Dish List: Pueblo

goat cheese

Courtesy of Alex Guardado

short ribs 1

Courtesy of Alex Guardado

short ribs 2-1

Courtesy of Alex Guardado

By Alex Guardado

In my quest for the best new bites in Orange County, I didn’t have to venture very far to get Spanish-style food with a modern California twist.

Pueblo is a new eatery where head chef, Michael Campbell, incorporates some of the major aspects of Mediterranean cuisine and culture. Inspired by his time working abroad in Spain,  his new eatery combines the best Spanish foods and wines that the west coast has to offer.

Pueblo is nestled in the chic and hipster friendly South Coast Collection (SOCO), Orange County’s popular shopping destination in Costa Mesa. Alongside a bevy of other curated restaurants and stores, this spot was packed on a weekday dinner.

Heading inside, the decor and vibe of this little restaurant is inviting. Its combination of wood furnishings and wall art create a very urban and upbeat environment.

Another standout is the proximity and layout of the kitchen and bar which sets the stage for a great dining experience.

As my friend and I perused the extensive menu and saw the daily selections on the chalk board, we both knew we were in for tons of masterfully crafted plates. After       a little advice from our server on some food and drink pairings, we decided to each order and share the best sounding tapas. To go with my Tempranillo wine, I ordered a variety of Raciones Calientes, or hot appetizers.

We were then quickly served a complimentary  Pan con Tomate dish, which is a hot and slightly toasted garlic bead with a smoked tomato side. It was a simple  and plain dish,  but I took notice to the attention to detail each item was crafted with.

Over the next half hour, dish after dish came out and the tastes of some of these was out of this world.  The Chorizo dish with grilled and perfectly seasoned sausage, lentils and salsa verde was so elegantly presented, I felt bad for disassembling the beauty of this small plate. With its smoky and peppery crunch, its saltiness blends perfectly with the lentils to make a balanced finish. For meat lovers, the chorizo was definitely a must have and the spice of the meat gives it a great kick. Another masterfully crafted dish and probably the best tasting one on the menu was the Montadito de Costilla. This food art not only looked amazing but its taste made me feel like I was in meat heaven. It’s a perfectly layered combination of sweet and saltiness with cooked short rib, marmalade and sweet onion on toast with a rare-cooked piece of short rib to top it all off.  I wondered to myself how food could look and taste so good,  and this dish alone sold me on the whole tapas concept.

The other dishes that were lackluster was the Queso Fundido, a charred goat cheese with black truffle and honey. The creamy texture was a plus but the cheese flavor can be a little too much to handle if you are not a fan of its consistency. We also ordered crispy potatoes with lemon aioli and chili sauce, which taste-wise was a letdown, but when combined with the goat cheese, it created a crunchy yet smooth and layered texture.

The last dish we ordered was the Higos y Jamon. This dish took a little longer to prepare. As I was wondering whether or not to ask for the check, the hot plate finally came out. Combining charred figs, roasted peanuts, Spanish blue cheese, ham and a sweet honey-like fig reduction. While it was a little too sweet for me, my friend loved it. Overall the crunchiness of the fig creates a great balance with the salty ham and sweet fig.

Spanish tapas bars in Southern California are catching on and Pueblo brings some great food items and a varied mix of  food and drinks to the table. It’s a great local spot for those who don’t want to  venture to LA for great food and a nice place to catch up with a friend  for special occasions or dates. Although some of their items are lacking, the short rib plate and  good vibes will definitely bring me  back to SOCO to try some Pueblo tapas.