La Vida Cantina, Costa Mesa – First Review: Not Too Loca, Not Too Square

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Cantina Life in A Crazy Triangle Square

Three Tacos At La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa
Three Tacos At La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa

We first spotted La Vida Cantina on one of our frequent trips to the Starlight Cinemas at Triangle Square in Costa Mesa. We head to Starlight frequently for movies on the weekends because they are never crowded and there’s usually a great deal on Groupon so we can see the latest movies for bargain prices.

In addition, there’s always a good vibe at the restaurants in the Triangle, with lots of people getting together after work, or for weekend fun, enjoying the open fire pits on many of the outdoor patios, and DJs or live music being played at many of the dining establishments as well. We knew the Mexican restaurant, La Vida Cantina, was destined to make our list eventually, but we’re rarely in the area on a Tuesday. For us, trying to get to get to Triangle Square on a Tuesday was like attempting to fit a square peg in a triangle hole.

Well, this past Tuesday, we brought a really big hammer and made it work. I guess if you really want to enjoy La Vida, you just have live la vida loca.

The Lay of the Land

The Interior of La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa
The Interior of La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa

La Vida Cantina sits on the top level of Triangle Square and has a huge patio, bustling with sounds and activity, that makes it impossible to miss no matter how you make your way to the upper level. It’s a great place to gather with friends, or to just enjoy a warm summer night. DJ lighting, disco balls and jams with a heavy bass line are the norm once the sun goes down. But if you prefer quiet conversation to a party atmosphere, there is plenty of indoor seating as well.

Inside La Vida is sparsely lit. a wall of flickering candles, and soft lighting over the tables is all that keeps the dark walls from closing in around you. The effect gives you a sense of intimacy even though you could see people across the darkness awash in the glow of their own table light, making La Vida Cantina a great place to take a date, in addition to being a hangout/party destination.

The staff is friendly, and efficient. We were seated quickly, and complimentary chips and salsa were served before we even placed our drink orders.

The Tacos

Taco Tuesday at La Vida Cantina starts at 4pm and features an assortment of crispy tacos for $2 each. On the menu, shredded beef and shredded chicken are listed as the choices, as well as $5 crispy mahi mahi tacos, but ask your server to see if there is more. The night we visited there were also $2 crispy potato tacos. As usual, we kept it on the cheap, and tried all three of the $2 tacos.

Shredded Chicken Taco

La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa Shredded Chicken Taco
La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa Shredded Chicken Taco

The Shredded Chicken Taco is served with lettuce, cotija cheese, and a green sauce. The shredded chicken had a very mild flavor, just enough to know you were eating chicken, but nothing that really stood out. The texture of the shredded chicken was more akin to how we like our carnitas, a combination of crispy and moist, but that seemed a little weird to experience in chicken. Compensating for the chicken’s lack of flavor, were the hand fried crispy tortilla shell, green salsa and what seemed to be a precisely measured and applied sprinkling of cotija cheese. The combination of these toppings did wonders for what otherwise would have been a bland taco. But that’s not saying much as this combination, especially the green sauce and cotija cheese, would make any meat these ingredients were accommodating taste good.

Potato Taco

La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa Potato Taco
La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa Potato Taco

La Vida Cantina offers a potato taco that’s a little different than the rest. In addition to the lettuce, cotija cheese, and green sauce that accompanies their other taco Tuesday offerings, La Vida Cantina also throws a little corn into the mix providing a little different texture and flavor. But there’s something else.

If you’ve been following along at all, you’ll know the thing we complain about most in potato tacos is the lack of seasoning. Potatoes just lack flavor, period. We’re happy to report that La Vida Cantina is one of the few places we’ve been to that understand this. But, the seasoning is still subtle, just a hint of, perhaps sage? Whatever it is, it’s just enough that the potato taco has the flavor of a nice potato side dish, complimenting a main course, rather than over powering and stealing the spotlight from it. So, while we still don’t consider this potato taco to be flavorful enough to be a standalone meal, it is tasty enough to be the perfect companion to any of the other taco Tuesday offerings at La Vida Cantina, and should be included with your order when you eat here.

Shredded Beef Taco

La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa Shredded Beef Taco
La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa Shredded Beef Taco

The best bang for your taco Tuesday buck at La Vida Cantina, is the shredded beef taco. Dressed with lettuce, green sauce and cotija cheese like the potato and shredded chicken tacos, the shredded beef taco also comes with thinly sliced radishes. At times, the shredded beef almost tastes like someone made you a taco out of mom’s pot-roast, at other times, the blend of the green sauce, cotija cheese meld together with the spicy beef seasoning and you’re sure it came from your Tia Maria’s secret recipe instead. It’s a perfect Mexican-American merging of cultures wrapped up in a crispy corn tortilla shell. It’s what makes America taste great again.

Beyond the Tacos

Chips and Salsa at La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa
Chips and Salsa at La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa

Other taco Tuesday Specials at La Vida Cantina include a number of ways to wash your tacos down. House margaritas are $5, Corona and Dos XX Amber are just $3 as are domestic draft beers. I skipped the margarita this trip as they had my other favorite green beverage, Mountain Dew, among the host of Pepsi brand fountain beverages available with free refills.

Fuego Tacos At La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa
Fuego Tacos At La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa

The complimentary chips and salsa are nothing special. The chips are good, but the tomatillo based salsa tasted more like tomato soup with onion, garlic and cilantro mixed in. It’s the Mr. Rogers of salsas. Can you say “gringo?” I knew you could.

On a final note, if you’re really brave, La Vida Cantina also offers a fuego taco: carnitas with chipotle slaw, chicharrones and ghost chile fuego sauce. Ghost chiles are beyond my digestive capabilities, but it sure sounds interesting.

Should You Go to La Vida Cantina for Taco Tuesday?

If you’re looking to be entertained on a Tuesday evening, La Vida Cantina should definitely be among your considerations. With live music or DJs available here, or one of the adjacent restaurants, as well a movie theater and a bowling alley downstairs, there are few other places that can turn your taco Tuesday outing into a one stop taco fiesta outing. There is nothing Square about this Triangle.

Not looking for a party, and want a nice quiet booth for quiet conversation instead? La Vida still has you covered.

We’ll be going back, for the shredded beef and potato tacos at least. And maybe if I’m really feeling like living la vida loca, I’ll give the fuego taco a try. But I’ll be just as happy with the standard La Vida Cantina offerings as well.


La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa Taco Tuesday Quick links:

La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa Website

What Yelpers Say About Taco Tuesday at La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa

How to Get To La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa for Taco Tuesday

La Vida Cantina Costa Mesa Taco Tuesday Gallery:

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