Adventures in Gastronomy

April Steinert


Turkey Burgers

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There are so many veggies in this recipe that you could call it a veggie burger instead of a turkey burger. I developed this recipe when my youngest son was still repelled by all things that sprout from the earth. I would peel the zucchini and grate it into the turkey so there would be no offending green specks (the bell pepper, basil, and scallions came on the scene later). When you have a child who subsists strictly on white or beige food, you have to get clever with your chef-y tactics. Call it veggie tradecraft. 

You could also skip the burgers and make a meatloaf. Just top with quality tomato sauce and sprinkle with some grated cheese. Bake in a 400-degree oven until the internal temperature reaches 160-degrees. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before cutting. 

The zucchini and other veggies make the burgers nutritious and keep the lean turkey from drying out.   

1 small zucchini, grated fine

1 pound of ground turkey

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 red bell pepper, diced small

3 scallions, green part only, sliced very thinly

1/2 Cup panko crumbs

1/2 tsp. salt

ground pepper

1 egg, whisked well

1/4 Cup fresh basil, minced

Add zucchini, garlic, red pepper, panko, egg, basil, and turkey to a large bowl. 

Mix all of the ingredients together by hand and form patties (I was able to get five decent patties out of my meat mixture). 

Push your thumb into the middle to create a well in each of the patties to stop them from bulking up in the middle.  

When cooking on a grill, it’s preferable to use a plancha (cast-iron griddle) or some other grill-safe flat surface. The burgers will be very loose and fall apart easily. 

They’re done when the internal temperature reaches 160-degrees.

Eat well!


“I won’t be impressed with technology until I can download food.” – Author Unknown

Taco Tour: Uncovering Five of the Best Fish Tacos in Laguna Beach

Story and photos by ELIZABETH NUTT

Each year, as Cinco de Mayo rolls around, I am tempted by one of my favorite Mexican dishes: fish tacos. There’s something about fresh fish—grilled, blackened or fried—on a soft tortilla, accompanied by a slice of lime and a cold Corona that’s just so satisfying, no matter the day or month. 

This year, with Cinco de Mayo right around the corner, I decided to take on the task of finding the perfect fish taco in Laguna Beach by trying nearly all of the town’s offerings of the local staple. The verdict? There are many enticing options, but some of the best fish tacos can be found found in surprising places. I discovered that the dish is served across the board in creative and innovative ways in some of Laguna’s favorite eateries; from comfort food and California cuisine, to Mexican and American fare, there are countless restaurants around town that offer delicious variations of fish tacos. 

And the best part about this dish is that every restaurant does it differently, and has a different vision when it comes to perfecting it, from the type of fish it uses and how the fish is cooked, to the sauces, spices and the sides with which it’s served. 

I found my top five fish tacos in the following restaurants: Coyote Grill; Sapphire Laguna; Rasta Taco; Tommy Bahama; and Big Fish Tavern. Undoubtedly, good fish tacos are ubiquitous in Laguna, and there’s no better time than now to enjoy them.

Coyote Grill: The beloved south Laguna spot has been making grilled fish tacos for almost 27 years. Coyote Grill uses grilled mahi-mahi that is seasoned simply and topped with its secret sauce, shredded cabbage, shredded cheese, diced tomatoes, and cilantro, wrapped in a soft corn tortilla. It’s a little taste of Baja! 

Coyote Grill, located at 31621 South Coast Highway, is open Sunday-Thursday from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Happy Hour is offered daily from 3-6 p.m. 

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Coyote Grill’s Grilled Fish Taco

Sapphire Laguna: Delicious rockfish—a white fish—is the centerpiece of Sapphire’s ‘Mama’s Blackened Fish Tacos.’ The dish is served with cabbage slaw, spicy remoulade and pickled vegetables, and is best enjoyed outside on the restaurant’s impressive patio, which offers ocean views. 

The fish tacos are available during lunch, which is served Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., during the restaurant’s “Sunset Hour,” Monday-Friday from 2:30-5:30 p.m., during “Intermezzo” on Saturday and Sunday from 3-4:30 p.m., and during weekend brunch, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Sapphire is located at 1200 South Coast Highway. 

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Sapphire’s ‘Mama’s Blackened Fish Tacos’

Tommy Bahama: The island-themed restaurant serves an unbelievably good fish taco—with a twist. Their house recipe uses a perfectly blackened basa—a white fish—tomato relish, island slaw, and lime sour cream. 

They’re delicious as is—one of the best in town, in my opinion—but they’re served with a special, dessert-like side, which makes it the perfect entree. Accompanying the fish tacos is a bowl of heavenly, grilled, sweet plantains, which are served with a house-made pineapple and coconut yogurt.  

Tommy Bahama is located at 400 South Coast Highway, and is open daily at 11 a.m. ‘Island Time Happy Hour’ runs from 3-6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 9-10 p.m. on Thursday, and 10 p.m. to 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. 

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Tommy Bahama’s Blackened Fish Tacos 

Rasta Taco: The fish taco was recently added to Rasta Taco’s menu after its January opening, and the dish was a welcome addition to the Jamaica-inspired restaurant’s menu. It’s undoubtedly one of the best fish tacos in Laguna.

The Ensenada-style, seasoned and grilled tilapia fish tacos are served with fresh chipotle sauce and habanero coleslaw. The best part about ordering fish tacos at Rasta Taco is the fact that you can order one, two, three, or four—or more. 

Rasta Taco is located at 170 Beach Street, and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. for lunch and dinner. 

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Photo courtesy of Rasta Taco

Rasta Taco’s Seasoned and Grilled Tilapia Fish Tacos

Big Fish Tavern: Big Fish is Laguna’s go-to spot for unbelievably fresh fish, and the fish tacos are no exception. The dish includes tilapia, which you can order blackened or grilled, and Napa cabbage, pico de gallo and cilantro sauce. 

My recommendation is to enjoy the fish tacos during Happy Hour, which runs Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., where you can order a discounted cerveza to accompany the mouthwatering dish—all while taking in views of the sunset from one of the restaurant’s many windows. 

Big Fish, located at 540 South Coast Highway, is open Monday-Saturday from 11:30 a.m. close, and Sunday 10 a.m. to close. 

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Big Fish’s Fresh Fish Tacos

A Laguna royal welcome to the new Royal Hawaiian


The Royal Hawaiian has found new footing thanks to Laguna resident, Mo Honarker. Honarkar once owned the Heisler building, downtown, and so briefly owned the Jolly Roger, yet another iconic Laguna restaurant. Last year he purchased the Royal Hawaiian property with the intention of bringing it back to life.

This week, Project Manager Brian Smith, Consultant Eric Bostwick, and newly hired General Manager Carlos Godinez were putting their heads together for the final run in preparation for the grand opening, slated to be May 27.

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Photo by Maggi 

(Left to right): Carlos Godinez, Eric Bostwick, and Brian Smith – the brain trust working on Royal Hawaiian’s opening

“It will be a bar and grill, in keeping with the classic Hawaiian fusion. We’ll have fresh fish tacos, sandwiches, pineapple teriyaki chicken burgers – and we got the original recipe for the Ono Ono Salad,” said Bostwick. “And, of course, Lapu Lapu’s.”

“We don’t want it to seem too high end,” added Smith. “A welcoming, comfortable atmosphere, where you can re-live old memories and make new ones.”

The original Royal Hawaiian owner happened to stop by this week, and Godinez says she was really happy for them. “She also said on their Facebook page, ‘We wish them the best of luck. Let’s give them a Royal welcome!’”

The buzz is happy and very busy, with ordering and installing brand-new kitchen equipment, re-upholstering the furniture, and cleaning up the tiki lamps. And then there’s hiring. Since Stu News published the first notification, Smith’s inbox has been full. “We’ve met 25 people and offered 12 jobs since Monday,” he said.

The look of the new Royal Hawaiian will be familiar, yet refreshed. Up front is the bar and music space – they’ll definitely continue the music scene, while being respectfulof neighbors. There will be happy hour specials every day from 3 – 6 p.m., and a special locals night (they’re thinking Tuesdays). There’s a banquet room that seats 23, and they are also hoping to get permitted for outdoor patio tables.

And, of course, there will be an opening party with food samples and drink specials. Details have not been finalized but Smith assures us it will be on May 27.

Step up your Cinco de Mayo plans at Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico 

Story and photos by ELIZABETH NUTT

 When it comes to choosing good Mexican food in Laguna Beach, the options are seemingly endless. But when it comes to choosing an upscale, gourmet Mexican restaurant just steps from the beach, there’s only one possibility: Laguna’s Carmelita’s Kitchen de Mexico. 

Carmelita’s offers an unparalleled Mexican food and restaurant experience. From its cozy interior and ocean views, to its made-from-scratch margaritas and incredibly fresh seafood options, this is a restaurant that’s meant to be savored. And perhaps that’s because authentic Mexican recipes—with culinary roots in Puebla and Guadalajara—passed down from generations to Carmelita’s owner inspired the menu. 

The restaurant was established in 1962, and opened in Laguna Beach in 2012. Its head chef, Javier Perez, is known for sourcing local ingredients—such as those found at the Laguna Beach farmers’ market—which contributes to the eatery’s unparalleled freshness. 

Whether you’re looking to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in style, or simply enjoy some of the tastiest seafood in town, check out this fantastic restaurant’s south-of-the-border offerings. 

Get Started With a Margarita—and More

To really get the Carmelita’s experience right, you’ve got to try one of the restaurant’s famed handcrafted margaritas. There are several different versions of the classic beverage on the menu, but they all share two similar ingredients: fresh-squeezed limes and home cooked agave. 

The Pineapple Jalapeno margarita, made with blanco tequila and grilled pineapple, comes with a chile rim and is the perfect blend of spicy and sweet. Or, for something a little more refreshing, try the Cilantro Cucumber margarita, which is made with blanco tequila and muddled, fresh cilantro and cucumber. 

The bar also offers an impressive selection of tequila if you’re looking to simplify your order—everything from Don Julio to Carmelita’s Tequila—as well as four Mexican beers: Corona, Corona Light, Modelo Especial, and Bohemia.

While you’re waiting, complimentary chips, salsa, and Carmelita’s delicious homemade black bean dip will arrive at your table—the perfect complement to any beverage. 

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Carmelita’s Made-to-Order Guacamole 

Be sure to try the guacamole, too—it’s made to order, and tastes so fresh. Carmelita’s takes a slightly different spin here, too, adding chipotle, fresh cucumber, and a bit of cojita cheese to its guacamole recipe. 

The Mexico City Corn is a mouthwatering must-try starter as well; it comes with a fresh, juicy ear of corn on the cob, which is fire roasted and covered in cilantro and queso fresco. And the citrus-cooked shrimp ceviche is unbelievably fresh and delicious, too. 

Seafood Specialties

What I love about Carmelita’s is that there’s something for everyone. From the tostada salad and spinach enchiladas to the blackened chicken burrito and crispy chimichangas, the menu will satiate every appetite. Everything is made fresh using traditional cocina techniques—from the salsa to the tortillas, so you really can’t go wrong with any order. 

But the seafood at Carmelita’s truly shines, and there are many enticing, fresh, and tasty options—so many, that the menu’s entrees and specialties sections can sometimes be overwhelming. Which is why my favorite—and arguably the best dish on the menu—is the Marisco Trio. 

Here, you get a little bit of everything: a lobster enchilada, a crab-and-shrimp stuffed chili relleno, and a shrimp taco, and it comes with a made-from-scratch sauce, and served over a heaping portion of beans and rice. 

Everything on this dish is savory, flavorful, and so good you’ll want to order it twice. 

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The Marisco Trio 

If you’re looking for a more classic Mexican dish, opt for the unbelievably good fish tacos. They’re made with wild halibut, wine roasted, and they come with house-made lemon tartar sauce. This dish is anything but your basic taco entrée. 

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Grilled Halibut Fish Tacos

Oftentimes, the restaurant will boast a mouthwatering Chilean sea bass special. If it’s on the menu, order it—it’s not to be missed. 

To top it all off, you can have your choice of two traditional Mexican desserts: flan or churros. The flan is prepared with vanilla, grand marnier and whipped cream, and the churros are caramel infused and come with a chocolate martini—the perfect way to end the perfect meal. 

Carmelita’s is located at 217 Broadway Street. The restaurant is open Monday-Friday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Breakfast is served on the weekends. For more information, visit

There is nothing like hot pizza and cold beer—and Wine Gallery nails the classic combo every time

Story and photos by ELIZABETH NUTT

Ice-cold beer and piping hot pizza—it’s a classic, ubiquitous combination that many restaurants offer, perhaps because it’s so hard to get wrong. But when it’s done right, its flavors rival that of any fine wine and gourmet food pairing.

It may surprise you when I declare that Laguna’s Wine Gallery has mastered the art of the elevated pizza and beer combo. Of course, the restaurant does indeed have an extensive wine list curated specifically to bring out all of the flavors of its diverse menu. But its pizzas and beers should not be overlooked—and in fact they offer just as many options when it comes to selecting complementary flavors that have the power to transform your dining experience.  

“There’s something about baked bread and cheese that lends itself so well to the refreshing, carbonated elements of beer,” says Wine Gallery’s owner, Chris Olsen.

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Chris Olsen, Wine Gallery’s Owner, Pours a Brew

But, after sitting down with Chris and tasting through the menu, I realized it’s not so simple. Wine Gallery takes its pizza making and beer selecting to a different level, ensuring that you’ll never have a more perfect pairing. 

Pizza Perfection

Chris opened the Wine Gallery’s Laguna Beach location in Sept 2012. Three years prior, he had opened the Wine Gallery’s Corona del Mar location—a large retail wine store with a slightly smaller kitchen and menu. As such, one of the first things he did with his Laguna restaurant was take advantage of the available space and purchase a wood-fired brick oven. According to Chris, he was one of the first Laguna-area restaurant owners to install a real, true wood-fired brick oven, which makes a huge difference when it comes to cooking quality pizza. 

“To me, it’s similar to tasting wine, and detecting the oak, for example,” explains Chris. “I can taste the difference between a gas-fired oven, and a real wood-fired brick oven. With a wood-fired brick oven, you can taste the char and some of those delicious, wood-imparted flavors,” he adds.

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Wine Gallery’s Wood-Fired Brick Oven

Wine Gallery’s brick oven uses almond wood, which is grown here in California. A dense wood, it maintains its temperature—between 700 and 800 degrees—well. And you can tell the difference. Wine Gallery’s thin pizza crust has that authentic, homemade flavor and texture, and it’s cooked perfectly and evenly. 

Chris also told me that the chefs make their own mozzarella and pizza dough daily, which undoubtedly lends itself to the creation of some of the best pies in town. The menu includes roughly eight different pizzas, and there’s a unique ‘pizza of the day’ option daily.

‘Tapping’ Into the Best Combos 

Once I understood what sets the pizza apart at Wine Gallery, it was time to talk about Chris’s beer selection. For a restaurant whose walls are decorated with wine bottles—and whose menu includes nine white wines by the glass and over a dozen reds by the glass—I had to ask, why beer? 

“Well, with the craft beer industry taking off, at the end of the day it was about offering more to the customer,” says Chris. “And, Laguna Beach being a laid-back beach town, I wanted to feature some good local craft beers, too,” he adds. 

Wine Gallery offers six beers on tap, and it has plans to add four more tap handles in the near future. Chris rotates the beer regularly, but he always stocks the restaurant with tasty options primarily from local craft breweries, including Laguna Beach’s own Laguna Beach Beer Company. Typically, the taps will include 2-3 IPA-style beers, a pilsner, and red, blonde and brown ale.

“Many brewers use a similar approach as winemakers when it comes to small-production… and a lot of brewers appreciate good wine. There was a saying I loved in wine country, ‘It takes a lot of beer to make wine,’” Chris says with a laugh.

And, believe it or not, there’s a similar science when it comes to wine and food pairings and beer and food pairings. 

Following Chris’s advice, I tried his favorite beer first. Artifex Brewing Company, based in San Clemente, makes an unbelievably light and refreshing beer called Show Me Your Roots Blonde Ale—perfect with lighter, vegetarian pizzas. I paired it with a few slices of the margarita pizza, which is my favorite, and a Wine Gallery staple. 

 Next, I tried the Oscar Blues Brewing Company’s (not local, but another one of Chris’s favorites) pilsner with a couple slices of the pizza of the day, which was made with pesto, mozzarella, chicken, heirloom tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. It was amazing to me how the pilsner actually did enhance the flavors of the pesto and cheeses. 

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Margarita Pizza and the ‘Pizza of the Day’

Next, I tried some of Wine Gallery’s heartier pizza offerings—and a few other samplings of beer. 

“Fuller-bodied beer demands fuller-bodied food,” explains Chris, who poured for me Laguna Beach Beer Company’s Canyon Road Red Ale, which paired perfectly with the fungus pizza—made with house made mozzarella, goat cheese, truffle oil, mushrooms, garlic, parsley and shallot. According to Chris, the caramel notes of the red ale pair perfectly with the savory truffle oil flavor. 

And, finally, I combined Smog City Brewing Company’s full-bodied and flavorful Hoptonic IPA with the spicier calabrese pizza, made with tomato sauce, house made mozzarella, parmesan, oregano and calabrese salami. The hoppy IPA complemented—and even cut a little bit of—the spiciness of the calabrese. 

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More Mouthwatering Wine Gallery Pizza

It didn’t surprise me that, over the course of my menu tasting, the restaurant became increasingly packed. As locals dropped in, Chris greeted them by name and helped them pick out their beer and wine (he is also a certified sommelier and he makes his own wine, which is available at Wine Gallery). 

With minimalistic décor, an easy, comfortable vibe, friendly staff and an extensive menu that also includes items like short rib tacos and steak frites, it’s easy to understand why this is a constantly buzzing locals’ spot. And it’s a spot that is now officially on the map as Laguna’s best pizza-and-beer destination. 

Wine Gallery, located at 1833 South Coast Highway, is open Tuesday-Sunday from 5-11 p.m., with live music on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and the last Sunday of each month. The restaurant also offers dog-friendly and family-friendly outdoor patio seating, and a Happy Hour Tuesday-Friday from 5-6 p.m. 

For more information, visit

The Cliff Restaurant has rolled out a new menu - and it’s just for dogs! 

Story and photos by ELIZABETH NUTT

The Cliff Restaurant is well known for offering sweeping views of the ocean—and incredible sunsets—as well as regular live music and delicious, seasonally inspired California cuisine. 

But, as of this week, the family-owned Laguna Beach staple will become well known for an entirely different reason: its ‘Precious’s Puppy Plates’ dog menu. 

On April 4, The Cliff rolled out a brand-new, innovative, and surprisingly healthy menu for its canine customers, moving the eatery to the very top of my list of favorite dog-friendly establishments. 

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Barbie Waits for Lunch at The Cliff Restaurant

Of course, The Cliff has always been dog friendly; dogs are an integral part of its ambiance, and they partake in everything from the outdoor fire pit and live music scenes, to the weddings that occur regularly at the beachfront restaurant. 

Some may recall my write-up on Laguna Beach’s best dog-friendly restaurants and wonder why The Cliff wasn’t included. My answer? It deserves its own story to go along with its new menu and for being the ‘top dog’ in town when it comes to friendliness, views and food. 

Taking Dog-Friendly to a New Level

“We have always been dog-friendly—we’re family-owned, and everyone in our family has dogs. We have special areas throughout the restaurant for our locals to dine with their dogs,” explains Sharon Haron, who co-owns the restaurant with her sister, Kathy Gibson. 

And almost all of The Cliff’s customers love dogs, too. So much so that, according to Sharon, patrons would regularly order menu items—The Cliff’s hamburger, for example—for their four-legged friends. 

Noticing this trend, Sharon started to bring in to the restaurant a supply of Grrr8 Dog Treats—homemade, healthy and organic treats that are made by a friend of Sharon’s veterinarian. The treats are baked fresh and contain only natural ingredients.

Precious, Sharon’s 15-year-old dog, loves them, and so does every other dog that’s been fortunate enough to get their paws on one of Grrr8’s many treat flavors, which include Calamari, Apple Oat, Carrot Molasses and Peanut Butter Crunch. 

“We thought, ‘Why don’t we put these treats on the menu?’” says Sharon. “And then we decided that if we were going to do that, we might as well put some other options on the menu, too.” 

Previously, when customers ordered menu items for their dogs, the staff would be concerned about ensuring that the kitchen removed spices and any other ingredients that may be harmful or toxic for dogs.

“Now, we have a special, separate menu, so when guests order off of that for their dogs, they know that all of the dishes are safe and healthy,” adds Sharon. 

The menu includes items such as Chicken Breast, Oatmeal, Beef Patty, and Prime Rib—in addition to an impressive selection of Grrr8 Dog Treats, which arrive in a 4 oz. cup that your dog is sure to devour in seconds. 

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The Cliff’s New Dog-Friendly Menu

According to Sharon, the restaurant plans to serve all the dog dishes—which come with complimentary bowls of ice water—on Frisbees. 

A Dog-Friendly 10th Anniversary Party 

The Cliff Restaurant will celebrate its ten-year anniversary this spring and, of course, the fete both welcomes and celebrates dogs. The restaurant will host an event on Sunday, April 17, from 12-5 p.m., which will include live music by Anesha Rose and O.S.N.D, as well as appetizers, birthday cake, and tastes from Stillhouse Moonshine and Deep Eddy Vodka. 

There is a $10 cover charge for the event, and half of the proceeds will benefit 4Life Animal Rescue, whose mission is to provide care and resources to animals in need. The organization offers adoption, education, training, and rehabilitation services to ensure that neglected or unwanted animals receive the care they need and deserve.

There will be dogs available for adoption during the event. All dogs are welcome to partake in the party—and to taste some items from the new menu, which is available now and daily during breakfast, lunch and dinner at The Cliff.  

The Cliff Restaurant is located at 577 South Coast Highway. It’s open every day from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. for breakfast, and 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. for lunch. The restaurant offers a Happy Hour Monday through Thursday from 3-6 p.m., and from 9 p.m. until closing. Dinner is available from 5-9 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, and 5-10 p.m. Thursday-Saturday. 

For more information, visit



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