10 Essential Costa Mesa Restaurants
Photo by Eleonor Segura
This is a list of restaurants your humble food writer has deemed his ten favorite in a city that's arguably one of the best restaurant cities in Orange County, one where OC Weekly World Headquarters happens to reside (lucky us!). Should any Travel Channel show host, visiting businessman, or a recent transplant ask me where to eat in town, this is the list I'd give them. But know that it was difficult to whittle it down to just ten. In one of O.C.'s best restaurant cities, there are at least 20 more that are worthy. Share yours in the comments.
1. Il Dolce
Roberto Bignes holds a certificate from the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, an Italian group of pizza makers that keeps track of this sort of thing. And at his modest square of a restaurant kitty-corner from Triangle Square, he skims ever closer and is seemingly determined on fine-tuning his pies toward the Neapolitan pizza ideal. His mozzarella is house-made. His olive oil, premium. And most important, when you bite into his crust, it crackles with the prickly sound of a million tiny molecular bonds breaking.
Photo by Edwin Goei
Marrakesh is one of the more transportive restaurants in our county. You eat as you lounge around like sheiks under the shelter of a Bedouin tent. Never mind that the belly dancer shimmying over to your table with dollar bills tucked near her nether regions is often the tall, statuesque blond who's also their hostess. The most important thing is that her toned abs move so rhythmically to the music, it has the power to convince even the most unwilling participants to dance with her. The food is great. The bread called khobz is served in wedges and perfumed of anise. You sip the lentil soup straight from the bowl after squeezing some lemon. The fluffy couscous tastes so feather light, it feels as though it were infused with helium. There's a lamb leg dripping with honey and chicken roasted with olives, preserved lemon and thinly sliced fried potatoes. Both are served in a tagine, a platter capped with those funnel-shaped vessels that look like ceramic bullhorns. For dessert: a baklava so sweet it makes your teeth hurt thinking about it. And when it's all done, there's the intoxicating complimentary mint tea poured from an ornate, long-necked vessel.
3. Mastro's Steakhouse
Mastro's is a steakhouse in Costa Mesa that is famous for its steak. Only the sissies or those who realize they're in way over their heads order the chicken, and even that isn't cheap. Forget the salmon, forget the pork chop, forget everything else that doesn't go moo. Hunks of beef, bloody rare inside, crusted with black sooty char outside, is why you go to Mastro's. Sure, it'll cost an arm, a leg, and possibly, a spare kidney. Why worry now? Go for broke for the Australian wagyu ribeye that's served still attached to a bone as ridiculously large as the price is steep. It eats like a hundred dollar piece of steak should: effortless, sinew-free, every sanguine, tender piece you slice an affirmation that you're still alive and carnivorous. The sides? A la carte, of course. A few, like the lobster mashed potatoes will cost as much as a steak. But even a pauper should at least sacrifice a few hours' wage for the sugar snap peas. Expect a dimly lit room, excellent free bread, white tablecloths, hot towels, crumb scrapers, and a uniformed guy in the bathroom who expects to be tipped after he hands you a towel.
4. Marche Moderne
Located on the roof at South Coast Plaza, Marche Moderne is enclosed by the building's outer wall and a tall wooden fence. Sunlight pours in a deluge from the sky, while potted fruit trees dance in the breeze to the relaxed rhythms of bossa nova. You wouldn't think such a bucolic spot could exist two stories above Tiffany and steps away from Nordstrom, but it does. The servers are pros, basically what you would expect at one of the finest French restaurants in the county. Yes, the prices can be astronomical, but with one notable exception: the three-course lunch that owner and chef Florent Marneau dubs "Spontanée." For about the price of one dinner entree, the Spontanée includes a salad, main course and dessert. The selections change daily, but anything can appear, even duck, which isn't something you probably expected to eat on the roof at South Coast Plaza.