Southern California is home to some of the most innovative, gourmet food in the country. From smoked salmon pizza and bone marrow flan to neon blue ice cream stuffed between two donuts, I’m continually surprised by what I see on menus all over LA and OC—but few compare to SOCIAL Costa Mesa.
The restaurant is filled with trendy décor—potted succulents, reclaimed wooden tables and light-up marquee letters that spell out SOCIAL. The TVs play throwback films like “Grease” and “Ghostbusters” and an Ernest Hemingway quote is scrawled across a wall: “An intelligent man is sometimes forced to be drunk to spend time with his fools.” Specialty drinks are handcrafted at the lengthy bar while the larger tables sit next to the massive open-air windows next to the patio, creating a breezy vibe entirely appropriate for the Costa Mesa restaurant’s location—a few blocks from the famed Newport Beach.
We took a seat at one of the large tables near the window, splitting the space with some other diners. We started our night off with a cocktail—the Magic Carpet Ride. A blend of vodka and Sauvignon Blanc, it was also filled with notes of grapefruit and jasmine and topped with edible flowers. Though we tasted six different drinks throughout the night, the deliciously cool and sophisticated Magic Carpet Ride easily remained at the top of my list.
Though the drinks were interweaved with the food we ate, we tasted the Honey Dew…That, a refreshing gin-filled drink of honeydew, lemon and honey topped with a basil leaf as well as the Monkey Business, a spicy mixture of banana, scotch, sherry and cinnamon. My other favorite, the In Love with the Coco, came in an actual coconut stamped with the word SOCIAL. Crafted with tequila, Aperol, watermelon and coconut water, it was incredibly tasty and had us feeling like we were suddenly on vacation in the Caribbean. Our fifth cocktail, the Let’s Get HI-biscus—made with, you guessed it, hibiscus—was a bourbon blend coupled with an egg white with the restaurant’s name stenciled across the foam on top of the bright fuchsia drink.
Now let’s talk about the food because it was hands down some of the best I’ve ever had. Although their evolving menus change with the season, they always use fresh, locally sourced ingredients in their new-American dishes—classic-inspired with a modern flair. The large portions can be easily split among groups, making it a great place for communal dining with groups of friends or family. This also helped ensure that we could try tons of dishes without filling up!
We started out with the Parker House Rolls—which, okay, yes, they’re just some fluffy dinner rolls. But what really makes this appetizer is the sea salt sprinkled on top and the adjoining crab butter. There are simply no words for that butter.
After the rolls, we moved on to SOCIAL’s spectacular seafood platter. This special item, listed not on the menu but on a chalkboard next to the bar, is another dish that is absolutely perfect for large groups. Served over ice, it features a whole lobster, jumbo prawns, two different types of oysters and some seriously delicious ceviche. Pipettes filled with various wine-based mignonettes were also included.
After filling up on seafood, we shared a few other dishes. The flavor of the lamb in SOCIAL’s Wood Fired Lamb Lollipops was complemented by two different kinds of sweet cherries while the Dungeness crab was perfectly paired with heirloom tomatoes and avocado mousse. Possibly my favorite dish of the night was the Summer Squash Toast, topped with sliced cherry tomatoes and radishes, squash blossoms and the absolutely crucial ricotta.
The main dishes were the beef and broccoli, a ravioli dish mixed with lobster and, the highlight, grilled branzino. Served right on the bone, the fresh sea bass was cooked to perfection and garnished with orange and grapefruit slices.
But that’s not all. No meal is complete without dessert! The Thunderking Coffee Chocolate Cake coupled with coffee ice cream was decadent, but I definitely preferred the Cinnamon and Sugar Donuts. Covered in horchata glaze and paired with vanilla ice cream, these tiny donuts were the perfect size and consistency. On top of that, we split the Layover in Osaka cocktail, designed for a party of four. Poured in tiny ceramic cups, the drink consisted of a sake and vodka blend with plum and citrus flavors—definitely a great way to end the night.
Beyond the menu and quality décor, SOCIAL is a fantastic place to relax with friends, old and new. Though they have smaller tables as well, the large tables are perfect for big groups or even for meeting people while the bar is privy to plenty of blind dates. The friendly staff and social environment make it the ideal spot to relax with dinner after work, to have a few drinks with friends on a Friday night or to visit with your whole family on your next trip to California.