Best New Restaurants 2023: Populaire Impresses With Fusion Fare

The restaurant’s ingenious menu ranges from escargot ebelskivers to ratatouille with gochujang.


3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa, 714-760-4555

Populaire arrived with the stealth of a pop-up in June, given its speedy construction and sleepy location in the former Lawry’s space at South Coast Plaza. Precociously self-assured, the modern bistro is the dream of veteran chefs Nick Weber and Ross Pangilinan. So, is their collaborative fare French or Asian or American? Why yes, it is. Escargot ebelskivers are ingenious—just-griddled orbs of puffy escargot batter on a puddle of parsley-swirled buttermilk emulsion. The flavors say France, but the format says fun. Also fun: crunchy duck confit “spliffs” with Vietnamese herbs. Weber’s heady ratatouille with gochujang and runny egg is now a foodie media darling. Chawanmushi is umami 101—a savory egg custard boosted by saffron dashi, crab, and uni. The all-day menu stretches from the Ladies Who Lunch chopped salad to fluffy gnudis in browned butter to the handsome sliced tomahawk steak. Royale With Cheese is a burger nonpareil, boasting a juicy short-rib patty, potato bun, and glorious layer of raclette. Regulars know prix fixe lunch is a sleeper find—three indulgent courses designed weekly by Weber. General manager Alyssa McDiarmid often staffs the door, imbuing the stylish Prussian blue room with upbeat grace while also curating the savvy wine list. 

Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Read More: