Thursday, December 27, 2018

Best Restaurants of 2018

Pretty crazy to believe that this is the 9th year-end review that I have written for this blog. It seems like just a few days ago that I was bored on the internet, stumbled across a restaurant blog, and became entranced with what I saw.  I decided that day that I would like to become a restaurant blogger/reviewer. Nearly 900 posts and 800 different restaurant visits have brought us to the verge of 2019.

I look at the list of restaurant blogs that I have followed on my blogroll, and most have stopped producing new content, sporadically post something, or have shuttered completely. These days it seems to be all about Instagram and other social platforms that I'm not really all too familiar with. Yes, I could just focus on Instagram, which would be way easier, but there's something that keeps me writing this blog. It's kind of therapeutic to me and keeps me from just watching too much Netflix when I get home. I guess it helps keep my brain a little bit more active also.

Back in 2009, I would have never guessed where this blog and my life would have taken me. Marriage was never something I really aspired to achieve, but that was before I met Katie, who I also started up with nine years ago. I could have never guessed the great restaurants I would have the chance to eat at thanks to this blog. The chefs and food people, whether it was other food bloggers, Instagrammers, food publicists, restaurant management or staff that I have had the great opportunity to meet have inspired me, and some I'm even humbled enough to call friends. It really is true what others say, food people are the best people.

As the end of the year approaches it's always natural to look back where you have been. This restaurant blog is not only what I hope is a great resource for all of you, but it's also a sort of diary of my life over almost a decades time. Yes, I  have slowed down a bit with my reviews, but I really still enjoy doing this, and not just because I get to eat a lot of delicious food. I do this because I love going out to eat with my friends and family. In these days of everyone with their heads glued to their cell phones, myself included, the table is where you can truly catch up with family and friends without dodging click bait and ads.

So I'd like to thank everyone that has had a hand in helping me produce this blog this year. Whether it was agreeing to have dinner with Katie and me, giving us suggestions on where to eat, interacting with me on social media, commenting or liking one of my posts or pictures on social media, dropping me a question or suggestion through the website or Twitter, or just taking the time to read a particular review that intrigued you. I truly appreciate all of you and look forward to reaching some big milestones next year with our 800th restaurant and the tenth anniversary of this blog. It truly has been a magical ride so far, and I hope the end is far into the future.

Now without further yapping from me, here are the top restaurants that we ate at this year, and places that you should eat at as soon as possible.

#10 Brussels Bistro - Laguna Beach

Belgian food is not something that you encounter every day in OC, especially since the only other Belgian spot I had heard of in OC, The Globe closed three years ago. Lucky for us Brussels Bistro has picked up the cause for this Benelux country's cuisine. When here think mussels, some of the best fries and sauces anywhere, and hearty entrees. Here's to hoping that Belgian food catches fire like poke did in the last few years.

#9 S'Wich Bistro - Irvine

A hard to get to restaurant for me, because of their hours and lack of being open on weekends, but S'Wich is worth the trouble. A favorite of nearby Blizzard workers, you'd be hard pressed to find a clunker on their menu. The sandwiches are solid but don't sleep on their burger, which has gotten some love from OC Register Restaurant Critic Brad A Johnson.  I also hear good things about their breakfast burritos as well.

#8 Free Range Cafe - Newport Beach

Kind of isolated on Balboa Island, Free Range is situated away from the busy tourist lined Marine Avenue, and on the same street where you can catch the Balboa Island Ferry. It's worth finding for the best, albeit most expensive breakfast spot on the island. The croque madame was good, but the real star here is their twice baked breakfast potatoes and their fries, Really well done.

#7 Parallel Pizzeria -  Dana Point

It was a busy year for Chef Ryan Adams. He sold the much heralded 370 Common but opened Buttermilk, a fried chicken restaurant in Downtown Orange and a New Haven pizza joint in Dana Point. The pizza here is not like anything you have had before, except if you have had it in Connecticut. Clams and bacon sound a little odd but really worked on the pizzas here.

#6 North Italia - Irvine

Yes, North Italia is a chain Italian restaurant and they opened up three years ago this month, but this is not like any chain restaurant you have ever been to. Everything is freshly made, there's almost always an hour wait unless you make reservations, and you will definitely have a tough time deciding what you want to eat when dining here. The energy inside this restaurant matches the vibrancy of the food coming out of this kitchen perfectly.

#5 Mama's Comfort Food and Cocktails - Los Alamitos

I love me some comfort food and this newest outpost of Mama's on 39 got me very excited. The buffalo cauliflower starter was delicious, and the hits just kept on coming with one of the best patty melts I have had in some time, and the desserts, which feature Thrifty brand ice cream. Next time maybe breakfast for dinner, but I'll for sure save room for some Chocolate Malted Crunch at the tail end of my meal.

#4 Ikram Bakery - Fountain Valley

I had Ikram on my list for a long time as we have become addicted to shwarma. This build your own plate kind of place now holds the crown for best shwarma in OC in my opinion. The chicken was moist and flavorful and the beef was the same. Centrally located in Fountain Valley, which is quickly becoming one of the best food cities in all of OC.

#3 El Pico De Gallo Grill -  Santa Ana

I had heard some good things about this restaurant on my friend's podcast and made a note to give it a try. Niyaz did not lead me astray. The Mexican food here is right up there with the big boys; El Farolito, Sabroso! and El Maguay. They make their tortillas right in front of you, there's a spinning spit of al pastor right by the front door, and the carne asada is not to be missed either. A very unassuming restaurant, but not one to be missed.

#2 Fire Breather BBQ - Lake Forest

I always cry over the fact that there are no good barbecue restaurants in South OC, where I live. That all came to an end when I discovered Fire Breather BBQ in the middle of this year. Not only the best barbecue in South OC, but this could also rival some of the best barbecue I have had in all of OC. I wish they had a little more diversity in their sides, but I have never had a bad piece of meat here, whether it is their brisket, tri-tip, pork ribs, or pulled pork. All are winners.

#1 Cortina's Italian Market - Anaheim

Cortina's takes the top spot of 2018 for me this year. They were our only four-star review and the lunch I had here was my most memorable meal of this year. I've been on the lookout for an awesome meatball sandwich and found it here. I also found a porchetta sandwich that rocked my world and the pizza is one of the best I have had in a long while. Even their regular cold cut sandwiches are stellar. Prices are very reasonable here and this is one of the crown jewels of Italian eateries in OC.

So that's it for this year's best restaurants. As usual, I'm looking forward to what the new year brings. I'd also like to thank all of you for taking the time to visit our blog and hope you will continue to do so in the upcoming year. Now let's go out there and make it a delicious year.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

A Breakfast Worth Toasting To?

Toast Kitchen + Bakery
1767 Newport Blvd. 
Costa Mesa, CA 92627

It was the last day before my vacation from work would come to an end, so Katie and I decided to go out to breakfast for some sustenance. After a very pleasant walk around Upper Newport Bay, we had definitely felt that we deserved a good first meal of the day. I had heard about a new place that had opened up in mid-July and has been on my radar thanks to their Instagram posts that have showcased some beautiful pieces of pie and other selections from their breakfast and dinner menus. We hurried back to our car and headed straight for Toast Kitchen and Bakery in Costa Mesa.

For those of you that are unfamiliar with Toast, they took over the spot that formerly housed the Golden Truffle for 37 years. If you are unfamiliar with that spot, first shame on you for not making it there, and second it's located on the same side of the street as Condom Revolution, Kabob Republic, Cucina Roma, and Side Street Cafe. Hope that narrows it down for you, and if you are still lost, just go north from the busy cross streets of 17th and Newport Boulevard.

Even though this restaurant is called Toast, they are open for lunch and dinner, as well as breakfast Tuesday through Saturday and open for breakfast only on Sundays. Toast comes to us from Ed Lee, of Wahoo's fame and Chef John Park who cut his chops in LA at Father's Office, Lukshon, Water Grill, and Quenelle ice cream shops. He moved to OC two years ago and staged pop-ups until Ed called to see if he had any interest in running the former Golden Truffle spot, which is not only Toast but also Fil, a sister restaurant that specializes in malasadas and ice cream. More on that later.

Toast opened to rave reviews for not only their food but the way they also do business. It was very important to Chef John that he gives back to the community that supports his restaurant, so he convinced Ed that they would donate 10 percent of their profits to a charity each month. This modern take on a diner, with an Asian twist, also helps the community by employing veterans, recovering substance abusers, and homeless people, workers who might not get a chance to work anywhere else.

When we arrived here on a recent Sunday I was half expecting to have to wait, but we must have been lucky because we got seated right away. The restaurant was busy, with a large bridal shower near the back of the restaurant, which included one of my favorite food people, Connie, from OC Comestibles. I figured if she was eating here, we were probably in for a very big treat.

Like I said earlier the vision of this restaurant is modern diner cuisine with a slight Asian twist, and I'd also add a touch of millennial edge to that description. There are three kinds of toast on the share portion of the menu, with the obligatory avocado toast leading things off with other lighter offerings. The bulk of the menu lists 13 brunch items, many of which tempted me, but I knew I had to limit myself to one sweet and one savory item, as I always like to do with the first meal of the day. Let's see how everything turned out for us on this visit to Toast.

It's always nice to get something unexpected from the kitchen while waiting for your meal, it always kind of makes you feel special. This amuse-bouche if you will, came out rather unexpectedly, but I was pretty hungry and scarfed it down rather quickly. So quickly in fact that I did not write down in my notes what it was. If I had to guess I'd say it was toasted bread with micro greens on top, along with a fig jam, Brussel sprouts and a light sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Tasty, but not something that I'd typically order. Still, a nice touch.

Katie has been on a real breakfast burrito kick lately, and she stuck with it here at Toast by getting their version of a Breakfast Burrito ($16 with avocado added). Yes, you read that correctly, a sixteen dollar breakfast burrito. Yes, it was good, nice and lighter than most, with plenty of soft tater tots, creamy avocado, maple glazed bacon, slightly spicy chorizo, and fluffy cheesy scrambled eggs. As Katie stated this was a very well put together burrito, with fresh items that were prepared well, but nothing that warranted the price tag that came along with it.

I was really stuck about what to get here, but after conferring with our server I went with the Pork Belly ($16). This breakfast bowl came with some of the lightest herb and butter rice I have ever encountered, a sunny side up egg, pickled carrots and daikon, bok choy, and a chili hoisin sauce. I've always said that if you see pork belly on a menu, you should order it, and the pork belly here was equal parts crispy and a little fatty, which is the way I enjoy my pork belly. The rice was very light and stepped aside to let the pork be the star of the show. A little more hoisin sauce would have been preferred with this, but this breakfast dish was lighter than most and made me feel okay about getting two breakfast dishes on this morning.

My sweet item was an easier pick, the Nutella Stuffed French Toast ($13) popped off the menu and landed right on our table. They use brioche to make this, along with a creme brulee batter, then add Nutella to the insides. It's finished off with raspberries and candied hazelnuts. I was a little let down by this. The french toast could have been cooked a little longer, as the bread was left pretty soft. I also would have liked a lot more Nutella slathered on the inside of this. The candied hazelnuts were probably my favorite part of this, as they added a textural component that the toast could not deliver thanks to the undercooked bread.

It was the pies that I saw on Instagram that pushed me to come to Toast, but none of them really spoke to me on this morning, and cookies always speak to me loud and clear, so we gave them a try. The Peanut Butter Cookie ($2.75) was bland and chalky, but the Salted Chocolate Chip ($3) hit the mark. It had a nice crunchy outer ring and a soft and chewy center. There were plenty of chocolate chips and the salt added a nice contrast to the muted sweetness of the cookie.

The food at Toast is made with some really great ingredients and it's obvious that the kitchen takes great care in preparing the food here. I liked what we had, but was not blown away with my breakfast on this late morning. I'll definitely be trying something different on my next visit, maybe the shrimp and grits or the chilaquiles. Even though I know that profits from this restaurant go back into the community and they are doing a lot of good with their hiring practices, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention that I felt that their prices were a bit too high. $16 for a breakfast burrito with avocado, $19 for their burger with fries, and $12 for just avocado on toast make this breakfast restaurant less of an everyday hangout and more of a special occasion spot. The service we experienced on this morning was very upbeat and pleasant, and you definitely get the sense that the employees are really behind this concept. As for me, I'll be excited to return to Toast and see how they grow in the future.

Out of five fiddles, (because Tommy Jarrell, a noted fiddler made his home in Toast, North Carolina), five being best to zero being worst, Toast Kitchen + Bakery gets 3 fiddles.

For more information about Toast, head to their website here:

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Not Chickening out on the Chance to Visit Zankou

Zankou Chicken
2424 West Ball Road
Anaheim, CA 92804

This restaurant review is way overdue. There are certain pockets of OC that are kind of hard for us to get to. Okay, more like we are too lazy to drive and battle traffic to get to is more like it. This area includes pretty much all of the northwestern edges of Orange County. I admit that cities like Buena Park, La Palma, Cypress, Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, and even the western section of Anaheim are very under-represented on this blog. As much as I love eating out and trying out restaurants, it's hard to justify driving sometimes an hour and a half in traffic just for dinner. So much easier to just stay close to home, get done eating and watch some Netflix afterward.

So, when we are up this way for something, we try to combo it with a restaurant we have wanted to try forever. This was the case after watching our beloved Ducks lose a tough game on a recent Sunday evening. With the earlier start times for Sunday games, it's easier for us to grab dinner after the game instead of having to rush to eat before the game. So we headed the fifteen minutes farther away from home on Ball Road and arrived at Zankou Chicken at just past 8pm.

This Times Square strip center located on the corner of Ball and Gilbert, right next door to Magnolia High School was pretty dreary on this rather chilly Sunday evening. Besides the laundromat at the far end of this strip mall and the pizzeria nearer to Zankou, there was not much that appeared to be open at this time of night. As sleepy as the shopping plaza was on the outside, the inside of Zankou was bright and bustling with activity.

We arrived at a very well lit, well-staffed restaurant that was serving a near full dining room of a good cross section of society that had come together at this rather late dinner hour to enjoy some chicken. I don't think it had anything to do with the weird Times Square moniker of this shopping center, but this Zankou location reminded me of what I've seen of New York restaurants in the '70s and early '80s in movies and TV shows. Maybe it was the wood paneling covering the walls or the eclectic diners that represented many faiths and countries, just like you'd see in  NYC.

Zankou Chicken started out a long way from Anaheim. They opened up on a street corner in Beruit, Lebanon, just selling rotisserie chicken, and soon after came their famous garlic sauce. In 1984 the first Zankou Chicken opened in LA, and today they are now operating nine total restaurants, all but this Anaheim location is located in Los Angeles County. The menu nowadays has expanded way past just chicken, but that's still the cornerstone of their business, and what I spy on almost every table near where we are sitting on this evening. After ordering at the register, we were given a buzzer and waited only a couple of minutes before our order was ready for pickup. We were excited to see if the hype from this place was warranted but more importantly try to drown our sorrows in chicken and garlic sauce after watching the lackluster hockey we witnessed from our Ducks.

Katie starts us off with her selection on this evening, the Chicken Tarna Plate ($12.99). I'm not really clear as to what the difference is between chicken shwarma and this chicken tarna, and from what I have seen online, tarna is something that the Zankou people have made up. Not sure why they would do that, but I'm sure they have their reasons. This was a pretty big serving size for the price, and Katie only finished half of it. This marinated chicken is sliced off of the spit. Katie was not really too big of a fan of this, as she thought the chicken was a little on the dry side, which was cured a bit by alternating adding the tahini, garlic sauce, and hummus to the chicken. Maybe because we were here so late the chicken had been sitting around a little too long. I thought it tasted fine, as I liked the seasoning used on this. Katie is a garlic sauce aficionado and thought this was one of the better ones she has had. Not the best, but she definitely can see what all the hype is all about when it comes to their garlic sauce.

When this Half Chicken Plate ($12.99) or as the cool kids call it, The #3, was brought out, I thought it was one of the prettiest rotisserie chickens I have ever seen. The skin was crispy and had a nice light brown color to it, and the pickled turnips really made this plate pop. Unlike Katie's meal, I thought the chicken here was delicious. The skin was flavorful, the meat underneath was nice and moist and only the big chicken breast piece had any hint of being a tad dry, which is to be expected with such a big chicken breast. I was also a fan of the garlic sauce, which went well with the bird. The hummus was pretty good but did not wow me. I did not take a picture of the pita bread, but it was huge. At first, I did not like it because it was not as soft as others I have had, but I came to love the sturdiness of it as I dipped it into the hummus and garlic sauce.

Katie and I had a little difference of opinion about Zankou Chicken. I thought this was one of the better Mediterranean chicken spots around, but Katie is more partial to Chicken Maison, which we went to a few years ago. I like both, but I'd give the edge to Zankou because I like the crispy chicken skin on the bird and I found their chicken to be moister than what I have had at other places. The very good garlic sauce helped things out here and is very magical. Make sure to get some extra when ordering. Sides were fine but did not exactly wow us. The full or half chickens are the star at Zankou. Glad we finally made it to a traditionally hard for us to reach part of OC, and we hope to be back in these parts with more regularity in the future if we can get out of our lazy rut.

Out of five credit cards, (because this restaurant has deep Beruit roots, and that city is the 10th most popular shopping destination in the world, so a credit card is essential there), five being best to zero being worst, Zankou Chicken gets 3 credit cards.

For more information about Zankou Chicken, head to their website here:

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Hoping These Sandwiches Will Be a Pillar of Society

The Sandwich Society
2031 East First St. 
Santa Ana, CA 92705

If you are reading these restaurant reviews in order, instead of just happening upon them, you will notice quite a few similarities between this and our last review, which was S'Wich Bistro in Irvine. Not only do both places have a sandwich-focused menu, but they both cater to mainly the office workers that are located nearby their shops. In fact, both of these places have almost exactly the same hours, 8 to 4pm on weekdays and while S'Wich is closed on weekends, Sandwich Society has a small window when they are open on Saturdays, from 9 to 3pm.

Like I stated in my last review, it's almost impossible for me to make it to a restaurant that is only open weekdays for breakfast and lunch due to my real job. I usually have to wait for one of my vacations to roll around so I can try a place that's not open past 5pm. This was the case for this visit, as I met my sister on one of my last days before I had to go back to the drudgery which is my day job.

Just like S'Wich Bistro, Sandwich Society has some good looking pictures of their sandwiches on its Instagram feed. It's really gotten them noticed, and not just from the office workers trapped in the buildings around this restaurant. I'd say that the Sandwich Society menu is a little more outlandish than the more conservative S'Wich. Sandwich Society has a bit more in terms of variety. They offer plenty of hot and cold sandwiches, along with a good number of sandwiches listed under the specialties section of their menu. Also, if you get here before 11, you also have the option of trying one of their breakfast items. Just another similarity between the two sandwich shops.

Sandwich Society is situated between both the 55 and 5 Freeways, on First Street, pretty close to El Ranchito, and in the same shopping center as Flame Broiler and the very underrated Johnny's Burgers. We arrived here at just before 10am hoping to avoid the lunch rush that we hear can get a little crazy. Mission accomplished. There were a few customers enjoying their sandwiches when we walked in, but we had no trouble ordering and finding one of their 20 or so seats to wait for our order to come out. The workers here were very busy filling catering orders for what I assumed was a pretty big company function. Let's see if the sandwiches here can match what I've been seeing on their Instagram page.

Since we had beat the breakfast deadline, my sister zeroed in on this Steak and Egg Sandwich ($8.99). This definite upgrade to the usual hockey puck shaped breakfast sandwich you can get at the Golden Arches included steak, egg, cheese, red onions and a wonderful garlic mayo which tied everything together. Looking from across the table I thought this looked a little dry, but the bite I had was moist and reminded me of a Philly cheese steak with its little curls of meat, but a lighter feel to it. This sandwich really made my sister happy.

Since I did not know when I'd be able to make it back here, I got two sandwiches, the first of which was this Ultimate Patty Melt ($9.25). What makes this melt the ultimate you ask? It comes with a beef patty and then is topped with avocado, American cheese, bacon, grilled onion, tomato, and plenty of thousand island dressing. This was a good, but not great patty melt. The toppings totally outshined the very pedestrian meat patty, which was a little on the thin side. I liked that they use plenty of dressing on this and the bacon was very crisp. Not sure who their bread purveyor is, but the toasted sourdough was top notch.

My love for Cuban sandwiches is well documented on this restaurant blog, and I'm always on the lookout for my next favorite version of what I believe to be the most balanced of all the sandwiches out there. This Cuban ($9.25) will not replace my long-time favorite, that of DeSimone's in Huntington Beach, but it will definitely cure your Cuban sandwich cravings. A very good roasted pork, sliced ham, melted Swiss cheese, pickles, tomato? mustard and mayo round out this very solid sandwich. I missed the pressed bread crunch from other Cubans, but the insides of this sandwich made up for it. The pork was very good and hearty, the Swiss cheese added a creaminess, and the pickles added a tinge of sour to this sandwich. I did take the tomato off of this sandwich, as tomato has no place on a Cuban sandwich. Sorry for the harshness of that statement, but I'm very protective over this beloved sandwich.

Even though I had some minor quibbles over the sandwiches at Sandwich Society, I really enjoyed our visit here. They are not just a restaurant that has beautiful pictures on their Instagram page, their sandwiches actually taste good as well. A real rarity these days, when a lot of these places just come up with something to make themselves IG famous, but the flavor of their food does not back it up. The sandwiches are good here, with plenty of variety that has piqued my interest in trying more of their menu when I get the rare chance to get up this way while they are open for business.

Out of five poker chips, (because the inventor of the sandwich, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich did not want to take breaks during his card playing, so he had his servants bring him meat in between two slices of bread), five being best to zero being worst, The Sandwich Society gets 3.5 poker chips.

For more information about The Sandwich Society, head to their website here:

Hoping for a S'Sational Visit to S'Wich Bistro

S'Wich Bistro
16277 Laguna Canyon Road
Irvine, CA 92618

There are certain restaurants that I have a hard time making a visit to. Due to my real life job, it's usually impossible for me to get to restaurants that are open only during the weekdays for breakfast and lunch. These are places that are primarily set in business parks and areas that would not normally get walk-in customers after regular business hours. This is why we had to wait until my vacation to visit S'Wich Bistro in Irvine.

S'Wich Bistro has been on my list since they opened their doors in March of 2017. Set between Inka's and Yasai Japanese Grill in the Irvine Oaks Executive Park, this restaurant owes a lot of their success to the people of Blizzard Entertainment, which is in the business park adjacent to this one. The captions to their Instagram pictures are filled with love for the employees at this video game developer and publisher who they say have supported them from day one.

It's not just the neighboring employers who have taken notice of S'Wich Bistro. They have gotten attention for their breakfast burritos, which the OC Weekly has called the best of this year, and are made even better with the inclusion of both sausage and their trademark candied bacon. Lunch has not gone unnoticed either. Very tough restaurant critic, Brad A Johnson from the Orange County Register has put their burger on his annual top 10 list this year, calling the burger here, "fantastic".

With all of this high praise, I couldn't wait to give them a try, and it just so happened that Katie had taken a vacation day as well, so we motored on over to S'Wich Bistro. We purposely got here after what we presumed would be a busy lunch rush at about half past one. There were a few stray stragglers, whom we perceived took a late lunch here, but we had no problem finding a seat once we placed our order at the counter.

The menu is comprised of a quartet of salads, warm and cold sandwiches, a section of the menu dubbed "favorites", five burgers, and sides. Almost all of the sandwiches and burgers hover right around the $11 level. If you want to get breakfast here, make sure you show up between 8 and 11am, as that's when they stop serving the first meal of the day. It did not take more than five minutes for our food to arrive at our table, as more customers trickled in behind us. Here's how everything turned out for us on this afternoon.

Katie wanted to eat a little lighter since we would be walking a portion of the San Diego Creek Trail after lunch, so she opted for this Tuna Melt ($10.50). They use white albacore here and add tomato, herbed aioli, and what I perceived to be little bits of celery for texture. This usually comes with cheddar cheese, but Katie subbed it out for Swiss. I tried a bite of this, and even though I'm not a big tuna guy, even I have to admit this was a pretty good tuna melt. The tuna was definitely fresh and dressed nicely with the delicious aioli. I liked the crunch from the toasted bread and celery. The Swiss cheese made this a little lighter than the cheddar would have, which was a big plus in Katie's book. I liked the potato chips, which are made here. Most had a very solid crunch to them, but there were a few clunkers in the bunch that needed to be left in the fryer a bit longer.

Since the burger here was on Brad Johnson's top ten list, I had to give one a try at S'Wich Bistro. Looking at the menu I knew the Loaded Burger ($12.50) was the one calling to me. This burger came with blue cheese, that house glazed bacon that got the OC Weekly love on their breakfast burrito, arugula, caramelized onion, and wink wink sauce, which is their nod to thousand island dressing. With all of these big flavors colliding together I thought it was going to be overpowering, but all the flavors stayed in their lane. The beef patty was juicy and seasoned well, the blue cheese was present and came in manageable waves, the bacon was as advertised, very addictive, and the caramelized onion added a touch of sweetness. The potato bun is also worth mentioning here, as it had a nicely toasted outer ring and a soft inside. I did take a lot of the arugula out of this though, enough to make a salad it seems. It could have been a bigger burger for the price, but due to the smaller size, I found myself savoring it more towards the end. The fries were pretty good for frozen fries. Good sized and fried nicely.

While we were ordering, there was a basket of Homemade Toffee Chocolate Cookies ($1.99) next to the register. It's hard for me to resist cookies, so I got one. The woman that took our money told us that the toffee maker, who is a friend of the owners reluctantly make these cookies for them at S'Wich Bistro. They were pretty good, although I like a crisper cookie. The toffee was a nice touch, but a little more chocolate would have made these even better.

When I was leaving S'Wich Bistro I was a little sad. I knew that with their limited hours and my vacation ending at the end of the week, it would be a long while before I'd get the chance to come back here and try more of their menu, including their hyped breakfast burrito. Service was awesome here. The woman behind the counter was so nice and made sure we were happy with our food and had everything that we needed. It's easy to see why the employees of the surrounding businesses have gravitated to S'Wich Bistro. The burger and the tuna melt were both very good and piqued my interest for more of their menu including their Pastrami Swiss Sandwich, the Oink Oink Melt, and the Pastrami and Swiss Burger. Those will have to wait until after the holidays are over though, as it was time to get back to work.

Out of five video games, (because of the link between Blizzard Entertainment and this restaurant is undeniable), five being best to zero being worst, S'Wich Bistro gets 3.5 video games.

For more information about S'Wich Bistro, head to their website here:

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

A Brilliant Brazilian Buffet Hidden in Santa Ana

Silva's Fresh Eatery and Churrascaria
3672 South Bristol St.
Santa Ana, CA 92704

The term hidden gem gets thrown around a little too much these days. It has almost come to mean a restaurant you haven't been to yet. Silva's Fresh Eatery and Churrascaria is a literal hidden gem. It's located on the backside of an LA Fitness and behind the large Chase Bank and the former Famous Dave's space on the corner of Bristol and MacArthur. Easily overlooked due to no street visibility, Silva's should definitely not be overlooked for those of you that enjoy churrasco and Brazilian favorites.

A lot of you know the Texas de Brazil's, Agora's, and the Fogo de Chao's of the world. These Brazilian restaurants are well known, and for good reason, they are all very good and serve some awesome meat options. If you have been to these Brazilian restaurants, you know they are pretty pricey. Dinner at these three giants in Brazilian fare will set you back $50 to $60 dollars per person. Even a big meat eater like myself has a hard time eating enough at these places to get my monies worth. My lighter eating wife has no chance to eat enough at these places to make it worth it, so we hardly ever get to experience Brazilian cuisine. Silva's is trying to change that.

Silva's has been open for nearly a year now. They have gone through some changes during that time, as most businesses do. When they first started they tried out a pay by the weight option which did not really jive with many diners. They recently switched to the much more accepted all you can eat feast option, but they also offer appetizers, entree's and what we hear are some really good pizzas from their kitchen for people that do not want to go the all you can eat route. Speaking of the kitchen, the man at the helm is Chef John Vega, formerly of Roy's in Newport Beach.

My friend Mark and I were invited to give Silva's a try this past week. After the quicker than expected drive up the 405 Freeway from Aliso Viejo, we arrived here just before 7 pm. We were met by a hip, yet comfortable dining room, which strikes the delicate balance of being the perfect spot for a date night venue and a place you can invite your whole family to experience. There's the fully stocked and quite impressive bar off to the right of the entrance, and the buffet line that starts in the far left-hand side of the restaurant. Plenty of  Brazilian themed framed pictures dot the walls here, but not obtrusively so. Let's take a quick tour through the buffet line.

I'm not going to lie to you, I skipped the salad portion of the buffet line. The produce section of this buffet does deserve some notice though. Silva's uses locally grown and organic vegetables, which in turn makes for better salads. Nothing personal about salads, but when I'm at a buffet, I tend to focus on the hot food items and at a Brazilian buffet, I definitely do not stray too far from the meats.

There were plenty of hot food options to fill my plate at Silva's before I got to the meats that were slow cooked in their churrascaria. The options were plentiful on this evening; Black Bean Stew with Sausage, Roasted Cauliflower, Ratatouille, Truffle Mac and Cheese, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Salmon Filets, a Roasted Potato Medley, and more. Of course, I was pretty distracted by the station that was coming up next.

This proteins at Silva's are the star of the show here. They may not have as many offerings as their other Brazilian steakhouse counterparts, but the seven selections that they do have were all stellar. Highlights included their Skirt Steak with hints of garlic and herbs included, Tri-Tip, and the Gaucho Style Sausage, which was one of the better sausages I've had in some time. After watching the gaucho slice the meat I could not wait to get back to my table to dig in.

This was plate one of two that I had, and I was ready to be wheeled out of Silva's by the end of our visit, The meats were awesome and I would definitely suggest piling up on them because that's where the greatest value is when eating at a Brazilain buffet. This might be hard to do because the other hot dishes are stellar as well. It's been a week and I still crave their very good mac and cheese and the Feijoada, also known as black bean stew. Very homey and comforting.

It's also worth mentioning that not only is the bar strikingly beautiful and well stocked at Silva's, but they make some fantastic cocktails. Mark and I had to give their Caipirinha ($12) a try. This is the national cocktail of Brazil and I suspect a distant cousin of the trendy mojito. I liked this version better, as it did not have an overpowering mint flavor to it. A very refreshing and easy going beverage that went well with the meats and side items here.

Both Mark and I found Silva's to be a great alternative to the more pricey Brazilian steakhouses that dot the county. Instead of paying $50 or more per person, the all you can eat option at Silva's is a staggering $22.95. Also worth noting is that unlike those other steakhouses if you are not in the mood for an all you can eat feast, you do have the option to order from their kitchen. I've heard that their pizzas are excellent. Silva's also offers a happy hour that runs from 3pm to 7 every day and has some great drink specials, along with half off on those pizzas and other appetizers. Lastly, they also have late night dining options on Friday and Saturdays for people that want to enjoy some music spun by their DJ. It really seems like Silva's is trying to do just about anything to battle their hidden location to get you in the door because they know that once you find them, you'll love the food you find there and will be a frequent visitor after that.

I'd like to thank everyone we encountered on our visit to Silva's Fresh Eatery and Churrascaria. It seems like the staff was extremely excited to share this concept and are definitely behind it. A special thanks to General Manager Alex Ferreira, who not only made sure we were well taken care of but also concocted out excellent cocktails on this evening. Thanks for your very kind hospitality, Alex. One last thank you to Bob Bradley at Bradley PR and Marketing for setting up this visit. Thanks for helping us find this truly hidden gem, Bob. Much appreciated.

For those of you that want to learn more about Silva's, head over to their website here: