Eat Down South

There's more than just great shopping in Costa Mesa

South Coast Plaza shoppers are more likely to have Dolce, Dior and Oscar on the brain than food, but that doesn't mean the Orange County mall is devoid of good restaurants. If you play your cards right, you can save a bundle eating at these destination spots, which leaves more for Prada later.

Lunch Hidden on the third floor near Nordstrom, Marché Moderne is one of the best lunch deals in Costa Mesa–three courses are only $20 ($25 on weekends). The food court has nothing on chef Florent Marneau's fresh market field greens in hazelnut vinaigrette, pan-seared salmon with braised cabbage and carrot puree, and perfect vanilla bean panna cotta–or the lovely patio.

Happy Hour You might have to fight a few cougars in the lounge at Charlie Palmer at Bloomingdale's, but the half-off drinks (3 to 7 p.m. daily) are worth the battle. On the menu: juicy duck meatballs with parsnip puree ($8), caramelized chicken livers with sweet balsamic glaze ($9) and blistered shisito peppers ($7). Peek inside the An family's new restaurant, AnQui, which opens next door on December 10.

Dinner A stop at David Myers' Pizzeria Ortica, just a few blocks from the mall, is mandatory. Chef Steve Samson (Valentino) works his magic on handmade pastas like spinach tagliatelle with traditional Bolognese sauce ($15) and pear-and-pecorino-stuffed tortelli in brown butter ($14). The wood-fired pizzas have just enough char on the bubbled crust–get the guanciale with fresh ricotta and fennel pollen (pictured, $16).