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Harley restaurant reopens for summery takeout

By Diane Armitage

It’s been nearly three months since Chef Greg Daniels temporarily closed his doors at his popular Harley Laguna Beach restaurant. Today (Friday, June 5), he reopens for takeout with family meal options that will certainly brighten any backyard or beachy picnic. For me, it’s a happy relief to see one of our Laguna greats return to his kitchen. 

This Friday and Saturday night, you simply can’t lose with Chef’s famous Crispy Fried Chicken and Sticky Dr Pepper Baby Back Ribs. 

These entrées were first introduced last August when Chef came up with a “Grill & Get Together” menu for Sunday evenings. In an ode to his grandmother’s family-style meals, this family meal includes both of the proteins along with a choice of two sides from options of slow-baked beans, potato salad, street corn, macaroni salad, and coleslaw. 

Harley restaurant chicken and ribs

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Courtesy of Harley Laguna Beach

Harley returns with summery takeout options

“We’ll have our chocolate chip cookies and mac and cheese back in play soon, probably as we move into next week,” Chef Greg assured me.

This weekend, beer and wine will also be available with Harley’s famed craft cocktails joining the takeout options in about a week. 

“For us, dine-in doesn’t make sense yet”

While other restaurants have busied themselves with opening for limited dine-in options, Chef Greg has continued to hold back until he can “absolutely ensure” the safety of his patrons and employees. The long rectangle of a restaurant is less conducive to socially distanced tables. Further, and for the time being, patrons cannot be seated at the popular bar that fronts the open kitchen, which eliminates several more seats. 

“Our priority is to do this right for the patrons who trust us, not to do it as quickly as possible,” said Chef Greg. “Our restaurant has an open kitchen, narrow dining room, and no patio. We don’t even have the room to expand if the City were to allow it. It just isn’t the right time for us yet.”

Fortunately, Chef will be expanding his takeout menu over these next few days for eager fans who have missed the hospitable Harley love.

“It’s great to be back, but it sure is a different world,” said Chef Greg. “Right now we have just five of us working here, and we’re doing everything including delivery. It’s a good way to get the engines rolling again and, hopefully, we can start hiring on more of our great people soon.” 

More news to come on these restaurants

As I reported in my social platforms on Tuesday, South of Nick’s reopened for dine-in with a “refreshed look” that plays to its ocean view seating.

Harley restaurant Nicks

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Courtesy of South of Nick’s

South of Nick’s reopened Tuesday with a fresh, new look

 Despite the construction fracas near its front door, Wild Taco has reopened this week for continued takeout and limited dine-in seating. I’ll have more news on this and their latest new menu items early next week.

Beginning Saturday (June 6th), Selanne Steak Tavern will open for dine-in lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., on its outside terrace. The former hockey star is hosting a “visiting team” with fan favorites from his Garden Grove restaurant, Penalty Box. It features gourmet casual with entertaining hockey-related titles for each food item, and reservations are recommended due to limited seating. 

In a sort of dueling fried chicken kind of way, Chef Amar, Harley’s closest neighbor (and the good friend who talked Chef Greg into moving his culinary talents to Laguna), will be serving his fried chicken dinner for takeout on one last night – tonight (Friday). Broadway by Amar Santana will close for the remainder of the weekend to complete preparations for the restaurant’s reopening on Monday, June 8th. Chef Amar has chosen to introduce a new menu with two nightly seating options. Reservations are required; walk-ins cannot be accommodated.   

Harley restaurant Broadway

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Courtesy of Broadway by Amar Santana

Chef Amar’s fried chicken is available for takeout one night only – tonight!

Remember, too, that Chef Rainer Schwarz reopens Driftwood Kitchen on the same evening, Monday, June 8th. 

Casa del Camino reopens its hotel on Saturday, June 13th, but the jury is still out on whether the restaurants K’ya and Rooftop Lounge will reopen on the same weekend. As of publication date, hotel management is of the mind to reopen for in-house, registered guests only, and later broaden the invitation to the public, once the staff is comfortable with new protocols. Just one kitchen services the entire Casa del Camino hotel (including room service). Stay tuned to my social platforms for latest news and announcements. 

Lastly, I’ve been sworn to secrecy on a longtime local favorite “softly reopening” tonight (Friday). All I can tell you...keep your eyes peeled as you drive south through town. On Saturday, I’m hoping to be allowed to actually mention the restaurant’s name (and their new chef). Keep that ear to the rails, my friends! 

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).

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At Least 36 Dine-In Restaurants Are Back in Play in Laguna

By Diane Armitage

After receiving news on Saturday, May 23rd that they could begin the reopening process, several Laguna Beach restaurants immediately hopped into motion. By Memorial Weekend’s end, at least 12 restaurants were either offering patio seating or the full dine-in experience with social distancing. 

In the week that followed, restaurant doors were banging open everywhere, from North Laguna’s farthest reaches to South Laguna’s last kid on the block, AhbA. It had to have been the happiest reunion week ever as delighted locals trooped back out to see their restaurant friends and enjoy their favorite food on real plates. 

At least Starfish

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Starfish in SoLag reopened last Friday with local favorite bartender Neil Skewes back at the helm

“It’s so great to be back,” said Starfish longtime bartender Neil Skewes. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it’s just been a great, mellow return of a lot of happy people…me included!”

The Deck, Splashes & Harvest join the throng

Yesterday (Monday, June 1st), Chef Rainer Schwarz reopened The Deck on Laguna while two of our resorts opened their popular local hangouts as well. The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s Executive Chef Kyle St. John opened his sizable restaurant, Harvest, to the public, while Executive Chef Ron Fougeray at Surf & Sand Resort’s magnificent Splashes opened the dining room (only) to the public as well.

At least Harvest

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Courtesy of The Ranch Laguna Beach

Popular locals’ favorite Harvest restaurant at The Ranch has reopened to the public. Reservations are required (no walk-ins).

Because of the unique special distancing requirements, you can’t just drop into most Laguna restaurants, especially at the resorts where they’re sharing the establishment with in-house guests.

Harvest recommends breakfast and lunch reservations and requires dinner reservations (see their hours below). 

Splashes requires online reservations for all seatings, whether breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch, or dinner (see their hours at the end of this article, too). No walk-ins can be accommodated at either resort location. 

At least Splashes

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Never a bad seat in the house, Splashes restaurant at Surf & Sand has reopened to the public. Reservations are required (no walk-ins).

Imaginative COVID-era seating reconfigurations 

As noted by Driftwood Kitchen and Deck on Laguna Chef Rainer Schwarz, “Setting up your dining room for social distancing takes so much more planning than you would imagine. You would think we would all just remove a few tables and chairs and be done with it, but this is all about the safe movement of many people in the restaurant at once, even when you’re operating at a less-than-usual capacity. 

“We can’t just open the doors and let everyone in.”

Bars in all restaurants continue to remain closed, including Harvest’s giant horseshoe bar and the detached Splashes bar on the sand. 

Meanwhile, Chef Rainer of the popular The Deck on Laguna found a way to increase “sand-side seating” despite his closed bar. 

“We opened up our Bungalows for additional dining seating,” he said. “We were able to add another 40 seats with that extension. We’ve definitely lost seating overall, but it was a great space to be able to access.”

The Deck on Laguna team also worked on a way to route people safely in and out of the restaurant, narrowing down multiple entrance options.

“People used to come through Driftwood to our Deck host stand, or they’d drop down from Driftwood into the actual Deck restaurant, or they’d come up from the beach, or they’d come in from the parking lot. That all had to stop. Now it’s one body in, one body out, and only one funnel entrance.

“We don’t want to be the restaurant guys who let people in without masks or don’t provide enough space per the regulations,” he continued. “This is a very serious matter. You have to follow the rules. We have to be safe, not only for our own sake and for our patrons, but especially for our employees’ sake.”

Protests and riots have returning restaurants on edge 

As we’ve all watched footage of looting and fires around us these last few days, Laguna restaurateurs are certainly on edge and watchful. 

“It’s a very uncertain time,” said Chef Rainer. “Of course, we’re alert to any changes but one way or the other, we have to go back to business. We thought of delaying another week, but we’ve taken the time to train our people the right way and everyone is ready to go. 

“We have at least 40 or 50 employees starting back with us this week at The Deck. By next week, we’ll have at least 170 people re-employed and that is so important to us to be there for them.

“Of course, we’ll close down on a moment’s notice if anything changes,” he added. 

Potential rioting quashes Chef Amar Santana plans

Chef Amar Santana was planning to reopen his 8,000-square-foot Costa Mesa eatery The Hall Global Eatery on Monday, June 1st. The great unknown of whether riots and looting will move further south into Orange County, however, shut the doors on their plan. 

“We’re going on a day-by-day basis according to what South Coast Plaza advises,” CEO Ahmed Labbate told me. 

“We have gone through weeks of rehiring and reconfiguration and training and now this. But there’s just too much at risk if the riots and looting move in this direction.”

At least Broadway

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Courtesy of Broadway by Amar Santana

Business partners Executive Chef Amar Santana and CEO Ahmed Labbate will be reopening Broadway by Amar Santana for two reserved seatings nightly

On a lighter note, the team plans to reopen Broadway by Amar Santana next Monday, June 8th. 

“We’re opening with a brand new menu, so between that and all the sanitation protocols, we’ve been immersed in training,” said Labbate. 

Because of social distancing requirements, Broadway is only able to reopen with about 32 seats. The team was hopeful to expand into an additional patio setting at the next door Dawson Cole Sculpture Garden, a place where longtime fans of Chef Amar will remember earlier wine dinners being served.

This time, however, the price tag was too high for Broadway, so the team settled back to its 32-seat option. 

As a result, Broadway will be taking two seatings each evening, both of which need to be reserved in advance online. (Their online reservation system will be back in play sometime later this week. Stay tuned for the announcement on my Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach.)

“We’re doing a 5 p.m. seating, which needs to clear by 7 p.m. so that we can re-sanitize everything. And then we’ll do a second, 7:30 p.m. seating,” said Labbate.

“It’s going to be so great to be back in business at Broadway and see all our old friends,” he said. “But this Friday (June 5th), just for old times’ sake, we’re doing our fried chicken dinner for pickup or delivery,” added Labbate. “It turns out people in this town love their fried chicken during quarantine. Who knew?”

 Harvest at The Ranch is open seven days a week. Reservations are highly recommended for breakfast, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., and for lunch, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Reservations are required for dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. Please, no walk-ins are allowed. 

Splashes at Surf & Sand Resort is open seven days a week. Reservations are required; no walk-ins are allowed. Breakfast is 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. Lunch is Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brunch is Saturday and Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. And dinner is 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., again, seven days a week.   

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).

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Papa’s Tacos is back with 60+ menu items to-go

By Diane Armitage

After temporarily shuttering on March 22nd, Papa’s Tacos Owner Michael Skerly figured he might be able to quietly merge back into business eight weeks later…on Saturday of Memorial Weekend.

Instead, he and his crew were zambonied. 

“It was three days in an absolute blur,” he said. “Each day was equal to our busiest Fourth of July day. I closed on Wednesday this week just so we could get some rest,” he added, laughing.

Papa s Tacos Michael Skerly

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Papa’s Tacos Owner Michael Skerly is back in play in South Laguna

“It was so heartwarming to see so many of our regulars come out in support of our return,” he continued. “I had Laguna kids telling me they had posted our opening news on their social platforms, and so many people came by just to welcome us back. It’s nice to realize you’ve actually been missed.”

A 31-Year Tradition

A longtime landmark in South Laguna since 1989, Papa’s Tacos was purchased by Michael and business partner Scott Bornstein on April 15, 2010. In the business transfer, the partners made three astute decisions:

First, they chose to keep the two primary chefs, Enriqué Zaragoza Bravo and Vincent Ladislao Cruz, who have now devoted 29 and 28 years, respectively, to the 660-foot kitchen. 

Papa s Tacos Enrique

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Courtesy of Papa’s Tacos

Chef Enriqué Zaragoza Bravo has devoted 29 years to cooking at Papa’s Tacos

Papa s Tacos Vincent

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Courtesy of Papa’s Tacos

Chef Vincent Ladislao Cruz has devoted 28 years to cooking at Papa’s Tacos

Then, they chose to keep the original, large menu in its entirety, but upgraded to premium-quality produce and proteins. Despite the fact that they’re working in a very small kitchen space, the crew at Papa’s Tacos handles daily options that equal most large Mexican restaurant menus with more than 50 lunch and dinner items and 13 breakfast sellers. 

“We added tortilla soup, the vegetable medley line, and salads, but we haven’t messed with the core recipes because they are really solid and authentic recipes,” said Skerly. 

And, third, Skerly and Bornstein chose to cater to locals’ taste buds first. “This is a year-round restaurant, so we’re all about making sure we know what our locals like best so that those items are always available. We wouldn’t be here without our locals.”

Beef Prices Are Up, No One Seems To Care

Because of the national beef shortage, Skerly said that he had to raise prices slightly on his beef menu items such as Papa’s Tacos best-selling Asada meat, a prime round steak that arrives with no fat or gristle.

“No one seemed to care,” he said. “The Asada, our California Burrito, and the Machaca Beef flew out the door. I think they were just happy to see it all return,” said Skerly.

Another top seller, the Mahi Mahi grilled fish tacos have proven a returning crowd favorite, as have the shrimp tacos. 

Papa s Tacos fish and asada

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Papa’s Tacos’ best-selling grilled Mahi Mahi tacos and Asada beef tacos

“Old School” Carnitas + Daily Made Sauces

Personally, I’m the biggest fan of Papa’s Carnitas, whether served in a taco, burrito, or bowl. (Heck, they could just roll them up in their standard foil and hand them to me a la carte.) The Papa’s team chops the carnitas into rough three-inch by three-inch squares, browns the meat slowly, and does a quick douse in the deep-fat fryer for a tender inside with a crispy outside. 

“It’s an old-school method that keeps the pork super tender and flavorful,” Skerly explained. 

Papa s Tacos chicken and carnitas

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Papa’s Tacos chicken and “old-school” carnitas tacos

Of course, any one of these tacos can be eaten sauce-free, but why miss out on the cornucopia of freshly made sauces? 

Michael packs up four popular sauces with my taco-tasting fare, all of which have personalities of their own. 

The chunky salsa is super-fresh with the tiniest kick of spice – absolutely one of the best I’ve tasted in a long time. I love dabs of it with my carne asada taco. 

The tomatillo salsa verde is mild with just a hint of heat in the mild peppers and a hint of cool from the cilantro. It pairs beautifully with the carnitas. 

The warm ranchero sauce is just plain heaven that I could happily slurp as a soup, while Papa’s hottest sauce announces itself in a sly (and rather rare) dose of cumin.

Perfect for COVID: Breakfast All Day

While I try dabs of sauce with each taco, I find there is nothing better than a pour of the warm ranchero in the breakfast burrito. Already hearty with scrambled egg, chunk potato, the tiniest scattering of super-dice onion, house-made refried beans, and melty cheese, the breakfast burrito partners with the ranchero sauce like a vaquero to his time-worn saddle.

A mainstay even at the modified hours beginning at 11 a.m., Papa’s Tacos breakfast burritos come in eight different options. All breakfast items – including Huevos Rancheros, Machaca & Eggs, and more – are served all day until close.       

Papa s Tacos breakfast burrito

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Papa’s Tacos serves up 13 different breakfast burritos

Brave New World

The sole owner of Papa’s Tacos since January 2018, Michael Skerly says the days are long “but so worth it.”

“I have the most amazing crew. We’re all working longer shifts, and those shifts start with someone ordering at the window the minute we open. My job, above all else, is to take care of my guys so that everyone stays healthy,” said Skerly. 

“For the time being, our hours are going to be 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday through Tuesday. We take Wednesdays off to rest and recoup. We’re not the same guys we were 10 years ago,” he continued. 

“Right now, it’s sort of like riding a bicycle but being so sore from 60 days of not riding,” he said wryly. 

“But it’s so worth getting back on that bike. The people have been amazing.”

Papa s Tacos exterior

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

For the time being, Papa’s Tacos is open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Thursday through Tuesday

Papa’s Tacos is in South Laguna just north of Eagle Rock (the SoLag Community Garden) and Coast Highway at 31622 Coast Highway. It’s best to order in advance from their online menu at www.PapasTacosInc.com, but you can call, too, at (949) 499-982. 

The best-selling author and blogger of 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).

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Harvest restaurant at The Ranch to reopen on Monday

The Ranch at Laguna Beach will reopen its signature Harvest restaurant for dine-in service on Monday, June 1. The restaurant is permitted to reopen with increased safety, cleaning, and physical distancing protocols per the Orange County Variance approved by the State of California.

Harvest restaurant at The Ranch at Laguna Beach is a beloved local favorite for farm-to-table cuisine and canyon views. The restaurant will reopen with a revised menu that upholds its mission to marry the bounty of the season with the atmosphere of Laguna Beach into a vibrant blend of local ingredients and California culinary traditions. 

Created in homage to Laguna’s original Rancho homesteaders, the menu at Harvest changes with the season. Fresh herbs, fruits, and vegetables are sourced from the property’s own half-acre organic garden and supplemented with ingredients from the best local producers. The result is handcrafted California comfort cuisine, locally-rooted creative cocktails, 18 craft beers on tap, and unparalleled canyon scenery.

Harvest restaurant patio

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

Harvest to reopen for a safe dining experience at The Ranch

The Ranch at Laguna Beach has implemented numerous updates at Harvest to allow for a safe dining experience when it reopens on June 1. These include, but are not limited to:

--Tables and chairs removed in the dining room to further limit restaurant occupancy and allow for physical distancing without detracting from ambience

--Tables and chairs reconfigured on the Porch and patio for increased physical distancing while still offering magnificent canyon views

--Restaurant hosts will guide physical distancing at entrances, waiting areas, and queues

--All surfaces will be sanitized at least once per hour by a member of the resort’s dedicated Sani-Czar team

--Menus will be single-use, disposable, and printed on recycled paper

--Menus will be revised to allow for fewer back of house staff, while still providing the fresh, seasonal California comfort cuisine guests know and love

--Silverware will be deep sanitized and rolled in napkins, straws are individually wrapped, and plates will be covered with cloches when leaving the kitchen

--Glass barriers installed at host stand for staff and guest safety

--Table turn times will be increased to ensure proper sanitation protocols

--Hand sanitizer will be readily available to guests

--Face masks are required for staff and strongly recommended for guests

As with all dining venues at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, team members will wear gloves and masks, and have their health monitored with daily wellness checks prior to their shifts.

Harvest restaurant at The Ranch at Laguna Beach will be open 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Reservations are strongly recommended for breakfast and lunch, and required for dinner service.

To make a reservation, call (949) 715-1376 or visit www.theranchlb.com/dining/harvest.

The Ranch at Laguna Beach reopened for overnight stays on Friday, May 15 with The California Hotel and Lodging Association’s Clean + Safe Certification, a safety seal of approval provided to hotels which complete a rigorous 32-point checklist of protocols for guests, employees, and cleaning procedures. 

For more information about how The Ranch at Laguna Beach is working to keep guests and team members safe, visit www.theranchlb.com/wellbeing-practices or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Some Laguna restaurants open for dine-in this week while others quietly assess

By Diane Armitage

At the start of our Memorial Holiday on Saturday morning, word came down that Orange County restaurants could begin opening for dine-in service, provided they followed approved plans and health-driven protocols. 

It put our Laguna Beach restaurants in an interesting predicament. 

Do they immediately open to accommodate holiday crowds? 

Which of their furloughed employees would be picking up the phone this weekend and be agreeable to coming back to work with mere hours’ notice?   

How could they order additional produce and proteins over the holiday weekend, especially when their purveyors just received the same memo?

And who’s maintained a giant store of liquor over these many weeks?

The Weekend’s Wild, Wild West

Many of our counter service restaurants stepped up. With very little in-room dining available and no need for traditional servers, it was an easier task to configure their spaces and open their doors. 

It was the first weekend back for Papa’s Tacos Owner Michael Skerly, who enjoyed one of his most profitable days ever on his first day back. Like locusts to a corn field, the swarm came early and stayed through the entirety of the weekend.

Some Laguna Papas

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

SoLag’s popular Papa’s Tacos reopened for takeout on Saturday and was swarmed from that minute forward

On the more formal dine-in side, Chef Pirozzi’s Alessa, Chef Cohen’s 230 Forest, the Gundogars at GG’s Bistro, and the Canyon’s Laguna Beach Beer Company stepped into patio and dine-in options on Saturday with limited menus and hours of operation. 

By Sunday, a handful more had joined the fray. From downtown’s Sushi Laguna and Rasta Taco to North Laguna’s Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill, owners reported running out of food before their advertised closing hours. 

“It was a blowout,” said Rasta Taco’s Mario Melendez. “It was beyond crazy.”

“This is not a return to normal”

Meanwhile, other restaurant peers stood back and assessed. Many have not yet set dates for reopening. 

“For us, we actually want to observe. I want to try going out myself to see what it’s all about! I also want to hear from customers that have dined out to get their take on it all, too. In the meantime, we will continue to do ‘to go’ and we’re dialing in our patio for more outdoor tables and a living wall,” said Co-Owner Chris Olsen of Wine Gallery.

“It’s not like this is a return to normal.”

Some Laguna Chris Olsen

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Wine Gallery Co-Owner Chris Olsen

 “We would rather take our time and do it right and learn from other operators as to what works and what doesn’t work,” he continued. “We want to slowly re-assimilate responsibly and cautiously. We should have a date for reopening this week,” he finished.

Logistics Issues

Popular Harley Chef Greg Daniels echoed the sentiment. “We aren’t planning to reopen our dining room in response to the guidance that was given over the weekend. My refusal is not meant to shame those who have. I believe that this can be done responsibly if the public allows; I just haven’t seen that many positive examples.

“Our priority is to do this right for the patrons who trust us, not to do it as quickly as possible. Our restaurant has an open kitchen, narrow dining room, and no patio. We don’t even have the room to expand if the city were to allow it. It just isn’t the right time for us yet.

Some Laguna Greg Daniels

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Harley Laguna Beach

Harley Laguna Beach Chef Greg Daniels

“In the meantime, we will be rolling out our new takeout menu for Laguna Beach in coming days. We want to warm up the restaurant and bring some of our people back. It’s time to get our Laguna family back together.”

Aaron Fu, General Manager at longtime local favorite Mandarin King, told me, “We’re going to wait until restaurant restrictions lift a bit more because the current protocols just don’t work for our location.

“With current social distancing, we would only be able to seat 16 patrons at a time in the restaurant, and my highest priority is to keep my parents safe and our employees safe,” he finished.

And reconfiguring…

Many restaurants are putting finishing touches on both temporary and permanent change-ups to better accommodate new requirements. 

“At The Cliff Restaurant, we’ve taken the requirement of social distancing and sanitizing very seriously,” said Co-Owner Sharon Haron. 

Some Laguna Cliff

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of The Cliff Laguna Beach

Along with meeting other COVID requirements, The Cliff Restaurant also refurbished its bar floor for future patron visits

“We’ve redesigned the seating, entrance, and exit and added sanitizing stations to help keep with COVID state requirements. We can’t wait to serve the Laguna Beach community again in our newly remodeled property!”

Meanwhile, South Laguna’s Coyote Grill Co-Owner Desirée Gomez said that they’ve devoted weeks to measuring spaces, removing furniture, and bringing in employees for staggered training sessions. The popular neighborhood watering hole plans to open this Tuesday, May 26th for “Taco Tuesday.”

“I’ve appointed a ‘Door Master’ for our first few weeks,” she said. “My team thought I was joking at first, but this is serious business. We’re not going to put our team or all the patrons we love at any kind of risk.”

Dine-in restaurants open this week

This is my most up-to-date compilation of all Laguna restaurants that have announced patio and/or dine-in service this week. Walk-up counter service restaurants are not included in this list because they have been, for the most part, already open. 

These have all been personally confirmed. If you don’t see your favorite listed, they have either not chosen an opening date or they haven’t gotten back to me. 

Restaurant owners, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with new updates. Readers, check my Instagram daily updates for new information, too (info below in tagline). 

North Laguna dine-in restaurants

Asada Tacos + Beer – patio and dine-in

Las Brisas – patio and dine-in

Reunion Kitchen – patio and dine-in

Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill – patio and dine-in

Zeytoon Cafe – roof deck only

Laguna Canyon dine-in restaurants

Kitchen in the Canyon – patio and dine-in

Laguna Beach Beer Company – patio and dine-in

Oliver’s Osteria – opening Friday, May 29th for patio and dine-in

Downtown & restaurant row dine-in restaurants

Broadway by Amar Santana – hoped for opening “later this week” for dine-in

GG’s Bistro – patio and dine-in

Lumberyard - opening Tuesday, May 26th, patio and dine-in

Moulin – limited patio and dine-in

Nick’s Laguna Beach – opening Wednesday, May 27th, patio and dine-in

Nirvana Grille – opening Wednesday, May 27th, patio and dine-in

Skyloft – roof deck only

Slice Pizza & Beer – opening Tuesday, May 26th, dine-in

Sushi Laguna – patio and dine-in

230 Forest - patio and dine-in

The Cliff – opening Thursday, May 28th, patio and dine-in

Zinc Cafe & Market – limited patio

Central Laguna dine-in restaurants

Avila’s El Ranchito – patio and dine-in

Driftwood Kitchen – opening Monday, June 8th, patio and dine-in

Feast Laguna – patio

Gu Ramen – patio and dine-in

Heidelberg Cafe – patio and dine-in

Mozambique Steakhouse – rooftop only

Oak Laguna Beach – patio and dine-in

Roux Laguna Beach – hoped for opening “later this week” for dine-in

Selanne Steak Tavern – opening Tuesday, May 26th, patio and dine-in

The Deck on Laguna – opening Monday, June 1st, patio 

Central South & South Laguna dine-in restaurants

Coyote Grill – opening Tuesday, May 26th for Taco Tuesday, dine-in

Dizz’s As Is – patio and dine-in

Ruby’s Auto Diner – limited dine-in, rooftop patio

Starfish Laguna – opening Friday, May 29th

The Drake – hoped for opening “later this week” for patio and dine-in

Takoutt still available at your favorites

Please note that every Laguna restaurant currently providing takeout for delivery or curbside pickup is continuing to do so as well. Please continue to support our Laguna Beach restaurants in the way you feel most comfortable and keep this community of amazing restaurateurs and chefs alive.    

This column is copyright material. 

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).

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Best Burgers in Laguna Beach, 2020

By Diane Armitage

Just because our world is topsy-turvy and my favorite Memorial Day Pancake Breakfast has been canceled does not mean that all traditions for the first true weekend of summer should be kicked to the curb. 

We still have our burgers. And when you have great burgers, you’ve got the world by the tail. 

Of the eight burgers I’m mentioning here, all but one are available now for takeout or delivery. 

Of course, a handful of our great chefs in town think an “old-fashioned burger” should be more of a decadent celebration, too. So, I’m updating my list of Best Hamburgers in Laguna Beach this week just in case you, dear reader, feel the tug of a summery-minded culinary venture this weekend and beyond. 

An Editorial Note: 

Permit a few caveats before we begin this slippery slope of a review: 

--I wasn’t able to try every hamburger in town. In fact, I mention two at the end of this article that came highly recommended by readers, but there just wasn’t enough time to digest eight burgers this week. 

--The burgers in this column are considered gourmet burgers from dining establishments that are well known for other foodie fare too.

--The list below is ranked alphabetically, period. 

--You might have a favorite burger in one of our fine dining establishments that’s not mentioned here. I welcome your vote and commentary on this terribly serious subject at either my BestofLagunaBeach Instagram page or Facebook page. 

Towering Edifices of Wonder

Even as Laguna Beach sports a number of great burger-centric restaurants, the chefs at our finer dining restaurants bow to the burger, too.

However, these chefs don’t make normal food, and they certainly don’t make normal hamburgers. I discovered towering edifices of wonder with unique combinations of ingredients and detailed preparation steps that would leave the ordinary backyard grill guy agog. 

Grab your dinner napkins and let’s get started.

The AhbA Burger 

AhbA is back! Chef/Owner Nick Bennett and uber-talented Chef Jayro Martinez quietly reopened for takeout and curbside pickup last week. Unassuming return and unassuming little café is where that word stops. The food at this place is some of the most memorable Laguna Beach has ever seen. Leave it to Jayro to make a burger equal to all the rest of their great menu items. 

Best burger AhbA

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The AhbA Burger packs a crazy punch with caramelized onions and pickled Fresno peppers   

Creation Date: August 2019

What makes the AhbA Burger memorable: Chef starts with two prime beef patties smothered in cheese. He adds a hefty dollop of caramelized sweet onions, which prove a perfect balance to the spicy surprise of sliced, pickled Fresno pepper rings and a scant slather of secret sauce aioli that warms you all the way to your toes.   

AhbA Secrets: It’s all in the sauce, and Chef Jayro is not talking. You’re going to have to pry that one out of him yourself. 

GG’s Bistro Angus Burger

Better known for its popular Bistro Burger, GG’s was inspired in this COVID haze to add a winning newbie to its list. 

Best burger GG

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The new Angus Burger at GG’s Bistro with all its optional add-ins

Creation Date: May 2019

What makes the GG’s Angus Burger memorable: Personally, you can do no wrong with anything that resides inside a freshly baked Brioche bun. The bun could be heavenly just on its own.

This burger, though, holds up to the task with its “basics” being fresh Angus patty, lettuce, tomato, perky slices of red onion, and yet another slather of secret sauce that no chef seems to want to share. 

GG’s Secrets: Avocado slices, crispy bacon, and sautéed mushrooms are offered as extras. I’d suggest getting them all. (It’s a holiday after all).   

Lumberyard Beyond Burger

At first, I was a Doubting Thomas, I’ve got to admit. Lumberyard’s Beyond Burger is a non-meat gluten-free, soy-free, and non-GMO solution that ranks in equal calories to a burger patty but provides as much protein and iron with less fat and saturated fat.

More important to me (the Foodie Queen) is that this burger looks, smells, and tastes like a true-blue grilled hamburger.

Best burger Lumberyard

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Lumberyard’s Beyond Burger looks, eats, and smells like a grilled burger, but it’s pea protein all the way

Creation Date: Summer 2019

What makes the Lumberyard Beyond Burger memorable: When Owner Cary Redfearn predicted supply chain issues in the future, neither of us figured those chains would already be in trouble less than six months later. It’s part of the reason for his decision to carry the Beyond burger. 

On the chew factor, it’s a little denser than your common burger patty. It’s more like biting into a ground sirloin burger. Its taste, though, is so closely matched to a backyard grill burger that you can’t even discern where the scientists at Beyond Burger tried to get it right. (I would have loved to have been a fly on that wall.) 

Lumberyard’s Secrets: The Lumberyard serves it with a slather of tomato marmalade to keep the patty juicy, but I don’t detect the normal patty dryness that I’ve tasted in other “almost-beef” products. It even looks like a medium rare burger, compliments of a dash of beet juice in the manufacture.

Reunion Kitchen Classic Cheeseburger

Probably the highest tower of them all, Scott McIntosh’s Classic Cheeseburger is more like a national monument. Add optional avocado, bacon, or fried egg, and you have a replica of The Leaning Tower of Pisa on your hands. 

Best burger Reunion

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Probably the tallest to-go burger, the Reunion Kitchen Cheeseburger

Creation Date: At his first Reunion Kitchen in Anaheim, December 2013

What makes the Reunion Classic Cheeseburger memorable: A half-pound patty of ground chuck serves as the base to sliced tomato, thick house-made pickle slices, crisp lettuce, melted cheese (type of cheese is your option), and crispy fried onion strips with house sauce (a house-made, spicier version of Thousand Island dressing with the restaurant’s own secret pickle relish combo), slathered on both halves of the potato bun. Avocado, fried egg, and bacon are optional add-ons (two of the three are pictured in my photo). 

Scott McIntosh’s Secrets: After selling many burgers at many different restaurants over the years, McIntosh learned a “French technique” while working with Restaurateur David Wilhelm at French 75. 

“We served a ‘Butter Burger’ at French 75, which was actually stuffed with about a tablespoon of butter,” says McIntosh. “I carried that idea over with about a half tablespoon in our Reunion burger. It’s just enough that, when the patty hits the grill, the butter bubbles out and over and gives it that rich flavor. 

Skyloft Cheeseburger

This popular burger harkens back to that nostalgic taste of In-N-Out. Sometimes you just want a classic burger that’s just messy enough but can still be held in your hand without falling apart everywhere. Chef says he created this burger for people who have that “‘classic burger’ heart.”

Best burgers Skyloft

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Courtesy of Skyloft

Skyloft’s Cheeseburger pays tribute to In-N-Out

Creation Date: May 2016

What makes the Skyloft Cheeseburger memorable: Two tenderized four-ounce patties hard-seared on the griddle, two “just melty” slices of white American cheese, a rabble of small-diced fresh tomato, red onion, pickles, and crisp iceberg lettuce. It’s finished with a healthy slather of top-secret black peppercorn aioli on a cushy bun. 

Additional Burger Recommendations

My social platforms had plenty of great opinions on this matter, too, so I’m giving these burgers a shout-out. 

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill’s phenomenal burger deserves a place on this list, but Chef Maro Molteni isn’t currently serving it as a to-go item

Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill’s burger is fantastic, ranking somewhere at the top of my list. It’s wood-grilled to perfection, then topped with complimentary love (and even an optional pineapple). I begged Chef Maro to put the burger back on his list for the Memorial Weekend, but he’s too busy cooking up all the other goodness you people keep ordering. 

The Oak Laguna Burger is one I’ve tried, but many moons ago. As I recall, it was a keeper. Fashioned with Wagyu beef, it boasts Jack cheese, fresh tomato, pickled onions, and house-made thousand island slather.

The new Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook Pantry has been offering up an “homage” to Chef Azmin’s famous Wagyu burger since its opening day a month ago. Owner Russ Bendel tells me it’s their best-selling item, but I haven’t yet tried it personally. Their American Wagyu Beef Burger is crowned with lettuce, house-made pickles, shaved onion, hothouse tomato, Spanish cheddar cheese, and that ever-present Chef’s secret sauce. 

And, Selanne Steak Tavern’s “Flash” burger is next on my list. Also fashioned of Wagyu beef, it features arugula, tomato, white Tillamook cheddar cheese, a slather of “baconaise” and what Chef refers to as “angry onions.” 

Send Me Your Favorites!

By all means, continue to shout out your favorite burgers in Laguna Beach on either of my social platforms at BestofLagunaBeach. Feel free to DM me with photos of your favs, too, as the Memorial Holiday weekend is all about making memories happen!

Let’s get out and support our Laguna Beach restaurants and keep this community of amazing restaurateurs and chefs alive.    

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).

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Lost Pier Café by The Ranch reopens today for takeout

The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s oceanfront restaurant, Lost Pier Café, will reopen today (Friday, May 22) for to-go orders. The restaurant will be open daily from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., with operations in full compliance with local, state, and CDC guidelines.

For the safety of all guests and staff, Lost Pier Café will offer takeaway orders placed in-person or over the phone. All food will be served in to-go containers with individually wrapped flatware and individually packaged condiments. The Lost Pier Café Patio remains closed at this time, as dine-in service is not permitted due to health guidelines.

Lost Pier bagel

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Courtesy of Instagram

Lost Pier Café serves breakfast, lunch, and dessert 

Lost Pier Café will serve up a revised menu of breakfast, lunch, and dessert dishes to-go. Highlights include breakfast burritos, avocado toast, paper bag beignets, grilled chicken salad, macaroni salad, clam chowder, ceviche, fish & chips, lobster rolls, fish tacos, cheeseburgers, bacon-wrapped hot dogs, churros, and more. All ingredients are sourced locally and sustainably from top quality producers. To view the current menu, visit www.lostpiercafe.com

Hand sanitizer stations will be available for guests, and floor markers and decals will provide instructions for social distancing. Lost Pier Café team members will undergo temperature and wellness checks prior to their shift and wear appropriate PPE when preparing orders.

Lost Pier Café is located at 31131 South Pacific Coast Hwy. To place an order for pickup, call (949) 715-4210.

The Ranch at Laguna Beach reopened for overnight stays on Friday, May 15 with The California Hotel and Lodging Association’s Clean + Safe Certification, a safety seal of approval provided to hotels that complete a rigorous 32-point checklist of protocols for guests, employees, and cleaning procedures. Due to safety guidelines, The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s Harvest Restaurant remains closed.

To learn more about The Ranch at Laguna Beach and its COVID-19 protocols, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. To make a reservation, visit www.theranchlb.com or call (949) 499-2271.

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Cooking from the Cupboard: Enthusiasms and cookbooks

By Hedy Buzan

This is the final of the six columns I offered to write for Stu News about cooking simple dishes during the pandemic. As it is the last, I decided to write it about my discoveries and enthusiasms of 2020 as well as my favorite cookbook authors. 

I love the concept of enthusiasms: my good friend Roy used to use this word to describe the extraordinary delight his wife Frances could get from ordinary things, particularly a new food. Frances would celebrate a new habit such as baking a simple whole grain soda bread, and she would go on and on about a new combination of grains or how great it was sliced thinly and spread with good sweet butter and topped with cucumbers and lox, or how it complemented a simple vegetable soup. Her joy was contagious. 

The cool thing about food is that it is about as basic a human need as it gets. And while, yes, food is foremost the nutrition that forms our bodies, it is also a marker of our cultural identity. The simple act of sharing food builds each family’s social fabric. Every culture and person cooks in their own way, and it is always evolving. My food profile is one part Slovene/Croatian heritage; one part post hippie semi-vegetarian; a good part Sunset Magazine recipe clipper; and a beach loving taco eating Californian; all wrapped up in the education received from the myriad cookbooks and recipes I have embraced over the years. 

Like Frances, I have my own enthusiasms. Besides my extended love affair with parsley and capers, each year I seem to discover a new food. This year it was steamed sweet potatoes. Not sweet potatoes per se, but the technique of steaming them rather than baking them. I discovered this in an LA Times recipe for steamed sweet potatoes with tahini: the recipe didn’t intrigue me, but the technique did. No more squishy overcooked sweet potatoes and yams, no more turning on the oven. Sweet potatoes joined fennel and Napa cabbage as this year’s new favs, just as in previous years I might have “discovered” Romano beans or trout cooked simply in the oven with lemon and olive oil. 

Perfectly Cooked Sweet Potatoes: Peel yams or sweet potatoes, cut into chunks, and place them in a steamer basket over a few inches of water. Steam until just tender. I love these just topped with olive oil and lemon or sprinkled with sunflower seeds for a light lunch. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I am an organic gardener and grow my own green veggies and winter squash. As any good gardener knows, my real job isn’t growing the vegetables – I leave that to Mother Nature. My job is to enrich the soil and my new garden enthusiasm is for the worm bin that has replaced my compost pile. The book Worms Eat My Garbage is a great primer. 

Here is a simple “Worm Bin Recipe.” I made an effective low-cost worm bin just by drilling holes in a big black landscapers’ pot and mixing fruit and vegetable scraps (pineapple and papaya are a no-no) with dampened shredded black and white pages from the newspaper. To this I stirred in a carton of red wriggly worms bought at Green Thumb Nursery in Laguna Hills. On top of this goes a dampened piece of burlap and an old plate that still allows air to circulate along its edges. To protect against rats or skunks, I wrap the whole pot in a piece of nylon net fabric secured with a big rubber band. I tuck the bin into a corner of my garden. I feed my bin twice a week with kitchen scraps; it is amazing how voracious those little guys are – I usually have worm castings for my garden every two months. 

I could have skipped writing this column and referred you to a new discovery: Leanne Brown’s book Cooking on $4 a Day. This is a terrific resource written by a young Canadian woman now living in NYC who has written a wonderful book on how to eat well on an extremely limited (i.e. food stamps) budget. What is more, she emphasizes quality healthy ingredients. I feel like she channels my own cooking style. This is a great gift for a young person or someone on a limited income. 

What’s more, Brown donates a free book to nonprofits for every book that is sold. She also has made the books available as free downloads in both English and Spanish. More information and download links here. 

Another great tip for good cookbooks for the beginning cook are…wait for it…Weight Watcher Cookbooks. These are often available in used bookstores and the recipes are health based, feature lots of vegetables, and have clear directions. The only caveat is that the recipes are usually too low in fat for my taste, but I just double the amount of oil or butter called for. Conversely, I often do just the opposite and cut the fat in half in traditional recipes, especially those in older books. 

Also available in used bookstores are Sunset Magazine Cookbooks. These are often compilations of reader submitted recipes from the Sunset Kitchen Cabinet – an original type of crowd sourcing. The recipes in these books combine healthy cooking, ease of preparation, and flavors from Latin America and the Pacific Rim: pure California cooking. Like many of my generation, I learned to cook from watching Julia Child on public TV and pouring over her books but grew to dislike the tedium of her detailed recipes. Other people love this careful approach. 

My friends Tom and Barbara spent a year cooking every recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I prefer the terse style of my personal favorite author, Elizabeth David. She was an English writer who was cruising the Mediterranean with her husband when WW II broke out. Eventually she was allowed to leave but this formative experience led to a lifetime spent collecting classic French and Italian recipes. David’s writing can be simultaneously exquisite and infuriating, as the ingredients may be easy to come by in a French country market but definitely unavailable in an American supermarket. Yet her recipes are written in a prose style that is so poetic, insistent, and informative that it is an education. I recommend French Provincial Cooking and Mediterranean Food

A great contemporary food writer is Gabrielle Hamilton, owner of the New York bistro Prune. She is a stickler for “just so” cooking – no sloppy substitutions for this food purist. Her cookbook Prune, is too much for home cooks, but her award winning autobiography Blood, Bones & Butter is a window into her own food journey from waitress to camp cook to caterer staff to successful restauranteur. You can also sample her writing in this fascinating article about what it is like to close a restaurant during a pandemic published in the NY Times Magazine. To read, click here. 

Another great food writer beloved by my friend Frances was M.F.K. Fisher, the legendary food writer who could write a transformative essay on the joy of eating a tangerine. Long before ‘mindfulness’ was a thing, Fisher was writing about the pleasures of good food. Her books The Art of Eating and How to Cook a Wolf are classics. 

So, with these recommendations, I end this series. Thank you for reading these articles. They were offered up in the community spirit of enjoying cooking and eating as a daily pleasure. As I read once “Even with simple means the sentiment of the heart can be expressed.”

Hedy Buzan is a Laguna Beach native and artist. Now a Laguna Woods resident, she has a studio in Laguna Canyon and exhibits at the Sawdust Festival. For many years, she worked as a cook in cafes and private service. Her culinary emphasis is on economical healthy cooking…or as her Grandmother Paula once said: “Of course it tastes good, there’s good in it.”

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The Ranch to reopen today with physical distancing measures and stringent sanitization protocols

The Ranch at Laguna Beach will reopen for overnight guests today, Friday, May 15. The reopening is planned in compliance with local and state physical distancing measures, along with new stringent cleaning and sanitization protocols. The resort’s Harvest restaurant will reopen to hotel guests for room service exclusively, in adherence to safety guidelines.

The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s reopening today includes the reopening of Ben’s Pantry at the resort’s Ben Brown’s Golf Course, which will be accepting orders for takeout. 

The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s Ben Brown’s Golf Course reopened April 24. The course is accepting scheduled tee times for golfers who agree to new health standards, available at www.theranchlb.com/golf.  

The Ranch at Laguna Beach will reopen with The California Hotel and Lodging Association Clean + Safe Certification, a safety seal of approval provided to hotels that complete a rigorous 32-point checklist of protocols for guests, employees and cleaning procedures. The certification provides peace of mind for travelers by outlining strict safety guidelines to for hotels.

The Ranch grassy

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Submitted photo

The Ranch at Laguna Beach reopens today for overnight guests 

“We are thrilled to reopen the doors to our iconic canyon resort for overnight guests. Our reopening is carefully considered and in cooperation with guidelines from state and local authorities. We’ve also gone above and beyond to implement strict cleaning standards across the entire resort, including a dedicated Sani-Czar team which will champion these new protocols and ensure they are followed. Despite these changes, guests will enjoy our same tranquil setting and warm service, but with a few important adjustments for added peace of mind,” said Kurt Bjorkman, General Manager of The Ranch at Laguna Beach.

Due to safety guidelines, The Ranch at Laguna Beach’s Harvest restaurant will temporarily be open to hotel guests exclusively. The restaurant’s dining room will remain closed but will provide to-go orders for room service, which will be dropped fresh at guestroom doors with individually wrapped flatware and single-serve condiments.

The Ranch at Laguna Beach is also implementing enhanced cleaning and sanitization measures to ensure the safety of its guests and staff. A new Sani-Czar team will oversee and champion sanitization protocols throughout the resort. 

These measures include but are not limited to:

--The property’s public spaces and surfaces will be sanitized and cleaned several times per day in accordance with expert health guidelines.

--Rooms will be cleaned with CDC-approved disinfectants and electrostatic sprayer technology.

--Staff health will be monitored with daily temperature checks prior to their shift.

--Guest arrivals will be conveniently staggered to allow for physical distancing; guests will be permitted to check out via email to bypass the Front Desk.

--Sanitizer stations will be added throughout the property and readily available for guests.

--CDC-approved hand sanitizer, disposable masks, and gloves will be presented at check-in,

--Face coverings will be required for hotel guests and staff, and provided free of charge.

--Fun floor decals and signage will encourage and enforce physical distancing.

--Glassware and coffee cups will be replaced with disposable cups in guest rooms.

--Towels and linens will be refreshed based upon guest preference.

--Guest departures will be scheduled to allow for social distancing; guests will be permitted to check out via email to skip the Front Desk checkout process.

To view the full safety and cleanliness guidelines at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, including new safety and social distancing measures at its golf course, visit www.ranchlb.com/wellbeing-practices.

Those with questions about the reopening of The Ranch at Laguna Beach and its COVID-19 protocols may email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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

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Cooking from the Cupboard: Tinned fish and quinoa

By Hedy Buzan

Today’s column is about two sources of protein found in the cupboard: tinned fish and quinoa. You could also say it is a column about parsley. I use it a lot – it is part of my Mediterranean heritage – but it is also a secret ingredient that merges, mellows, and accents flavors. 

Most of us have a favorite recipe for Tuna Salad, but it is good to change it up every now and then. Whether packed in water or oil, I usually drain it well and then add some quality olive oil, even if I am going to make a mayonnaise-based tuna salad. Next, I like to start by laying out a number of spoons – you definitely don’t want to double dip when tasting your creative additions. 

Start with a crunch of some type. Celery is the go-to standard, but I also like the sweet flavor of minced ribs of Napa cabbage. A sharp flavor like capers is a good addition, as is a bit of Dijon mustard mixed into the mayonnaise, and don’t forget to include some pepper. 

Sliced black olives can mellow out the mix. Herbs, such as a bit of parsley or, if you have it, fresh dill, is always nice. The other day I added mint on a hunch to a caper/black olive tuna mix. It was surprisingly good, but when I do these types of creative leaps, I like to try a small sample before committing to flavoring the entire batch, thus the spoons. Another thing I like to do is combine a can of smoked trout (available at Trader Joe’s) with my tuna. 

For a different take on tuna, a few weeks ago the NY Times Magazine featured a recipe for a Japanese Style Tuna over noodles. I adapted it to serve over my favorite salad of thinly sliced Napa cabbage and Honeycrisp apples; it was quite good. For the recipe, click here.

Tuna or Smoked Trout Pate: Some tuna is not quite as chunky as advertised on the label. After draining, the chunks can be pulled out for salad and the rest turned into a small bowl. Pulverize the fish with a mortar (you could use a spoon). Then, bit by bit, add about half the quantity of cream cheese (butter is an alternative) to make a smooth paste. Add a drop of lemon and allow it to set up in the fridge. Serve on toast or dark pumpernickel-style bread. Garnish with sliced cucumber and capers. This is also nice made with smoked trout. 

Sardines are a great food to have on hand. Healthwise, they have a lot going for them; they are relatively inexpensive, and because they are low on the fish food chain, they are more sustainable and have less mercury. Plus, since you eat the entire fish – bones, fins, and all – they are a good source of calcium. There is a lot of variety between brands, both in quality and flavor. I prefer the smallest ones I can find, and those packed in olive oil. However, if you don’t care for the oil they are packed in – and I usually don’t – drain them and dress them with good olive oil, a big squeeze of lemon, and a generous amount of roughly chopped parsley. Serve with fresh vegetables or alongside a green salad. 

Tinned Salmon is available wild, which is what I buy. Like sardines, the bones and skin are included in the can. The salmon has been cooked at such a high heat that the bones can be crushed between your fingertips and, like the skin, eaten (if you are not squeamish), but most people discard them. Salmon is good on a Nicoise-style salad or for a sandwich spread similar to tuna salad. I keep a can or two of Red Sockeye Wild Salmon in my pantry to make Salmon Patties for a quick dinner. I adapted this recipe from Grandma’s Famous Salmon Patties, a popular internet recipe, by cutting down on the onion and adding celery and, yes, parsley. 

Salmon Patties: In a small bowl, fluff up the salmon and remove the skin and bones. In a separate bowl beat two eggs and add a very generous amount of freshly ground pepper, a dash of hot sauce, a quarter of a finely diced onion (or two scallions), two small stalks of celery also very finely diced, and two tablespoons of minced parsley. Add a picked-over 14.75-ounce can of wild salmon and mix well. Shape into 4-6 patties on a sheet of wax paper. Cook in a mixture of olive oil and avocado oil on medium heat until brown on each side, about 5 minutes a side. BTW, I turn the oven on to 350 degrees so if my salmon cakes brown too quickly, I can finish them off by baking them on a cookie sheet. I serve these with a quick tartar sauce (mayonnaise, dill, lemon, and Worcester sauce, and a finely chopped dill pickle), and a wedge of lemon. Reheated they make a nice fish burger served with all the fixings. 

Quinoa is a great vegetarian protein source. However, quinoa includes a substance called saponin that can make it bitter. To remove this, I not only buy sprouted quinoa, but I soak it myself again overnight, then rinse well and cook it in a large pot of water instead of following the 2:1 ratio on the package directions. Once the quinoa is cooked, I drain it and again rinse well. I like to cook my quinoa until soft and the grains open up, but for a denser texture just cook it less. I often add cooked quinoa to morning oatmeal along with sunflower seeds, shredded coconut, and sliced grapes or dried fruit. A high-protein deli salad can be made by substituting cooked quinoa for the bulgur in a traditional tabbouleh recipe. 

Quinoa Tabbouleh: Combine cooled cooked quinoa with ample quantities of finely chopped parsley and mint, and dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Salt to taste. This can be stored in the fridge. Just before serving, stir in sliced radishes, minced scallions, finely chopped cucumbers, and diced tomatoes in any combination or ratio you prefer. Adding all the veggies just before serving keeps them crisp and avoids watery tabbouleh. Plus, this basic tabbouleh mixture (sans raw vegetable additions) can be the foundation for tabbouleh patties. 

Quinoa Tabbouleh Patties: Beat together one egg, two tablespoons of olive oil, a dash of hot sauce, some lemon juice, pepper, and a half teaspoon of cumin. In a separate bowl, combine cooked quinoa with ample chopped parsley, and a smaller amount of mint, thinly sliced scallions, and salt to taste. Add the egg mixture to the quinoa mixture. Fold in two tablespoons of regular or gluten-free breadcrumbs. Press the mixture into a 3.5-inch cookie cutter or ring mold onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Repeat for remaining patties. Bake at 375 for twenty minutes or until set. Makes five patties. Serve at once or reheat in a lightly oiled pan or microwave – reheating them in a pan makes for a nice crunchy exterior. Serve with mayonnaise or catsup. 

Vegan Quinoa Tabbouleh Patties: Substitute a quarter of a grated cooked sweet potato and a quarter cup of pureed pinto beans for the egg. These will be a little more delicate to handle as they lack the egg binder. 

I highly suggest using a ring mold or large cookie cutter to make these patties so they have a nice shape; the mixture is quite wet and hard to shape freehand. If you don’t have a ring mold you could also use a tuna can with the top and bottom removed but be sure to file any sharp edges left from the can opener. Note that the ring mold is just used to shape the patties; you don’t bake the patties in the mold. 

Wishing you a wonderful week, keep cooking good food, and keep chopping that parley. 

Hedy Buzan is a Laguna Beach native and artist. Now a Laguna Woods resident, she has a studio in Laguna Canyon and exhibits at the Sawdust Festival. For many years, she worked as a cook in cafes and private service. Her culinary emphasis is on economical healthy cooking…or as her Grandmother Paula once said: “Of course it tastes good, there’s good in it.”

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