Unwind with authentically prepared dishes inspired by the coastal and southern regions of Mexico at Costa Mesa’s Playa Mesa. Chef Rolando Rubalcava’s innovative take on Mexican street food shines in a predominately gluten-free menu built from non-GMO, organic and farm-to-table ingredients. Reminiscent of Baja flavors, the Tacos Dorados de Papa are flavored with fresh tomato salsa and cotija cheese, while the Aguachile offers a lighter take from the ocean with raw scallops, lime, serrano and avocado, finished with an olive oil drizzle. Albariño wine adds a robust finish to any dish that is sure to take patrons south of the border.
Best thing I ate: Critic Brad A. Johnson’s 20 best dishes of 2018
Torta de Milanesa at Playa Mesa. A football-sized bolillo is buttered and toasted and slathered with a glop of refried beans and chipotle mayo, then heaped with finely shredded lettuce, pickled jalapeños and fat slices of avocado and tomato. Stuffed into the middle of all this is a thinly pounded steak, fried to a crisp. Everything about this Mexican sandwich ($14) is perfect.
After four visits, I still haven’t sampled the tacos at Playa Mesa in Costa Mesa. I keep meaning to order tacos. I mean, seriously, how can I review a Mexican restaurant and not taste the tacos? I always see something else on the menu that sounds even more tempting. The menu is extensive.
“Enchiladas Suizas or chicken tacos?” I ask my waiter at brunch.
“That’s a tough one,” he says, stopping to truly ponder that choice. “It depends on my mood, but today I’d go with enchiladas.”
Truth be told, I’m in the mood for enchiladas myself. And I’m not disappointed.
“Should I order the fish tacos or the torta milanesa?” I ask my waitress on another visit, having driven back specifically for the tacos but distracted at the last minute by this sandwich.
“Ooh, the tacos are so good,” she says, “but our torta is amazing.” She stretches that last word for several seconds.
And she’s right. It is amazing. This is the torta I’ve been hunting for the past five years and thought I would never find …
From the team behind The Country Club comes Playa Mesa, a stunning haven for elevated Mexican fare and exquisite libations.
By Jamie Gwen // Photography by Foxes & Wolves
Seventieth Street is bustling with good eats. The burgeoning gentrification is in full swing, and you can now curb your cravings for carnitas and killer margaritas on the Costa Mesa strip. From the restaurateur partners who brought us the much-adored hole in the wall that is Wild Goose Tavern and the trendy country club comes Playa Mesa Mexican Kitchen, a beautifully designed authentic canteen that impresses. You'll find a bevy of tacos made with hand pressed corn tortillas; excellent fresh fish; superb enchiladas; and more.
It’s elevated Mexican fare, and the neighborhood is loving it. “We've all been anxiously awaiting this opening,” says co-owner Mario Marovic “Playa Mesa has this special calming effect that takes you co another place, somewhere south of the border, even only just for lunch.”
Chef Rolando Rubalcava of Taco Maria fame is at the helm in the kitchen, and along with Marovic and Andrew Gabriel, the brains behind the business, they all know their stuff. “It's both humbling and inspiring to see Mexican food, especially simple and authentic dishes, becoming more recognized as a respected cuisine,” says Rubalcava. “This is the food I grew up eating.”
The redesigned space is a feast for the eyes-a rectangular bar is dotted with plush
chairs in punchy real; living walls dripping with succulents frame the space; and a welcoming indoor-outdoor patio burns bright with fire pits and twinkling string lights. Peruse the ultra-premium tequila list and you'll be captivated by the 70- plus offerings, accentuated by a generous handful of mezcals for sipping. Try your hand at the smokin' Pina co find a union of mezcal, Italian vermouth, vanilla bean and pure pineapple for a taste sensation that will incite your appetite. Or choose a Baja beer on rap from their worthy selections. Then, prepare to feast Cozy up among the colorful pillows that line the banquettes for the best sear in the house; you'll salivate as soon as you begin your analysis of the menu. Scare with snacks, before you fill up on the signature fire-roasted salsa and addictive tortilla chips. The aguachile arrives with a crudo of raw, th inly sliced scallops that are bejeweled with velvety avocado and textural cucumber, then sauced at the table with a vivid and spicy mixture of orange juice, lime, serranos and extra-virgin olive oil. It's so delicious you might consider ordering seconds, but refrain because there are tacos on the horizon.
Playa Mesa's cirrus Jidori chicken seasoned with achiote; a vegetarian taco brimming with oyster mushroom confit; and a notable carne asada plate ranked highest on my taco standings, all of them constructed from hand pressed organic corn tortillas and complemented by traditional Spanish rice and beautifully cooked beans. For chili heads in the know, ask for a taste of the chi le d'aceite for the table, a housemade mixture of habanero and Chile de arbol in oil where a li1cle goes a long way.
Clockwise from top left: Chef Rolando Rubalcava; camarones ala dibalia– Mexican shrimp with chipotle, butter and caramelized onion; the tasty carne asada plate featuring grilled Aspen Ridge ranchera.
For large plates, the sarandeado, a perfectly grilled whole trout, is gorgeously filled and set atop a potato has with charred corn. The Plato del Parron is the perfect family-size platter, which includes crispy skinned chicken, cesina (an anise-cured beef) and hunky pork spare ribs. Served with warm tortillas and all the necessary fixings, it's abundant for grazing. To finish, the bunuelos con nieve are hard to pass up. Honey glazed cinnamon sugar tortilla are served with a scoop of ice cream, and you just need a bit to satiate your sweet, tooth.
Yes, Playa Mesa, we welcome you.
PLAYA MESA MEXICAN KITCHEN
428 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa,
949 .287.5292, playamesa.com
Appetizers, salads and ceviche, $7-$19;
tacos and enchiladas, $13-$ 16;
entrées. $17-$50: dessert, $9-$ 11
Dinner daily, 5- 10PM; lunch, Mon.-Fri.,
11 AM-3PM; brunch, Sat.-Sun 9AM- 4 PM
Mario Marovic owns Dory Deli, The Stag Bar and Malarky’s in Newport Beach, and he recently purchased the Newport Beach Brewing Company with plans to renovate the building and continue brewing quality beer.
Marovic and business partner Andrew Gabriel expanded their culinary empire six years ago when they opened Wild Goose Tavern on 17th Street in Costa Mesa. Their next 17th Street venture, The Country Club, opened last December in the spot formerly occupied by Pierce Street Annex bar.
Now, the duo have completed a 17th Street trifecta by opening Playa Mesa Mexican Restaurant in the space once occupied by Ruby’s.
“With Playa Mesa, we wanted a place where everyone felt comfortable in a relaxing setting, whether dining with family, celebrating a special occasion, or just out for drinks with friends,” said Marovic. “Deciding on Mexican cuisine was the obvious choice and great addition to the area.”
An obvious choice if you have executive chef Rolando Rubalcava, formerly at Taco Maria, in the kitchen.
“The menu is very traditional Mexican,” noted Marovic. “A lot of Mexican restaurants in California might have some similar things on the menu, but we have things that most Hispanics will recognize and most regular Americans won’t, lots of traditional dishes that …
The hot new Playa Mesa in Costa Mesa just celebrated its grand opening last week with executive chef Roland Rubalcava overseeing the kitchen. Rubalcava graduated from the Art Institute of Orange County Culinary program in 2005 after spending many years at his family’s taquerias and Mexican markets.
Following his culinary training at the Art Institute, Rubalcava worked his way up the ranks at various leading restaurants throughout the county and most recently as sous chef at the highly acclaimed and Best Mexican Restaurant recipient, Taco Maria.
Rubalcava’s acknowledgments include making OC Weekly’s Top 100 Dishes with his “Sonoran Dog” which he created while working at his family’s …
The Minds Behind Country Club and Wild Goose are About to Unleash Another 17th St. Winner in Costa Mesa
You won’t need to visit Baja to savor tastes of coastal Mexico. Looking for a swoon-worthy, date night hotspot? Maybe in need of a post-work happy hour? Or a family affair? Playa Mesa is your new jack-of-all-trades hangout. Beginning this summer, Costa Mesa’s latest farm-to-table restaurant is bringing fresh, Pacific flavors, made with the freshest ingredients, to Orange County’s neighborhood.
Playa Mesa is another business venture from the trendsetting minds of Mario Marovic and Andrew Gabriel—the duo behind eateries Wild Goose Tavern, The Country Club, Matador Cantina + Cocina, to name a few. Chef Rolando Rubalcava joins the Playa Mesa team with over 10 years of industry experience; his appointment to Executive Chef showcases Gabriel and Marovica’s recognition of his unparalleled talent. “Everything Roland created exceeded our expectations,” said co-owner Marovic at a recent preview event. “Everything he brings to the table is extremely authentic Mexican food.”
The diverse seating features a spacious outdoor patio with fire pits, a cozy main dining area and a breathable enclosed patio. Playa Mesa’s lavish interior is reminiscent …
It was over five years ago when I met and became acquainted with Roland(o) Rubalcava. Much has happened since our initial interview: marriage, changing jobs, fatherhood, etc. With Playa Mesa gearing up to open, another chapter is starting in Chef Rubalcava’s professional life. I gladly took the opportunity to check-in with Rolando and see what’s cooking in his future.
Where are you drawing inspiration from? Are you focusing on a specific region or style of cooking? How will the menu address modifications, gluten-free dining and vegan options?
My inspiration comes from my childhood. We are focusing on all of Mexico, and taking bits and pieces of each region, but specifically …
Wild Goose Tavern, Stag Bar, The Country Club. When it comes to the 21 and over bars, Mario Marovic’s Lounge Group seems to have the market cornered in Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.
But his next multi-million dollar project breaks the mold: Playa Mesa Mexican Kitchen, a family-friendly restaurant.
“We want to open a place where the kids can eat and mom and dad can get a killer margarita,” Marovic said. “So people know they can bring their kids here for lunch, dinner or brunch and …