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Restaurants ready (again) for outdoor dining

By Diane Armitage

This week, when Governor Newsom lifted the regional stay at home order, it didn’t take long for restaurants to get the message. Cleared to fly for outside dining again, just about every Laguna Beach restaurant owner has been hustling to get their outdoor patios back in play.

Extended permitting from the City is allowing the restaurants to continue to design “patio seating” in creative locations. 

Chef Craig at Ristorante Rumari is re-perching tables, chairs, and bar stools on a back parking lot again (which I didn’t even know existed until last summer). 

Restaurants ready Rumari patio

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Courtesy of Ristorante Rumari

Ristorante Rumari is reopening its back lot patio (with a view!)

Broadway by Amar Santana’s Ahmed Labbate is setting up again in the neighborly bank parking lot. “We have a great deal of ordering and setup to do and rain has been predicted through Friday,” said Ahmed. “So, our first outdoor dining reservations are being taken for this Saturday, Jan 30.”

Hundreds of chairs and tables are also returning to our storefront sidewalks, from South Laguna’s NEA Pizza to North Laguna’s Asada

Still others have decided to wait

Popular newcomer AhbA opened in August 2019, just weeks before being plunged into the usual quiet winter. And then, it turned even quieter last March. While Owner Nick Bennett has struggled admirably through the changes, he noted that he’s “decided to wait awhile longer.”

Restaurants ready AhbA

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Courtesy of AHBA

Popular AHBA has elected to wait before reopening

“We’re going to wait until the mandates are lifted and frustrations subside,” he said. “Until our seats are ready to be sat in, and tables are ready for dishes, we’re waiting until we are able to serve our community the way it has served us.” 

Chef Greg Daniels of Harley is also taking a few moments to survey the landscape before reopening for outdoor dining, noting that predicted rain this weekend has him thinking through his options. 

Takeout and delivery remains in play

Despite the reprieve for outdoor dining, Laguna Beach restaurants continue to add more items to their takeout and delivery menus. 

“There are plenty of people who still don’t feel comfortable eating at restaurants, whether it’s because of COVID or because it’s winter or whatever,” said Maro Molteni of Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill

“So, of course we’re still continuing our takeout menu. We love feeding people at home. We’re just able to add more options there when we open for outdoor dining here.”

Family meal offerings expand 

Last weekend, I enjoyed a very small birthday gathering for my dear friend, Nelson Coates, at Ruben Flores’ new Laguna Nursery location. Royal Hawaiian provided the Friday evening “family meal” of wood-grilled salmon and vegetables with potatoes and house salad. As usual, it was a fantastic, hearty meal.

Restaurants ready salmon

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Courtesy of Royal Hawaiian

Royal Hawaiian’s Friday Salmon Meal offers a significant plank

On Monday night this week, my neighbors, Tom and Joao, called me for help on finding a restaurant open on Monday night. They opted for Lumberyard, ordering two of my favorites from the menu – Crab Cake Salad and Rotisserie Chicken Dinners. They dropped an order of the Rotisserie Chicken dinner at my door; it was sheer heaven on a cold Monday evening. 

And a week prior, I ordered Nick’s Family Style Buttermilk Fried Chicken Dinner for yet another small birthday party. 

With Chef Ryan (formerly 370 Common + Kitchen restaurant) taking his fabulous fried chicken to the Orange Circle in the City of Orange, it’s good to know that we still have a couple restaurants we can rely upon for the homestyle cookin’ of fried chicken. It’s the first time I’ve tried Nick’s fried chicken and it definitely is worth repeat orders. 

Restaurants ready Nick's chicken

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Courtesy of Nick’s

Nicks’ Fried Chicken Dinner includes plenty for five

Nick’s delivers a giant sack with dinner for five for just $70. It includes a hearty bistro salad, grilled sweet corn on the cob, cornbread muffins, fluffy mashed potatoes with buttermilk creamy gravy (yum), and five boneless, perfectly-crispy fried chicken breasts. Finish the meal with Nick’s famed warm butter cake and you’ll be ready for contented binge watching on the couch. 

Restaurant Directory updated 

I’ve updated most of the individual restaurant listings for new hours and days of operation in my Best of Laguna Beach Restaurant Directory. I’m also adding in new information on family dinners as well as upcoming Valentine’s Day plans, whether for outdoor dining or takeout. Please click here for the most up-to-the-minute details; check directly with your restaurant of choice about rainy day seating options. 

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at https://thebestoflagunabeach.com/ and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).