Outdoor dining has always been a pleasure at South Coast Plaza. In 2020, it became essential.
As Orange County restaurants pivoted to offer outdoor dining in response to the rules and realities of the COVID-19 epidemic, a number of the new and expanded al fresco dining options, while welcome, were not realized with design and aesthetics in mind. Luckily, the outdoor options at South Coast Plaza have always been lovely, with thoughtfully-designed and artistically-appointed patios, terraces, and open-air courtyards. It’s a soul-soothing place that we missed ever so, and now appreciate more than ever.
The lush outdoor space at Terrace by Mix Mix, and Chef Pangilinan’s goat cheese toast.
Terrace by Mix Mix Restaurant real estate is also about location, and who doesn’t love a view of the bridge? Especially the alluring Bridge of Gardens that curves and connects next to the outdoor patio at Terrace by Mix Mix. This was a favorite open-air locale well before the pandemic, made even prettier with an upgrade that added lush tropical plants. Now, it’s a sanctuary where we savor chef/owner Ross Pangilinan’s cutting-edge global cuisine. terracebymixmix.com
Din Tai Fung When South Coast Plaza first reopened in June, Din Tai Fung was the restaurant we trusted to break our sit-down, dining-out drought. Everything about the experience was comforting, especially the focus on safety. For regulars, the most obvious upgrade was shifting from a “show up and stand in line” system to reservations only. The expanded outdoor patio is a perfect place to enjoy steamers brimming with xiao long bao, the restaurant’s signature Shanghai-style soup dumplings. But we also feel fine dining at distanced tables inside in the bar area, sipping a drink, and watching stylishly masked shoppers walk by in the corridor beyond. It almost feels normal, and how nice is that? dintaifungusa.com
The Hall Global Eatery Locals love the patio at the newest restaurant from Amar Santana and Ahmed Labbate. We never go shopping without stopping in The Hall for something, from a poke platter or kabob, to a coffee and one of their addictive cookies. thehallge.com
Outpost Kitchen Brunch on the patio at the new location is a must for healthy, organic cuisine inspired by 1970s-era Australian beach cafes, with a touch of Indonesian flavor. outpostkitchen.com
Vaca For parents dealing with distance learning, Zoom classrooms, or the stress/relief of kids returning to the classroom, here’s a date night respite idea: get a sitter and go to Vaca. The highlight of one couple’s quarantine season was ordering a steak and salad to go, and sharing it and a comped bottle of red wine at a table on the campus of Segerstrom Center for the Arts. vacarestaurant.com
Quattro The semi-secret patio is favored by SCP insiders, as well as billionaires and others who appreciate the privacy. quattrocaffe.com
Knife Pleat The fine French restaurant from Michelin-starred chef Tony Esnault and restaurateur Yassmin Sarmadi moved its weekly six-course tasting menu to the outdoor Garden Terrace, an elegant solution to the challenge of having an outdoor patio inside South Coast Plaza while it was closed. The penthouse patio is again welcoming guests (as is the dining room), with reservations in high demand for the beautifully orchestrated Friday tasting menu, as well as a la carte dinner and lunch. knifepleat.com
AnQi The sexy and chic restaurant from the An family added a patio in front of the restaurant, offering cocktails, small plates, and signature dishes, like crab from the secret kitchen. anqibistro.com