Food, like music, is a universal language. Without a word, food satisfies, delights, and intrigues, or In the best cases, a combination of all three. That’s one of the reasons I love writing about the incredibly interesting and delicious food the Santa Clarita Valley has to offer. Once known as a chain restaurant haven, the SCV has grown into city that’s embraced culinary ethnicity and authenticity. Residents no longer need to drive to the valley or L.A. for a great meal. It’s right here in our own backyards. The other reason is the ability to showcase the people behind the food. Running a restaurant is one of the hardest businesses you can choose. It’s really more of a lifestyle than an occupation, one that demands discipline, dedication, and passion. Here are some of my most memorable food moments of 2018 and the people who made them happen: Best Asian Fusion: My Hot Pot 26238 Bouquet Canyon Road, Santa Clarita (661) 288-1998 My Hot Pot in Saugus fuses tastes from all over Asia into individual hot pots overflowing with tasty treasures.The one of-a-kind concept was created by owners Sunn Wee and his fiancé, Nook Budsaeng, of Saugus. They met while working at Mr. Sushi in Valencia and decided that they wanted to open a restaurant together. The broth for each hot pot is bone based and simmered for 10 hours (with the exception of the Veggie Lover, which is vegetarian), with flavors and spices added for each version. You choose the heat level from mild to spicy, as well as 2 of 7 sauces that are made fresh in-house. The Tom Yummy ($13.95) boasts a beautiful red broth fragrant with notes of lemongrass and chiles, served in a small metal wok over an open flame so it stays hot throughout your meal. What’s amazing, besides the amount of food, is that all the elements have the perfect texture, from the tender meats to the springy ramen noodles to the crisp yet pliant cabbage, carrot, corn on the cob and squash. As if that weren’t enough, you’ll also get a side of rice, plus some garlic and cilantro to add to the mix. Whew. Best Breakfast: Cathy’s Deli 23120 Lyons Avenue, Suite 24, Newhall (661) 288-2217 Eric Tovar-Plummer loves breakfast. So much so that he and his wife would drive all over California, as far as Carmel, to find that perfect morning meal. Still, the Newhall resident could never quite find a breakfast that matched those he had enjoyed as a boy during road trips with his grandfather, when the duo would stop in diners across America. That is until he took over Cathy’s Deli in Newhall three years ago. Under his ownership, Cathy’s Deli now boasts an innovative, delicious menu and a hip yet family-friendly vibe reminiscent of a neighborhood café one might find in Silverlake or Los Feliz. The Duck Confit Benny ($13.95) is incredible. Think layers of savory duck layered over English muffins, topped with luscious, perfectly poached eggs and the crowning glory, a lemony bright, creamy hollandaise with a drizzle of tangy balsamic reduction. Best Burger and Sandwich: Bricks 23820 Lyons Avenue, Newhall (661) 286-1091 Yummy food magic — that’s what’s happening at Bricks, which takes (mostly) American classics and gives them an extra flavorful flair. Take the Shrimp Po’ Boy ($12), a New Orleans favorite, with tempura shrimp layered on a golden focaccia roll with tangy coleslaw and spicy mayo. There’s a bit of crunch, succulence, spice and tang in every bite, a great option when you want a light but satisfying sandwich. The Bricks Burger ($12), on the other hand, is a towering concoction of hot grilled beef, crispy bacon, molten Swiss cheese, caramelized onions, and grilled jalapeno. Oh, this burger…it’s decadent, delicious, and has just the right spicy kick. Just try not to grin like a fool when you eat it (I failed). Best Comfort Food: Brewery Draconum 24407 Main Street, Newhall (661) 568-9160 It’s winter and I don’t know about you, but I’m craving comfort food. The Shepherd’s Pie ($14) at Brewery Draconum in Newhall certainly fits the bill. While deceptively simple in concept – mashed potatoes, ground beef, and vegetables in gravy – here it is elevated to something far more complex. That’s because the potatoes are organic, perfectly fluffy and piped into a beautiful swirl atop a rich, fragrant stew stocked with house-ground Angus beef, carrots, peas and onions simmered in Brewery Draconum’s own stout. Each bite is creamy, savory, satisfying and delicious. Such attention to detail extends from the food to the incredible selection of beers brewed in-house, with close to two dozen variations to choose from on any given day, created by owner Ben Law and his assistant brewmaster Nora Finch. Best Greek: Gyromania 20655 Soledad Canyon Road, Saugus (661) 252-4976 “Opa!” With that joyful greeting, a sea of blue walls, and the tantalizing smell of grilled meat in the air, walking into Gyromania Authentic Greek Kitchen is like teleporting to a modern Greek neighborhood restaurant. Most likely you’ll be met at the counter by owner Kyriakos Champi, who opened Gyromania in Saugus eight months ago. Much of the food you’ll eat comes from recipes in the Champi family for decades or even centuries, whether it’s the scratch-made dressings, marinades, and soups, to the gyros and souvlaki Champi learned to make while working at his uncle’s restaurant in Cypress. Heartier options include gyro plates ($11.99) with your choice of chicken, lamb, beef, or pork, marinated in a blend of olive oil, lemon juice, and spices for 24 hours. That means even white meat chicken turns out flavorful, moist and juicy, while the lamb is fork tender. The meat is served atop a bed of fluffy, dill and olive oil infused rice that soaks up all the savory juices. Add some luscious garlic sauce to the mix to really take the whole dish over the top. Best Salad: Daily Harvest Café & Juicery 22722 Lyons Avenue, Newhall (661) 383-9387 Normally, I’m not one to wax poetic about salad nor am I fan a quinoa, no matter how many times I’ve been told that both are good for me. Chef Andres Moya has me singing a different tune after trying the Quinoa Veggie Bowl ($11) at the Daily Harvest Café & Juicery in Newhall. This is a Technicolor musical of a salad, with eye-popping hues of purple, red, orange, and green. While it’s almost too pretty to eat, go ahead and toss the bitter arugula, perfectly ripe tomatoes, earthy quinoa, crunchy carrots, cucumbers and cabbage, creamy hummus and chunky avocado mash together. You’ll get a full symphony of flavor and texture that will leave you not only satisfied, but energized (especially if you pair it with one of the refreshing cold-pressed juices, like the Liquid Gold made with apple, turmeric, carrot and ginger). Culinary harmony is a skill the Colombian-born Moya has honed after creating ambitious menus for some of Hollywood’s most glamorous events and launching popular restaurants across Southern California for 37 years. Moya, a Canyon Country resident, opened The Daily Harvest Café & Juicery in 2015 with his wife, Maria, and four children, who wanted to share their love of fresh, healthy eating with their community. Best Vegan: La Charrita 24225 Main Street, Newhall (661) 288-1204 La Charrita is your classic family run Mexican restaurant, with a truly unexpected touch: several vegan options, courtesy of daughter and co-owner Lupe Meza, who wanted to share a love of plant-based food with her customers. What’s even more amazing is how delicious these dishes are and the incredibly beautiful presentation La Charrita’s small kitchen lovingly adds to each. Take the roasted sopes veganos de soyrizo coliflor ($8.50). Roasted cauliflower, the “It” vegetable of the moment, has the perfect amount of char. It’s tossed with spicy soy-based “chorizo” and set atop a thick, crisp fried cornmeal disc layered with delectably creamy refried beans and “cheese.” A bit of cabbage is sprinkled on the cauliflower for crunch and color. It’s a feast for the eyes and the senses. Then there’s the al pastor jackfruit tacos ($2.75 a la carte or $7.95 for three). The jackfruit tastes just like well-cooked, shredded chicken, complete with a meaty essence and crispy edges. The taco is drizzled with a luscious chipotle “crema” and showered with pico de gallo on a double layered corn tortilla. Wow. If you are a carnivore who doubts you could ever like vegan food, this taco will make you a believer. It’s as satisfying as any meat taco and the best vegan dish I’ve ever had.