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Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

Palenque Brings Oaxaca Cuisine to Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa has more than its share of notable restaurants. If there’s a type of cuisine you’re looking for, you can probably find it at South Coast Plaza or on 17th Street.

Mexican-themed restaurants abound. One of the most recent is Palenque on Newport Boulevard. It’s the second Palenque location. The flagship restaurant is in downtown Riverside, but Newport Beach-based owner Miguel Baeza has found a location closer to home. Palenque has taken over the space formerly occupied by The Hub.

Serving dinner nightly and weekend brunch, Palenque presents one of the largest selections of tequila and mezcal in the area with craft cocktails and Mexican dishes in an inspired open lounge.

“We wanted to move away from Day of the Dead imagery and incorporate inspiration from the areas in Mexico where mezcal is made, and we wanted to work with local, renowned designer Davis Ink,” said Baeza, who owns several restaurants in Riverside and Long Bech that have nightclubs attached to them.

Palenque is focused on cuisine, Baez said, although the restaurant is open late.

“Palenque has a warm atmosphere that brings the exterior into the interior,” he said.
Translation: the restaurant feels like an open lounge with dining available on the patio or inside the sprawling, open dining area.

Taco Maria Ties

Executive Chef Rolando Rubalcava—formerly chef de cuisine at Michelin-starred Taco Maria and creator of Rojo’s Hot Chicken—puts his spin on carne asada, carnitas, chile verde, ceviche, fish tacos and other dishes, utilizing the best local produce and quality meats to offer a sophisticated take on Mexican cuisine.

“I want to put this place on the map,” Rubalcava said. “It has potential. At Taco Maria, people did not understand why they were paying $5, $6, $7 for a taco, although it was freshly caught black cod, sea bream, Hamachi.”

Taco Maria closed its spot at the South Coast Collection a few months ago, and Chef Carlos Salgado is reportedly looking for a larger location to restart operations.

“People will pay $5 to $7 for a cupcake but not for a taco,” Rubalcava said. “Taco Bell has tacos for a couple of bucks and they are making a profit, but—you get what you pay for.”

His focus is on the Oaxaca region of Mexico, home to some of the best food and mezcal in the country.

The OCBJ Review: By Christopher Trela

I sampled some of Chef Rolando Rubalcava’s cuisine when I visited Palenque a few months ago, after they opened earlier this year.

Rubalcava started my culinary journey with ceviche tacos featuring Hamachi.

“Use your hands,” he insisted. “Food is a celebration so get in there and use your hands.

Food is a necessity, if done right its intimate, you allow us to put something we create into your mouth. My mom told me you cook with your heart and the mood you are in, if you are in better spirits, it translates to the food.”

He followed the Hamachi with taco dorados, which he said was one of his father’s dishes: ground beef dry aged with spices, oregano and cumin, tomato and onion, and sour cream.

“We are changing the simplicity, bringing it up a little.”

Then came my favorite dish: shrimp sautéed with fresh garlic and white wine. “It’s kind of like garlic scampi meets spicy shrimp,” Rubalcava said.

Whatever you call it, my palate clung to that dish like a drowning man to a life preserver.
I sampled several more dishes, including a deeply flavored branzino and a delightful tres leches topped with blueberries, strawberries and lemon zest.

Palenque: 1749 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa, (949) 402-9951, palenquekitchen.com

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Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung
Sonia Chung joined the Orange County Business Journal in 2021 as their Marketing Creative Director. In her role she creates all visual content as it relates to the marketing needs for the sales and events teams. Her responsibilities include the creation of marketing materials for six annual corporate events, weekly print advertisements, sales flyers in correspondence to the editorial calendar, social media graphics, PowerPoint presentation decks, e-blasts, and maintains the online presence for Orange County Business Journal’s corporate events.

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