There is still that element of “Okay, just keep them content long enough so we can eat.” Then we quickly get the check and leave before anything goes awry. We always feel an enormous amount of pride and success when we pull this off, but it’s still more effort than simply eating at home. I am making it sound like we are lazy and can’t be bothered to take our family out to eat, but if you have really young kids, I know you understand.
This week, however, I took my family to lunch at the brand new Mendocino Farms at the University Center location in Irvine and never have I had such a pleasant dining experience with my two young squirmy children and picky husband. The very first thing you see when you walk in the restaurant is the “EAT HAPPY” motto in lights, which epitomizes the entire experience. We got there right at
lunchtime, and let me tell you, this is the hottest spot around. The line was mn3out the door. WAY out the door. It moves quickly though, as it is an order-at-the-counter place, and there is plenty of space to find a table. The space is bright and roomy and has that casual yet chic artisan farm-y vibe. Is that a thing? It is now. Farm-y. There is actually a picket fence surrounding a large area covered with astro turf. There is even astro turf on the walls. At one point, I realized I was zoning out and just running my fingers through it. There is a large area for kids to play, but actually move around and PLAY. There are corn hole courts, a foosball table and an area for kids with a kid size table to color, or draw on a giant chalk board.
By Kelly Mitchell
Families, I have just found your new favorite restaurant. If you live in Southern California, you have probably heard of Mendocino Farms by now, the acclaimed farm-to-table sandwich shop and seasonal marketplace with a unique “Eat Happy” vibe and family-friendly atmosphere. If you haven’t yet, well, there you go. Now you have. And you must go.
To be honest, we don’t go out to eat much. It is just more trouble than it’s worth for us. My husband legitimately enjoys cooking and it’s nice to be in the confines of our own home knowing the kids are comfortable and happy. Even at the most kid-friendly restaurants, we have to keep the kids sitting down and occupied with SOMETHING: coloring, a do-it-yourself toy, a balloon guy-whatever.
The kids made a bee line for the corn hole courts and the chalkboard and basically stayed there the entire time, except to take a break to take bites of their yummy sandwiches (homemade PB&J and grilled cheddar cheese). Jon and I actually relaxed and enjoyed our sandwiches, which were out of this world. Don’t even get me started on the menu, it cannot be explained. Just check it out and see for yourself. Everything is so…FRESH. Fresh bread, fresh chicken, fresh vegetables. It is the farm-to-table real deal. I don’t know if anyone else does this, but I have a thing about crunching chips onto my sandwiches. I just need that crunchy-salty bite or something. I also love to mix the sweet-salty thing. My prosciutto and chicken sandwich came with crumbled honey roasted almonds in it. Why have I never thought of that? It was unreal. Jon, who is a sauce guy, got the “Study of Heat” turkey sandwich, which came with a super spicy sauce on the side and it didn’t disappoint. My six year old son even tried it and liked it. We tried a few of the sides, including the delicious spicy potato salad and curried cous-cous. The soda fountain is pretty great too, with old school favorites such as vanilla cream, mandarin orange and root beer sodas.
Yes, the food was wonderful, and I can’t wait to go back and try more menu items (dying to try the Kurobuta pork belly Bahn Mi). But I am not a real food critic, I am a mom of two little kids who loves good food and loves a stress-free, kid-friendly restaurant when I can find one. What impressed me the most was that Jon and I enjoyed a delicious, casual meal and our kids were basically off playing the entire time. We could always see them, and at some point they made some friends and all played together. We had long adult conversations, which were actually UNINTERRUPTED. These are the kinds of moments you realize you don’t have much of until they happen. We stayed and lingered longer than we ever have at a restaurant. We got there at 1pm and left at about 2:45. That is a really long lunch with little children. We just didn’t worry or think about it and it flew by.
So…EAT HAPPY? Yes indeed. That is the Mendocino Farms mission. Mission accomplished.
Try one of the two OC locations:
4175 Campus Drive, Suite B Irvine, CA 92612 Phone: 949.783.2900
450 E. 17th St. Costa Mesa, California 92627 Phone: 949.548.2500