Tag Archives: costa mesa

Best of 2016: Restaurants

I wrote about my best photos of 2016 on my sister blog here… and honorable mentions .. here.  As I went through my photos and refreshed my memory of all the great experiences we had throughout 2016, I also ran across photos of restaurants we had been to… some of which you have read about in this blog.

So while I’m doing the ‘Best of’ series… why not include BEST restaurants we went to in 2016.  We had some amazing meals throughout 2016, so it’s fun to go back and Mmmmm and Ahhhh about their yumminess.  So here goes (in no particular order):

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  1. Twist, Las Vegas.  Wow!  It was an expensive restaurant to be sure, but the food was amazing… and the best part was the staff.  The servers could see how much we were enjoying our meal as we savored every bite.  So they offered to take us back in the kitchen to meet the chef!  They even gave us a Thank You card for dining with them (can you imagine?!).. and a little parting gift all tied up in a bow of sweet treats.  Fantastic!

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2. Raku, Las Vegas.  I just love this place.  Every time we are in Vegas we go.  I can’t help myself.  It’s reasonable priced, and the food is fantastic.  It changes from time to time, and is inventive, beautifully presented, friendly, and absolutely delicious.  I love their tasting menu.  It always includes things I would never order otherwise, but just love… like their tofu.  I am NOT a tofu fan… but Raku’s homemade version could make me one.  Great spot!


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3.  Mon Ami Gabi, Las Vegas.  I’d be remise if I didn’t include the best eggs benedict with smoked salmon I have ever eaten.  I love eggs benedict, it is my go-to breakfast meal on the off occasion we splurge on breakfast.. so I’ve tasted a lot.  But none better than this mainstay french restaurant in Vegas.


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4. Social, Costa Mesa  CA.  This charming little place in Costa Mesa had memorable little plates that had perfect balance.  I loved the way they brought different textures together for wonderful, flavorful bites.


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 5.  Pok Pok, Los Angeles  CA.  We had a fabulous meal full of ethnic flavor and spice at Pok Pok in LA.  Their glazed wings were to die for… crunchy spicy yumminess.


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6. Trois Mec, Los Angeles  CA.  Trois Mec is a very difficult ‘ticket’ to get, but we were thrilled when we did.  The food was interesting, cutting edge, and fun.  The staff with engaging and interactive, and the whole experience fun.

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7. ANQi, Costa Mesa  CA.  This restaurant is part of the Thanh Long family of CA restaurants.  If you haven’t eaten at one and have the chance, you should.  They are famous for their chili crab and garlic noodles.  Outstanding.


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8. The Bite House, Baddeck  Nova Scotia.  Outstanding! Simply Outstanding!  This very small  tucked away place outside of Cape Breton was perfect.  The tasting menu was fantastic.  Each bite was perfectly balanced, fresh, and beautiful.  The chef has mastered the art of color, texture and balance.  Each little plate had a edible flower, some kind of crunch, and some element of freshness.  Each and every one was terrific.  I’d go back in a heartbeat given the opportunity.  Really great.



9. Elvira’s,  Tubac AZ.   Years ago we used to frequent  Elvira’s in Nogales.  It had the best true Mexican taco’s and burritos.  But then the son came to work there and the food went all upscale… and Nogales fell into crime, drug lords, and despair.   So Elvira’s moved to Tubac.  While we were in Tucson, we opted to make the drive to Tubac to see how Elvira’s had evolved.  I’m glad we did!  Their Mexican food is just stunning.  This dish of squash blossom stuffed poblano with a red chile sauce was fantastic.  They were kind enough to share the recipe, so I’ve had a few lucky friends get to enjoy this fabulous dish in my own home.  I hear they opened a new Elvira’s in Tucson.. you can bet when we next are in Tucson, we will be checking it out.


10. Escalante Outfitters Cafe, Escalante  UTAH.  First off, sorry for the terrible cell phone pic.  But I just had to include this one, albeit a bad photo.  We had this Eggs-in-a-nest breakfast at this little cafe in Escalante, Utah, and have made it at least a dozen times at home since.  This photo represents the original dish that we have replicated over and over for ourselves and our friends.  It is a great breakfast, and easy to make, and has definitely been added to our repertoire.


Wow!  This makes me hungry.  We had some amazing restaurants out in all our travels this last year.  It was great fun to remember every bite.

Check out my best photos here  and  here and here.




ANQi Costa Mesa

Talk about a family traditions.  The An family (House of An) has been making people happy with their Vietnamese / Asian food across California since 1971.  I was first introduced to them via my brother, Paul, at the Thang Long installation in San Francisco, where he raved about the famous roasted crab and famous garlic noodles.  This is a dish you can’t be afraid to get in and get dirty.  The dungeoness crab is roasted with a garlic sauce. A large part of the fun is to get in with your hands and crack the crab, and suck the savory bits off the shells.  It’s delicious fun.

There are also sister restaurants: Crustacean restaurant in Beverly Hills, Tiato in Santa Monica and AnQi in Costa Mesa with 4  An family sisters manning the individual kitchens with their secret recipes, overseen by matriarch Helene An.

Tuesday’s is the only day that AnQi in Costa Mesa offers An’s Famous Roasted Crab, so we actually extended our trip to partake.  We couldn’t help ourselves but go for lunch… and dinner, giving us the opportunity to try some of their small plates and appetizers as well.


AnQi is a beautiful place.  It is much higher end than we expected.. but then we were in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.  The interior had red lights, indoor trees, and hanging lights.  It was a stunning interior.  It’s a very Euro-Asian design.


For the purposes of this review I will combine the various courses we had at both lunch and dinner.  In summary, there wasn’t a bad meal there.  It was all good.  Where I had expected to love the crab… I actually enjoyed the appetizer dishes (like the fabulous calamari) even more.  Not that I didn’t enjoy the crab.. it was an experience unto itself.

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The calamari was lightly fried and very tender, crispy on the outside and nicely seasoned. The little bites of fresno chili and scallions added a nice kick… and the thai basil aioli was just the ice cream on top.

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The seared ahi tuna salad was fresh and crisp.  I loved the crunch of the cucumber, carrot, basil, and cabbage.  The soy – chili sauce that accompanied it made for a wonderful spicy dressing.  Very nice fresh tasting dish.

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The Crustacean shaken beef with sautéed Chinese broccoli with Chef An’s secret sauce was  perfectly cooked, tender and wonderfully flavorful.

Then there was that crab.

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The crab was just an adventure.  It was a good thing they sat us in the corner… where we could just go at it and tear apart and devour the succulent tender crab from it’s garlicky shell.  It was delicious… and good fun.


SOCIAL – Costa Mesa


We had read about Chef Jeffrey Boullt and the interesting flavor combinations coming out of his new restaurant, Social, in Costa Mesa.  It’s a small plates restaurant, serving ‘tapas’ style bites… and powerful bites they were.  Social was everything Pizzeria Mozza was not. It was friendly, inviting, honest, and creative.

We ordered 5 separate plates of appetizer like dishes.  Which by itself was no small task, as everything on the menu looked great.  They were brought out 1 – 2 at a time so as not to swamp our table or allow them to get cold.

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We were brought the Shishito Peppers and Social’s Caesar Salad.  Both were great.  The caesar salad was stunning.  It was a great caesar with shredded romaine and a flavorful caesar dressing… but what threw it over the top was a bread crumb and parmesan topping that gave an awesome salty crunch.. and seared raw ahi tuna.  Delicious.  You know it’s good when you are plotting how to cook it at home.

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The shishito peppers were no slouch. They were perfectly cooked and seasoned with a togarachi and salt, and served with a chili aioli.  They were spot on munchable.

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Next up were the Wood Fired Oysters: Caraway, Pressed Egg Yolk, Pickled Mustard Seeds, House Cured Guanciale.  Yum.  They were fresh, briney (not fishy), and just ‘popped’ in your mouth with the pickled mustard seeds and full of soft notes and fresh flavor.  Yum.

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The next course, plan to see on my blog, as it was my favorite… and I just have to try it at home.  When is this guy writing a cookbook?  Wow… just wow.  You don’t have to love octopus to try the Spanish Octopus; you’d like this.  So often octopus is tough.  Not this.  I won’t make it with octopus, I’ll try shrimp… but the flavors were bold and delicious with a sherry vinegar intense smoky romesco sauce, chorizo, fingerling potatoes, gremolata, and chicharrones.  It was crunchy, spicy, and fresh all at once.  Truly a stunning dish.

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Finally, we had the Wagyu Beef Tartare with a smoked mussel aioli, salt and vinegar chips, poppy seeds, sunflower, and capers.  It was very good… but after that octopus, nothing could measure up.  It was full of flavor and pop, and another home run.

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There wasn’t a bad dish among them.  They were all spectacular… and I don’t use that word lightly.  Truly stunning.  I can’t wait to go back and try the rest of the menu.