For those who visit Costa Mesa only to shop, there’s more to the city than South Coast Plaza. Whether you’re heading down for an all-day shopping spree or catching a show at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, the opportunities for a good meal are endless.
And of course we’re not saying you can’t find good food at the mall. Din Tai Fung recently opened a location, and Marche Moderne is a local staple. But if you’re looking to venture out of South Coast Plaza-ville, we’ve got some suggestions. If you know where to look, there are craft cocktails, Japanese barbecue, Australian pies, doughnuts, Buffalo jerky, oysters and more. Here’s a look at 12 spots to check out, including four from the OC Mix, Orange County’s original food hall.
Anjin — If you come at 9:38 p.m. on a Sunday, expect a wait. It’s a yakiniku (Japanese BBQ) restaurant with a hot grill in the middle of each table, along with small containers of gochujang and minced garlic on the side. There’s an endless flow of plates piled with salted tongue, pork cheek, marbled boneless shortrib and more out of the kitchen. If you come late-night/early morning (it’s open until 1 a.m.), expect to spot the restaurant industry crowd heading in for dinner after finishing their shifts. 3033 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 979-6700.
Celestino’s Quality Meats — In addition to every cut of meat you can think of, you can also have the butcher shop cook dinner. Well, sort of. The shop sells ravioli, stuffed chicken breast, meatloaf, crusted steaks, stuffed pork chops and more, all ready for you to cook when you get home. And there’s an impressive selection of jerky, including buffalo jerky, old fashioned beef jerky, spicy jerky and more, all made in house in a large oven. 270 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-7191, www.celestinosmeats.com.
Eat Chow — It’s a neighborhood spot attached to the side of Bel-Bambini baby boutique. And don’t let the casual setting fool you. On the menu is a savory baked goat cheese bread pudding, French quarter cut Creole New York strip steak and a grilled shrimp po’boy made with marinated Mexican white prawns, lemon remoulade, Cajun beurre rouge and red pepper aioli slaw on a garlic and Parmesan-crusted French baguette. 1802 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 650-2469, www.eatchownow.com.
Habana — There’s no better place to sit on a patio shaded with lush greenery and sip an ice cold mojito. The bar at this Cuban restaurant prepares for the evening mojito rush by keeping a steady supply of mojito glasses, filled with simple syrup, three wedges of lime and torn mint leaves, along one side of the bar. There’s also plenty of red and white sangria being sipped alongside empanadas and medianoches. 2930 Bristol Street, #110, Costa Mesa, (714) 556-0176, www.habanacostamesa.com.
Pie-Not — It’s an Aussie-style meat and veggie pie shop with Australian coffee. The classic dog’s eye pie is filled with angus beef, garlic and minced onion and a savory gravy in a golden brown pie shell; The Drover pie is a dog’s eye topped with mashed potatoes; and you can order breakfast pies filled with beef, bacon, tomatoes and cheese with an egg on top. If you ask for a fork, the young woman behind the counter will oblige, but not before telling you that you should eat the pie with your hands “just like a hamburger.” 270 East 17th Street #17, Costa Mesa, (949) 650-7437, www.pienot.com.
Sea Birds — It’s vegan food for vegans and their non-vegan friends. There are BBQ jackfruit sliders and butternut squash enchiladas, but the most crave-able item on the menu may be the beer battered “avo" taco. It’s a slice of battered and fried avocado, cabbage, red onion, lime and a spicy, creamy sauce on corn tortillas. You will wonder, if only momentarily, why you ever added meat to a taco. (OK, we said momentarily). 2930 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, (714) 549-2584, www.seabirdskitchen.com.
Sidecar Doughnuts — The aroma of fried dough flecked with Cara Cara orange zest, maple bacon icing and sticky toffee pudding at this strip mall doughnut shop is simply intoxicating. Even if you walk in with the intention of buying just one, you’ll leave with half a dozen — not that we’re speaking from experience or anything. And regardless of when you come, there’s a fresh batch straight out of the fryer. A selection of flavors changes monthly, with March doughnuts including the Cara Cara orange, Einkorn banana walnut, coconut cream pie and more. 270 E. 17th St., #18, Costa Mesa, (949) 887-2910, www.sidecardoughnuts.com.
Social — Like most memorable places in Costa Mesa, this is a bar, and restaurant in a shopping center. And bar director Mike West’s cocktail menu will rival that of any bar in Los Angeles. There’s shiso-infused gin in the Dementa #2, made with Fernet Menta, Chareau, lemon, ginger, honey and cucumber soda; and the Mother Theresa vs. The Moors is a mix of chorizo-washed cognac, Amargo Vallet, apple cider shrub, lemon and Cabernet meringue. If you’re in for dinner, expect crispy pig tails, a rabbit and foie gras terrine and a whole grilled pescado for the table. 512 W. 19th St., Costa Mesa, (949) 642-2425, www.socialcostamesa.com.
Portola Coffee Lab (OC Mix) — Forget the line at the Venice Beach Intelligentsia. The endless parade of caffeine fiends at Portola Coffee Lab on a Saturday morning winds through the OC Mix building and into the parking lot. Roast magazine’s 2015 micro roaster of the year does its best to perfect your morning cup of Joe with coffee made from beans that founder Jeff Duggan sources from farms all over the world. You can also grab a pastry and sandwiches. 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 284-0596, www.Portolacoffeelab.com.
Shuck (OC Mix) — A classic oyster bar with an incredibly decadent grilled cheese sandwich. It’s a melting tower of OC Baking Company sourdough bread, five-year-aged cheddar, five-year-aged white cheddar and 10-year-aged Parmigiano-Reggiano. As far as the oysters go, there’s a selection delivered daily, all shucked and sold for $3 a pop. You can also order lobster rolls, oyster po’boys and chowder. 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, (949) 420-0478, www.shuckoysterbar.com.
Taco Maria (OC Mix) — It’s one of Jonathan Gold’s 101 best restaurants, and it’s where you can find Carlos’ famous $15 tacos. You can order the tacos, all served on housemade tortillas — and you should — or you can opt for a full prix fixe menu, complete with wine pairings and impeccable plating. For brunch, chilaquiles with chicken confit and pickled onions; yogurt mousse and granola; and a glass of sangria. Sit at the chef’s counter for a free cooking show. 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 538-8444, www.tacomaria.com/.
The Mixing Glass (OC Mix) — It’s Costa Mesa’s answer to The Bar Keeper in Silver Lake. Bitters tastings, a selection of small-batch liquors, Fever Tree ginger beer, vintage glassware and every tool you may need to make a martini, mojito or whatever boozy concoction your heart desires. You can also sign up for classes, the most recent being a two-hour session on Irish Whiskey. 3313 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, (714) 975-9952, www.themixingglass.lightspeedwebstore.com.
I like the idea of having dinner at two spots. Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris_