A couple of years back, I thought I would die if I had to have one more meeting in a Starbucks, so I set out to find some new places.
What I found was Amorelia Mexican Café at 2200 Harbor Blvd. This gem near the corner of Wilson Street sits by Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts Store.
Amorelia has become my go-to meeting place. I always order the café de olla — a sweet, rich coffee — and, for lunch, a grilled vegetable salad that is not on the menu but is worth asking for. My favorite thing to eat there is the mole verde; the chicken is so tender, the flavors just perfect.
The recipes are from owner Gloria Seretti. She owns and operates the restaurant with her children Carlos, Daniel, Gaby and Manuel Paniagua. When I was there last week, Gloria said that she loves to cook, and she loves socializing.
Before they opened the restaurant, she said, she would have people over to her home three to five nights a week. It was her children who encouraged her to open a restaurant to share her love for food and gatherings with the broader community.
Gloria learned to cook from her nanny in Morelia, Mexico. She started cooking when she was 5. Some of the recipes she has go back to the 1890s.
Amorelia specializes in dishes from Michoacán. They have $1 tacos on Tuesdays and live music most Saturdays. Even though I use the place as a second office, the music, food and family-oriented staff make it feel much more like a home.
The first thing I noticed was the long table for eight in the middle of the restaurant. This place is set up to gather, enjoy good food and company, and stay awhile.
Carlos, who runs things with his brother Daniel, said that the family chose Costa Mesa because they all live locally.
"We saw this location as an opportunity," he said.
Gloria added that she likes the proximity to her home and children. When I asked them what they liked most about the location, they both replied, "the people."
Gloria told me that love is the main ingredient of her food, and that is why the café is called Amorelia.
Carlos laughed, recounting how many times his mother has called his dad to bring an ingredient from home because a customer made a special request.
"She is always calling or running out to get what people want," Carlos said. "She wants them to be happy."
It seems to be working. The reviews online are outstanding and people are coming to Costa Mesa from throughout the county to check out Amorelia Mexican Café. People love the food and they come back.
That's good news for Costa Mesa. And it is good for Gloria and her family. She said that owning the restaurant together has made the family closer.
"We are held together by love and respect," she said. "In the good and the bad, we are together. And we are most happy when the restaurant is full of family and friends."
CRISSY BROOKS is co-founder and executive director of Mika Community Development Corp., a faith-based nonprofit in Costa Mesa, where she lives.