The Best Drinks in Orange County
The humble "drink" doesn't get the respect it should. Centuries ago, tea and coffee houses were the centers of philosophical and political discussion. The Age of Enlightenment conveniently corresponded to the rise coffee shops in Europe, and revolutions were planned around steaming glasses and kettles (in parts of the world, they still are).
Drinks of the alcoholic variety claim an even more impressive pedigree, predating even written language.
But luckily, there are those in Orange County who pay homage to the history of their drinks. We did our best to spotlight them in our Best Of 2013 issue. Best coffee, best boba, best cocktail, best shot, everyone makes an appearance. So whether you're looking for a buzz, or the other kind of buzz, read on and change the world.
Photo by Taylor Hamby/OC Weekly Mr. VanBilliard during (slightly) simpler times
Best Martini: Memphis at the Santora
In this day and age of the cocktail renaissance, where bartenders are digging through dusty Louisville hotel menus or talking to their gramps about the days where Xs signified proof and not porn, serious drinkers have relegated martinis to the realm of Fuzzy Navels and Screaming Orgasms. That's why it's great to see Jefferson Van Billiard, head drinkmeister at the venerable Memphis At the Santora, make the type of martini that once fueled this country's executive lunches. It's a simple thing, really: gin, a solitary olive, vermouth, but the great thing about Van Billiard is that he can go Don Draper on you or ask if he can modify it for one of his experiments. While you should definitely try the former a couple of times, eventually side with the latter: the native of Phelan is a Professor Frink with his efforts--the Frink after drinking Simpson and Son's Revitalizing Tonic, of course. 201 N Broadway, Santa Ana, CA 92701. 714-564-1064
Readers' Choice: The Cellar
Best Margarita: La Palapa Del Mar
If you're going to drink margaritas, you'd better be next to the beach--the cocktail first became popular for Americans in the resorts of Rosarito, of course. And while La Palapa Del Mar ain't in Baja, the view from its seats is pretty damn close. Its original $5 margarita (titled simply "The Margarita") is made with tequila, triple sec and fresh lime juice--that's it. Though you can opt for a fancier version made with pisco, we find that when it comes to margaritas, the fewer ingredients the better. And no salt, please--that's what the ocean air is for. 4020 E Olympic Plaza, Long Beach, CA 90803. 562-433-5702
Readers' Choice: K'ya Bistro
Best Signature Cocktail: Don the Beachcomber
While the debate over whether Trader Vic or Don the Beachcomber invented the mai tai will rage as long as the magma of Pele, we've got to hand Don the award for tastiest tropical beverage. Often referred to as "The Original," Don's Own Mai Tai is the ambrosial result of decades of artisan bartending, cocktail crafting and ingredient sourcing, all mixed into one glass tumbler. The initial sip is citrusy and tart, followed by mellow rums and liqueurs, ending with a lingering sweet spice taste. Copycat recipes abound online, and none contain less than 10 components--but it seems only Don has the magic formula. Every time we say we're going to have just one cocktail, it turns into five or six and a taxi ride home. 16278 E Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach, CA, 92649. 562-592-1321
Readers' Choice: Hopscotch Tavern
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4020 E. Olympic Plaza, Long Beach, CA