On a clear summer afternoon perfect for margaritas and ribbon cuttings, invited guests welcomed the newest restaurant at The Triangle.
La Vida Cantina replaces El Corazón de Costa Mesa at the restaurant and entertainment complex in Costa Mesa. El Corazón, a Cabo San Lucas-themed Mexican eatery, held its grand opening last May but closed after about a year.
La Vida's operator, Newport Beach-based Identity Management Group, also runs Sutra, a nightclub in The Triangle.
While the new management didn't gut El Corazón's large outdoor dining space, it did substantial retheming and created a new menu, said Rob Arellano, Identity's marketing director.
The new food offerings, selected by General Manager Isabelle Rodrigues and chef Francisco Perez, don't "reinvent" Mexican food but put a spin on the essential, authentic flavors, Arellano said.
He pointed to the signature La Vida Burrito, a wet burrito filled with chicken or steak and topped with red and green enchilada sauces, cotija cheese, avocado and Mexican cream. It comes with black beans and pico de gallo.
David Griffith, Identity's director of operations, said La Vida's signature cocktails will include the Kawika, which means David in Hawaiian.
It's a spicy mix featuring Don Julio tequila, St. Germain liqueur, crushed pineapple, serrano pepper and li hing powder, which has a salty but also sweet and sour taste.
"People who love a spicy margarita, this one's to die for," Griffith said.
The decor has changed considerably from El Corazón's beachside resort feel. La Vida has warmer tones throughout, Arellano said, taking its cues more from a Spanish influence this time.
And the two big palapas? They're still there, with plenty of shaded seating underneath.
"We didn't want to get rid of those," Arellano said with a smile. "Those were too priceless to get rid of."
Before the ribbon-cutting, Costa Mesa Mayor Jim Righeimer noted the recent revitalization of The Triangle property, which for years had struggled but under new ownership has found success as a restaurant and entertainment destination.
"This is like a high-end hotel cabana bar," Righeimer said to the crowd of onlookers, who included several city and state officials.
La Vida has had soft openings for about a week. Its official grand opening is scheduled for 5 to 10 p.m. Aug. 6 and 7, with portions of the sales going to the Costa Mesa-based Someone Cares Soup Kitchen and the Orange County Jaycees Charitable Foundation.