Secret Spots at South Coast Plaza 

You may know just about all South Coast Plaza’s dining destinations.  But perhaps there are some undiscovered finds we can share. An intimate space for a memorable dinner. A quick snack and cocktail before a show.  A cool little bar for a shopping respite. Here’s a quintet of some unique spots on our radar.

Water Grill



It’s a contrast of privacy and visibility—the Segerstrom Board Room is inconspicuously located in the front of Water Grill—yet is in the epi-center of the action. If you’re looking for a special place to host a private lunch or dinner, this gem should be on your short list. 

The petit dining space (named after South Coast Plaza’s founding family and patrons of the arts) is constantly booked by VIPS and the local cognoscenti. One long handsome table accommodates up to 14 diners.  Guests are surrounded by expansive wine cabinets, housing a collection of more than 400 bottles from around the globe.  Also in view from the floor-to-ceiling glass windows is the 360-degree oyster bar and the live saltwater tanks.

Nestled into a tiny corner of the Quattro Caffé entrance, the popular six-seat Il Bar has regulars and shoppers who have patronized the spot for decades.  Some make a stop for a quick cocktail or espresso; others chill with a glass of Italian wine paired with house-made ravioli di pollo.

“It’s a unique experience at South Coast Plaza—busy from opening to closing every day,” said restaurateur Domenico Grillo. “Our bar guests are family.”

Top Chef alumn Amar Santana and partner Ahmed Labbate’s Spanish-inspired, theater-centric hot spot, Vaca, can provide dinner and a show before or after a show for up to eight guests.  Upon entering, the Charcuterie Station is to the left and across from the packed bar.

 Although the full menu is served at this L-shaped working station, you’ll see pantry cooks meticulously slice and plate the best in Spanish meats and cheese for hungry guests. These platters are the ideal snack with a signature Vaca Tonic before a performance at neighboring Segerstrom Center for the Arts or South Coast Repertory.

When Sur La Table opened its doors in 2009 at South Coast Plaza, it was sans the onsite cooking classes, beloved by many.  After fielding sad inquiries from cooking fans, South Coast Plaza management quietly inquired about starting classes.  “Can’t be done—no room,” was the response.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way.  The SCP solution was to convert the stock room into a large kitchen by finding a near-by storage space. Construction commenced in the far back corner of the store (hidden from shoppers) and soon enough, small groups were working hands-on with chef-instructors to learn how to prepare delicious recipes, hone essential techniques and more.

Today a wide variety of cooking classes (from making tamales to handmade sushi rolls) are offered at South Coast Plaza’s Sur La Table, seven days a week, with as many as four classes a day.  A tasty finale: Students enjoy a repast of the dishes they just learned to prepare.

We’ve become a sanctuary for shoppers and guests who find their way here,” observed chef Michael Doctulero, proprietor and chef of the small 49-seat restaurant and bar tucked into a nook of Collage Culinary Experience on level 1 at Bloomingdale’s.

The well-known chef who spent years at Scott’s Seafood brings a contemporary twist to comfort food dishes he has honed from his home-town San Francisco and stints in Seattle and Los Angeles. Signatures include homemade chicken soup, calamari crudo with ahi, hoisin baby back ribs and togarashi scallops, plus appealing plant-based offerings.