On the Line: Rolando Rubalcava of Playa Mesa

Chef Rolando Rubalcava of Playa Mesa
Practically a smile. Photo courtesy Playa Mesa.

It was over five years ago when I met and became acquainted with Roland(o) Rubalcava. Much has happened since our initial interview: marriage, changing jobs, fatherhood, etc. With Playa Mesa gearing up to open, another chapter is starting in Chef Rubalcava’s professional life. I gladly took the opportunity to check-in with Rolando and see what’s cooking in his future.

 

Where are you drawing inspiration from? Are you focusing on a specific region or style of cooking? How will the menu address modifications, gluten-free dining and vegan options?

My inspiration comes from my childhood. We are focusing on all of Mexico, and taking bits and pieces of each region, but specifically coastal Baja and mainland Mexico. We will certainly offer specific dishes that will cater to most dietary needs.

 

How will Playa Mesa stand out from other Mexican concepts?

Aside from the absolutely beautiful restaurant build out, we’re going to be a traditional Mexican kitchen with simple, well-executed food. Add friendly guest service where everyone is treated like family. Beyond that, just focusing on being the best version of ourselves.

 

How far along is the restaurant from completion?

We’re very close to opening. The kitchen is done and it’s incredible! Everything I could’ve hoped for and more. 

 

What else can we expect from the menu? Happy hour, brunch, lunch, dinner, full bar? How about late nights or patio dining?

All of the above except late night dining and limited patio seating.

 

We read something about a comal tortilla grill. Please elaborate.

Yes, we have a beautiful tortilla comal that will be displayed through our peek-a-boo window in the kitchen.

 

Were you ever able to learn (per our interview five years ago) how to do yellow mole from Oaxaca or Mexican-style cheese?

Yes, I learned how to make yellow mole through one of my good friends. I was also lucky enough to make queso fresco a few times in the past few years.

 

What have you learned about running a restaurant kitchen, after spending time at Taco Maria? Did Carlos offer any advice?

I learned that a true kitchen becomes your family. Carlos taught me that cooking is the easy part.

 

Who were the former tenants on the land Playa Mesa is on? 

The former tenants were Ruby’s Diner, Boston Market and an Italian restaurant. But unlike any of these, Playa Mesa is all about the community; the local residents.  We want to be their home away from home. And we’re here to stay.

 

Tell me something most people don’t know about you.

I would like to design my own kitchen shoe someday. Any budding shoe manufacturers out there? Give me a call!

 

How did you meet your wife, and tell us about your son and tackling fatherhood.

I met Michelle 14 years ago. Unfortunately, I don’t have this romantic story on how we met. It was at a club, but that was all we needed. Fast forward to today, and we’ve now been married six years and have an amazing two-year-old son. Being Roman’s dad is the best thing that has ever happened to me.

 

Do you plan to keep doing pop-ups? Or will hot chicken, Gallo Chino-Mexican Style Sriracha or a Sonoran Dog find their way onto the menu?

Pop-ups will be on the back burner for a while. I’m sure they will again at some point.

 

Playa Mesa will be located at 428 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa; www.playamesa.com.

A contributing writer for OC Weekly, Anne Marie freelances for multiple online and print publications, and guest judges for culinary competitions. A Bay Area transplant, she graduated with a degree in Hospitality Management from Cal Poly Pomona. Find her on Instagram as brekkiefan.

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