Modern Mexican Palenque Arrives in Orange County

March 17, 2023

Palenque–one of Downtown Riverside’s most popular restaurants and bars in the competitive local modern Mexican scene–just opened in Orange County. The restaurant, originally part of its sister club Mezcal in DTR since 2014, emerged in 2019 as a fully realized vision from Newport Beach-based operator & president Miguel Baeza, who has more than 30 years of experience in the hospitality industry.

The Costa Mesa restaurant marks Baeza’s first expansion and the second location. Serving dinner nightly and weekend brunch, Palenque presents one of the largest selections of tequila and mezcal in the area with craft cocktails and Mexican dishes in an inspired, extended, open lounge. 

The restaurant takes the space formerly occupied by The Hub near the bustling corner intersection of 17th & Newport.

“We wanted to move away from Day of the Dead imagery and incorporate inspiration from Tulum, from the areas in Mexico where mezcal is made, and we wanted to work with local, renowned designer Davis Ink,” Baeza says. “Palenque has a warm atmosphere that brings the exterior into the interior. Seeing this finished makes me feel extremely accomplished, and I’m happy to deliver a great product to the community.”

East Los Angeles-born Executive Chef Gabriela Gomez creates a modern Mexican menu with twists to classic favorites. Formerly of Taco Maria (Costa Mesa), Jungsik (Manhattan, New York), Electric City Butcher (Santa Ana), and more. This first-generation Oaxaqueña was raised in the kitchen and started cooking professionally in 2010 at 17 years old. The menu reflects her mother’s home cooking with modern sensibilities featuring signature dishes including Scallop Aguachile, Mole Temporal and Birria Tatemada.

“A big part of how I cook is influenced by my mom who always hosted dinner parties. Seeing how much she enjoyed creating that community really stuck with me,” Gomez says. “My purpose with food is to cook for the guest instead of myself, and use it as a connection to my heritage so the recipes passed on to me live long after me.”

On Mole Temporal

“The moles which will change seasonally, are a direct influence from Oaxaca. Currently, the Black mole is a recipe I have made with my mom since I was a kid. It's always intimidating for people who have never made it since it has so many ingredients but my mom always had me taste the sauce throughout the cooking process and quiz me on what I thought was missing, emphasizing that balance is the most important key to a good mole.”

On Birria Tatemada

“Birria is a dish that is made all throughout Mexico, but the method of cooking in Oaxaca is unique (typically pit cooking where my mom is from) as well as the heavy use of aguacatillo leaves. Since I don't have a pit here in Costa Mesa, I rely on the ingredients to bring the flavor of the Pueblo. Like the birria, the octopus is also something that is eaten widely but the use of ingredients like Hoja Santa are what tie it to the region.”


“The molotes, not to be confused with molletes, are a classic in the city of Oaxaca. It's a dish I've loved since I first tried them and have always wanted to share them with the world.”

What’s Next

“There are many more examples of Oaxacan influence across the menu, from the use of seeds like amaranth and sesame to dishes like the humble albondigas. On next season’s menu I will be introducing another classic, the tlayuda, along with a new mole.”,

Beverage Director Julian Flores has been in the service industry since 2012, with 8 years dedicated to craft bartending including work at Disneyland, Puesto, Gracias Madre, Mayfield, and independent consulting. Flores says being aware of the flavor profiles and vibe of the area he’s working in drives his creative process.

Palenque features late-night DJs on Fridays and Saturdays. The restaurant is also available for full and partial restaurant buy-outs. Taco Tuesday features drink specials and a $12 Trio of Tacos including Carne Asada, Mole and Carnitas.

Monday 5–10 p.m., Tuesday 5–11 p.m., Wednesday 5–11 p.m., Thursday 5–11 p.m., Friday 5 p.m.–1:45 a.m., Saturday 10 a.m.–1:45 a.m., Sunday 10 a.m.–10 p.m.

Palenque Costa Mesa is at 1749 Newport Blvd., Costa Mesa. 949-402-9951


Greer's OC
Blogger | Journalist

Since 1993, Greer has been writing about fashion, dining and trends in Orange County, as a popular columnist for the Los Angeles Time Community Newspapers (Daily Pilot, Coastline Pilot and HB Independent) and now as founder of Greer’s OC.

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