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Burger Week satisfies mid-summer cravings

By Diane Armitage

Just when you thought you could get started on that diet after all your comfort food eating, Burger Week rolls around. (So, yes I’d recommend you put that diet off just one more week.)

From Sunday, July 12th through this Saturday, restaurants throughout L.A. and Orange County are joining forces to celebrate the great American burger. More than 100 restaurants are participating with offers of everything from beef to beet and prairie-based to plant-based. 

Mozambique & Skyloft featuring six burgers

Here in Laguna Beach, three restaurants have officially partnered with Burger Week. 

Mozambique is offering three types of “burgers,” including the 10-ounce Mozambique Steak Burger with cheddar cheese and applewood smoked bacon, a Grilled Herb Chicken Sandwich with Swiss cheese and smoked bacon, and my favorite sandwich at Moz – the OC Prego Steak Sandwich with six ounces of grilled beef filet, Provolone cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and grilled onions.

burger week chicken

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Courtesy of Mozambique

Mozambique’s Grilled Chicken: A lighter side of Burger Week

Add in a side of fries, sweet potato fries, or spinach salad and it’s all just $15 (minus tax and tip) through this week. 

Bartenders at Mozambique have also come up with a Burger-specialty cocktail, a Roasted Lemon Sour with Maker’s Mark bourbon, fresh-squeezed lemon, and agave, with a roasted lemon garnish. 

Mozambique’s sister restaurant, Skyloft, has come up with three new burgers exclusive to Burger Week. (My bet is that if you like what you try, there’s a good chance they’ll find their way to the Skyloft menu.) 

For $20, choose from either a Smoked Pulled Pork Burger (pulled pork on a beef burger patty with crispy fried shallots), a Blue Sky Burger featuring a double patty, melted blue cheese, fried egg, and buffalo sauce, or a Beyond Meat® Burger, a quite yummy plant-based patty with roasted garlic portobello mushroom, Swiss cheese, and black peppercorn aioli. 

The $20 (tax and tip additional) includes a side of Cajun tater tots, sweet potato fries, or baked beans. 

burger week skyloft burger

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Courtesy of Skyloft

Skyloft’s Pulled Pork & Beef Burger

Skyloft’s bartenders, ever at the ready, are also featuring their best-selling Southern Mule for just $13 during Burger Week – a smooth blend of Maker’s Mark Bourbon, raspberry liqueur, ginger beer, and lime.

Both Mozambique and Skyloft offer roof deck outdoor dining as well as pickup and delivery. 

Teemu’s “Duck” lands at Selanne

This summer, Selanne Steak Tavern is still featuring its “visiting team” restaurant menu from Teemu Selanne’s Garden Grove-based Penalty Box.

burger week selanne duck

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Courtesy of Selanne Steak Tavern

Penalty Box “flies in” The Duck Burger to Selanne this week

Offered Wednesday through Saturday at lunch on its patio, the Penalty Box has three great burgers already on the menu with two participating in Burger Week (Hall of Famer and Major Penalty). 

This week, however, the “Duck Burger” comes to roost in honor of Burger Week. Fashioned from Wagyu beef, its totes duck salami, cherry compote, and Oregon blue cheese. Add in “The Rookie” twig fries and it’s a great buy at $15 (tax and tip additional). 

Tonight – Another Burger Week participant cooks virtually

In related Burger Week news, I’ve been writing about a recent series of virtual cooking classes that have proven quite the hoot. 

The series, “In Chef’s Kitchen,” is produced by Illumination Foundation, the nonprofit entity that provides housing and related services for homeless individuals and families. 

These last several weeks, Illumination Foundation has been honoring many of their chefs who regularly participate in their annual Disneyland® gala, OC Chef’s Table. Because I help them with marketing around this, I’ve had the pleasure of participating in the first two virtual cooking events, and they’ve been an absolute delight. These chefs are phenomenal fun! I’m sure you’ll be a much more organized cook than I’ve been, as evidenced in the photo below:

burger week cooking class

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Get in on the fun of “In Chef’s Kitchen” virtual cooking classes

Tonight, Tuesday, July 14th, new Scarlet restaurateur and fabulous Chef Paige Riordan will be teaching a 5 p.m. class on Vegan Pulled BBQ Carrot Tacos.

burger week chef

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Courtesy of Scarlet Restaurant

Chef (extraordinaire) Paige Riordan teaches her virtual cooking class tonight (Tuesday). All proceeds benefit her restaurant.

To add to her busy week, Chef Paige’s Ladera Ranch restaurant is also participating in Burger Week with three crafty burghers – a Scarlet Burger with maple bacon and garlic aioli, a Lamb Burger with feta cheese, and an Eggplant Parmesan Burger, which sounds so good I might have to make a short commute to her restaurant this week. 

As for other Chef’s Kitchen events, this Friday, July 17th, longtime OC favorite Chef Leo Razo of Villa Roma will be teaching the art of the Argentine steak with homemade chimichurri sauce. 

And, on Thursday, July 23rd, Chef Linda Johnsen of popular Filomena’s will be teaching the craft of skillet-cooked Italian sausage with peppers and potatoes. 

Participation is just $100 with all proceeds going directly to the chefs to help them through this crisis. The virtual ticket can include any number of people you want on your side to be cooking along with you. 

Support these great chefs and enjoy a really fun cooking class at the same time. Go to to order and receive your short grocery list, too. 

Send me your Burger Week photos!

Enjoy Burger Week and be sure to send me your burger discoveries at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to be featured in my social world. Be sure to also search for my recent “Best Burgers of Laguna Beach” column at my website for even more great Laguna burger creations!      

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 and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

The Ranch at Laguna Beach named #10 Resort Hotel in California 

The Ranch at Laguna Beach is pleased to announce its ranking as the #10 Resort Hotel in California for the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards 2020. 

Results of this 25th annual readers’ survey, in which discerning Travel + Leisure readers rated their favorite travel destinations and companies in the U.S. and around the globe, are now featured online and will be included in the August issue of Travel + Leisure.

“We are proud to be among the top 10 resort hotels in California for the second year straight as part of the Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards. This ranking solidifies The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s position as one of the best hotels in the Golden State, a competitive market filled with some of the world’s most spectacular hotels and majestic scenery,” said Kurt Bjorkman, General Manager of The Ranch at Laguna Beach. 

The Ranch view

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Submitted photo

The Ranch receives prestigious rankings as a top hotel in California

“This recognition by Travel + Leisure readers is a testament to our hospitality-focused Ranch Team, warm service, and authentic Laguna experience we strive to provide every day.”

To view the survey results for the Best Resort Hotels in California, including The Ranch at Laguna Beach ranked at #10, click here.

“Over the past quarter-century, our discerning readers have shown a commitment to seeking out meaningful travel experiences of the highest caliber,” says an official statement from Travel + Leisure. “For 2020, hundreds of thousands of you voted in our annual survey, sharing thoughts on favorite hotels, islands, tour operators, and more. To celebrate, this special edition features several expanded lists to honor the places and companies you think, quite simply, are the best out there. Here’s to you, to the winners — and to the big 2-5!”

For more information or reservations for The Ranch at Laguna Beach, visit

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Dine-in closures prompt rapid outdoor action 

By Diane Armitage

On Wednesday this week, Governor Newsom announced that dine-in options would close in 19 counties, including Orange County, for the next three weeks. Outdoor dining and takeout can still continue. 

Minutes after the announcement, Laguna Beach restaurateurs and chefs were in full sprint, once again churning up the turf at every bend to accommodate the many changes this year has wrought. 

“Bring it on!”

In mere hours, Restaurateur Cary Redfearn announced that his new Yard Bar is now waltzing with the entire Lumberyard menu along with the Yard Bar’s menu of original appetizers.

“We had patrons inside Lumberyard when the announcement was made, so we let them finish their lunches and closed our indoor dining at about 2:30 p.m.,” said Redfearn. 

“I had my evening crew coming in anyway, so we just walked over to the Yard Bar and changed everything from counter service to wait service in about a minute. We did it!”

He laughs and adds, “Bring it on, I’ve got this!”

Dine in Yard Bar

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Yard Bar is now a full-service Lumberyard menu experience

Redfearn will continue to employ some staff indoors for takeout preparation at Lumberyard and Slice Pizza and Beer, while the Yard Bar will provide full-service wait staff and bartenders beginning at 4 p.m. Reservations will not be taken, and all three locations (Lumberyard, Yard Bar, and Slice Pizza and Beer) are closed just for the day of July 4th.

Patio expansion downtown

Meanwhile, Broadway by Amar Santana is movin’ on up…or north, that is, into the neighboring bank parking lot. 

“We start dining service in the bank’s parking lot at 6 p.m.,” Ahmed Labbate told me. “It’s a lot of work breaking down each night and putting back up the next day, but we’re certainly not the only ones faced with this issue in town. We’re just thankful we were able to negotiate the space. 

“We were so pleased to see so many diners return to us when we were allowed to do dine-in that we didn’t want to go backwards,” added Ahmed. “But we’re still providing takeout along with cocktails to go, as well.”

Mirroring a more European Italian experience, Romeo Cucina on Broadway has moved onto the wide sidewalk in front with additional tables.

“We’re adapting! We’re accepting reservations for the patio and are still doing to-go orders with cocktails as well,” said Chef Marisol Romeo.

Just a few doors up, Chef and Co-Owner Lindsay of Nirvana Grille is still cookin’ with expanded outdoor patio seating in play. The team is also finishing rooftop seating with plans to open in a week or so. 

Aside from closing early on the 4th of July, Nirvana is open Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday for dinner. Takeout, delivery, and grocery co-op is available those same days and on Wednesday, too. 

The (unofficial) “Canyon Promenade”

In Laguna Canyon at what I’ve nicknamed “The Canyon Promenade,” half of the parking lot next to the Sawdust is already devoted to outdoor dining. So, it’s pretty much business as usual for Laguna Beach Beer Company, McClain Cellars (providing live music and serving food from its neighboring restaurants), and Chef Erik’s Oliver’s Osteria

“Most of our guests have wanted to sit outside since we began dine-in anyway,” said Chef Erik. “I’m just relieved we were able to put this in place weeks ago.”

Business has been so good, in fact, that Oliver’s has recently introduced an “Apertivo Hour” on weekends from 2:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Italian-styled happy hour offers a variety of small plates and drinks. (More on this next week.) 

Dine in Olivers

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The “Hive’s” three restaurants in the Canyon are enjoying a greatly expanded outdoor dining experience

North Laguna ingenuity

In north Laguna, Reunion Kitchen and Asada Tacos + Beer Owner Scott McIntosh has expanded his outdoor dining into the old Gina’s Pizza patio as well as along the wide sidewalk fronting Reunion. 

“We’re also just opening at 4 p.m. for dinner service because we’ve negotiated with Jan’s Health Bar for their patio space in the evening because they close in the afternoon,” said McIntosh. “We’ve all got to work together here!”

McIntosh is still working on opening his 4,000-square-foot Asada restaurant at the end of the month in San Clemente. He’s also putting up a “Cirque de Soleil kind of tent” in the parking lot of his Anaheim Reunion Kitchen location.

“You have to roll with the punches and keep your sense of humor about all this,” he said. “It’s the only way to get through this.”

Just a few blocks south of Reunion, Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill Owner Maro Molteni quickly expanded yesterday with sidewalk patio usage, noting that he’s now able to accommodate 40 outdoor diners at a time. He opens for weekend lunches at noon, including this holiday weekend, and is otherwise open Tuesday through Sunday for dinner. 

When life gives you smaller options

Faced with smaller or nonexistent patios and lack of sidewalk accessibility, other Laguna restaurant owners have had to make hard decisions. 

Fearing an inability to properly social distance its patrons on its small patio, Gina’s Pizza & Pastaria on Oak Street chose to close its on-site dining and is back to offering takeout and delivery only. 

Oak Laguna Beach and San Shi Go will continue to seat their small patios for the time being with hopes it will prove consistently profitable. 

With just a tiny patio in front, Ristorante Rumari has just completed a new patio in the parking lot behind the restaurant for at least 30 diners. 

“You can actually see the sunset from here, so it’s not all bad for dining,” said Chef Craig Connole.

A few weeks ago, anticipating another possible closure, Wine Gallery Co-Owners Chris Olsen and Paul Spiegelman swung for the fences, securing permits to expand up into the wide, open-air corridor above their restaurant. 

Dine in Wine Gallery

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Photo courtesy of Wine Gallery

Wine Gallery has expanded from its back patio and terrace to upstairs (outdoor) seating as well

  SoLag’s Coyote Grill has added a few more tables to its patio parking lot with plans to continue serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., happy hour included. 

Lastly, our fine friends at Starfish in South Laguna have no patio at all, therefore no current options. As if this COVID-19 year hasn’t dished out enough, a Tesla plowed into the Starfish patio a couple weeks ago, putting a serious dent in their outdoor dining experience. (No one was hurt.) 

Dine in Starfish

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Photo courtesy of Starfish Laguna

The Starfish patio is well along in new construction after a car plowed into it two weeks ago

“We’re back to construction phase. It’s given us a chance, though, to re-imagine the space here to make it more amenable to the times,” said the ever-optimistic Co-Owner Archie Mack. 

“And our takeout and delivery is still in full play. It’s rocking seven days a week starting at 11:30 am,” he said.

“I figure we’re just getting all the speed bumps out early this year,” he added.

(We can only hope.) 

DIY Backyard BBQ Kits

Still not comfortable in outdoor dining? No problem. While outdoor patios will undoubtedly be bustling this holiday weekend, the vast majority of our Laguna restaurants are continuing a stunning array of takeout and delivery options. 

Dine in bbq

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Photo courtesy of GGs Bistro

GG’S Backyard BBQ Kit to go with ready-to-grill kabobs, salad, rice, and more

If you missed my article in Stu News on Tuesday, be sure to check my website for the same. You’ll find a number of great holiday weekend-specific options from places such as GG’s Bistro, Harley Laguna Beach, Nirvana Grille, and more.

Enjoy your holiday weekend!

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 and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

Selanne Steak Tavern earns “Best of Award of Excellence”

Selanne Steak Tavern’s wine list has been cited by prestigious industry publication Wine Spectator magazine with a 2020 Best of Award of Excellence, the second highest level of its annual recognition program. 

For the last four years in a row, the upscale steak house has earned this honor, which will be featured in the August 31 Wine Spectator awards issue, hitting newsstands next month. Full listings may also be found at

“Once again, we are very pleased our wine list, which is managed by Certified Advanced Sommelier Vito Pasquale, has garnered renewed kudos from Wine Spectator,” said Selanne Steak Tavern owners Teemu Selanne and Kevin Pratt. 

“The recognition for 2020 is especially meaningful as our staff has worked diligently during this year’s pandemic to maintain our valuable wine collection for guest dining experiences, including the approved distanced and safe dining we are presently offering throughout the restaurant and our garden settings.”

Selanne Steak Tavern garners

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Submitted photo

Selanne Steak Tavern awarded prestigious wine list award 

The Best of Award of Excellence honors wine lists that display excellent breadth across multiple regions and/or significant vertical depth of top wines, along with superior presentation. “It is an award only garnered by restaurants that typically offer 350 or more selections and are destinations for serious wine lovers – places that have a deep commitment to wine, both in the cellar and through their service team,” according to Wine Spectator magazine.

Selanne Steak Tavern’s impressive wine inventory of over 3,000 bottles exhibits strengths in selections from California, Burgundy and other French regions, as well as selections from Italy and Germany. In all, there are over 425 global selections, Old and New World from Washington, Oregon, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Argentina, Germany, Austria, South Africa, Portugal, Canada, and Australia. While heavily focused on California cult wines with many highly allocated, low production, big scoring selections, it is designed to appeal to all wine lovers – their palates, pairing preferences, and spending desires.

Selanne Steak Tavern’s wine list is especially designed to pair with the award-winning contemporary American steak house fare created by Chef Vincent Terusa. Since the restaurant’s inception, it has received recognition and honors for its food and wine and spirits programs, as well as its exemplary service, including multiple Golden Foodie Awards for “Best Wine Program,” “Best Service,” “Best Steak,” and “Best New Restaurant.”

Selanne Steak Tavern, located at 1464 South Coast Hwy in Laguna Beach, opened in November 2013 and is owned by Hockey Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and local Orange County businessman Kevin Pratt.

Housed in a reimagined 1934 historic home along the Pacific Coast, it’s an upscale contemporary steak house with an upstairs dining room, downstairs tavern and bar area, a wine room for more intimate dining, and two patios for alfresco dining. 

The restaurant supports local farms and fisheries that practice sustainability and humane practices. Menus feature the finest of steaks and seafood served with a variety of accompaniments enhanced by herbs from the restaurant’s herb garden. 

Along with its carefully selected California-focused wine list, craft signature cocktails are created from quality farmers’ market produce, homemade mixers, and top-notch shelf spirits. 

Selanne Steak Tavern is open for dinner nightly starting at 5 p.m. and offers a summer lunch menu of gourmet burgers and hot dogs. 

For reservations and more information, call (949) 715-9881 or visit

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Burgers & BBQ to-go this holiday weekend

By Diane Armitage

Typically on the 4th of July in Laguna Beach, many of our dine-in restaurants close. Our 4th of July crowds tend to flock to Heisler Park and Main Beach, hunkering down for the day, with many bringing their own food spreads from home.

This year, however, things have changed. Because crowds have no reason to hunker at Heisler for the evening fireworks show, restaurants that would normally be closed on the 4th are staying open for what is expected to be one of the busiest weekends yet.

And, while all of our restaurants continue to provide takeout, some have created specialty holiday weekend takeout menus for pickup or delivery. Here are a few details to take note of: 

DIY Backyard BBQ Kits

For the first time in a long time, Broadway by Amar Santana will be open on the 4th of July for dinner. Chef Amar is also offering five optional “Grill at Home” packages for parties of two or more. Choose from five different cuts of steak (including Wagyu Ribeye) and enjoy roasted corn guacamole with house-fried chips, ahi tuna poke appetizer, chilled tomato gazpacho, and a mason jar of Chef’s secret seasonings for the steak. (In my opinion, the price is worth the securing of that secret seasoning jar.) You can also order large and small jars of craft cocktails.

Pre-order Broadway’s “Grill at Home” by Thursday, July 2nd before 6 p.m. Pick up your order on Friday, July 3rd, between noon and 6 p.m. 

GG’s Bistro will be open on the 4th of July (they are, I believe, one of two restaurants open 365 days a year). GG’s is also providing a hearty takeout BBQ kit with marinated skewers (protein of your choice), family-style salad, rice, fresh-baked pitas, and plenty of yogurt dressing for DIY gyros.

Harley Laguna Beach remains closed for dine-in but is open for several grab-and-go options Wednesdays through Saturdays from noon to about 8 p.m. This Saturday (only), July 4th, Harley is closing at 2 p.m.

Burgers and chicken

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Courtesy of Harley Laguna Beach

Popular picnic fare, Harley’s family-style Fried Chicken Meal comes with a basket full of side options

Chef Greg is continuing to offer a number of great options for takeout, including two popular family-style meals: Harley’s Fried Chicken Meal (in “regular” or “spicy” chicken mode) and their Dr. Pepper Baby Back Ribs. Choose two sides, add in extras or other small sides, and consider nabbing a perfectly paired bottle of wine, too. 

Chef Greg says he’s also offering DIY backyard grilling kits this holiday weekend for Grilled Chicken, Ribs, and Burgers. 

Harley pre-orders for all of the above can be done through Thursday evening – remember to pick up by Saturday at 2 p.m. for the restaurant’s evening closure. 

DIY Backyard BBQ Kits

This last weekend, I had the pleasure of trying Selanne Steak Tavern’s lunch options – a “visiting team” of hearty hamburgers, hot dogs, and poutine options from Teemu Selanne’s second Orange County restaurant, The Penalty Box. The burger pictured here is “The Broken Rib” with burger, a pile of short rib and onion rings with PB secret sauce. 

Burgers and burger

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Photo by Diane Armitage

For lunch at Selanne, enjoy “visiting team” favorites from Teemu’s 2nd restaurant, The Penalty Box

Normally open for lunch Wednesday through Saturday, this is a particularly great option for your 4th of July Saturday. Selanne will open just for lunch on the 4th to serve up Penalty Box favorites. Hours are 11:30 a.m. to about 2:30“ish” p.m. They will be closed for the evening. 

Restaurants closed on 4th of July

Not every restaurant in town has gotten back to me, so please check in my social platforms and blog for updates this week. Closed restaurants on Saturday, July 4th (only) include: 

Lumberyard and Yard Bar


Selanne Steak Tavern (evening) 

Slice Pizza

South of Nick’s

Wine Gallery

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 and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

The Ranch at Laguna Beach champions sustainability while keeping guests and team safe

The Ranch at Laguna Beach announced this week a new co-branded partnership with Pathwater to provide recyclable, refillable personal water bottles to guests and restaurant patrons at the coastal canyon resort. 

The new partnership adds to ongoing sustainability measures at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, which continues to uphold a wide range of recycling and conservation practices while implementing new health and safety measures due to COVID-19.  

The Ranch at Laguna Beach reopened on May 15, 2020 as one of the first hotels in California to earn the Clean + Safe Certification from The California Hotel and Lodging Association. As the hospitality industry shifts to single-use amenities, added plastic, and disposable individual packaging, The Ranch at Laguna Beach is harnessing new ways to uphold sustainability while keeping the resort clean and safe for guests and staff.

The Ranch view

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Submitted photo

The Ranch at Laguna Beach announces new sustainability measures 

The latest step in this mission is The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s new partnership with Pathwater. Now, guests at The Ranch at Laguna Beach will find their rooms furnished with brand-new Pathwater bottles made from recyclable aluminum and containing pure reverse-osmosis filtered water. 

The co-branded bottle itself is infinitely recyclable, refillable, eco-friendly, and made in the U.S. The new Pathwater bottles will also be available for purchase at Ben’s Pantry adjacent to The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s golf course, as well as the resort’s oceanfront restaurant, Lost Pier Café.

“As the hospitality industry makes necessary shifts to disposable materials for guest amenities and food service, we at The Ranch at Laguna Beach are finding creative ways to stay true to our sustainable philosophy while keeping guests safe,” said Kurt Bjorkman, General Manager of The Ranch at Laguna Beach. “Our new partnership with Pathwater supports a fellow small business, helps curb unnecessary single-use plastic at the property, and provides guests with an infinitely-recyclable souvenir to take home as a reminder of our ongoing commitment to the planet.” 

The new lightweight aluminum Pathwater bottles are 100 percent recyclable and made from one of the most recyclable materials in the world. Recycled at twice the rate of plastic, aluminum also boasts a smaller carbon footprint for its recycling process compared to liquid packaging alternatives like plastic or glass. The material is infinitely recyclable, while plastic is often downcycled and results in more waste.

The Ranch bottle

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Submitted photo

The Ranch’s new water bottle is recyclable, refillable, and eco-friendly 

The new co-branded Pathwater partnership is the latest in a wide range of sustainable initiatives at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, including:

Water Reclamation: The Ranch at Laguna Beach saves an estimated 21.2 million gallons of water annually by using reclaimed water for irrigation on the resort grounds and its Geo-Certified Ben Brown’s golf course. 

Bamboo Room Keys: The Ranch at Laguna Beach helps keep 25,000 plastic key cards out of landfills by swapping plastic room keys with biodegradable wooden and bamboo keys. These keys can either be returned to the Front Desk upon check-out for full sanitization or kept as a souvenir. If keys do make their way into the trash, they will degrade back into the soil over time.

Adopt a Channel: Volunteers from The Ranch at Laguna Beach currently maintain a 0.75-mile stretch of the Aliso Creek Channel in Mission Viejo. Since December 2015, the resort team has removed more than 2,500 pounds of trash and debris from the channel – mainly bottles, cans, plastic wrappers, paper – effectively preventing this harmful material from clogging the channel or making its way to the Pacific Ocean.

Bottles to Bunkers: The Ranch at Laguna Beach recycled five tons of glass in 2019 through its Bottles to Bunkers program. The Ranch at Laguna Beach is the first hospitality entity in North America to operate a GLSand glass-bottle crusher, which crushes and sifts glass bottles into fine sand for the resort’s golf course bunkers. This program reduces glass waste at the resort by 90 percent while keeping bunkers filled.

OC Birds of Prey: Every Saturday, The Ranch at Laguna Beach hosts an interactive and educational encounter with the Orange County Bird of Prey Center, a volunteer organization dedicated to treating and rehabilitating injured raptors and returning them to the wild. Guests can see these majestic birds up close and learn how to protect their natural habitat.

To learn more about sustainability practices at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, visit

For information about the property’s cleanliness, sanitization, distancin and safety protocols to combat COVID-19, visit or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To make a reservation, visit www.theranchlb.comor call (949) 499-2271.

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Chef Craig Connole finds new level of expression at Ristorante Rumari 

By Diane Armitage

Fourteen years ago, I decided I’d make a hobby out of covering all the “best of Laguna Beach.” Initially, it was just a few lonely blogs that – just as the movie Julie & Julie reported – seemed to only attract my mom’s attention and comments. Fast forward 14 years, and it’s become quite an entity that has surprised me more than anyone else.

The very first chef I asked to interview for my then-rocking three-article blog was Chef Craig Connole of K’ya Bistro and Rooftop fame. He proved so easygoing and interesting that he was the encouragement that led to my hundreds of chef and restaurateur interviews and food reviews.

Chef Craig Connole helped puts Laguna on the map

While I spent my 14 years building out my blog and subsequent books, Chef Craig spent the same amount of time transforming two restaurants at the La Casa del Camino Hotel into globally renowned eateries. 

Despite changes in ownership and hotel management groups, Chef Craig continued to turn out new culinary innovations, even introducing “small plates” in 2008 and 2009 when our economy took a dive. He and business partner Chris Keller were always ahead of the puck, quick to change, feint, and scramble forward. 

Chef Craig closeup

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Chef Craig Connole

Now, the two have reunited at Chris Keller’s newest restaurant ownership, Ristorante Rumari, and a whole new game is in play! Over the years, Chef Craig would chat with me about possibly moving to another town to start a new restaurant, and I was secretly terrified of losing this great talent. I couldn’t be happier to see my first chef buddy in Laguna turn to a whole new venture in our very own Laguna Beach.

At the end of March, COVID-19 struck just at the time that Craig Connole had decided to exit La Casa and head over to Rumari. The next three months gave the business partners plenty of time to change up the interior, update the kitchen, and modernize everywhere – I covered this bit of news in my article on June 9th.

A flawless & flavorful dinner experience

Last week, I was able to try the food, which made for an altogether fabulous evening. 

For starters, Ristorante Rumari is following all the recommended protocols in this COVID-19 era, even completely removing dining tables inside and working on completing a back patio for outdoor seating. Lucian Stefonik, the returning General Manager, has done a great job training his front of house staff as well. And, one of the best moments was discovering that longtime favorite server Martin has returned once again. He had left Rumari a few months ago to start his own restaurant, but COVID-19 had another plan. Ever gracious, he told me that it was meant to be. 

Chef Craig has brought the Ristorante Rumari menu down in size, both to hone his staff’s ability to quickly expedite and to clear the menu of items that were rarely ordered. Although many popular items remain, Chef Craig sheepishly tells me that he’s “tinkered” with a few to “update their flavor profiles.”

While he suggests that we try a Rumari favorite appetizer, Spiedino (shrimp wrapped with pancetta), Martin scoffs good-naturedly. 

“You’ve had that how many times?” he asks me. “I think you should try what Chef has brought to us instead.”

Martin directs us to starters Mushrooms & Polenta and the House Greens. We discover that Chef Craig has chosen to send the Rack of Lamb appetizer to the table, too. 

One bite of the Mushrooms & Polenta and I’m a different human being. This is sheer craftery…and we’re talking everyday mushrooms and polenta here. It is perfection all the way to its sprinkle of coarse salt on its crown. 

The lamb chops arrive next. They’re so beautifully plated I’m initially reluctant to touch them. I’m one of those odd people who has to try lamb chops anywhere at every turn. For me, if a restaurant serves lamb chops, it is as telling a dish as soup – you can learn anything you need to know about a chef by his lamb chops!

Chef Craig lamb

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Ristorante Rumari’s impeccable Rack of Lamb appetizer

Chef Craig’s revised Rumari Rack of Lamb is simply impeccable. Tender, and super mild in taste, the meat is finished on the grill and sauced with the Italian version of sweet and sour sauce (agrodolce).

Even my good friend, Ali, whom I’ve brought along with me as a representative of the Surf & Sand Resort, loves this lamb – and she never eats lamb. 

Then, the “House Greens” makes its way to the table. It is bright, fresh, and beautiful with thin slices of heirloom tomato, red onion slivers, olives, cucumber, and skillet-tossed nuts in a spare red wine vinaigrette.

Figuring we have to leave some sort of room for a main entrée (the secondi), Martin clucks over us as we narrow from nine pasta options. 

Chef has told me that he “slightly reworked” the Rumari red sauce, so I ask for the Rigatoni Bolognese. Martin thinks we should also try the new Gnocchi Al Pesto, so we haggle until he agrees to make half-size portions of each. 

When the dishes arrive, I can only hope that Chef Craig chose to simply ignore my haggle for half. There is plenty on one dish to feed an army of teenagers. 

There are two camps on Rumari’s red pomodoro sauce: Those who love it and those who don’t. There is no gray area here, and it’s long been a point of contention at coffee discussions everywhere in town.

Chef Craig bolognese

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Ristorante Rumari’s Veal and Beef Rigatoni Bolognese

I don’t know if Chef Craig’s “slight tinkering” will cause new drama but I thought it was magnificent. The Bolognese is a gorgeous blend of veal and beef ragu with just the right amount of sauce to lift the flavors from the pasta. 

The Gnocchi Al Pesto is a heavenly pillow of fluff. Unlike the usual heavy pellets you commonly experience in gnocchi, this mushroom gnocchi is light in texture and – surprisingly – pan-seared like a dumpling. The sear releases more of that hearty mushroom flavor, and it all blends beautifully with the housemade pesto (called “salsa verde” by Chef) and a fluff of fresh ricotta.   

Salmon perfection

At this point, we’re stuffed. The show, however, must go on. (I can’t write a dining column without a main course, for heaven’s sake.) So, we choose the lightest item on the secondi menu – Filetto di Salmone – as a split between us. 

I love salmon. I love several renditions of salmon in this town (Lumberyard’s planked, 230 Forest’s char-grilled, and Royal Hawaiian’s grilled salmon come first to mind.) 

The new Rumari salmon takes a stage all its own. The salmon is so tender, it almost tastes like a poach with a finishing grill. It is the flavors, though, stacked layer upon layer, that make this such a memorable dish.

Chef Craig salmon

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Ristorante Rumari’s Filetto di Salmone

Fresh peeled heirloom tomatoes, artichoke hearts, basil, asparagus, and purple carrots shoulder next to a heaping serving of polenta. Together, they serve as foundation for the generous salmon filet, which is then topped with the Italian salsa verde, minced parsley, capers, and tiny garlic bits. 

Extra virgin olive oil is whisked with lemon juice, red pepper flakes, Maldon sea salt, and black pepper to create the perfect dipping partner. The entire presentation is truly magnificent.

Dessert finalé

Yes, of course the famous Rumari Semifreddo has returned. But, I’m familiar with that dessert, so Martin points us toward the Homemade Cannoli. 

Chef Craig dessert

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Ristorante Rumari’s Homemade Cannoli

The dish arrives, a plump cannoli with ends rolled in chopped pistachio and a ramiken of warmed chocolate sauce on the side. Martin pours the sauce from way up high and, though we claim only one bite a piece, the dessert magically disappears. (So much for the menu’s recommendation to take one home for morning coffee.)

Dear readers, this was a meal of perfection, through and through. I’m beyond pleased that Chef Craig Connole has found a new level of expression from the foundational Italian cooking roots of his culinary career. In 14 years, I hope we will still be enjoying this Chef’s great contribution to Laguna Beach.

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 and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

Yard Bar

Yard Bar waiter

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Ready for Happy Hour!

The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

Yard Bar patio restaurant debuts to happy acclaim

By Diane Armitage

On Wednesday afternoon, a new patio restaurant was born in the heart of downtown. Aptly named Yard Bar, this patio is more of a little brother to the Lumberyard restaurant on Forest. 

A concept dreamed up by the ever-innovative restaurateurs Cary and Suzanne Redfearn, the Yard Bar is tucked into the outdoor courtyard that used to cater to The Grove on Forest’s coffee crowd.

Yard Bar seating

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Yard Bar, a Lumberyard “open-air solution,” opened Wednesday on Forest

“James [Taylor] closed his coffee shop right as COVID-19 hit in March and that whole, beautiful courtyard just sat there looking so forlorn,” said Cary Redfearn. 

“So, as it became apparent that outdoor seating would probably be the most comfortable bridge for many of our dine-in patrons, I started thinking about how we could convert the patio into an extension for the Lumberyard,” he explained.

With ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) and Laguna’s City Council working to help area restaurants survive the shutdown and continue to thrive, Redfearn says his idea was met with great support.

“Councilwoman Sue Kempf has been particularly awesome in helping us bring this to fruition. It really came together quickly,” said Redfearn.

“The Yard Bar is a perfect, creative example of how restaurants can expand their dining options during a very difficult time,” said Councilwoman Kempf. “I think it’ going to be a big hit.”

The Yard Bar is open from 4 - 8 p.m. weeknights, and until 9 p.m. (or later, depending) on weekends. This Friday begins live music from 6 - 9 p.m. with Lumberyard returning favorite Bob Hawkins. 

A little bit o’ love goes a long way

“Everything in the Yard Bar is sort of a miniaturized version of the Lumberyard,” said Redfearn. 

Yard Bar servers

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Yard Bar offers a “patio” menu of new and popular appetizers with bartenders at the ready

Redfearn ordered a custom-built seven-foot bar to be shipped from the other side of the country. Somehow, it’s in Texas right now, so Redfearn scrambled earlier this week to find a rental bar that would at least allow for the planned Wednesday opening.

The bar anchors the east side of the patio while tables and chairs are scattered throughout. Two large chalkboards announce the day’s mini menu specials in food, specialty cocktails, wine, and beer. The nearby kegerator serves up an ever-changing option of three craft beers, too. 

In addition to some of Lumberyard’s most popular appetizers (i.e. the Panko Fried Zucchini, Grilled Artichoke, and Sweet Potato Fries), the Yard Bar is introducing new summery items such as Olive & Almond plates, Red Crab-stuffed Arancini (flash-fried balls stuffed with crab and risotto), and a larger Mediterranean Platter of roasted garlic hummus, manchego cheese, olives, and more. 

Yard Bar food

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Courtesy of Lisa Anderson for the Yard Bar

Food items at the Yard Bar include shareable appetizers, salads, and more

Patrons simply step up to the bar, order and pay, and then seek out a free table. With its string lights and greenery all around, it has an energetic and inviting vibe all its own.

Lumberyard retail neighbor George Nelson of Fawn Memories was the first to take a seat at Yard Bar’s Wednesday opening.

“I think this is a fabulous idea,” he said. 

“The Promenade on Lower Forest is certainly bringing in larger crowds there, and it’s great that our ‘anchor restaurant’ here on this end of Forest is able to create a similar feel. It’s charming here. I think it will prove a great draw.” 

Patios are poppin’ everywhere

Meanwhile, restaurants throughout Laguna Beach have been given the green light to innovate workable, expanded patio space with the ability to simply sketch their plans to submit for City approval. Subsequent approved patios and expanded seating areas are popping up everywhere in town, many of them quite creative renditions. 

“As a restaurant in this town, when you have to open at 50 percent occupancy, I don’t know how you’re going to make it,” said Councilwoman Kempf. 

“We had some restaurants fail pre-COVID, and others were feeling very shaky. I just wanted the City to do what we could to help these restaurant owners hang on through this unprecedented time.”

When the lockdown happened in March, Kempf was invited to the Laguna Beach Restaurant Association’s weekly calls.

“I just wanted to find out what they were doing and what their plans were so that I could start thinking of ways the City could help,” said Kempf. 

“Once we realized that outdoor dining space would be a commodity, I started working with the City to expedite temporary use permits (TUPs) for expanded outdoor dining. But the real creativity lies in these restaurant owners and their ideas. They have a sort of sense of humor about it; their energy and camaraderie have been great.”

This week’s City Council meeting also loosened restrictions for retailers. 

“Some of these decisions are temporary measures and some are more permanent,” said Kempf.

“Who knows? Some of the temporary solutions may become longer-term. We’re doing what we feel we can do, and we’re seeing how it all evolves,” she said. 

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 and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

Chef Pirozzi’s dream come true

Chef Pirozzi's dream

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Submitted photo

Chef Pirozzi of Alessa beside his fully seated Forest Ave patio. “The Pirozzi team is thrilled with this new establishment, and we can’t wait to seat our loyal Laguna Beach locals and all those who come from afar,” says Pirozzi.

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