Real Burgers in Laguna - 101


Comfort Food Correspondent

This is about as close to a veggie burger as I get…

Holy Hangover Photo

From – the caption there said these girls were curing theirs by eating Jumbo Jacks with cheese and no meat…


I was supposed to have this issue off. Then I logged on to StuNewsLaguna this morning and, voila, I see that Shaena Stabler wrote about veggie burgers! Now no self-respecting “comfort food correspondent” can handle that without getting her eleven cents in!

I love burgers – really love a good burger and thank goodness this burg has a plethora of tasty examples of the burger art – a festival of patties and buns.

I could list my choices but for now, let’s just be satisfied with my saying that one stands in a class of its own as Laguna’s only drive thru burger place.

Jack-In-The Box Sometimes a girl doesn’t feel like gussying up and looking her best just to shut down her hunger pangs. That’s when you need to stay out of sight with just a scarf or a hat in a pair of grubbies of some sort – and sunglasses. I adore Jumbo Jacks - with the meat. They’re just $1.69 and you can add cheese for 40 cents.

Let me say something poignant – or as close to poignant as a crabby ole broad like me can get.

Shaena is, well, have you ever seen her? She is in great shape and as pretty as a picture with healthy skin. Sure, she loves veggie burgers and if I had it all to do over again and knew how to be healthy, I would probably have substituted a veggie burger one out of, say, every five or six burgers that I have eaten. (There was a time back when that ratio would have meant one every other day!)

The way I see it, Miss Shaena has given me a challenge.

So, next week, count on it, Miss Fonda will be building burgers all over town and I’ll write about ‘em for you pretties out there.

Maro Wood Grill

Maggi Henrikson


Maro Wood Grill, opened just last January, attracts a local neighborhood following of nearly cult proportions.  That loyal following probably does not want word to get out, but don’t blame Laguna Stew.  Word is no doubt already spreading by smoke signal from the sizzling aroma of steaks grilling on a blazing wood fire.

Maro Photo

Photos by Maggi

Fresh ingredients and natural wood fire combine under the knowledgeable hands of executive chef, Debra Sims.  Formerly of Ritual Supper Club in LA, and also a trained pastry chef, Debra enjoys an eclectic approach to menu planning.  “We shop every week at the Farmer’s Market, right here in town.  We partner with regional farms to get the freshest meats.  And we like to change the menu daily with different grill aspects.”

How about grilled watermelon?  “Some people thought it was tuna steaks on the grill!  We found that grilling caramelized the melon with a smoky sweetness that just explodes in your mouth.”  She has paired that with fresh lettuces and feta cheese for a lively salad with sesame ginger dressing.

Maro Photo 2The menu changes daily at Maro Wood Grill and guests are encouraged to check the day’s specials as well as reservations at

Small and chic like a European café, Maro Wood Grill has seating in front of the kitchen fire grill, similar to that at a chef’s table; enjoying life while you are also welcome to watch and learn.  Watch Debra at work on the day’s specials, or chat it up with your neighbor.

The very congenial atmosphere includes counter seating as well as two private tables.  With outdoor dining available on the deck, the cozy space provides seating for just 17-20.  They take reservations for two seatings per night (6 and 8), assuring you of an intimate environment, including a stylish and warm firepit on the deck, and amiable grill-master, Maro, heading up the sizzle factor at the wood fire.

“It’s like inviting 40 good friends to dinner”, says owner Maro Molteni.

Maro earned his restaurant chops in New York City, at the Tapas Bar, but more importantly he retains his cultural upbringing in Argentina by relishing in all things seared over an open fire.  Skirt steaks grilled to tender perfection are what he oversees on Maro Wood Grill’s coals. “We are careful not to use spices to overpower the beef and chicken.  The wood-smoke flavor comes through and we use the Chimichurri to season it”.

Chimichurri is a typical Argentine blend of fresh herbs, spices and vegetables that add a kick and counter balance to the tender grilled skirt steak.  Many of Maro Grill’s fans have requested to purchase the delicious condiment, but both Maro and Debra agree that the amount of chopping and prep time required are just too labor-intensive to price it for the take-out market.  (Maro Grill was kind enough to share the recipe with Laguna Stew).

Maro Grill does handle some take-out orders (though nothing at all like previous tenants A La Carte), and they do catering.

On Thursday through Saturday nights there is a prix-fixe menu including soup, empanada, salad, main course and dessert.  Closed Mondays, you can expect a variety of eclectic menu options for both lunch and dinner the rest of the week.  For example, this week they were featuring a Lebanese-inspired menu with Kabobs and fresh hummus.  Fridays will often feature seafood dishes, like their bacon-wrapped scallops and fresh bouillabaisse.

Desserts are not to be missed, with velvety angel food cakes and pastries with grilled bananas sweetening the deal.

There is a selection of wines from California and Argentina, Stone Brewery beer from Escondido and even an Argentine beer (who knew?).

Maro Grill, open Tuesday, Wednesday, and Sunday from noon until 8 p.m.  Thursday, Friday and Saturday, lunch from noon - 3, and Prix-Fixe dinner menu from six o’clock until midnight, with seatings at 6 and 8 p.m.

Laguna Stew recipe of the week

Lumberyard Restaurant Roasted Tomato Bisque


3lbs  Plum Tomatoes, halved, roasted with olive oil, kosher salt (canned may be substituted)

2oz fresh garlic, minced

2/3 cup lemon juice

1 lb roasted red peppers (peeled and minced)

2 cups tomato juice

1/3 cup tomato paste

½ cup sugar

4 oz fresh basil leaves

2 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp black pepper

Blend above ingredients until smooth

1-½ lbs cauliflower

2-½ cups vegetable broth

1 tsp kosher salt

1 tsp black pepper

½ cup sugar

3 cups cream (milk, low fat milk or soy milk may be substituted)

Steam cauliflower until soft, combine with vegetable broth salt, pepper and sugar.  Blend until smooth – stir in tomato basil mixture and cream – heat soup to simmer and serve.

Veggie Burgers that Taste Good…Holy Cow!



It was less than a year ago that I discovered my love for the veggie burger. Growing up in a rural logging and fishing town in Oregon, the phrase “veggie burger” just didn’t enter our vernacular. We were raised on meat and potatoes.

I went East for college and started trying new things – sushi, curry and Thai, to name a few. But still, I was leery of the veggie. I considered myself a meat eater and wore my badge with pride.

It wasn’t until about a year ago, after completing a 14-day Master Cleanse, that I began appreciating the veggie. I started craving greens – steamed spinach and asparagus – roasted peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and squash. Shortly thereafter, I tried my first veggie burger at Laguna’s Orange Inn. “Holy cow,” I thought. “Veggie burgers taste good!” Needless to say, my taste buds responded with glee and I’ve been hooked on veggie burgers ever since.

What follows is my personal journey through Laguna’s veggie burger scene. I’ve listed a few of my favorites at the top:

Heidelberg Café: Consistently one of my favorites, Heidelberg’s homemade patty is made with spinach, red bell peppers, zucchini, and garlic and is served on 7-grain bread with Dijon mustard, tomatoes, pickles, and red onion, along with a mixed green salad or roasted potatoes and fresh fruit. Insiders’ recommendation: sub the Greek salad for the mixed green salad at no extra cost. ($9.95)

Zinc Café: Delicious homemade burger made with brown rice, oats, onions, celery, mushrooms, egg, mozzarella cheese, garlic, parsley, cloves, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Prepared on ciabbata style bread and served with all the traditional burger trimmings ($8.95). Worth the upgrade: add guacamole and cheese for an extra $2.00.

Orange Inn: Mushroom, rice and cheese patty toasted with cheese, avocado and onion and served with a side of tortilla chips, homemade pico de gallo, and an orange wedge. John, owner since ‘84, loves greeting his regulars with handshakes, bear hugs and kisses, and is one of the perfect examples of why we love Laguna Beach. Regular ($6.95); Deluxe ($7.95)

The Stand: I love sitting outside on a nice day and enjoying The Stand’s colossal veggie burger, with its towering height and list of ingredients. Their Vegan burger is made with a soy-based premade patty (Gardenburger Flame Grilled) and is served on a homemade whole wheat burger bun with guacamole, alfalfa sprouts, homemade salsa, lemon herb dressing, organic natural pickles, green leaf lettuce, sunflower greens, and natural organic mustard and ketchup. Also served with a side of tortilla chips. My gluten-free sister’s favorite veggie burger in Laguna. ($6.95)

Veggie Burger 1

The Stand

Nirvana Grille: Gourmet housemade Vegan and gluten-free patty with organic brown rice, polenta , sautéed onions, mushrooms, zucchini, carrots, and herbs for taste (including cumin). Accompanied by lettuce, tomato and caramelized onions, and served with thin cut thyme paprika fries. Choice of four cheeses including blue, cheddar, Swiss or Havarti. ($12) Add avocado, sautéed mushrooms or bacon for extra $2 each.

Nick’s Laguna Beach: Delicious homemade veggie burger with avocado, Swiss cheese, Firestick onions, mixed greens, tomato, and herb mayo served on a wheat bun. Served with a choice of fries, warm potato salad, seasonal roasted vegetables or Thai peanut coleslaw. ($11)

Veggie Burger 2

Nick’s Laguna Beach

Tommy Bahama: Housemade veggie burger served four different ways. Patty made with black beans, rice, onions, carrots, celery, and homemade spices to season it up. I love eating this when “power lunching” with clients. ($13)

Smokehouse: Toasted brioche, roasted garlic aioli, sharp white cheddar, red onion, Nueske’s Applewood bacon, BBQ ketchup, fries

Mushroom & Onion: Toasted brioche, roasted garlic aioli, Dubliner, braised mushrooms, grilled yellow onion, crispy shiitakes, fries

Harvest: Toasted brioche, roasted garlic aioli, pepperjack, watercress, cucumber, baby green side salad

Laguna: Toasted brioche, roasted chili mayo, pepperjack, guacamole, watercress, fries

Husky Boy Burgers: No-nonsense homemade garden burger patty with bell peppers, zucchinis, carrots, onions, and bread crumbs. Served with mayo, lettuce, and tomato. ($7.50) Add $1 for cheese. Add a side of fries for $1.95.

Café Vienna: Vegetarian burger (Italian zucchini, red peppers, onion, spinach, cream cheese, bread crumbs on the outside) on a 9-grain bun, roasted potatoes and fruit. Also offered at nearby sister restaurant, Sands Café at Aliso Beach. ($8.95)

Madison Square Garden and Café: Grilled with mushrooms and cheese on a cheese focaccia bun. Served with house fries or fresh cut fruit. Great place to bring your dog, as owner Jon Madison hands out complimentary doggie treats for all canines. ($11.95)

Taco Loco: Burgers come with mayo, mustard, and ketchup with a choice of rice or chips, plus fresh guacamole and salsa. Offered three ways:

Blackened Mushrooms & Tofu – tofu patty ($5.50)

Blackened Veggie Phish - Vegan protein patty wrapped in seaweed ($6.00)

Blackened Hemp - tofu patty with organic hemp seeds ($6.25)

Veggie Burger 3

Taco Loco

Mozambique: Specially ordered vegetarian garden burger made with mushrooms, water chestnuts, carrots, onions, green and red peppers, and black olives. Served with hummus, tomato, lettuce and a choice of side salad or fries. ($10)

GG’s Bistro: Specially ordered veggie patty with mustard, mayo and a dill pickle. Served with fries or side salad. ($9)

French 75 Relaunch photo gallery

Photos by Faye Chapman

Story on Front Page


Nirvana Grille

Maggi H PhotoMaggi Henrikson

Lindsay Smith Photo“Local girl makes good” is just one of many stories about Lindsay Smith-Rosales.  She grew up in Laguna Beach, trained at the Orange Coast College Culinary Program, then went on to learn everything from soup to nuts at restaurant Pascal, and at the Ritz-Carlton.  She found her wings in the catering business she ran with her husband, Luis, for seven years.  When they opened their first restaurant in Mission Viejo it was a pleasant surprise to notice the accolades that followed:  “A slice of foodie paradise” (Westways magazine), “Top 10 Chefs under 40” (OCMetro magazine).

Executive chef, Lindsay Smith-Rosales has been honored with many further accolades, including “Great Chefs of Orange County” (Balboa Bay Club) and “Culinary Master” (Roosters Foundation).  Now she has her dream-come-true hometown restaurant, Nirvana Grille, in Laguna Beach.

With an atmosphere she describes as both stylish and quaint, Smith-Rosales focuses her culinary sensibility on what she defines as “Clean California”. “Our philosophy begins at the local level, working closely with local area growers and purveyors to ensure that we can source organic produce, natural meats, wild fish and free-range chicken of the highest quality possible”.

Nirvana, a word that means bliss; harmony in mind, body and spirit.  Nirvana Grille, a place to find healthy, organic dishes that delight the senses.

Smith-Rosales grew up with vegetarian parents, in the forefront of the natural foods life-style.  She remembers going to school with tofu flavored with Bragg’s liquid aminos.  She laughs now, “No one wanted to share my lunch!”  But she learned early on how to balance flavors from unusual pairings, and how to be very discerning in her taste. Nirvana Grille’s fare consists of American, French, and Asian influences.

One of the tasty and innovative vegetarian offerings is the “Blackened Seitan and Poblano Chile”, a seitan wheat protein on a bed of jasmine rice with a roasted poblano chile stuffed with artichoke, spinach, cream and parmesan cheese served with a chipotle cream sauce.

Nirvana Grille Photo

There is an amazing sea bass dish, already deemed a Nirvana signature classic: Pistachio Dijon Crusted Chilean Sea Bass. Prepared with beurre blanc and served atop caramelized leek mashed Yukon gold potatoes and asparagus in lemon oil, it is a beautiful harmony of sweet and savory.

Seabass Photo

One of Nirvana Grille’s small plate selections are great for late-night snacking or to accompany your elixer martini, on their “Bliss Rooftop”. Try the Chicken Wontons; diced chicken, pine nuts, cilantro and manchego cheese fried in wonton wrappers and served with a chipotle cream sauce, or the popular Chilean Blue Lip Mussels; sautéed in a light cream broth with tomatoes, leeks, shallots and herbs, topped with thyme paprika French fries.

The opinionated section of Laguna Stew cannot resist recommending the Blue Cheese Crusted All-Natural Angus Filet Mignon, a grilled center-cut filet topped with a blue cheese, herb and crumb crust and drizzled with a red wine reduction (served with sautéed spinach and mashed potatoes too, mmm!).  Smith-Rosales supports this, “we cut all our meat in-house, so it’s at its freshest, and you have many ways in which to use the cuts.  The center cuts are nice and thick, the flatter part of the meat is great for our small-plate brochettes”.

Martinis and elixirs plus a wide selection of wines are offered in the cozy communal bar, dining room and trendy rooftop patio.  They home-make their limoncello, and all the juice mixers are crafted with fresh fruit purees.

Nirvana Grille is having special Mother’s Day events, including a Buffet Brunch ($49 adults, $19 kids aged 2-12), with choices like salmon and potato leek pancakes, crab and lobster omelettes, French toast and fruits, and also a three-course dinner special ($45/ person).

Other specials include:

Happy Hour all night, every night, for 50% off appetizers, salads, and soup in the communal bar areas.

Tuesdays are 20% off for locals (ID required).

Wednesdays BYOB (no corkage fee) plus 20% off all bottles of wine purchased.

Nirvana Grille’s location is available for private events, large party and catered events. The rooftop is a perfect spot for private cocktail receptions.

303 Broadway (at the corner of Beach)

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Cameron Gillepsie, Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

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