Damn That’s Hot: Meet Orange County’s Spicy Cocktails

Naughty and Nice, These 8 Cocktails Bring the Spice Factor

Written By: Molly Brooks Damn That’s Hot: Meet Orange County’s Spicy Cocktails
Photographed By: Arielle Levy

When the weather gets chilly, restaurants and bars all over Orange County are warming up with spicy cocktails on their menus. A little heat in a drink never hurt anyone, right? Some of these restaurants take spicy cocktails to the extreme. Scorching ghost peppers make an appearance at Three Seventy Common, hitting the Scoville Heat Scale at nearly a million units. But if you’re looking for something more tame, Oak Grill and La Vida are mixing up fruity margaritas to tone down the jalapeños hiding inside. Some of these drinks come with disclaimers, so know your tolerance and take a trip on the wild spice side.

Don’t Fear the Repo

Amar Santana brings Spanish flair to Orange County with his second restaurant, Vaca, which opened in late 2015. The new restaurant has more than paella and bocadillos and brings the same creativity and forward thinking as Santana’s highly successful Laguna Beach restaurant, Broadway. With this new restaurant comes a brand new drink, Don’t Fear the Repo, a spicy tequila cocktail heated up with ancho chile liqueur and sweetened with fresh pears. Bar Manager of both Broadway and Vaca, Michael Rooney said it’s loosely inspired by a classic gin and lime cocktail, the gimlet. Vaca and Broadway customers have been asking for a spicy cocktail for quite some time now, but this is the first time they’ve obliged.

The Backlist: Vaca changes their 15-drink cocktail menu every three months, but if you have a certain favorite, the bartender can serve up any cocktail from the past. An impressive feat considering they have a backlist of over 100 cocktails.

Chef and Owner Amar Santana is competing in season 13 of Bravo’s Top Chef, which premiered on December 2nd, 2015.

What’s inside the Don’t Fear the Repo:
• 100 percent Agave Tequila
• Ancho Reyes Chile Liqueur
• Saint George Spiced Pear Liqueur
• Lime Juice
• Fresh Pear

695 Town Center Dr
Costa Mesa, CA 92626


Strawberry Jalapeño Margarita
Oak Grill

Island Hotel Newport Beach is home to Oak Grill restaurant and Aqua Lounge, each with very different atmospheres but both serving the strawberry jalapeño margarita. Kevin Morales, General Manager of both, said the inspiration behind this particular spicy cocktail was to combine the concepts of both Oak Grill and Aqua Lounge. The fresh fruits and heated jalapeños in the drink seamlessly incorporates the farm to table aspects of Oak Grill with bold flavors representing Aqua Lounge. The strawberry jalapeño margarita is just one of the many craft margarita’s served.

DIY Cocktails: Aqua Lounge offers an interactive experience with their cocktail service. Pick a shareable cocktail to bring to your table and assemble your own drink!

What’s inside the Strawberry Jalapeño Margarita:
• Tequila
• Cointreau
• Agave Nectar
• Fresh Lime Juice
• Muddled Strawberries and Jalapeños
• Tajín Spice (on rim)

690 Newport Center Dr
Newport Beach, CA 92660


Hawaiian Margarita
La Vida Cantina

If you’re looking for a choice of spicy cocktails, La Vida Cantina has a large selections of margaritas and martinis that bring the heat with jalapeños and other peppers. One of the authentic Mexican cantina’s margaritas, though, is truly unique. To taste flavors you’ve never experienced, pick the Hawaiian Margarita and enjoy it by one of the five fire pits on La Vida’s large outdoor bar and patio. Bar Manager Robert Valenzuela mixes a special Hawaiian powder made from plums and other tropical fruits called Li Hing Mui into the spicy cocktail to give it a mild sweet flavor. The powder is specially ordered from the islands and really makes the Hawaiian Margarita a hit among their customers. Valenzuela also makes a house spice blend that mixes the Li Ming Mui with Tajín and adds it to the rim of the glass. La Vida always uses fresh fruit inside their cocktails and squeezes their own fruit juices.

Throw it Back: Love the Li Hing Mui powder at La Cantina? Order a round of tequila shots served with orange slice chasers covered in their special Li Hing Mui and Tajín blend.

La Vida Cantina loves their premium tequilas, but Bar Manager Robert Valenzuela’s top picks are:
• Don Julio 1942
• Desmadre
• Karma Tequila

What’s inside the Hawaiian Margarita:
• Tequila
• St. Germain Liqueur
• Li Hing Mui Seasoning
• Fresh Pineapple
• Fresh Jalapeños
• Lime Juice
• House Spice (on rim)

1850 Harbor Blvd
Costa Mesa, CA 92627


The Clash

Mesa is one of Costa Mesa’s best kept secrets, and so is their spicy cocktail. The Clash is aptly named after the rock band, boasting rock ‘n’ roll flavors that balance both citrus and spice. Mesa also adds an unexpected flavor with herby cilantro. However, the retractable roof, edgy personality and nightly entertainment makes Mesa much more than a place to grab delicious late night eats and drinks. The vibes coming from Mesa are welcoming and by your second visit the staff is guaranteed to know you by first name. General Manager Julia Arjune said spending a night with Mesa is an authentic experience and their great food and drinks only compliment everything they have going on.

Jazz It Up: Come into Mesa on a Wednesday for a different vibe. Enjoy sexy jazz all night long from the Joshua Payne Orchestra.

Arjune’s top four late-night bites from Mesa:
• Cast Iron Skillet Mussels flavored with salt, pepper, butter and lemon
• Ahi Tuna “Tacos” with sriracha aioli, avocado and citrus in watermelon radish shells
• Skirt Steak served with chimichurri
• Triple Grilled Cheese made with havarti, swiss and cheddar and served with curry tomato jam

What’s inside The Clash:
• Chili and Tangerine Infused Vodka
• Tuaca
• Cilantro
• House-made Sweet and Sour
• Garnished with Orange

725 Baker St
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
714. 557.6700


Icy Hot
Red Bar and Lounge

The spring green hue of the Icy Hot stands out amongst the bright reds and oranges that make up the decor of the Red Bar. Don’t be fooled by the cooling ingredients in this spicy cocktail, cool cucumbers can’t mask the heat of the fresh jalapeños. Irvine’s endless summer lets the Red Bar keep this instant hit on the menu year-round. However, the Red Bar really focuses on only using fresh ingredients that are in season, and because of that the menu is continually changing, making the ever present Icy Hot truly unique. The mixologists partner with the hotel’s Chef Jason Montelibano to create complimentary farm fresh menus. Visit during happy hour to get half off the Icy Hot and other handcrafted, seasonally focused drinks at the lounge.

Enjoy the View: The Red Bar has a 10-foot wide television made up of nine different screens. It’s a great location to watch sporting events since they can show up to nine games at a time.

Must-haves on Chef Jason’s menu:
• Pork Belly Buns made with grilled pork belly and kimchi inside a steamed bao bun.
• Lobster Tacos served with ancho chile BBQ sauce.

The Irvine Hotel’s To-Do List in Irvine:
• Visit the Diamond Jamboree for eclectic restaurants and an Asian market
• Play a round at the Oak Creek Golf Course.
• The beach is closer to Irvine than you think. Go see the Duffy Boats.
• Experience California’s unique outdoor malls at the Irvine Spectrum and Newport Fashion Island.

What’s inside the Icy Hot:
• Tequila
• St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur
• Fresh Lime Juice
• Agave Nectar
• Fresh Cucumber
• Fresh Jalapeño

17900 Jamboree Rd
Irvine, CA 92614


Tamarind-Togarashi Margarita

Sip the Tamarind-Togarashi Margarita on 180blü’s ocean front balcony with 180 degree panoramic views of the coast. The margarita is one of The Ritz-Carlton’s Raya-inspired cocktails created by the Richard Sandoval team with coastal Latin influence. The Tamarind-Togarashi Margarita uses shichimi-togarashi spice which is a blend of red chili pepper, orange peel, sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ginger and seaweed. They mix the spice with salt to top the rims of the glass and garnish the cocktail with lime. The margarita has been on the menu since Raya and 180blü first opened, and it is the most popular drink among visitors and locals.

The All Access Cocktail: You can order any of the Raya-inspired cocktails from any of the dining areas at The Ritz-Carlton, including in-room service.

What’s inside the Tamarind-Togarashi Margarita:
Togarashi salt (on rim)

1 Ritz-Carlton Dr
Dana Point, CA 92629


White Flag
Three Seventy Common

Three Seventy Common defines itself as a large dining hall that is all about creating a community environment. In their opinion, food is special because it’s a commonality; it’s something everyone can relate to. The food at Three Seventy Common is hyper local, so much so that some of the fresh ingredients are grown by Chef and Proprietor Ryan Adams in his home garden. The menus at Three Seventy Common are globally influenced and not afraid to take a risk. This is visible through the spicy cocktail served at Three Seventy Common, with a disclaimer that it’s very hot. Made with a house-made ghost pepper-infused tequila, the warning should be taken seriously. The peppers sit in the tequila anywhere from a week to two weeks and turns a clear bottle of alcohol deep orange. We were told that only about half of the people who order the White Flag can actually finish it, and most people ask for less spice. The bartenders at Three Seventy Common are happy to lessen the spice factor, but still joke, “If you order it, you pay for it. Regardless of how much you drink.”

Pay it Forward: Three Seventy Common has a drink board up on the wall. Get a friend’s name on the board by buying them a drink for the next time they come in. The drinks are redeemable at any time. And if the board fills up, the bartender has an extra list in the back.

Native Knowledge: On Tuesdays, Three Seventy Common holds Brown Bag Tuesdays where they offer whole bottles of red and white wine for $15.

Chef Ryan Adams favorite spots to eat:
• Marche Moderne
• The Crosby
• Lola Gaspar
• Honda Ya

What’s inside the White Flag:
• Ghost Pepper-infused Tequila
• Passion Fruit Puree
• Mixed Lemon and Lime Juice
• Agave Nectar

370 Glenneyre St
Laguna Beach, CA 92651


A Little Bit Naughty

Playground is a new-school American restaurant that can serve up anything from crispy fried chicken to squash tamales. The menu is ever changing and there is a good chance that it could be different every time you walk through the door. Same goes for their cocktail menu, which is reevaluated weekly by Director of Libations Jarred Dooley and his team. They don’t stick to the tired format of seasonal menus. They keep things fresh with constant change. For the time being, the spicy cocktail you can find on their menu is A Little Bit Naughty, both in name and make. Playground mixes mezcal with fresh cranberry juice and serrano pepper tincture for a tart and hot combination sure to please your pallet. Dooley said the flavors came together naturally and provided a great option for anyone looking to spice things up.

Chef’s Choice: If you’re a picky eater and like to substitute everything on your plate, then Playground isn’t your scene. They serve up dishes the way they want them to be served, no exceptions.

Playground has three food stands in the 4th Street Market:
• Noodle Tramp: Serves up a northern Thai one bowl meal called Khao Soi.
• PFC: Stands for Playground Fried Chicken.
• Wagyu Chuck: Perfected burgers and cheeseburgers come out of this food stand.

What’s inside the A Little Bit Naughty:
• Mezcal
• Contratto Aperitivo
• Fresh Cranberry
• Lime Juice
• Spicy Serrano Tincture

220 E 4th St
Santa Ana, CA 92701

I T ’ S /// Getting Cold Out There. So, Drink Some Spicy Cocktails. We are Getting So Thirsty, We Want to Drink These Cocktails.

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Molly is an Orange County native, but moved to the east coast to study Journalism at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. Now back in San Clemente, she is a freelance writer and aspiring music journalist. When not typing away at her computer, she enjoys checking out the latest fitness trends and playing tennis to make up for her obsession with eating good food. A true music junkie, you'll find her listening to the radio way too loud or singing off key with headphones in. She'll also never turn down an opportunity to explore a new destination near or far.
Twitter/instagram: @mollykbrooks




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