at Golden Road Brewing
One of the best things you can eat at Golden Road Brewing is the olive oil chocolate cake, which also happens to be vegan. It goes extraordinarily well with ice cream and a frothy pint of the house Irish Stout, which your friendly waiter will tell you you’ll like if you like Guinness. He’s right. So if you get the cake, don’t skip the stout . . . or the ice cream. 210 E. Orangewood Ave., Anaheim, (714) 912-4015; goldenroad.la.
3. $1 Champagne at Raw Bar by Slapfish
The best time to go to Raw Bar by Slapfish this past year was during the “Beat the Clock” special, when, starting at 3 p.m., every oyster was sold for a buck apiece. The champagne was also $1 per flute. The prices for both then went up 50 cents every subsequent half-hour. Now, the deal has changed: Only “select” oysters are $4 for four, starting at 4 p.m. Also the beer, wine and champagne aren’t a buck anymore; each is now $5 apiece for the entire Happy Hour period. But it’s probably just as well: $1 for beer and champagne was way too good of a deal to last. 19694 Beach Blvd., Huntington Beach, (714) 963-3900; www.slapfishrawbar.com.
2. Coconut Rum at Habana
Let’s admit it: Any drink served in a coconut is automatically great. But when that coconut is actually fresh, cracked open at your command, with rum poured in to mix with the coconut water inside? That’s the stuff of dreams. 708 Spectrum Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 419-0100; www.restauranthabana.com.
1. Passion Fruit Michelada at Alta Baja Market
If you’ve never had one of Alta Baja Market’s micheladas, owner Delilah Snell will say they’re akin to Bloody Marys, but made with beer. The passion-fruit michelada, though, is closer to a mimosa without the harshness of champagne or tartness of OJ. But unlike that brunch-time excuse to imbibe, this drink is light, refreshing and invigorating instead of intoxicating. And with every gulp, you relive those tropical drinks of Hawaiian vacations past. If you’re feeling under the weather, the brew will also hydrate your throat with its effervescence. You’d never think a michelada could be the antidote to a cough, but sip one and you’ll swear it is. 201 E. Fourth St., Santa Ana, (714) 783-2252; www.altabajamarket.com.
Edwin Goei’s Top 5 Restaurants of 2018:
5. Higo Chicken
Located next to a seedy liquor store and a windowless dive bar, Higo Chicken is a small restaurant space where Luis Uechi, a Japanese-Peruvian, displays his unabashed Peruvian side. The menu is a laser-focused one-pager of the country’s standards. For a main course, you can have your choice of arroz chaufa, saltado, tallarin saltado, ají de gallina or pollo a la brasa. Though the list is small, everything is great, proving that the best Peruvian restaurants don’t have to have a good location or an extensive menu, just a ripping-hot wok and a chef who knows how to use it. 722 E. Whittier Blvd., La Habra, (562) 524-2026; www.higochicken.com.
4. Malibu Farm
On the Malibu Farm menu, there’s arugula in almost everything. The steak comes with a side of arugula dressed as a salad. The chicken Parm wears a nest of arugula as a hat. And the chocolate cake—yes, even the chocolate cake—has an arugula leaf stuck in the whipped cream. But that herb-marinated hanger steak is more flavorful than what you’d find at any Texas steakhouse. The twice-baked potato it comes with is an improvement over a single-baked one. 3420 Via Oporto, Newport Beach, (949) 791-2096; malibu-farm.com.
3. Heirloom Farmhouse Kitchen
Despite its name—since Heirloom Farmhouse Kitchen is actually the restaurant inside the Marriott Irvine Spectrum—you’d think it’s playing it safe when you see a menu full of recent restaurant tropes of charred Brussels sprouts, roasted beets, even a mac and cheese. But what you discover is that the kitchen manages to upgrade these dishes to be the best versions of themselves. Take the spectacular pork chop, which is as thick as the September issue of Vogue. It’s actually a Kurobuta pork tomahawk that’s brined, seasoned, cooked and seared to be the sweetest, juiciest, most satisfying hunk of pig you’ll ever consume. 7905 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 759-0200.
The steaks here are crusted by a flavorful char, cooked flawlessly, every chew of the sanguine flesh absent of the gristle and impurities of a lesser cut of meat. And the fries are practically French steak frites. Every meal starts with a free basket of popovers instead of bread, and there’s a panna cotta for dessert, which is always preferable over a crème brûlée. 18420 Von Karman Ave., Ste. 100, Irvine, (949) 477-4810; davios.com.
Gabbi Patrick’s newest restaurant sits in a restored-brick structure on Old Town Tustin’s main drag. Sunlight pours in from a glass ceiling, the bar is always packed, and the menu features the unalloyed regional cuisine of the Yucatan Peninsula, the place of Patrick’s birth. At Chaak, she serves no rice-and-beans combo plates. Instead, she offers sikil pek, a traditional Yucatecan dip made from ground pumpkin seeds. There are panuchos and salbutes and a boneless grilled fish that you scoop out and wrap inside thick-as-a-mousepad corn tortillas. 15 El Camino Real, Tustin, (657) 699-3019; chaakkitchen.com.
Before becoming an award-winning restaurant critic for OC Weekly in 2007, Edwin Goei went by the alias “elmomonster” on his blog Monster Munching, in which he once wrote a whole review in haiku.