Food reporter

Irvine Spectrum scraps 300 parking spaces to make room for five restaurants

 With expansion of Fashion Island in Newport Beach nearly done, Orange County's top developer is moving its jack hammers inland.

Construction in Irvine Spectrum Center parking lots near Barnes & Noble and Nordstrom is underway to accommodate three new buildings that will house five restaurants at the ever-expanding linear mall.

On the Barnes & Noble side, three restaurants - TLT Food, Lyfe and Pho Saigon Pearl - are coming in the fall to a 44,000-square-foot pad anchored by Sports Authority. On the Nordstrom side, two standalone full-service restaurants are being built for Brio Tuscan Grille and Del Frisco's Grille.

The restaurant expansion is part of a two-year post-recession strategy by the Irvine Co. to add hipster indie concepts, instead of giant chains, to its high-profile malls. Fashion Island recently welcomed luxury concepts Fig & Olive and Red O by Rick Bayless. In the summer, Cucina Enoteca, also at the Spectrum, is opening a second location at Fashion Island. It's taking over the spot where El Torito Grill used to operate.

"Restaurants are the primary reason people come to the Spectrum," Irvine Co. spokesman Mike Lyster said. "We want to keep adding a variety of selections. There's demand for it."

Restaurants represent about 13 percent of leasable space at the center, up from 10 percent a year ago, the Irvine Co. said.

Stacie Ellis, senior director of marketing for Irvine Company Retail Properties, said the restaurants will "further bolster Irvine Spectrum Center as a major dining and entertainment destination in Southern California."

But frustrated Spectrum drivers beware: the construction zones have swallowed 300 parking spaces at the mall (200 on the Dave & Buster's side, 100 on the Nordstrom side). The remaining 6,100 parking spaces at the mall, down from 6,400, will stay roughly the same once the projects are completed, Lyster said. The valet near the Dave & Buster's entrance is also gone and won't return, he said.

"There is plenty of parking still in the area, particularly near Macy's and Target," Lyster said, adding that the mall's parking meets city requirements.

He said five shuttles have been added to ferry shoppers to various spots around the mall.

Here's the lowdown on the five new restaurants coming to the mall:

TLT Food is a brick and mortar version of Irvine-based The Lime Truck. Owner Daniel Shemtob describes the restaurant as "new American cuisine made with delicious, quality ingredients and a hint of lime in every dish." Menu items include blue crab grilled cheese, beef short rib quesadilla, potato tacos, pork belly nachos and carnitas fries. TLT has two restaurants in Los Angeles.

Lyfe Kitchen, which stands for "Love Your Food Everyday," is coming in November. The menu showcases meals made from "good for you" ingredients such as plant-based proteins. Dishes contain fewer than 600 calories and 1,000 milligrams of sodium. The diverse menu includes choices for every eating lifestyle: gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan and low-sodium.

Pho Saigon Pearl, a fast-casual restaurant opening in November, will serve traditional Vietnamese favorites such as crispy egg rolls, rice dishes and soups.

Brio is an upscale Italian chophouse serving authentic northern Italian food. Average check is $24.75. The menu features premium quality steaks, seafood and made-to-order pastas. The 7,500 square-foot restaurant, near the Nordstrom parking structure, will also sport a 3,700-square-foot patio.

Del Frisco's is a Texas-based concept that serves a mix of prime steaks, oven-baked flatbreads, fresh seafood and American comfort cuisine. The only other California location is in Santa Monica.