Costa Mesa Restaurants

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Kim Orlando and daughter checking out Costa Mesa family restaurants.
Fresh guacamole at La Vida in the Triangle Costa Mesa. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

This article was originally published in 2021. All information was accurate at the time of publication and is still relevant today (as of March 20, 2024).

Costa Mesa is a foodie town featuring Ramen Row, amazing coffee options and several vegan restaurants to choose from.

Costa Mesa is 35 miles south of LAX, near the surf capital, Huntington Beach, and swanky Newport Beach. I live in Costa Mesa half the year and visited often when my daughter was working here. We can vouch for the sunny California weather, world-class shopping, but mostly the variety of restaurants. Here is our list of recommendations so far.

Costa Mesa Restaurants for Dinner

Specialty bottomless cocktails at brunch at La Vida Cantina, one of many costa mesa family restaurants.
Specialty bottomless cocktails at brunch at La Vida Cantina. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

La Vida Cantina for bottomless [brunch] Bloody Mary’s

1870 Harbor Blvd.

We liked the fresh Mexican food at this Costa Mesa restaurant so much that we have been there several times. We tested their claim to “fresh” by asking for onion-free ceviche and guacamole and were not disappointed.

  • Great locationLa Vida Cantina has a fun outdoor patio in Triangle Square, which is right off of Harbor Boulevard and literally in the center of everything in Newport Beach/Costa Mesa
  • Chips you can’t stop eating. The tortilla chips are free and fried, which we knew was going to be a problem to limit. For some reason, the puffy ones are the most addicting. We especially like that the salsas are savory, not vinegar-y.
  • Margarita inventions and bottomless mimosas or Bloody Mary’s for brunch on Saturday and Sunday. We recommend the Bloody Mary’s because they complement the chips so well.
  • Fresh means fresh. Burritos, tacos, enchiladas, fish tacos, ceviche, the entrees are fresh. Other Mexican restaurants stammer over their definition of fresh (…made earlier today, already mixed but made with fresh ingredients, blah blah blah). But at La Vida Cantina, the food was made to order. The chef was happy to make the signature guacamole and shrimp ceviche without onions for me.

Note: The atmosphere is casual and fine for kids of all ages, except for Friday evenings after 7 – the music is turned up and the bar gets packed.

Sevilla Restaurant and Tapas Bar: Paella family style

1870 Harbor Blvd.

Located directly across from La Vida Cantina in Triangle Square, Sevilla’s atmosphere is upscale family style. The large paella dishes easily serve four adults. And the fire pits and outdoor heaters create a lively nighttime setting.

Since tapas is all about tasting a variety of dishes, we ordered the divided paella, half Valenciana (chicken, calamari, mussels, shrimp, sausage) and half vegetarian (roasted mushrooms and a vegetable variety).

My son said the braised BBQ short ribs were rich and delicious and my husband ordered the chicken skewers, which we all demolished. The indoor dining room entertained guests with live music and flamenco dancing. During happy hour, tapas cost between $5-9 and all craft cocktails sell for $10.

Silver Trumpet: Fire tables set the tone

3350 Avenue of the Arts

This is upscale dining on a gorgeous patio. The restaurant is attached to the Avenue of the Arts hotel in a more corporate section of Costa Mesa. Silver Trumpet takes outdoor seating to a new level, with dining around a gorgeous fire table. The atmosphere sets the tone – blue skies, good food, cozy ambience.

I recommend starting with an ice cold super dirty martini and passing on the brussel sprouts (nothing special) appetizer. For dinner, I recommend the salmon. Everyone in my family agreed it was their favorite dish at Silver Trumpet. The dessert menu changes often, but we can vouch for the delicious apple crisp if that is available.

Breakfast and Brunch Options

Toast is one of several costa mesa family restaurants.
The pie you must try at Toast, a Costa Mesa family restaurant. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Toast Kitchen + Bakery for day drinkers and breakfast lovers

1767 Newport Blvd.

Disclosure: One visit to Toast was hosted for review purposes.

Hearty breakfast and brunch options pair nicely with the unique cocktail menu. I don’t usually order cocktails at lunch but the menu was so intriguing, I joined the day drinkers club.

I started with There Will Be Blood Orange, a bourbon, rosemary and blood orange cocktail that expertly highlighted the bourbon instead of sweetening it up. If you prefer sweet, my daughter liked the Peach Emoji (mescal, aperol and peach). To refresh the taste buds, we ordered the cucumber chia seed limeade – a little on the sweet side but light and tasty.

The table was stuffed with quiche and burgers and omelets and no crumbs were left behind. Ube French Toast stuffed with ube pastry creme, is my son’s go-to when he is in town.

The pie selection is epic and we have tried a few! The pies could be shared but the size suggests single-serve or at least that’s what I tell my family. Based on our experience with the blueberry taro pie (interesting color and slightly sweet flavor) and the rhubarb / strawberry pie (tangy and light), I would bet that there is no “bad pie” at Toast.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Take your time walking to the bathroom so you can peruse the pie case on your way. 

Not so Favorite: Pancakes R Us

329 E. 17th St.

We had to try this family restaurant just because of the name. We were starving and some of the trendy breakfast spots had a one hour wait. In hindsight, we should have waited the hour because this was an overall disappointment.

For starters, Pancakes R Us coffee is barely drinkable. The restaurant offers a variety of pancake types: vegan, gluten free, multi-grain and traditional. We tried them all and they all get a hard pass EXCEPT for the nut and oat pancake.

Another day we ate at Haute Cakes in Newport Beach which is definitely worth the short drive from Costa Mesa.

Pancakes R Us has a kids menu with both breakfast and lunch/dinner options.

So. Many. Vegan Food Options

Plant Power Fast Food: Big Mac Attack? Try the Big Zac

Various locations

This is the anti-McDonald’s. The Home of the Big Zac, Plant Power serves a fantastic menu of plant-based burgers, fish sandwiches, fries and, of course, plant-based chicken nuggets. We went back for more nuggets and to try the cookies and cream non-dairy shake and later, the peanut butter shake.

There are several Plant Power restaurants in southern California. I highly recommend a visit; it’s an adventure for the fast food lovers in your family. They don’t specifically have a kids menu, but with burgers and “chicken” nuggets on the menu most kids should find something yummy. And even kids may not notice the difference between these plant-based options and the real thing.

Costa Mesa Family Restaurants - Pie Society Speakeasy
Pie-Society-Speakeasy knock out pizzeria wall art. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Pie Society Bar: Try the Good Banter

353 E. 17th St.

Disclosure: This meal was hosted for review purposes.

Pie Society Bar is part pizza parlor, part speakeasy. In true speakeasy style, there are no big signs telling you where it is, but you do not need a password to get in.

The mixologist there knows her stuff. We chatted for a while about cocktail preferences and she recommended I try her original creation, Good Banter. It was so good that I posted it on my Instagram. I’m usually a purist; I like my bourbon neat and I don’t care for sweet cocktails.

My daughter and her friend ordered Everything Wants Some (tequila, elderflower, jalapeno honey) and Pretty Bird (rum, coconut white, egg white). Not my favorite but the girls raved about them. If you don’t know which cocktail creation to try, chat with the bartender.

For dinner at Pie Society, we tried the vegan margherita pizza with cashew cheese and everyone was a fan. The shaved kale salad was my favorite dish; I could have made a meal out of that because it is huge. The roasted artichoke sounded great but it honesly didn’t taste like much. The sauce, however, was delicious when we drenched our roasted cauliflower in it.

Seabirds Restaurant Roasted Cauliflower Salad in Costa Mesa.
Seabirds Restaurant Roasted Cauliflower Salad at The LAB in Costa Mesa. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Vegan: Seabirds Kitchen

2930 Bristol St.

Disclosure: This meal was hosted for review purposes.

This restaurant offers creative vegan served by a quirky wait staff (we had 4 servers in one hour).

We started with the cauliflower ceviche—genius idea and tasty but they just couldn’t remove the onions. We tried twice but they kept showing up. Seabirds’ warm cauliflower salad made up for it.

There’s a kids menu with interesting options such as avocado bites, ABJ – almond butter and jelly sandwich and bean and cheese burrito.

Sweet Treats in Costa Mesa

Favorite: Fill Bakeshop

1767 Newport Blvd.

This yummy spot near Toast Restaurant infuses mochi batter into its donut batter for a chewier gooey-er donut experience. Fun flavors like Taro Glazed, Ube Haupia Crunch and Brown Butter Cinnamon Roll were hard to pass up even though we had just brunched at Toast.

My daughter liked the mochi doughnuts more than I did but my taste buds must be wrong because there is always a line to get in to this yummy spot.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Plan to wait 15-30 minutes. There can be a long line to get your fill. 

Good Town Donuts is one of many costa mesa family restaurants.
Good Town Donuts 6 pack at The LAB in Costa Mesa. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Vegan: Good Town Doughnuts

2930 Bristol St. inside The LAB Anti-Mall.  

There are So. Many. Doughnut shops in LA and Orange County. Literally, it’s almost like there’s one on every corner. And that’s not counting Dunkin.

Randy’s is probably the most famous. Those are good, but when you want to step outside the doughnut box, head to Good Town Doughnuts. I don’t think even the most dedicated doughnut lover would be able to tell the vegan donuts apart from the regular doughnuts at Good Town Doughnuts. We also liked the gluten-free chocolate donut – dense and chocolatey.

Amazing flavors like cherry blossom and strawberry lemonade are tasty and worth a try. We planned to buy one but wound up buying six so we could try them all. Our favorite was the frosted raspberry.

The Lab has some costa mesa family restaurants.
The LAB Directory of shops. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Coffee: Nook Coffee Bar

2930 Bristol St. inside The LAB Anti-Mall.  

There are a lot of interesting food options in The LAB and the creative atmosphere is a whole vibe. You can buy crystals, consignment clothing and shop for jewelry in airstream trailers. As a tea drinker, I was happy to see interesting latte concoctions, including the honey oat latte and the spanish latte and a variety of matcha tea options at The Nook.

Here is an up-to-date calendar of events in Costa Mesa.

Future Dining Plans in Costa Mesa

We’ve personally tried all the eateries above and we’re keeping a list of our next Costa Mesa Restaurants that we need to check off! After crowdsourcing friends, locals, and readers we’ve been told to check out:

  • Playa Mesa (Mexican—it was strongly suggested that we hit up Taco and Tequila Tuesday to enjoy $3.50 tacos and $8 craft margaritas)
  • Taco Maria (Mexican—serving a la carte tacos and a prix-fixe four-course dinner menu)
  • Descanso (Mexican—with the option of ordering a meal cooked at the table)
  • Two South Coast Plaza restaurants: AnQi Bistro (Asian fusion small plates) and Water Grill (upscale seafood)
  • Vaca (Spanish food—with both traditional and more modern tapas options)
  • Habana (Cuban—the cocktails came highly recommended)
  • Onotria Wine Country Cuisine (Italian cuisine)
Costa Mesa Residence Inn exterior
Residence Inn in Costa Mesa, CA. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Where to stay in Costa Mesa

My home away from home is Residence Inn Costa Mesa. My first stay was hosted by the tourism board and I am grateful for the introduction because my subsequent stays have been by choice.

I have stayed at many other Residence Inns. I always recommend this chain for families because of the extra space in the rooms which include a kitchenette, and the daily breakfast that is included in the room price.

The Residence Inn Costa Mesa is conveniently located near the 405 freeway and the 73, 4 miles from the beach and walking distance to The LAB0 and The Camp for shopping and interesting food options like vegan doughnuts.

The landscaping around the property is tropical and lovely; we especially enjoyed hanging out at the pool and the firepits.

Costa Mesa Residence Inn kitchenette
Costa Mesa Residence Inn kitchenette. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

The staff is friendly, energetic and resourceful. They remembered our names and diligently responded to every request we had like extending our stay without having to move rooms.  Several other guests I spoke with who were also repeat customers also said they return because of the upbeat atmosphere.

This dog-friendly hotel welcomes pets with doggie treats at reception.

Rock star Buick Enclave Avenir in Hollywood. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

What We Drove

We were shopping for an apartment for my daughter in Costa Mesa, so driving was a big part of this trip. And cars are always a huge part of SoCal life. The Buick Envision Avenir we drove attracted a lot of attention.

Buick Envision Avenir

Disclosure: This vehicle was hosted for review purposes.

Buick loaned me an Envision Avenir, to test while my daughter and I checked out her new neighborhood in Costa Mesa, and shopped for her first car.

That required a couple of short road trips. While car shopping in Costa Mesa, sales guys at two different dealerships commented on how the Envision exterior looked like a Porsche.

Friends and neighbors stopped by to ask questions about the Envision:

“Who makes it? Buick?”  Yup. “Really?” Really!

“What is the gas mileage? (35mpg!)

“How does it drive?” Powerful and elegant.

Envision Features

The Envision interior lives up to its claim that it is spa-inspired. For starters, the massager in the driver’s seat rolled up and down my back to make our repeated 50-minute drives from Los Angeles to Costa Mesa more comfortable and our road trips a pleasure. And there were a lot of road trips to find an apartment!

My techy 23-year-old was impressed and more than a little bummed that her seat did not have a massager.

Add an air ionizer, an elegant electronics display and gorgeous leather trim and you have a luxurious driving experience. The panoramic sunroof makes it fun and the spacious 57-cubic-foot interior makes it roomy.

It took me a minute to like the PRNDL (Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, Low) buttons instead of a gear shift. But only a minute. The PRNDL button panel not only looks cool but improves performance and storage space.

The rearview camera became one of my favorite features, especially for night driving, because it illuminated the road, making it easier to see my surroundings.

Maxed-out technology includes built-in Alexa (which we used to find restaurants), 4G WIFI, a wireless charging option (no annoying wires!) and wireless Apple car play.

The Avenir is not a great first car for my daughter (she wants a compact) but she wants me to get one so that she can drive it.

Kim Orlando, founder of SheBuysTravel, is a lifelong traveler, an entrepreneur and a sought-after social media and marketing consultant. She has made hundreds of appearances on TV and in digital and print media, sharing advice and tips built on decades of travel experiences. Hailing from the hills of Kentucky and taking her story to New York, Los Angeles, and beyond, Kim built an online platform, the original TravelingMom, that has reached millions of moms and empowered them to explore the world with their families. Today, TravelingMom has evolved into SheBuysTravel. Kim has been featured on “News Nation,” “Today,” “Good Morning America” and on numerous satellite media tours. She has contributed travel guidance to outlets including The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Forbes, the Wall Street Journal and more. (Read more about Kim’s media appearances here) Her travel mantra is simple: All travel counts. “You don’t have to go far. Leaving your home is travel,” Kim says. “Wherever you go, even just to the next town over, you can learn something new, see someone and something you haven’t seen before. “It’s good for the brain and good for the soul.” An epiphany in early parenthood started Kim on the journey that led to SheBuysTravel. She’d been a fan of a newsletter for women travelers, and she saw an opportunity. “I thought something like that for moms could be extraordinarily helpful,” she said. “I was traveling for work, traveling for fun, and I was looking for support.” That seed grew into the award-winning website TravelingMom, created as a resource for traveling families of all stripes. Today, TravelingMom has evolved into SheBuysTravel, with an expanded mission to serve women travelers at any stage of life. Millions of readers have visited the site for trip planning help, travel secrets, destination information and gear recommendations. What sets SheBuysTravel’s content apart, Kim says, is its foundation in real-world experience. “Our writers and editors have actually gone out there and done this stuff,” she says. “They’ve booked the flights, tried the tour, tested travel clothing, visited that new hot spot to see if it’s worth the hype. It’s all real.” Memorable Adventures A 2022 tour Kim guided to Bhutan was a particularly standout experience. “Bhutan sounds so exotic, of course,” she said. “But the part where my heart just glows and warms is thinking of the people we met – amazing women doing amazing things in Bhutan.” Their ranks included a former police officer whose ventures into food science helped mitigate food insecurity for residents of Bhutan’s highlands. Top Tips Planning for travel can be daunting, Kim acknowledges. “I always say: Go anyway. No trip is going to be perfect. There’s always going to be something you didn’t expect, something that doesn’t go the way you pictured or planned it. And that something is what’s going to make it a great trip.” And on a practical note: “Go early! Getting to the airport or hitting the road just an hour earlier relieves so much stress.” Kim’s Background Kim, a graduate of the University of Arizona’s Eller College of Management, holds degrees in finance and entrepreneurship and has deep experience in developing and running businesses. Her previous work includes developing and running communications workshops and overseeing document management for corporations. SheBuysTravel hits a sweet spot where Kim’s two loves of travel and entrepreneurship meet. “The longer I work in this field, I only want to do more,” she says. “I find the travel world so exciting – not just the trips, but the whole online world of travel. There are still so many opportunities.” The World Awaits “The ‘best trip ever’ probably won’t be the same for an empty-nester or mom of three versus a single woman celebrating a bachelorette party with her friends,” Kim says. “We want to keep it real for traveling women, no matter what their age, life stage, where they came from or where they’re going. “We want to inspire women to travel in any shape or form.” In her free time, Kim enjoys visiting her adult kids, creating trips and traveling with her BFFs to explore the world. Her most recent adventures can be found on InstagramFacebook and LinkedIn.
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