The best of Costa Mesa California

by Beth Graham

You’ve heard of a vacation, and even a staycation…but what about an Eatcation? At least 60% of today’s travelers say that food is the top reason they love to vacation…so if you like to take a getaway just to try new cuisine, you’re in great company. Costa Mesa offers award-winning cuisine, with some of the most decadent and unique restaurants in Southern California. Here’s some highlights of restaurants in Costa Mesa:

Taco Maria in The OC MIX has been winning awards right and left, with two-time James Beard Award-nominated chef and owner Carlos Salgado. From the OC Register to LA Times to Food & Wine Magazine, this modern Mexican restaurant in The OC MIX is being recognized as the hottest new spot in Orange County. 

ARC, in the South Coast Collection (SOCO), is an American eatery where everything is made in house or sourced from local artisan producers, and every single item served is cooked in a wood-burning oven. ARC has won awards and recognition from the LA Times, OC Weekly, KTLA-5 and others.

Portola Coffee in The OC MIX has been wowing coffee aficionados with its quality, traceable, fresh-roasted and fresh-brewed coffee in a shop fashioned after a chemistry lab. Portola was named 2015 Micro Roaster of the Year by Roast Magazine.

In The CAMP, Old Vine Café is an open-air Italian bistro with locals reverent for its decadent breakfast and fixed-price wine pairing dinners.

Din Tai Fung in South Coast Plaza is a world-renowned Shanghai dumpling restaurant with its only Orange County location in Costa Mesa. The chain has been winning culinary awards around the globe, including the U Favorite Food Award, Time Out Magazine’s 50 Top Dishes, Gayot’s top 10 OC restaurants and Michelin stars for its Hong Kong location.

Costa Mesa offers so much more than great food. Find a vibrant performing arts center in Segerstrom Center for the Arts, including Broadway shows and concerts from nationally recognized artists. And for the best in shopping, look no further than South Coast Plaza. This internationally recognized center features over 250 boutiques, including the world’s most storied fashion brands like Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Fendi and more. South Coast Plaza holds the distinction of having the highest concentration of designer/brand fashion retail stores in the country.  With its central location in Orange County and proximity to attractions like Southern California beaches and the Disneyland® Resort, not to mention the top hotel brands in the U.S., Costa Mesa is a perfect place to stay for an OC getaway. Plus, 9 Costa Mesa hotels offer free shuttle service to and from nearby John Wayne, Orange County Airport.


More than 30 distinct eateries make

South Coast Plaza a unique dining destination.I had a big evening planned starting with dinner at Vaca. It’s the restaurant of top chef or more… And they’re known for their exquisite cuts of steak. But I wanted to try a sampling of different menu selections so I opted for the tapas menu. The waiter graciously made some recommendations so I went with his suggestions. He recommended I order two toppers, but being a pig I am, i ordered three.. But first, I treated myself to the house drink, agenda…. For tapas, I ordered the pizza valid, chicken cannelloni and perhaps my all-time favorite Spanish dish, gamba. They were all decadent. Watching the young couple dining next to me, made my mouth water for steak so I’ll have to do that on the return trip. But I couldn’t leave without tasting another of my all-time favorite Spanish dishes, salon. It did not disappoint.

Carlos Salgado, owner of the OC MIX’s hottest restaurant, Taco Maria, has been nominated twice for the James Beard Award and was recently named Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine. His modern Mexican restaurant stemmed for his wild popular Taco Maria food truck where he won accolades as best gourmet food truck in OC.

The 2015 Top Chef runner-up Amar Santana opened Vaca, his second restaurant, in the city’s Theater and Arts District. Vaca is

Atsushi Yokoyama, of Hana re, was named Chef of the Year.

This 10-seat restaurant serves pristine shima aji with grapefruit and plum-wine foam; corn custard with snow crab and baby okra; seared foie over rice; steamed akamutsu with morel mushrooms; hairy crab with fiddlehead fern; Miyazaki A5 wagyu on a sizzling hot lava stone … and yes, sushi: grunt fish, wild sea bream, blue stripe snapper, cockle clams, serpent-like tachiuo, flying houbou …

Another celebrity chef will soon arrive on the scene, Richard Blais along with Owner Mike Rosen and Director of Culinary Operations Jon Sloan are prepping their cult-favorite fried chicken eatery, The Crack Shack, for an October 2017 opening in the former Chase Bank located at 196 East 17th Street in the heart of Costa Mesa. 

playful approach to traditional chicken and eggs.  Sourcing both produce and proteins from boutique local farms, The Crack Shack utilizes free range, non-GMO eggs and high-end organic ingredients. Menu highlights include The Royale with savory chicken sausage, organic sunny side egg and smoked cheddar on a housemade English muffin, the Firebird with spicy fried thigh, cool ranch, crispy onions, and pickles on a potato roll, Fried Chicken available in five or ten piece portions and the Downward Dog with local vegetables, hazelnuts, quinoa, hummus, kale and lemon yogurt vinaigrette.


 Arts & Museums

Costa Mesa takes center stage in Orange County with an internationally acclaimed arts and theater district. With some of the finest visual arts installations and performing arts venues in the world, it’s easy to see why Costa Mesa is The City of the Arts™.

Engage in a cultural experience and learn why Costa Mesa is The City of the ArtsTM. Take a tour of Segerstrom Center for the Arts; explore the Art Walk and see the free public art installations located around the performing arts campus. You won’t want to miss the California Scenario at Noguchi Gardens or attending a stage production of some of the world’s favorite Broadway shows.


Costa Mesa is famous for its high-end shopping so a quick tour of South Coast Plaza with stores like… The next morning I headed to OC mix for coffee at Portola. Another great shopping destination…Experience South Coast Plaza, a world-famous retail destination, offering more than 250 stores and restaurants, all under one roof. You could truly spend a day here exploring the exclusive shops only found at South Coast Plaza, with its stellar cast of the world’s top designers – from Christian Dior, Balenciaga, Hermès and Harry Winston. 

With high end retail like South Coast Plaza, The LAB, OC Mix, The Camp and South Coast Collection,

South Coast Plaza

The world-famous South Coast Plaza defines the luxury shopping experience with its extraordinary boutiques, designer shops, personal service and upscale amenities. Award-winning restaurants and an unparalleled retail collection complete the package.


The CAMP excels as an innovative retail community designed to offer outdoor and action sports enthusiasts authentic shopping and dining experiences in a natural compound.


This eclectic venue was established as “The Anti-Mall” to house independent retailers, galleries, and restaurateurs in a one-of-a-kind environment with an interesting ambiance and artistic flair.

 Metro Pointe

Metro Pointe at South Coast features classic California/Italian architecture with lush foliage. The pedestrian concourse joins specialty retail stores such as Nordstrom Rack and Saks Off 5th, with an upscale movie theater and al fresco dining.

17th Street Shops

About a mile from the beach, the shops of East 17th Street and others off Newport Boulevard offers diverse dining and unique boutiques – a friendly gathering place for locals and visitors alike.

SOCO and the OC MIX offers its guests a unique retail experience with the best in home furnishings, pop-up shops, excellent dining and much more.

The Triangle

The Triangle offers 191,000 square feet of outdoor entertainment and retail space. As a Costa Mesa landmark property and downtown anchor, it is only 1 mile from the Pacific Ocean and close to several major road systems.

Where to stay: I stayed at the Avenue of the arts hotel, a Starwood property, and realize it’s the little things that hotels do that make frequent travelers like myself happy. Within five minutes of getting to my room, the concierge brought me a nice bottle of wine which was certainly the perfect way to welcome me to the hotel. But it was some of the little touches in the hotel room – actual coffee mugs, not those paper to go cups. The Beth youth room with floor-to-ceiling marble and the shower curtain was bright and colorful and stylishly talked… I also appreciated that the bed faced the window instead of a TV sitting on a bureau. A small couch area was the perfect space to work. Being the city of the arts, so much of the hotel has an orange theme, from the feature wall behind the bed, to the gift shop named Harper harpsichord and flute.

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