Newport Beach’s Shopping Centers are Sneaky Havens for Outdoor Dining Bliss
The shopping center is a much-maligned structure. For one thing, they’re not known as shopping centers in usual conversational parlance. Our inclination is to simply refer to them as strip malls. It’s so rote, your humble narrator admittedly typed “strip mall” in the opening sentence of this paragraph without thinking. This is a rather grievous error, as the tendency to saddle shopping centers with strip mall status instantly devolves them into a concrete string of rudimentary buildings of non-sophistication where nothing beyond basic provisions and quick-fix sundries can typically be purchased.
Proper shopping centers deserve better than this linguistic-fueled fate. This is especially the case when you consider the wealth of dining options that are tucked into these sprawling retail venues, oftentimes hidden in plain sight. While these special venues deliver fantastic culinary options, some spots embrace their surroundings by becoming part of them through the power of outdoor seating. Newport Beach offers a healthy dose of these particular places, giving guests a most unique opportunity to simultaneously soak in the sunshine and the beautiful sights of the city. Your average strip mall can’t do that.
Bear Flag Fish Co. (Crystal Cove Shopping Center) – Outdoor dining tends to organically elevate if the food being served matches the surroundings. To that end, you’d be hard-pressed to find a shopping center-based restaurant that melds environment and cuisine better than this relaxing seafood-centric joint. While the laid-back ambiance that naturally permeates from the space may oddly juxtapose with some of the structure’s more upscale dining choices at first, such feelings dissipate the moment you catch a glimpse at the shimmering ocean joining up with the horizon across the street. Suddenly, diving into a bowl of poke or a panko-crusted fish taco while hanging outside seems rather perfect.
Gratitude Newport Beach (Westcliff Court) – Vegetarian restaurants are uniquely suited for outdoor dining. Their entire dining concept is grounded in the enjoyment of earth’s natural splendor – at least, the parts that are edible. What better way to indulge in such organic bounty than by doing so outside? This northern Newport Beach venue is well qualified to deliver the goods, and not just because menu items like flash-fried cauliflower with adobo buffalo sauce and pad Thai kelp noodles push the boundaries of plant-based cuisine outward. This is a place that exudes positivity, encourages oneness, and gently reminds you that life is good even if you’re having a down day. Sitting under the Newport Beach sunshine with, say, a bowl of their “humble” Indian curry bowl goes a long way to reinforce this vibe.
Gulfstream (Corona del Mar Plaza) – Sometimes, you just need to indulge in a restaurant experience that makes you feel like you “arrived.” This sense of arrival varies from person to person. Maybe you just landed that killer promotion. Perhaps you and your spouse no longer need to hire a sitter for your now-teenage child. It could be something as simple as making it through a tough week. Whatever the reason, the outdoor patio at this Corona del Mar establishment is one of the finest spots in town to enjoy a bit of revelry. While settling into one of the venue’s wooden Adirondacks with a glass of wine or a stogie in hand nearly seems like a rite of passage for the Newport celebratory set, gathering around one of their outdoor tables and digging into a seared tuna steak or a rib-eye steak with blue cheese is a fantastic way to pat yourself on the back, too.
Sapori (Bayside Shopping Center) – An outdoor dining experience can be a romantic experience when it’s done right. When it comes to shopping center venues, it may be hard to top this charming venue just to the north of Balboa Island. Its penchant to produce passion is literally by design. Lovebirds that grab an outdoor table are surrounded by lush vegetation and kissed by nuanced light and gentle breezes that squeeze through an overhead canopy. When night falls and the temperature dips, the roaring fire from the massive, Old World-inspired outdoor fireplace staves off the cold. It’s a spot that can sell itself. Fortunately for foodies, Owner/Chef Sal Maniaci’s sumptuous Italian dishes like seafood linguine and veal scaloppini sautéed in white wine with prosciutto ensure the love isn’t merely restricted to patio ambience.
Tommy Bahama Island Grille (Corona del Mar Plaza) – You’d hope that a restaurant that doubles as a prime spot to purchase killer Hawaiian shirts would have outdoor seating. Thankfully, this place delivers – and how. In fact, it pulls off an impressive trick with its outside seating area. It’s a sprawling space, but it’s made brilliantly intimate through the strategic use of unobtrusive planters and tropical plants that serve up an extra pop due to a muted color scheme. It sets a rather lovely stage; one that somehow makes their already terrific coconut shrimp and their Caribbean rubbed mahi mahi taste even better.
Zov’s (Newport Coast Shopping Center) – Sitting outside in a shopping center restaurant obviously gives you a prime opportunity to enjoy Newport’s stunning combination of sunshine and gentle ocean-influenced breezes. Yet it also gives you a great excuse to people watch, and Zov Karamardian’s popular restaurant provides you with an envious perch to do just that. Tucked in the corner of the Newport Coast Shopping Center, the venues’ outdoor seating area doubles as a window seat to Newport Beach day-to-day living and its intricacies. You may even get dinner and a show, depending on the antics that may manifest. All you need to do is sit and enjoy culinary delights like their spiced lam burger or their herb roasted half chicken.