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Costa Mesa, California, is a yummy foodie destination, with some delectable vegetarian and vegan options. TravelingMom founder, Kim Orlando, discovered these 11 Costa Mesa family restaurants while moving her daughter to southern California. Notable winners were vegan donuts at Good Town and taro pie at Toast!
Situated near the surf capital, Huntington Beach, and swanky Newport Beach, I am getting to know Costa Mesa as my daughter begins her new job in the Irvine area. We still have a lot of history to explore here. We have not yet visited the museum that pays tribute to the 1800s herdsmen who stopped in Costa Mesa (then called Lukup) as they drove their Capistrano cattle. It’s on my to-do list!
But we can vouch for the great food at Costa Mesa family friendly restaurants, delis, shopping and glorious California weather.
Here are our favorite Costa Mesa restaurants (so far).
TravelingMom Tip: Most restaurants in Orange County offer takeout, curbside pick-up. and you can order online.
Costa Mesa Family Restaurants for Dinner
1870 Harbor Blvd.
We ate at this Costa Mesa family friendly restaurant with its fresh Mexican food three times in six weeks.
- A great location. La 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 fried, which you already know will be good. For some reason, the puffy ones are the most addicting.
- Margarita inventions and bottomless mimosas or bloody Marys for brunch on Saturday and Sunday
- 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 so fresh, it was made to order. The chef was happy to make the signature guacamole and shrimp ceviche without onions for me.
La Vida Cantina does not have a kids menu but there are options on the regular menu that many kids would like, including nachos, chicken fajitas and rice bowls. 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.
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).
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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. Sevilla’s happy hour is generous: $5-9 tapas and $5 off cocktails.
Sevilla does not have a kids menu, but if your kids enjoy Spanish foods such as tapas and paella, they will easily find something they’ll enjoy here. The atmosphere is good for kids any time.
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 pizza (doughy) and Brussel sprouts (nothing special) appetizer. For dinner, we all ordered the salmon and were very happy with that and the apple crisp dessert.
This is an upscale restaurant and probably not the best option for kids.
Breakfast and Brunch Options
1767 Newport Blvd.
Disclosure: One visit to Toast was hosted for review purposes.
Day-drinkers and breakfast lovers will love this kid-friendly restaurant. Fabulous 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, order 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. Next time I have to know how creme brulee batter becomes Berry Shortcake French Toast or how orange chicken pairs with a black sesame waffle.
For dessert, we ate gluten-free granola yogurt parfait and took home the blueberry taro pie for later. And we were glad we did! It was delicious.
Toast does not have a kids menu but more adventurous kids can explore the different tastes. The atmosphere is super casual. Plus, everyone loves pie!
TravelingMom Tip: Take your time walking to the bathroom so you can peruse the pie case on your way.
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 overall a 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.
Where to Eat Lunch in Costa Mesa
Plant Power Fast Food
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.
Pie Society Speakeasy
353 E. 17th St.
Disclosure: This meal was hosted for review purposes.
This 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, The 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. Kacie will help you find your match.
For dinner at Pie Society, we tried the vegan pizza with cashew cheese and everyone was a fan. The kale salad was my favorite dish; I could have made a meal out of that because it is huge. The grilled artichoke sounded great but it was a PITA to eat and just didn’t taste like much. The sauce, however, was delicious when we drenched our roasted cauliflower in it.
The speakeasy area is not really for kids, but you can take them to the pizza parlor at the front (Pitfire) while parents eat at the speakeasy. There is a kids menu with pizza and pasta options.
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 and avocado toast 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
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 and Lilikoi Poppyseed and my favorite, the UBE Snickerdoodle cookie, 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.
TravelingMom Tip: Plan to wait 15-30 minutes. There can be a long line to get your Fill.
Good Town Doughnuts
2930 Bristol St.
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.
Amazing flavors like cherry blossom and strawberry lemonade are tasty, $5 and worth a try. We planned to buy one but wound up buying six so we could try them all. Our favorite was the raspberry frosted.
2930 Bristol Street
Coffee and chai. Located in The LAB Anti-Mall. There are a lot of interesting food options in The LAB and the creative atmosphere is real. You can buy crystals, consignment clothing and shop for jewelry in airstream trailers. As a tea drinker, I was happy to see interesting chai concoctions: Lavender Chai, Mexican Chai (loved it!) and a variety of matcha tea options at The Nook.
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)
- Taco Maria (Mexican kitchen serving a la carte tacos and a prix-fixe four course dinner menu)
- Descanso (Mexican with plancha entrees available, near Fairview Park)
- Two South Coast Plaza restaurants- AnQi Bistro (Asian fusion small plates) and Water Grill (upscale seafood)
- Vaca (tapas and Mediterranean/Spanish food)
- Habana (Cuban- the cocktails came highly recommended)
- Onotria Wine Country Cuisine (Italian cuisine)
Where to stay in Costa Mesa
My home away from home, now that my daughter moved to the area, 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 Lab 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.
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.
During non-COVID times, there is a Residence Inn van for transportation within a 3 mile radius.
What We Drove
We stayed with friends in southern California and shopped 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.
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 compact) but she wants me to get one so that she can drive it.