Best of the best: Here are Brad A. Johnson's 2016 restaurant awards

Well over 375. I’ve lost count, to be honest. But that’s roughly how many times I dined out in 2016 on my quest to uncover the very best restaurant experiences in Orange County. Along the way, I’m always searching for that one chef who stands out from all the others, that one restaurant that leaves the most profound impression, the desserts that trump everything else, and the wine list that brings the most joy.

It was another good year. I discovered breathtaking sushi, magnificent steaks, eye-opening Filipino fare, storied Bordeaux wines and the most beguiling cakes from the most unlikely oven.

As for new restaurants, 2016 felt like a banner year. The bar for entry must have been raised. Competition for this year’s list of the 10 most promising new restaurants was fiercer, the field far more crowded, than at any point in recent memory. And while too many young chefs still branch out on their own long before they are ready (hey kids, be patient, another year of apprenticing will do you a wealth of good), there is undoubtedly a swell of up-and-coming talent out there.

For this reason, instead of presenting an Icon Award for the best old-timer, as I have done in previous years, I have decided to call out Orange County’s singularly best new chef.

It boils down to this. The envelopes, please…

Restaurant of the Year: Stonehill Tavern

Stonehill Tavern at the Monarch Beach Resort (formerly the St. Regis) has teetered on the verge of greatness for more than a decade.

Michael Mina is an extraordinary…

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