My first apartment after moving away from home was a stone’s throw away from South Coast Plaza. And since then, for about 20 years I’ve called Orange County home. This means exploring lots of fun and experiencing the best restaurants in Costa Mesa.
Not five minutes away from beach, the airport, University of California, Irvine, and the world famous South Coast Plaza shopping center, Costa Mesa is at the center of all this action. And with such a thriving hub of traffic brings opportunity for restaurants to flourish.
Costa Mesa’s proximity to the beach as well as a relatively high-end mall gives opportunity for some higher end restaurants to thrive, but the city is also rich with everyday fare. Let me show you what I’ve found over the years to be the best restaurants in Costa Mesa. Keep in mind the food scene here is always changing, so I’ll keep this list up to date with my favorite foods here.
If you’re craving fried chicken and want to try something far better than your basic Kentucky Fried Chicken, try Tenkatori. This Japanese fried chicken spot is one of my favorite places to get extra crunchy, juicy pieces of chicken when I don’t have time to make my own karaage.
I like to order a karaage and teba (wing) combo that comes with rice and a mixture of sides you can choose from like salad, cut rolls, veggies, and edamame. Tenkatori also has a lot of different dipping sauces–I like the spicy mayo and yuzu aioli most, but there’s teriyaki, tantan (sesame), and many more.
It’s located in a tiny corner plaza next to a convenience store, just blink and you might miss it. There’s a small parking lot too, so it’s great to order ahead online and pick up your order.
Type of food: Japanese fried chicken
What to order: karaage, teba (wings), and dipping sauces (spicy mayo, teriyaki sauce)
Address: 3001 Bristol St Ste D, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
2. Din Tai Fung
Din Tai Fung is one of the most popular dumpling and Taiwanese restaurants globally, and since its opening at South Coast Plaza in 2014, it’s had a constant line outside with hungry patrons. They’re known for their famous 18-fold xiao long bao (soup dumplings) made of kurobuta pork and other tasty side dishes like cucumber salad, sweet and sour pork baby back ribs, shrimp shao mai, potstickers, and more.
I highly recommend getting a reservation ahead of time so you can skip the long line outside. It’s located on the second floor of South Coast Plaza, and they also have a small outdoor dining area.
Type of food: Taiwanese, xiao long bao (soup dumplings)
What to order: kurobuta pork xiao long bao, cucumber salad, sweet & sour pork baby back ribs, shrimp & kurobuta pork shao mai, braised beef noodle soup, potstickers, fried rice, and sauteed string beans with garlic
Address: 3333 Bristol St, Space 2071, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
3. Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee
Ever since Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee opened in what’s known as the Newport Mesa region of Costa Mesa in 2012, it’s taken the donut world by storm. They’re known for their classic and seasonal flavors that change monthly. While they specialize in freshly fried cake donuts, they also sell risen (yeast) donuts like their choc-a-lot flavor.
I can’t overstate this: these are the best donuts I’ve ever had. Every donut I have in every city I visit, I can’t help but compare it to Sidecar. I’ve seen other creative twists on flavors, but nothing has ever come close to Sidecar’s top-notch risen and cake doughnut quality in my opinion. It almost doesn’t matter which flavors you get because it is going to be good.
Their unique flavors include huckleberry, salt, butter, and thin mint. I love their monthly malasadas that feature rotating monthly fillings like passion fruit or pina colada. If you want a savory option on the weekends, they also sell their donut basil eggs Benedict.
There’s always some line out the door, but it moves quickly. Sidecar also offers online orders if you need to pick up a large order or just want them ready by the time you order.
Although these are the best doughnuts I’ve ever had, I must warn you that I’ve tried the coffee many times here and have regretted it each time. Pick up these doughnuts, then get your coffee at home or somewhere else.
If you want to try your hand at some homemade donuts, check out my mochi donut recipe!
Type of food: doughnuts and coffee
What to order: huckleberry, salt and butter, basil eggs benedict, choc-a-lot, seasonal flavors
Address: 270 E 17th St Ste 18, Costa Mesa, CA 92627
4. Hokkaido Ramen Santouka
If you ask me what my favorite ramen restaurant is, it will always be Hokkaido Ramen Santouka. After eating at dozens of popular ramen spots throughout the years and waiting in long lines, I’ve found that Santouka has the perfect combination of al dente egg noodles, flavorful broth, tender pork pieces, and an inexpensive price with no lines.
They have a few broth options, but my go-to order is the shio (salt) ramen, which comes with side veggies and garnishes: wood ear mushrooms, fish cake slices (naruto), bamboo, green onion, and some slices of pork. If you’re looking for a richer experience, they sell an upgraded option with more slices of a fattier cut of pork called the “special pork.” You will not be disappointed.
Come here for the ramen, but if you want to add something extra, they also sell really delicious chashu pork and rice bowls that hit the spot when you’re craving rice. While I do think their marinated eggs are a bit too well-done, their ramen makes up for it. The Costa Mesa location is inside a Mitsuwa grocery store in their cafeteria section.
While this is the best ramen I’ve ever had, I still find it strange that they do a fully hard-boiled ramen egg, instead of a jammy yolk version (learn how I make ramen eggs at home).
Type of food: ramen, Japanese
What to order: tokusen toroniku ramen and a marinated egg, chashu rice bowl
Address: 665 Paularino Ave, Costa Mesa, CA 92626 (inside Mitsuwa cafeteria)
5. Blackmarket Bakery
All the pastries, baked goods, and food is made in-house from scratch at Blackmarket Bakery, and their menus change with the seasons, so depending on the time of year, you could have chocolate babkas or ripe berry tarts. Their freshly baked goods are made daily, and you can find various types of cakes, cookies, croissants, and even sandwiches available to order.
Their Costa Mesa location is located at the Camp off and has a small parking lot, but they typically have complimentary valet available. Many people like to visit Blackmarket bakery for brunch, but it’s also a great place to work because there’s a lot of space to sit, drink a coffee, work, and enjoy a fresh pastry.
Type of food: bakery, pastries, brunch
What to order: cookies, croissants
Address: 2937 Bristol St Ste D100A, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
6. Plums Cafe & Catering
If you want a classic brunch with a slight millennial twist, Plum’s Cafe & Catering is perfect. I’ve been to my share of brunch spots, from your basic mom and pop breakfast spots to super trendy places with viral over-the-top pancake flavors. What I love about Plum’s and what’s kept me coming back year after year—even after ten years—is that they are consistent in their high quality of foods, plus the food itself has the familiar flavors of brunch.
My all-time go-to order is the Santa Fe eggs benedict for something savory with a bite of chipotle in the hollandaise sauce and the northwest berry waffle for something sweet afterward. There are also some tasty cocktails available too.
There can be a bit of a wait for brunch during the weekend, like any other brunch spot during the weekend, but they also offer reservations online. Their large outdoor dining allows for big groups, too.
Type of food: brunch, American
What to order: Santa Fe eggs benedict, dutch baby, northwest berry waffles, smoked salmon hash
Address: 369 E 17th St Ste 7, Costa Mesa, CA 92627
7. Little Pan Fried Bun
Little Pan Fried Bun is one of my favorite snacks to pick up while driving around town. If you’ve never had the opportunity to eat these little crisp but juicy morsels of goodness, imagine biting into an oversized soup dumpling that’s pan-fried to perfection, so you get the best of both worlds.
I first had these delivered, and I was instantly addicted. Even though the dumplings weren’t entirely fresh out of the pan, they still held up really well, and the texture was crispy and tender. While they have three different varieties of pan-fried buns (house special, curry pan, and shrimp), the house-special pork buns are my favorite.
If you’re going to order a full meal, I recommend ordering the beef pancake and the sweet & sour cucumber side dish. In addition, they have online ordering available, where you can pick what you want and pick it up faster or deliver it straight to your door.
Type of food: Chinese
What to order: house special pan-fried pork buns, beef pancake, sweet and sour cucumber
Address: 2 Hutton Centre Dr Unit 204, Santa Ana, CA 92707
8. Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai
While Santouka is my top ramen spot, I like Kitakata Ramen Ban Nai if I want to go to a traditional restaurant (aka, it’s open later than Mistuwa). If you’re not in the mood for ramen, there are also so many tasty menu items that are just as good as their ramen. I love the aburi chashu bowl if you’re craving rice and a side of the juicy karaage.
I recommend going during the weekdays or off-hours because they can get swamped, and the parking lot is a bit packed, so you might need to park down the street. You can also join a waitlist on Yelp to get ahead of the line if you’re close by.
Type of food: ramen, Japanese
What to order: Kitakata ramen, aburi chashu bowl (or ban nai bowl), juicy fried chicken
Address: 891 Baker St B21, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
I’m not even vegan, but Seabird’s Cafe makes food so good that you’ll forget it’s plant-based. I have a handful of family members who eat plant-based, and Seabird’s Cafe is a great choice because there are many different options that appeal to anyone.
I love to order their grilled cheese with a side of tomato soup on cold days and nachos and avocado tacos on warm sunny days. There is a nice outdoor area, but you can also order it to go and eat at the open tables available throughout The Lab Anti-Mall.
Unfortunately, due to its location, there can be a bit of trouble with parking since all two parking lots are relatively small and have tight spots, so be cautious while trying to find a spot.
Type of food: American, vegan
What to order: avocado tacos, grilled cheese, tomato soup, potato taquitos, mushroom tacos
Address: 2930 Bristol St, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
10. Terrace by Mix Mix
Terrace by Mix Mix is the perfect spot if you want a nice dinner while shopping at Crystal Court Plaza. Chef Ross Pangilinan recently received a Bib Gourmand award from Michelin in 2021 for Terrace by Mix Mix.
I love this restaurant because it’s a new take on new American tapas with influence from Chef Ross’ Filipino background. My favorite dishes include the pork cheek adobo appetizer, the honey pork belly pizza, and most importantly, the tropical verrine that includes lilikoi in a panna cotta dessert.
There’s indoor and outdoor dining on the third-floor terrace of the mall, and it’s located outside the Bridge of Garden that connects South Coast Plaza to Crystal Court Plaza. I recommend getting a reservation during busy weekend nights, but they also take walk-ins.
For a taste of Filipino food at home, check out our version of pork adobo.
Type of food: New American, tapas, Filipino
What to order: pork cheek adobo, honey pork belly pizza, tropical verrine (panna cotta)
Address: 3333 Bear St Unit 316, Costa Mesa, CA 92626 (inside Crystal Court Plaza on the 3rd Floor)
11. Chicken Maison
Chicken Maison is a family dinner staple. It’s a Mediterranean-style chicken dinner (along with other entrees like gyros, kabobs, pasta, and more) that is an inexpensive way to feed a large group of people with tasty food.
My favorite item to order is the lemon basil rotisserie chicken combo that comes with two different sides. My favorite sides to order are maison rice, french fries with garlic sauce, and salad. The chicken always comes out super juicy and is marinated with a buttery lemon basil topping.
This meal goes a long way and is able to feed about four people, and desserts are available if you want a sweet treat at the end of the meal. They also have delivery and pick-up available. However, if you want to order fries, you need to order them in-store.
It’s located on the edge of Costa Mesa and Santa Ana and up the street from South Coast Plaza. There’s plenty of parking available too. If you don’t live in OC, they also have nine other locations throughout Southern California like Torrance, Gardena, and Redondo Beach.
Type of food: Mediterranean
What to order: lemon basil chicken, original rotisserie chicken, maison rice, french fries, garlic sauce, and baklava
Address: 3605 S Bristol St, Santa Ana, CA 92704
12. Stella Jean’s Ice Cream
Stella Jean’s Ice Cream is a small-batch ice cream company with ultra-premium seasonal flavors. So I was super happy when this San Diego ice cream spot opened in Newport Mesa (the area between Newport and Costa Mesa). They feature some creative takes on traditional desserts and food like mango sticky rice and ube with pieces of caramelized pandesal (Filipino bread rolls).
These two are my personal favorites, but there are many more flavors I’ve tried, like the vegan strawberry oat crumble. Some of their flavors are gluten-free and vegan too, so they have a lot of varieties that meet other dietary restrictions.
They are located next to Sidecar Doughnuts & Coffee and their sister restaurant, Pop Pie. It’s in a larger parking lot, and we’ve never had trouble finding a spot, even if its walking distance is a little farther.
Type of food: ice cream
What to order: mango sticky rice, ube pandesal, waffle cone
Address: 270 E 17th St Ste 16, Costa Mesa, CA 92627
For special nights out on the town, Vaca is a nice option for tapas and steak. Located across from the Segerstrom Center for the Arts, it’s also great to make a reservation here if you’ve got a Broadway show or concert that you’ll be attending.
Vaca is known for its dry-aged steaks, and they display them proudly via a glass wall. I like coming here with a semi-large group to try the different Spanish-style tapas and share one of their famous paellas. If you’ve visited Spain and wished you could get a varied selection of Spanish cured meats, Vaca is the place—they’ve got a wide selection of cuts available.
They also have chef specials for the day, and I would recommend them—one of my favorite specials was uni risotto, and I’ve never been able to find a better risotto since then.
Type of food: tapas, Spanish, steakhouses
What to order: paella, dry-aged ribeye, jamon varieties
Address: 695 Town Center Dr Ste 170, Costa Mesa, CA 92626