When one fantasizes about the California-cool beach scenes of yesteryear, they're dreaming about Corona del Mar. Translated from Spanish, the name means "Crown of the Sea." It's a well-deserved title.
Though technically part of the larger Newport Beach community immediately to the north, this small coastal oasis more than holds its own among Southern California's most vaunted seaside retreats. For some, there's no better place to be than gazing out upon the ocean from one of Corona del Mar's elegant luxury bungalows.
This sought-after village also features an outstanding culinary scene. What is arguably one of the best collections of restaurants, bars, and seaside haunts anywhere in the state, Corona del Mar eateries serve up a vast array of regional and international flavors.
The community's primary dining scene is concentrated along a mile-long stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway. From where Buck Gully crosses under the highway on its way down to Little Corona Beach and the Pacific Ocean, to Avocado Avenue and the Corona del Mar Plaza, this section of the PCH features nearly 50 establishments.
There's more to be found when you head north on Avocado Avenue into Newport Beach's Fashion Island.
But the ultimate prize is the roster of standout restaurants in Corona del Mar. If you're salivating for something new or want to get reacquainted with an old favorite, below are five of the hottest Corona del Mar restaurants to try in 2023.
Our first stop among the Corona del Mar eateries that should top your must-visit list for 2023 is 608 Dahlia (formerly DBA Cultivar). Tucked into the southwest corner of the Sherman Library and Botanical Gardens, 608 Dahlia casts an ethereal profile against the community's more straightforward offerings. There's culinary expertise here, ensuring guests and their appetites are treated with reverence.
That expert is Owner and Executive Chef Jessica Roy. Boasting a resume with three Michelin star experiences and first-place finishes atop two television cooking competitions, she understands the dramatic yet delicious flair necessary to win over sophisticated diners. It’s no small task in the arena of farm-to-table cuisine.
With the stunningly beautiful Sherman Gardens as a backdrop, 608 Dahlia succeeds with a keen eye for detail. The restaurant's core natural ingredients are hand selected (including those picked directly on-site). Local partnerships, including with Orange County-based Manaserro Farms, create a bond of sustainability within the community. It also produces an array of outstanding dishes, including buttermilk chive and gruyere biscuits (a Chef Roy's specialty), the Dahlia salad, crispy trout or braised lamb shank, and Spanish Basque cheesecake.
There's a lot going on at CDM Restaurant, and the Corona del Mar food scene is all the better for it. Located across the PCH from the Corona del Mar Plaza, just after the famous roadway bends to the northwest, CDM checks off many boxes for those seeking a trendsetting dining experience. First among them is star power. The joint venture by noted Hollywood producer McG and acclaimed restauranter Jordan Otterbein claims deep local roots—both are former alums of Corona del Mar High School.
Opening at the outset of the pandemic, CDM emerged as one of the OC's most popular and talked-about food destinations. Taking a cue from McG's time in the film, television, and music industries, the establishment is a visual feast. The interior is elegant, industrial chic—gray brick walls and black iron accents frame circular booths bathed in velvet around the perimeter, while leather-bound club chairs cradle those dining at tables. The square, marble top bar sits center stage on the dining room floor, iron piping supporting its many libations from above.
There's plenty of substance to go with the style. In its short, three and half year history, CDM has seemingly earned a decade's worth of accolades for its food. Seasonal, high-quality ingredients reign supreme within the kitchen, where Executive Chef Elvis Morales plies his craft. Repeat patrons—and there are many—start with a cured meat and artisan cheese board and build from there. Favorites include the dirty pasta and the chicken pot pie calzone from the flour and water portion of the menu. Among the larger plates, the preference is the Akaushi skirt steak. However, the more adventurous are apt to take on the Japanese A5 Miyazaki Beef, which is only served rare.
After dinner, or for those looking for a chance of pace any night of the week, sneak downstairs to CDM's underground speakeasy, Under CDM. No need to knock twice, then three times, or recall a secret phrase. Order a cocktail that uses the mixologist's well-practiced skill set and sink into the cozy, intimate vibe.
Take a detour from the PCH and head northeast on MacArthur Boulevard to San Joaquin Hills Road. Soon enough, you'll come across the entrance to Roger's Garden. Regarded as one of Orange County's best garden centers, the nursery's flowers, foliage, and seasonal color conceal another "best of the OC" establishment—The Farmhouse at Roger's Garden.
Sheltered by richly wooded pergolas and accented with gorgeous stone elements, The Farmhouse's 4,000-square-foot dining area is almost entirely outdoors. The al fresco setup makes this a preferred patio hangout for discerning diners, as does the commitment to sustainable practices. As you might have guessed, The Farmhouse specializes in farm-to-table fare, and it's here where the health-conscience establishment truly shines.
The Farmhouse uses a combination of ingredients from local farmers and vendors across the region. They also use handpicked herbs and vegetables grown on-site; few places in the OC (or greater Los Angeles, for that matter) offer as clean of a meal as The Farmhouse. But that doesn't mean you must sacrifice taste. Regularly booked well in advance, the popularity speaks to the consistent quality of the meals on offer. Favorites include the Asian beef short ribs, cauliflower steak, Icelandic cod, spaghetti squash and braised green enchiladas, or the toasted almond cake.
Five Crowns and SideDoor
When choosing a place to dine in Corona del Mar, you'll note that many of the hottest, most popular places to eat have been mainstays of the OC food scene for many decades. One such landmark eschews the typical beachside aesthetic for genuine old-world charm.
Housed in a charming, Tudoresque replica of one of England's oldest inns, Five Crowns is inspired dining with attention to detail—both in the atmosphere and in what emerges from the kitchen. The setting, including a greenhouse and English country garden, is ideal for savoring Five Crown's outstanding steakhouse fare.
Though the standard options are all excellent—seared-to-order New York Strip and Filet Mignon, exquisitely fresh sea scallops, and Faroe Islands salmon—Five Crowns is part of the Lawry's family of restaurants. As such, the loftiest accolades are reserved for the cuts of Lawry's roasted prime rib that feature prominently on the menu. Choose your preferred cut, then pair it with a selection from Five Crowns' well-curated, award-winning wine list; you'll be a happier individual for your efforts.
Speaking of happiness, diners seeking revelry beyond the famous confines of Five Crowns' country inn need not venture far. The aptly named SideDoor is an English-inspired gastropub operating under the same roof. With a cozier, more casual feel, SideDoor serves shareable small plates emphasizing seasonal flavors. A rotating offering of wine and craft beers also plays a central role in keeping the mood light and festive.
Five Crowns and SideDoor represent Corona del Mar's uniquely positioned food scene. After all, few California beach towns allow you to wander from a Pacific Ocean beach and then drink and dine in a North Atlantic-inspired country inn and tavern.
A familiar feeling of warmth and coziness embraces diners as they sit down for a meal or drink at The Quiet Woman restaurant and bar. Though another of the old-guard restaurants on this list, dining at this dinner-focused, comfort-food bistro never goes out of style.
In addition to its ambiance—it's akin to breaking bread at the countryside cottage of a favorite relative—a parched, hungry patron notices the generous bar and ample menu. It's easy enough to find satisfaction in the small plates. If you require the fresh leafy greens of a large salad, there's an impressive variety from which to choose.
Hardier appetites gravitate towards the eclectic fare on the main dinner menu, which transitions from swordfish to rack lamb to rib eyes and filets with ease. Pair any of the above with one of The Quiet Woman's signature cocktails, and it's an evening you'll speak of often.
The Quiet Woman has been a top Corona del Mar establishment every year since first opening its doors in 1965. Dinner is served Tuesday to Saturday from 5:00 PM, with live music Wednesday to Saturday from 9:00 PM to midnight.
No list of exceptional Corona del Mar restaurants would be complete without a mention of The Bungalow Restaurant. Here, menu standouts like the double pork chop with caramelized onion barley risotto, miso-marinated Chilean sea bass, and lobster spaghettini with garlic butter take center stage. The service is top-notch, and the cuisine promises excellence.
This fantastic dining destination leaves no taste buds untested, with unique selections like truffle mac & cheese, beef dip sandwich with horseradish, lime-marinated chicken salad, and Yukon gold mashed potatoes on the side. Don’t forget about dessert, either! The chocolate molten cake, vanilla bean creme brulee, and Bungalow butter cake are sure to leave you smiling. Plus, the impressive wine list of champagnes, chardonnays, pinot noirs, and more will suit any palate. The Bungalow hosts happy hour Monday through Friday from 3:00 to 6:00 PM. Plus, don’t miss “Restaurant Week,” where you can choose from their most decadent appetizers, entrees, and desserts. It’s a dining experience you won’t soon forget!
Want to explore even more of the OC's outstanding restaurant and bar scene? Or seeking expertise in buying or selling Corona del Mar real estate or luxury homes in Newport Beach? Contact Casey Lesher today to begin your real estate journey in one of California's most sought-after locales.
*Header Photo courtesy of The Bungalow Restaurant