For most everyone, 2016 can not end fast enough. It's been a tough year with all of the celebrity deaths, going through the election chaos, and it seems like every time I log on to Facebook, one of my friends has posted about something awful that has happened to them or someone that they know. Yep, 2016 has been awful for some, but the calendar is soon going to flip to 2017, and hopefully there will be much better things in store for all of us.
My quest to eat and review at least 1000 restaurants on this blog continued this year, slowly but surely. We now stand at 655 different restaurants reviewed in 81 different cities throughout the US. I had wanted to hit up at least 100 restaurants this year, but I fell 12 short of that goal, primarily because we were short handed at my real job, and I had to work a lot more. We also wanted to travel more this year, but we only managed a short trip out to Palm Desert and also a short jaunt out to Las Vegas, for a much overdue visit to try some of the great restaurants there. Hopefully, both of these things will change in 2017.
Before we get to our top ten list of restaurant experiences we had in 2016, I'd like to thank all of you readers of this blog, who have commented, managed to get through my awful writing and grammar mistakes, and have hopefully found some great places to eat while reading this blog. It's because of all of you that makes this journey through all of these restaurants worth it. I'd also like to thank all of my dining companions this year, many of whom were very patient while I was taking my pictures, and did not mind me asking over and over how they liked their meals. Lastly, I'd like to thank my partner in life, my beautiful wife Katie, who has allowed me to continue this hobby/quest to find the best food that our great county has to offer. I could not ask for a better wife/dining companion and look forward to another 50 years worth of meals with her. Now enough with all this sappiness, let's get to the places we ate in 2016.
#10 Anaheim White House - This is a spot that makes our list for not only the wonderful Ossobuco Milanese that I had for Katie's birthday dinner at this iconic OC restaurant, but also for the great work that Chef/Owner Bruno Serato has done for the community. At last count, his Caterina's Club has fed 1.2 million meals to underprivileged children. This might be one of the reasons that I believe Katie has a slight crush on Chef Bruno, which I'm kind of okay with.
#9 El Camino Cafe - All it took for us to make it to this Tustin breakfast restaurant was a mention from OC Weekly's Gustavo Arellano, who put this on his list of top ten chilaquiles in OC. Good enough for us, and he was right on with his assessment. One of the most balanced versions I have had, and almost as good as the one at Anepalco's.
#8 What A Dish Cafe - Another breakfast/brunch spot on our list, and the highlight here was an East Coast Benedict, which featured a great crab cake on it. I still don't understand why people wait an hour at RJ's Cafe, which is in this same shopping center when you can usually get a table right away at What A Dish, and get a far superior first meal of the day. I hope it stays this way.
#7 The Pie Hole - This LA transplant is expanding, and the City of Orange hit the pie jackpot by getting great access to desserts like grandma used to make. The Apple Crumble, Mexican Chocolate, and the Maple Custard have all been winners. Now it's time for me to try their savory pies next.
#6 Burger Parlor - The only burger spot to grace our top ten list this year. Burger Parlor, a few doors down from Pie Hole, also expanded from their Fullerton roots. Chef/Owner Joseph Mahon brought his award-winning burgers to the Plaza in Orange, and we could not be happier. The Frito Chili Cheese Burger is the stuff of legends and just one of the great options here. Burger Parlor definitely has a spot on my Mount Burger-more of OC burgers.
#5 Roma D' Italia - Tustin seems to have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Italian restaurants. Last year Tustin's Pina's Bistro made our list, and this year it's the venerable Roma D' Italia, with its stick to your ribs Italian fare that makes an appearance. This restaurant is coming up on 50 years in business soon, and with sausage rolls, lasagna, and other pasta dishes like these, they'll be around for at least double that time.
#4 Sol Agave - Food truck turned brick and mortar restaurants are pretty common nowadays, but the Mexican cuisine at Sol Agave is not common. We loved this modern, upscale Mexican restaurant, and look forward to checking out their carnitas, queso fundido, and other specialties in their new, larger digs, which is just across the same parking lot, in the old Harlow's location. Glad they are so close to where we live.
#3 The SmoKING Ribs - Barbecue is one of my favorite genres of restaurants, but you really have to hunt for good ones, especially in South OC. Not in south OC, but definitely worth the drive is this barbecue mecca in Garden Grove of all places. The meats and sides here were all stellar, and you'll definitely leave with leftovers for the next day, and become the envy of your coworkers. Trust us, this place is that good.
#2 Ironwood - This is basically a sister restaurant to the much-heralded Vine in San Clemente, with a few tweaks to its menu. With our love of Vine, it's no wonder that this Laguna Hills restaurant would make our list this year. I celebrated my birthday here, and still dream about the bone in rib-eye, covered with Bearnaise sauce that made my big day even more special. Another winner for Russ Bendel and his team.
#1 Grits - Time will tell how the recent departure of Chef Cody Storts will affect this restaurant, but for now, they land at our best meal of 2016. Actually, we ate here 2 times, once for brunch, and another for dinner, and both were incredible. They are still using all of Chef Cody's recipes, so you should still make a trip to Fullerton to try out their Pot Roast Benny, Thai Waffle Stack, Dr. Pepper Pork and Grits, or their Big Papa Burger. All will leave you wanting for more.
Okay, that's it for this year's list. Who will make it on next year's list? Time will tell, but I know I'll enjoy the ride. May all of you and your loved ones have a fantastic and prosperous 2017. Now go out there and make it a great one.