Gustavo's Top Five Restaurants for 2010

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Dee Nguyen, of Break of Dawn: Il capo di tutti capi of OC dining in 2010
Yay! It's the end of the year, which means it's year-end list season! YAY! In all seriousness, these lists are great opportunities to further highlight restaurants that did a wonderful job in 2010. Dave, Edwin, and Shuji will jump in later in the week (or next) with their own lists, but I figured I'd start the ball rolling...after the jump! YAY!

1. Break of Dawn
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Some Break of Dawn goodie or other...

We named it best restaurant in Orange County in our Best Of issue this year for a reason, and you can read our reasoning here. I'll just add for this plug that chef-owner Dee Nguyen is one of the few chefs I trust with bringing LA-style panache into the county's restaurant scene--the pop-up restaurants, the trade-off of shifts with other chefs at their restaurants...have I said too much? Maybe...24351 Avenida De La Carlota, Ste. N-6, Laguna Hills, (949) 587-9418; www.breakofdawnrestaurant.com.

2. Soho Taco
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Photo by Meg Strouse
Gabriel Zambrano, one of the brothers behind Soho Taco...

In a year when luxe-loncheras invaded the county like Mexicans did to SanTana a couple generations back, these santaneros proved the best--and this, without a truck. They took the faddish obsession with niche food products, an attention to detail, a knowledge of social networking and buzz building, and old-fashioned hard work to create truly gourmet tacos--sustainable meat, different cuts, an heirloom tomato pico de gallo, juicy and flavors as brilliant on the palate as each tomato bit is visually. More importantly, however, these guys are everything many in the luxe-lonchera world aren't: humble, unassuming, and beyond affordable. All-you-can-eat tacos for a staff of 12, drinks and all, all gourmet and shit for less than $100? More, please. Even better? Los hermanos Zambranos just bought a van. www.sohotaco.com.

3. The Crosby
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This is another plug for the Crosby--and? No other restaurant in Orange County does highbrow and lowbrow better than this restaurant-cum-DJ hangout run by hipsters who get it. No other chef in Orange County will expose himself so brazenly to critics by pushing beyond his comfort levels like head Aron Habiger--his chef's menu this year have included rabbit, a couple of fishes whose names I can't remember, avocado flan, duck jerkey, and so much more. Not all succeeded, but those that did were culinary marvels. And, if nothing appeals to you, there's that cheap-ass $5 pizza. 400 N. Broadway, Santa Ana, (714) 543-3543; www.thisisthecrosby.com.

4. Zait and Zaatar
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Photo by the Elmo Monster

While most of Little Arabia went gaga for sphihas (or whatever each restaurant calls what Americans refer to as Middle Eastern pizzas), Zait and Zaatar went stubbornly backward, to the 1990s era of "wraps." Yeah, they call them that, but it's so much more than some preheated tortilla-like wrapping around ingredients--they make their special saj bread, the bake it on one of those stoves that taqueros use to keep the meat warm at the bottom while leave the conical pyramid untouched so they could make tortillas. Fast-food Lebanese, but delicious and even innovative--a Philly cheesesteak wrap gets points for the thought, but I'm sticking with the sojouk. 510 N. Brookhurst St., Ste. 106, Anaheim, (714) 991-9996; www.zaitandzaatar.com.

5. Rick's Atomic Cafe/Peter's Gourmade Grill
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Photo by Todd Barnes
Rick LeBlanc of Rick's
This is a tie, because each represents the same essential revelation: simple, stunning meals by eponymous chefs in horrible locations. Rick's operates in a faceless office park behind a bigger faceless office park, while Peter's set up shop at a Valero gas station. The former offers organic takes on American breakfast standards; the latter, gourmets up gas-house grub. Enjoy them at their original locations before their success takes them to bigger and better spots.

Rick's Atomic Cafe, 3100 Airway Ave., Ste. 113, Costa Mesa, (714) 825-0570; twitter.com/ricksatomiccafe; Peter's Gourmade Grill, 16851 McFadden Ave., Tustin, (714) 599-3866; twitter.com/gourmadegrill.


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