Tucked away in a small shopping center, one would never know to look for this trendy eatery located on the south end of Costa Mesa. Fortunately, Avanti Cafe's long-standing reputation in the community and beyond keeps diners and foodies coming back to this gem of a restaurant that serves local and organic vegetarian food.
Kim and I wanted to avoid the usual lunch and dinner rush, so we met up at 3:00 pm to enjoy our meal in a quiet setting. The owners and chefs, Mark Cleveland and Tanya Fuqua, were there to greet us. Unwinding from a busy lunch crowd, they took some time to chat with us and share the philosophy behind their culinary creations. All the dishes are handcrafted and prepared from fresh produce and food products. In keeping with their philosophy of serving organic, sustainable, local and flavorful cuisine, they make the extra effort to source their food directly from two different farms in the area.
Chefs Mark and Tanya proudly displaying their culinary creations.
One of the things I enjoy the most when dining out is getting to meet the owners and chefs and learning more about them. It's almost like I feel more appreciative and connected to the food I eat because I know the back story that goes behind the making of it all. Mark and Tanya are two creative professionals who understand that success in a business requires hard work, dedication and passion, all of which are obvious in seeing how they run their restaurant.
With the recent completion of a remodel, the restaurant has a sleek and clean feel. It’s a small space, yet open and intimate at the same time. The tables are custom woodwork made by Tanya’s father, David Fuqua. Art from local artists are displayed on the wall, rotated every few weeks. It’s a place where they’ve put their heart and soul in making it a success, and they invite those who appreciate the same to join them.
After much chatting, Kim and I finally got around to looking at the menu. We decided on their signature one-eyed pizza, a grilled cheese sandwich, stuffed mushrooms and a pear salad. Having been a vegetarian for 15 years, I’ve had my fair share of variation of these dishes from many different restaurants. I can honestly say that each one of these I had here at Avanti Cafe has its own unique and flavorful twist to an otherwise ordinary dish.
The one-eyed pizza is a build your own entrée with the option to choose from 27 different types of toppings. Some of these include BBQ tempeh, tofu, veggie nuggets, pepperoncini, roasted tomatoes, and avocados. The creativity is endless and very tasty in every possible combination. The uniqueness comes with the sunny-side-up egg on top, which adds a nice visual and flavorful depth to the dish.
The grilled cheese is made with arugula and spinach melted with a generous amount of havarti and white cheddar cheese. The blood orange honey dijon spread adds a light sweet tang that hits the palate just the right amount to offset a sometimes heaviness in a cheese dish. But this grilled cheese is far from tasting heavy as butter is not used to grill the outsides of the sandwich. The sandwich is rather simply toasted in the oven until the cheese melts and the bread warms up a bit to a light brown color.
The stacked portobello mushroom is another of Avanti Cafe’s signature dishes. It is stuffed with roasted organic vegetables and garlic spread, topped with a falafel crusted eggplant and served with a side of lime napa and red cabbage slaw. The use of the falafel crust is quite delectable, something I must give a try in my own cooking.
The roasted pear organic mixed green salad is one of the best salads I’ve ever had. The citrus miso dressing gives it a bit of an Asian fusion twist, but what I love the most is the uniqueness that comes from the coffee-soaked candied nuts. This topping adds a flavorful texture that even meat lovers might consider a viable bacon bits substitute.
After hearing about my love of hot and spicy food, Chef Tanya brought out this pickled habanero chili for me to try. What makes it so incredibly good is that it is infused with a grapefruit brine. Yes, it was a bit spicy, but not enough to stop me from asking for a second one.
We ended our meal with this peanut butter and cherry jelly tart. Kim and I especially loved the light and creamy whipped texture of the peanut butter. And the presentation is quite sexy, don’t you think?
Chef Mark working his magic making our one-eyed pizza order in the kitchen.
A drizzle of citrus miso dressing on the pear salad.
After the plates were cleared, I wondered why I had waited this long to give this place a try. The food is fresh, healthy and tasty. Although we fought them, Mark and Tanya were gracious hosts and insisted on gifting us a complimentary meal this time. Thank you so much for the excellent food and attentive service. I look forward to going back soon.
259 E. 17th Street (map)
Costa Mesa, CA 92627
Also, if you're interested in finding things to see and do in Costa Mesa, the city's website has lots of information and resources.