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Top Chef’s John Tesar Goes California Coastal at OC’s New Outer Reef Seafood Spot

The mostly meaty Dallas-based chef reveals his newest project in Dana Point this month

An overhead shot of varieties of seafood on ice.
An array of fresh seafood at the new Outer Reef.
Kevin Marple
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Chef John Tesar, known for his many James Beard Foundation award nominations, his time on Top Chef, and penchant for (ahem) speaking up, is officially coming to Orange County. Tesar has been promising — or at least loudly hinting at — a coastal OC project for years, and now the big, nationally known name is here.

This month, Tesar will open Outer Reef, his long-discussed seafood restaurant inside the Laguna Cliffs Marriott Resort & Spa in Dana Point. While carrying a new name and different vision, the place is meant to act as an homage to Tesar’s former Spoon Bar & Kitchen, which operated out of Dallas nearly a decade ago. Tesar’s other Texas projects, most famously his meaty restaurant Knife, remain popular in the greater Dallas area.

Like Spoon, Outer Reef is all about the bounty of the sea, moving from many raw preparations like a razor clam tartare, geoduck sashimi, and dry-aged tuna, to grilled items and larger mains. There will be a shareable spot prawn ramen, roasted half lobster, kimchi-glazed halibut, and a black cod milanese to go along with housmade pastas and at least one steak. And while Tesar will oversee the restaurant, chef Jayro Martinez (formerly of MhZh in Silver Lake, and the opening executive chef of Mayfield in San Juan Capistrano) is said to be on as chef de cuisine.

A side angle shot of a scallop in a large shell on top of blue rocks in a dark bowl.
Live scallop with shallot brown butter and truffles.

It’s not hyperbole to say that Outer Reef has been swimming against the tide for years now. The project was first announced back in the summer of 2018, and was ultimately scheduled to open in 2020. The pandemic further flooded those plans, so now the restaurant will open on April 29, part of a larger multi-million-dollar renovation of the Dana Point hotel property it will help to anchor. Expect water views, lots of coastal ambiance inside, and dinner only to start.

The plan, ultimately, is to expand Outer Reef into lunch and breakfast service, with a separate menu for the bar and lounge area as well. For now hours run from Thursday to Sunday only, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Reservations can be made on OpenTable.

A swinging bench, fish tank, and corner of a bar inside a new restaurant.
Some interior decor at Outer Reef.
A wide, largely white dining room with ocean scenery beyond at a new restaurant.
Coastal views.

Outer Reef OC

25135 Park Lantern, Dana Point, CA 92629