Xperience Restaurant Group — the owner and operator of El Torito, Chevys Fresh Mex, Sol Mexican Cocina, Acapulco and Las Brisas — opened its newest location of Sol Mexican Cocina in Irvine on Thursday, March 24.
Background: It’s huuuuge! This multimillion-dollar renovation of a former El Torito Grill occupies 11,277 square feet, including a 2,861 square foot patio set into Centerview, a LEED Platinum property with twin 12-story office buildings. It’s the largest of all the Sol locations, which include the original in Newport Beach, along with others in Playa Vista, Scottsdale, Arizona, and Denver, Colorado. Watch for another opening this summer in Las Vegas.
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The look: Giovanni Salvino-Prada, vice president of marketing at Xperience, calls the decor “modern eco chic.” Surrounding the grand entrance is a garden of succulents, stately palms, petite palms and an exotic dragon tree. Walk through the front doors and behind the hostess stand you’ll see a display kitchen in a glass box, its centerpiece is a gigantic comal griddle for warming tortillas. There’s a landscape of Cabo San Lucas in the bar by David Early; the Southern California artist has also hand painted solar images on the back wall and palm fronds on other walls.
There’s a dining room on your left with a faux tree in the center and a bar to your right with plenty of comfy seating. Outside on the patio there are fire elements and more tables. The patio is set with cushy lounge furniture as well as full tables for dining. In total there are 250 seats at Sol.
The vibe: This restaurant group knows just how much Southern Californians love a Baja vacation. So the decor is worthy of a Mexican coastal resort. The color palette includes neutrals of white, off-white and sand mixed with light and warm woods and tinged with black and white accents. Little touches whisper hotel lobby, like a small table with a single lamp set against the wall on the patio, others features exclaim grand resort, such as hammocks used just for decoration and pillars of cut stone.
The menu: Chef Israel Salazar is in charge of Sol’s menu and pricing will be similar to its Newport location with signature dishes such as Taco Vampiro on a double tortilla with cheese, serrano chilies, carne asada, guacamole, pico de gallo, chipotle sauce and cotija cheese, and Wild Fish on Esquites with almond-lemon crust, grilled corn esquites, tomato, basil, lime, avocado butter and cotija cheese. There are also choices for vegan and gluten-free customers.
The drinks: Sol is well known for its tequila cocktails, including its house margarita with fresh citrus juices, agave nectar and tequila, and agave spirit-based drinks like The Mezcalero, a concoction of mezcal shaken with passion fruit, guava and lime juice served in a chili salt rimmed glass. Of course there will be a list of tequilas with some luxe cristalinos for sipping which are barrel-aged, filtered through charcoal and available by the shot ($11-$19).
If you’re not in the mood for tequila, try the Martini del Sol ($14) with Grey Goose vodka, elderflower liqueur, honey and lemon or the Cold Bruno ($15), an espresso martini laced with SelvaRey Chocolate Rum, cold brew and coffee liqueur.
The last word: Salvino-Prada says lunch, brunch or dinner at Sol is like jetting to Mexico without shelling out for a plane ticket. “For people who love going down to Mexico and having that high-end resort experience, they can do that just by coming into the restaurant,” he said. “It’s like getting away without really having to go away.”
Find it: 1910 Main St., Irvine, 949-975-1220, solcocina.com.
Open: : 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; 11 a.m.-midnight Fridays; 10 a.m.-midnightSaturdays; 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sundays. Happy Hour runs from 3-6 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays-Fridays; Weekend Brunch is from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays; Tacos + Tequila Tuesday goes from 3-11 p.m.