From Historic Gas Station Diner to Modern Day Eatery

In June 2016 Owners Christina and Mike Grant were fueled by their passion for food and a love of hospitality when they established Coastal Kitchen as a go-to spot in Orange County. They chose wisely in selecting a historic building at the corner of PCH and Blue Lantern in Dana Point. Built in 1928, it is the oldest commercial building in the city and was originally called Blue Lantern Fountain Lunch, a gas station/diner that served as a stopping point between Los Angeles and San Diego nearly a century ago. An homage to the building’s beginnings is a section of original tile that was discovered when excavating during the extensive renovation, which can now be viewed on the outdoor wall on the north side of the structure; and inside, one wall is adorned with photos of the building’s early days. The building exudes charm and a bright airy feel is accomplished via large windows looking out onto the Pacific Coast Highway and navy blue and white tones and a decorative wall referred to as the fish wall contribute towards a maritime feel.

The nautical theme is not exclusive to the décor, but a nod to the menu full of delights from the sea, which are sourced almost daily, with the likes of clam chowder, ceviche with grouper, ahi tuna salad, U-10 scallops, jumbo lump crabcakes which are all crab, no filler, Scottish salmon, grilled trout, fresh fish special and cioppino loaded with scallop, shrimp, crab, clams, white fish and mussels.

The diverse menu also features several creative items not found in the sea, like the crowd favorite daily chef’s taco, which during our visit was tri tip with pico de gallo and queso fresca. Vegetarians have options of California veggie sandwich, vegetable plate and fried brie with garbanzo, grapes and apple; and omnivores will find plenty to choose from, with blue cheese bacon burger, Cuban sandwich with ham and pork shoulder, pork belly bites, braised short rib, filet mignon, southern-style pork ribs and a generous 15-oz USDA Prime strip.

The sides are so popular that many order them as a starter or even a meal and some are quite unique as well, like the cauliflower flash fried and dressed a with a light Cajun spice; or the quinoa salad with dried blueberries, cucumber, yellow and orange bell pepper, diced almonds and condensed milk adding a touch of extra sweetness.

Complementing the fare are about 70 wines, mostly from Napa including the Robert Foley Petite Sirah and Duckhorn Merlot; and original cocktails like the Coastal Cadillac with Patron Silver, housemade sweet and sour and Grand Marnier.

Sweet finishes include a key lime pie with pecan graham cracker crust, s’mores pie with chocolate custard and marshmallow meringue and hot fudge sundae topped with candied pecans.

Some perks are the dog-friendly patio, where you can enjoy your best friend’s company, as well as the nearly always sublime weather; and quite reasonable prices that hover around $5-12 for starters, $15-$18 for sandwiches and most entrees from $18-$28 sandwiches and entrées include a side.

One thing essential to any successful restaurant is its service, and thanks to a captain system in which a variety of staff will meet your needs, the front-of-the-house staff does a phenomenal job. Server Chanelle Nichols, who grew up so close to the restaurant she can point out her childhood home from the large dining room window, says, “We’re all a team and work together. Everyone helps out whether it’s our table or not.”

The back-of-the-house is in the able hands of Chef Andrew Palma, a New Jersey native who has helmed the kitchen since the restaurant opened. He is no stranger to the restaurant industry, with 20 years of experience including working for Hillstone Restaurant Group and notable restaurants such as Houston’s Restaurant and Bandera Restaurant.

Opening hours are 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun-Thur and till 10 p.m. Fri-Sat.; and happy hour Mon-Fri from 3-6 p.m. features bites for $4-$7 and sips for $5-$8. A visit to Coastal Kitchen is a worthwhile stop and its relaxed vibe and family- and dog-friendly atmosphere will make you want to return again and again.

Coastal Kitchen
34091 Pacific Coast Hwy
949 449-2822