The Newest Restaurant of SoCo Mix is Spicing Things Up

Pueblo Unveils Spanish Tapas and So Much More!

Written by: Deirdre Michalski

Dotted along meandering pathways, we find fashion boutiques, garden & home stores, olive oil, wine & cheese shops, a coffee house and restaurants at the SOCO and The OC Mix in Costa Mesa. In addition to interior design shop, and a culinary store, it is indeed a collection of the finer things in life. It is eye candy for the wonder-lust in all of us. But what is recently making its mark here, are the fine restaurants that are planting a creative flag in the center courtyard. Pueblo is just the latest in this parade of unique restaurants. Food that makes a statement. The Owners that are engaged. Creative spaces. And attentive staffs.

Pueblo is a new restaurant that quietly opened, and within a month was responding to rave reviews and accolades. The Pueblo’s bull-shaped weathervane on the roof is symbolic of the restaurant’s desire to always be sensitive to the direction, showing purpose to the changing winds, the mood, and the direction of their customers. The name was chosen to reflect a sense of community, a home—and yes, a sense of place. There is a lovely patio canopied by a wooden Pergola. The green vines proudly reaching skyward.

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Stepping inside, it is a long rectangular footprint, with a welcoming bar to the right. The kitchen hugs up against that, with a peek-a-boo view to the dining room. Dining is found along the left length of the room, with a perfect view at any angle to the chalk board placed above the bar. This denotes the not to be missed daily dining specials, and the Social Hour specials as well. There is a recycled-wooden-natural vibe with various designs that were lovingly assembled by the chef, owners, and staff during the pre-opening. Somehow discussing new menu ideas just flowed better while sawing and hammering and working with their hands.

The “tapas style” menu is creative, built for sharing, and packed full of flavors. The sauces are perfectly balanced, colorful and delicious. They often steal the show—such as the Cauliflower puree, black truffle, and honey, pickled garlic alioli— just to name a few. The cuisine is described as Spanish, blending the old and new world flavors of the country. I also detect a Moroccan influence. The XXX Dish, for example, is served with a delicate yogurt and chopped mint leaves. Chef Michael spent time in Barcelona, and that comes through in his cuisine.

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Dining by day…. I stepped in for lunch and was instantly impressed by the menu and the friendly staff. At first glance, I realized I had to get my bearings and remind myself of my Spanish 101 class. Mrs. Robles, where are you when I need you… But alas, Ensalades is, of course, the salad section. Bocadillos is sandwiches, and Raciones is for the table, the main dishes or entrees.

There are five options to select from their Raciones section, including tuna tartare and salt cod fritters, but the meatballs were calling to me. Albóndigas de Cordero were delicate lamb meatballs, pimento, piperade, and drizzled with a bright white yogurt and mint sauce. Three to a dish, my tablemate and I danced our forks for the third.

It was difficult to pick just one salad, so I chose two options. The Spinach Salad is served with crispy artichokes, green olives, spiced almonds, lemon and egg with a light dressing. Mary’s chicken or grilled skirt steak can be added for some extra protein. It was light and refreshing with a bit of crunch, and was perfect for sharing. The other salad I tried was the Smoked Salmon. The salmon was perfectly smoked on-premises in the oven and served with red onion, pickled mustard seed, garlic, and greens.

The sandwiches are served with greens in vinaigrette, or guests can opt for the sub Papas Bravas, which are delicious strips of fried potatoes hand-cut lengthwise with a dab of sour cream on top. That is a winner! There are many choices for sandwiches—from short rib to ham and chicken. However, I selected the most unusual of the bunch, the calamari sandwich. Any sammie that starts with bread from OC Baking Company and Dean Kim is thumbs up in my book. The crispy baby squid was delicately fried and set atop a Ciabatta-style bun, with kale, lemon, and a cornichon alioli. The sandwich was delicious and cut in half is nicely shared.

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The special of the day was Ensalada de Lentejas. This was a delicious dish with pork belly and radishes, on a bed of cooked lentils, and a yogurt vinaigrette dressing. The cabbage and broccoli mixture is pickled, giving it added flavor, and what I thought might be jicama, is actually kohlrabi, a root vegetable (German turnip to be exact), which I had never tasted before. It was crunchy and complemented the softness of the lentils.

I enjoyed my lunch so much that I decided to give dining by night a try. I perused the evening menu, page by page. It is befitting and double the size of the daytime menu. I had to go back for the Salmon Ahumado; a repeat from my day visit, of smoked salmon, lemon alioli, caper, and frisée. It was a perfect light start and delicious! The Queso Fundido consisted of charred goat cheese, black truffle and honey. This was a great starter to share with the table. The Gambas a la Plancha is seared spot prawns, green olive and garlic. This dish was so colorful and fresh. The Calamarcitos Fritos are crispy baby squid, lemon and squid ink alioli on the plate. This was one of my favorites and so dramatic on the presentation! Of course, we had to order the Papas Bravas again! The Skirt Steak was certainly a show-stopper and the person who ordered it did not eat much of it, as we all dove in to try just one more bite!

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I am not a big dessert person, but our table thoroughly enjoyed two of the many amazing options recited to us…. Bread Pudding Brulee adorned with quince and grapefruit, and Goat Cheesecake served with granola, nuts, and cherries. Both were excellent, with many more we will try on our next visit!

Meet the Executive Chef, Chef Michael Campbell. He was a former Executive Sous Chef at San Francisco’s highly-acclaimed Michael Mina’s RN74 and worked with Michael Canora at Hearth in New York. Campbell also spent time based in France and Barcelona, Spain, to understand the cuisine in its most authentic form. Chef Michael joined Pueblo and is now rocking it here in The OC after his most recent role as the Private Events Chef at the Ace Hotel in Portland Oregon. I enjoy watching him in action in the kitchen and stand up to peer through the glass to eye his handy work. He is very quiet and purposeful as he plates his colorful creations and slides them thru to the pass. He has an effortless style and a warm smile, “My vision for this menu is to provide deliciously familiar Spanish dishes, served in a unique way. Fresh in every way— using locally sourced meats and produce. Our cuisine is complex, yet approachable, ” says Chef Michael Cambell. Campbell has curated Pueblo’s menu with classic Spanish-style dishes, and Madrid-based Chef Mario Valles, formerly of 3-Michelin star restaurant Le Cinq, served as their pre-opening Menu Consultant.

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Heading up the bar program, is Peter Neptune-trained Lindsey Go, who will focus on California and Spanish-centric wines, seasonal beverages and small-craft beers, to perfectly complement the cuisine.

I was completely impressed by the staff and Management. Pueblo is a restaurant that I would think has been open for a year or more. Everything just seems to hum along so nicely. CEO and Managing Partner Adam Go, and General Manager John Kim, both hail from Hillstone Restaurant Group (think Houston’s and Bandera). They are just made for this business. They are friendly, caring, and don’t seem to get flustered easily.

Native Knowledge: Chef Michael will make Paella any night of the week, by just requesting it! Also, guests can build their own Charcuterie platter! Also, Pueblo has just started to serve brunch on both Saturdays and Sundays from the reasonable hours of 11:00am to 3:00pm.

Social Hour- Daily from 3:00pm to 5:00pm, the bar offers bottles of Cava at a reduced price, and a plethora of Charcuteria De La Casa (of the house).

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Pueblo
3321 Hyland Avenue
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
714.340.5775 | 
www.pueblotapas.com