Niyaz’s Top 20 O.C. Dishes of 2016

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My top food moment of 2016 … Zov winning the Golden Foodie Award for 2016 Chef of the Year!

It’s been a great year for Orange County foodies.

We have Lobster Fries, Spaghetti Pizza and Churro Loops; Top Chefs in the kitchen and new openings at such a rapid pace it’s hard to keep up. There’s been a lot of delicious dishes to try, and while I couldn’t get to them all, I did manage to enjoy my fair share of awesome plates.

Here’s the 20 best things I ate and drank this year!

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This Wu-Tang Clan Pop-Up Dinner Was Nothin’ to F#!K With

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I’ve been looking forward to Chef Linh Nguyen’s Wu-Tang Clan pop up at Mesa Lounge since he announced it earlier this summer. I grew up listening to the Wu, Shaolin’s finest rap collective, and can still rap the entirety of the song “Triumph”—though a few lines get a little hazy these days.

The same goes for Nguyen, who might as well have come from the 37th Chamber. His love for these beats and rhymes goes back to when he was 10 years old. Inspired by music and memories, Nguyen—along with Ashley Guzman, his former cohort at the North Left, and current Pastry Queen at Irenia—delved deep into their catalogue to deliver 6 fresh cuts complete with drink pairings.

Nguyen, who is Foodbeast’s house chef, told us he’s about to become Executive Chef again somewhere in Santa Ana. If this is the kind of creativity he’s producing, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Orange County next.  … Read more…

6 O.C. burgers that honor National Burger Day all year long

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If blood type were determined by what you ate, I’d probably be blood type cheeseburger, or cheeseburger/pizza (kinda like Type AB). Not saying it’s a good thing, just saying there’s something about a grilled/seared/charbroiled beef patty with gooey cheese, cradled between two pillowy buns that I just can’t get enough of.

In celebration of National Burger Day, here’s 6 burgers in Orange County that I could always go for, no matter the day! … Read more…

Amar Santana’s Vaca: Have a cow, man!

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Let’s start by getting a few things out of the way. As a finalist on Top Chef 13, Amar Santana just blew up the Orange County dining scene like we’ve yet to see any single chef do. He’s from the Dominican Republic, started cooking in restaurant kitchens as a young teenager, studied at the CIA, trained in New York, and he last worked for Charlie Palmer before opening his eponymous New American flagship Broadway by Amar Santana in Laguna Beach. He just unveiled his second restaurant, Vaca, across from South Coast Plaza.

Also, “vaca” means cow in Spanish, and yes, they serve it many ways—by the pound in fact.

Vaca is so many things, but at it’s heart it’s an authentically Spanish tapas restaurant. Ole Spain Deli Shop in Santa Ana is great for a quick bite, and the folks at Pueblo at the OC Mix make killer tapas too, but they’re doing them they’re own way. If you want a true taste of Spain—what it’s like to eat in almost every low end or high end tapas spot (that isn’t Tickets Bar)—save your airfare and check out Vaca in Costa Mesa.

Welcome to Barcelona, California!

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Eclectic electric: Dinner at Taco Maria

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For as often as I visited Chef Carlos Salgado’s Taco Maria food truck, it’s a surprise to most everyone that I’d yet to dine at his proper brick and mortar in The OC Mix. In the time since he parked the truck and opened the joint, Salgado’s gone back to the farm for tortillas (read this next!) and become a hero for modern Mexican cooking, praised by Edwin Goei of OC Weekly, Jonathan Gold of the Los Angeles Times, named a Food & Wine magazine “Best New Chef” and more.

Wifey Nadia and I came to celebrate my 33rd birthday and had the option of sitting at the chef’s counter, which, duh. Though Chef Salgado wasn’t in the house, his kitchen crew, helmed on this night by Roland Rubalcava (formerly of his own incredible Placentia mercado), was more than ready to shine with their precise techniques and explosive flavors.

I think Mexican food in America is wrongly pegged for having a low value. One-dollar tacos, combination plates with rice and beans, burritos at the drive-thru. But plates from chefs including Salgado, Diego Hernandez of Corazon de Tierra in Valle de Guadalupe and Javier Plascencia of Mision 19 in Tijuana redefine Mexican food for this generation of gastronomes.

Four courses runs $65 with an optional $29 wine pairing. I went with a glass of red from the Valle and let the kitchen take it from there. Photos are a bit grainy because it’s a dim space, but I started shooting with a Canon 50mm and it works well enough in low light settings and amazingly otherwise. Loosen your belt … … Read more…