NewLeftHeader

clear sky

70.8°F

Laguna Beach


Selanne Steak Tavern receives “Best of Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator magazine

For the fifth consecutive year, Selanne Steak Tavern’s 425-selection wine list has been awarded a coveted Best of Award of Excellence distinction from prestigious industry publication Wine Spectator magazine. 

The 2021 Best of Award of Excellence is the second highest level of its annual recognition program and was given to a total of 1,141 restaurants from a field of 2,900 that earned awards in one of three categories – with winners represented in all 50 states and 72 countries and territories. 

“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. Full listings can be found at www.winespectator.com/restaurants.

Selanne Steak server

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

Selanne Steak Tavern recognized for 5th year from Wine Spectator magazine

The upscale American steak house has once again been recognized for its wine list of both vintage depth and regional breadth, earning this honor with recognized strengths in wines from California and France and with a total wine inventory of over 3,000 selections also including choices from Washington, Oregon, Italy, New Zealand, Spain, Argentina, Germany, Austria, South Africa, Portugal, Canada, and Australia. 

It is heavily focused on California cult wines with many highly allocated, low production, big scoring selections and is designed to appeal to all wine lovers – their palates, pairing preferences, and spending desires.

“It’s been a difficult year for our industry, and we are happy to report we are fully open again and pushing forward,” said Selanne Steak Tavern owners Teemu Selanne and Kevin Pratt. “We are highly honored to receive the Best of Award of Excellence 2021 from Wine Spectator. Once again, we salute Certified Advanced Sommelier Vito Pasquale and his team and thank our guests for their continued support and appreciation of our hospitality.”

Selanne Steak Tavern’s wine list is especially designed to pair with the award-winning contemporary American steakhouse 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 S 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. For reservations and more information, call (949) 715-9881 or visit www.selannesteaktavern.com.


The Ranch announces removal of all single-use plastic amenity bottles

As the stewards of an incredible natural landscape, The Ranch at Laguna Beach continues to pioneer sustainability efforts by introducing new environmentally friendly guest room amenities. 

The resort has added a variety of sustainable bathroom care products, completing its mission of removing all single-use plastic amenity bottles and eliminating 23,184 bottles from the landfill each year. 

The Ranch vanity pic

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

Creekside One Bedroom/Bathroom

The new guest room additions include:

 --MALIN+GOETZ, a natural skincare line specializing in sustainable packaging featuring recyclable high-density polyethylene plastic. Guest rooms provide refillable bottles of haircare, body wash, hand soap, and lotion. All products are sustainably formulated and cruelty-free. The partnership comes from La Bottega, a Forbes Travel Guide approved supplier for bath and body collections. 

--Biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes sourced from Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified forests. The brushes are finished in a vegan-friendly wax and feature high quality dental-grade bristles, free of harmful dyes and no plastic.

--Huppy toothpaste tablets, an oral care company providing all-natural, plastic-free toothpaste designed to better the planet. The product includes zero waste packaging, non-toxic ingredients sourced from nature, and subscription refill pouches.

The Ranch outside

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

View from The Ranch guestrooms 

Sustainability sets the foundation for this boutique coastal ranch, as it leverages a variety of innovative and practical measures to reduce its carbon footprint and create a positive environmental impact. 

In addition to sustainable bathroom care products, the property recycles glass bottles into sand for its golf course bunkers, swapped plastic key cards for biodegradable bamboo room keys, operates a half-acre biodynamic farm and compost program, and irrigates with reclaimed water – saving 20 million gallons annually. 

The Ranch bottles

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

By removing all single-use plastic amenity bottles The Ranch has eliminated 23,184 bottles from the landfill each year

As of last year, the resort has positioned itself as a founding member of Beyond Green, a global portfolio of hotels, resorts, and lodges exemplifying sustainable leadership.

For more information on sustainability efforts at The Ranch at Laguna Beach, visit www.theranchlb.com/ranch/sustainability.

For more information or to inquire about a booking, contact (949) 499-2271 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


Restaurants and hotels struggle to find staffing, patience from community requested

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Although COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, Laguna’s hospitality industry faces a new challenge – staff shortages – and just when the Festival of Arts, Sawdust Festival, and Art-A-Fair are set to open.

It’s no secret that restaurants are struggling with staffing. There are just not enough servers, bartenders, and cooks to fill all of the open positions in town (or anywhere in the U.S. for that matter). 

To add to the already desperate situation, reports say that hospitality workers are leaving the industry due to hostility from customers regarding long waits and what they consider less than adequate service.

When will staffing levels return to normal?

According to qsrmagazine.com, among restaurant operators, 28 percent said they think it will be seven to 12 months before staffing returns to normal. Twenty percent believe it will take more than a year, while 10 percent say staffing levels will never bounce back to where they were.

When do our local restaurants and hotels anticipate staffing might return to normal? 

“It’s going to take some time for businesses to be fully staffed as they are struggling to find employees, and I’m not sure we’ll get back to normal staffing levels any time soon,” says Ashley Johnson, president and CEO of Visit Laguna Beach. “It appears that many of the employees who were laid off or furloughed when COVID hit, have either found other industries to work in, or are waiting for their unemployment benefits to run out. We are seeing many open positions across all departments, in the hospitality industry, specifically. Many operators, locally, are offering hiring bonuses, increased rates of pay, employee lunches, bonuses, and other incentives. Unfortunately, the guest experience is suffering (i.e., limited/no turn downs, later check-in times, restaurant reservations only) due to the lack of staffing and many employees are working overtime to cover additional shifts.”

“Possibly by the end of the year,” says The Ranch General Manager Kurt Bjorkman. “We lost about 20 percent of our staff.” 

Restaurants and Harvest

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of The Ranch

Harvest Restaurant at The Ranch

To that end, Bjorkman adds, “We’ll need to communicate that we have an amazing workplace, inclusive and supportive – fun and engaging. We have to separate ourselves from companies that are just looking for positions to fill and not people to join a close-knit organization.”

Lindsay Smith, owner and chef of Nirvana Grille, says, “I think it’s going to take longer than that.”

They lost almost all their staff. “The second shutdown hurt us more than the others. We closed four months, and the staff had to move on.”

Smith spends more time now out on the floor (although it’s part of her new model to be out on the floor to stay connected with patrons), and she also pitches in wherever help is needed. “I was at the restaurant until 12:30 a.m. over the weekend washing dishes and always stay until midnight.”

Lack of kitchen help 

Evidently, kitchen help is the most difficult to find. “We’ve gone through three dishwashers in a few months. I have a full-time person looking for employees and scheduling interviews.”

What makes it even more unfortunate is the competition.

“We are all competing for the same people!” Bjorkman says. “It’s becoming incredibly difficult – as our guests are back with enthusiasm (thank goodness).” 

Smith has closed Nirvana’s full sit-down bar because of the lack of a bartender, and she won’t increase the 50 percent seating capacity due to the staff shortage. The same applies to the patio, which seats 40 and may not open.

“Then it happens that someone has car trouble or some emergency, and we’re short-staffed even further due to that,” she says. “I try to communicate to patrons right in the beginning that it might be a longer than normal wait – that’s key.”

Restaurants and Nirvana

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Nirvana Grille lost most of its staff during the pandemic

“I’m paying the kitchen and other staff more all around which keeps revenue down – that’s just one of the challenges at the moment.”

Even though customers are noticing restaurants are straining to serve them, it’s not affecting business. 

“We are very busy and thankful for that!” says Bjorkman. “Once we were allowed to open our doors, we had a lot of happy and eager guests ready to return – we cannot be more grateful for that. I don’t think that is preventing them from going out – we are seeing record numbers (please keep coming)! The challenge is trying to serve our guests with fewer resources. It’s not just staffing, supplies are harder and more expensive to get, and lead times on certain items are really long.”

How to replace those who are leaving

If many do leave the hospitality industry as is being reported, it may open the door to a new career for others.

“It can be frustrating – but if we (the industry) do our jobs correctly, we can introduce a lot of new people into what is an incredibly rewarding career,” says Bjorkman. “Serving others is not for everyone – but for those for whom it inspires, it is an incredibly enriching career. Not just for management positions – the happiest and most amazing people in the hotel industry are found on the line level – that amazing concierge who has been at the same property for 20 years, they have an incredible life! The groundskeeper who has been taking care of the golf course for 40 years and sent three kids to college…The list goes on, every good hotel has a collection of amazing career-minded people who love to serve others! We need more of them.”

Kindness, please!

If ever there was a need for even tempers and tolerance, it is now.

“As businesses work to reopen effectively and return to normal staffing levels, I would like to encourage customers to be patient, as these businesses are doing all they can to ensure you have a memorable stay,” says Johnson. “Please keep in mind that many of these employees have stuck around throughout COVID-19, so I hope patrons will show their appreciation by tipping the hardworking employees who have chosen to be here.”

Bjorkman emphasizes that they are there to be of service. “I would ask that you have patience with those of us in the restaurant and hotel industries – we are ready to SERVE you (emphasis on the capital letters), but we just don’t have the same resources we did in 2019. We will get there – in the meantime, we will continue to do everything we can (from the local coffee shops to the luxury resorts) to make your experience exceptional, warm, and authentically Laguna Beach!”

“We want diners at Nirvana Grille to have a wonderful dining experience, enjoy themselves, and be comfortable. Most of those who come in say how nice it is to get out,” adds Smith.

So please give a little leeway to the restaurants in town as they get through this, and they will – if you can’t get a reservation or you see open tables but they won’t seat you – this is why.

Both Smith and Bjorkman agree, “We need our locals to understand we are doing our best.”


The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

Chef Rainer Schwarz debuts flavor-filled menu at Hendrix

By Diane Armitage

Last Friday, after my second day in a row at Cinepolis in Ocean Ranch to see In the Heights, I gathered fellow movie friends and walked 100 yards to Hendrix, the third restaurant in South OC from Chef Rainer Schwarz and his team. 

You may be more familiar with Chef Schwarz after his significant entry into Laguna Beach with The Deck Laguna Beach (April 2011) and then, Driftwood Kitchen (June 2014). Then, he and his team revamped the former (and rambling) Fred’s Mexican Cafe & Cantina, opening Hendrix in 2017.

Chef Rainer closeup

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Chef Rainer Schwarz, Chef Operator/Owner of The Deck Laguna Beach, Driftwood Kitchen, and Hendrix

Rotisserie, yes, but vegetarian, too 

As a rule, Hendrix has been all about the meat. The largest rotisserie in the land roosts in the front windows of Hendrix, and Chef loves doling out anything from chicken, duck, and pork to entire prime rib roasts.

His shared meat platters remind me of something at the king’s table in Game of Thrones, piled high with sausages and various meats with an accompanying giant pitchfork of a fork for serving out your own heaping serving.

Chef Rainer hendrix

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

A stone’s throw from his Laguna Beach-based restaurants, Chef Schwarz’s Hendrix is in Ocean Ranch next to the Cinepolis theater 

But Chef Rainer has always been about the balance between hearty and succulent and fresh and spritely. As you may have noticed, those poor folks in Game of Thrones weren’t treated to much in the way of fresh hamachi or brilliantly charred brussels sprouts (much less a beet and goat cheese salad), but Hendrix is famous for completing that side of our nutritional table with ease. 

“I want to make sure we create a balance to the rotisserie, which can be heavy with lots of meat,” he told me. 

“The summer menu offers more balance with lighter items and opens up a new round of options for vegans and vegetarians,” Chef said. 

New summer appetizers hum with flavor 

Last Friday night, this was apparent with Chef’s introduction of many summer menu items that wowed my crowd. 

Dish after dish arrived, perfectly plated samples of what’s in store for our summer. If this doesn’t give you hope for our return to all that is right in the months ahead, nothing will. 

Chef’s team started our table with the Cream of Summer Corn Soup, a smoky, barely spicy mix of smoked bacon folded into corn chutney with a drizzle of chili oil. 

Chef Rainer corn soup

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Chef Schwarz’s sample of Summer Corn Soup had us begging for more

Before we could weep for more, the Avocado Hummus arrived, a super smooth dippy blend topped with cashews and pumpkin seeds. A side of fried pita chips added that comfort food crunch to everything healthy and good. 

“I’ve always liked the flavor of hummus,” noted Chef. 

“And, with avocado, it takes on a sort of fluffy lightness that’s easy to eat. It’s not overbearing in flavor; it opens up your palate for more.”

Chef Rainer hummus

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

The Summery Hummus at Hendrix is whipped with fluffy avocado

Next were the BBQ Octopus Tacos, with a rack of three oversized street tacos arriving in front of each of us. Now, here’s where the rubber meets the road. You might find someone who can make a delectable corn soup or a better than average hummus dip but…octopus tacos? I haven’t heard of such a thing, and I eat out a lot, all over the world. 

Delicately poached and then ever-so-lightly grilled, the octopus meat was neatly bedded in a hard corn taco shell and topped with pineapple salsa, pickled Fresno chiles, and lemon creme fraiche. The wafer-thin radish slices added a lovely, summery tang to complete the treat.    

Chef Rainer octopus tacos

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Hendrix Octopus Tacos feature a sublime, fresh mix in a crunchy shell

Entrées and pastas on the light side 

Then, the Ricotta Gnocchi arrived. This dish follows the precepts of creating gnocchi, but instead of the usual potato as the gnocchi base, Chef chose to use ricotta, instead. Even though potato gnocchi can taste and feel fluffy and light, it has a weight to it that I always feel later. 

In contrast, this ricotta gnocchi was breezy and light. Basted in San Marzano tomato sauce, topped with buttons of mozzarella burrata and encircled in basil aioli, this was one of the most imaginative gnocchi dishes I’ve tasted.

Chef Rainer gnocchi

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Gnocchi made of ricotta makes for a delicious vegetarian entrée 

At this point, were we stuffed? Absolutely, even with the “samplers” Chef was sending out. 

Did more food arrive? Absolutely. 

Pan-Seared Diver Scallops were next with a Far East take to enliven the mellowness of the scallops. Fregola pasta (much like a couscous but pasta, instead) and chopped minestrone vegetables combine with curry and capers to serve as the base for the scallops. The scallops are then basted with a Moroccan salsa that, again, delivers a note of depth and heat.

Chef Rainer scallops

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

With a nod to India and Morocco in a single dish, giant scallops take on a new taste sensation 

Finally, Chef selected one of his (already) best-selling appetizers, Hamachi Crudo. This dish can easily serve as a full entrée as several freshly carved Hamachi planks are sprinkled with lime sauce and topped with avocado and yuzu emulsion. Even as stuffed as we were, it was a fresh and flavorful finish.   

Chef Rainer hamachi

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

The Hendrix popular Hamachi appetizer is a sublime melt-in-your-mouth treat

While the chocolate and cheesecake desserts are steady sellers, Chef Schwarz says he’s now working on the summer dessert menu, which will be launching in a couple weeks. 

“I’ll be adding in some stone fruit items, freshly baked pies, that sort of thing,” he noted. 

Safety is the key to a glorious summer

As crowds are definitely increasing, Chef and his team will continue to offer the expanded outdoor seating as an option well into the future. 

“We’ve fought our way through this last year, and we’re all hoping we’re on the other side. We’ve always done the right thing, and that’s what we’re going to keep doing. It’s important that – especially now – our customers and our own staff members continue to feel safe.” 

“We can all have a great summer ahead, and we’re doing everything we can to make it super memorable and special,” Chef Schwarz said. 

Hendrix, at 32431 Golden Lantern Drive, Laguna Niguel, opens for dining at 4 p.m., seven days a week. Weekend brunch service is Saturday and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and Happy Hour is offered daily from 4 to 6 p.m.   

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).


Taste of Laguna Food & Music Festival returns to town October 2021

After over a year without large events, nonprofit organizations KX FM and the Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce are excited to announce the return of The Taste of Laguna Food & Music Festival to be held Thursday, Oct 14, 2021. 

General admission and VIP tickets went on sale June 4 at www.tasteoflagunabeach.com. More than 40 local restaurants and award-winning chefs will showcase their most popular menu items, signature recipes, and specialty dishes, and live music will be performed at the Festival of Arts grounds. The event is open to both locals and visitors. It will include a silent auction and a competition between participating restaurants and chefs.

Taste of Cliff

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

2019 Taste of Laguna fun with The Cliff 

The 2021 event will be the second time combining the Chamber’s The Taste of Laguna with the annual concert hosted by KX FM. Canceled in 2020 due to the COVID pandemic, the return of The Taste embraces a growing figurative and literal appetite for food, music, and community togetherness that promises not to disappoint. 

KX FM broadcasts from Pacific Coast Highway on 104.7 FM and streams to audiences around the world at www.kxfmradio.org or via the KX FM app. KX FM is the home of generational alt-rock, as well as an eclectic mix of music, informative talk, and local entertainment. The Laguna Beach Chamber of Commerce drives economic prosperity and quality of life for the community of Laguna Beach by being the voice of business, promoting collaboration, and helping members grow their business. 

Taste of guests

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

(L-R) Nancy Pooley, Dave Csira, Stacia Stabler, and Suzanne Taylor

Both nonprofit organizations boast new female leadership this year with decades of combined event production experience. Chamber President and CEO Sandy Morales previously produced The Taste of Anaheim for 10 years while working for the Anaheim Chamber. “We are excited to bring back The Taste to our community, showcasing our amazing restaurants here in Laguna Beach! Partnering with KX FM has only enhanced this annual event with live music and dancing, and we plan to show everyone a good time,” said Morales.

KX FM General Manager Alyssa Hayek is excited for the uniqueness of 2021’s event. “We have such a diverse community of restaurants here in Laguna Beach that allows The Taste of Laguna Food & Music Festival to be unique each and every year. This year we decided to take a global approach to The Taste of Laguna Food & Music Festival since so many of us have been unable to travel. We are able to showcase the diversity of the restaurants that are in Laguna Beach and pair them with music that compliments the cuisine. This way you can feel transported as you eat delicious food without ever leaving Laguna,” Hayek said.

Taste of wine

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Wine Gallery sharing tasty treats in 2019 

General admission tickets are $85 with entrance at 6 p.m. Limited VIP tickets are available for $150, which includes one-hour early entry (5 p.m.), two drink tickets, a private bar, and lounge area. Food is included in the ticket price. Drink tickets will be available for purchase inside festival grounds, with several bar locations throughout the event.        

More information and tickets can be found at www.tasteoflagunabeach.com.


The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

A week of eating with my visiting friend

By Diane Armitage

Two weeks ago, my best friend from Denver (Diana) was in town. People are always asking me where I would send a tourist if they had just a few days here, and to that I always reply, “It depends on what the tourist wants to experience.”

Diana wanted to experience the “local vibe” as I experience it. So, on the day of her arrival, I started in my own SoLag hood, Coyote Grill. Seriously, folks, you can’t come to Laguna Beach and miss out on some of our neighborhood favorites. 

Steve made us margaritas and trotted out later to catch up on restaurant gossip and offer a shot of new tequila. Meanwhile the kitchen rolled out my favorite, the giant chicken burrito (minus beans and added green sauce to make it “wet”). It was the start to a very good week of eating. 

She ate salads, I tried everything else

On Memorial Day, we joined the throngs downtown, stopping at GG’s Bistro for my favorite sangria in town. Diana also ordered the Arugula Goat Cheese salad, a super-fresh blend with beets, melons, cranberries, and walnuts. 

A week GG's arugula salad

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

GG’s Bistro Arugula Goat Cheese salad is a breezy, summery blend

Tuesday was a visit to Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook for a late lunch. While Diana dug into another lovely salad, I opted for the appetizer, Lemon Thyme Confit Kurobata Pork Ribs. These were luscious, fall-off-the-bone nuggets in saucy bourbon barbecue glaze. It was all I could do to not order another helping.

As we dined, we chatted with Operating Partner (and great chef) Chris Hutten. It turns out the Sapphire team was readying to celebrate the restaurant’s one-year anniversary already. I’m sure the year ahead will prove less tumultuous than the first. 

A week Sapphire ribs

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook

Sapphire’s ribs appetizer is a memorable event

On Wednesday, we moseyed down the sand from the Surf & Sand Hotel to the longtime local favorite Zinc Cafe & Market. Owner John Secretan was actually there (I haven’t seen him in months), so we caught up on his various enterprises as Diana and I enjoyed our vegetarian breakfast items. 

I chose my old favorite, poached eggs on toast, while she opted for the daily quiche offering with a side of fruit salad. Service was quick and friendly, our dishes were delicious, and the patio was its usual people-watching pleasure.

A week Zinc quiche

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Zinc Café’s daily quiche offering is always a winner

Oliver’s new spring menu

That same evening, all diets were off with a visit to one of my favorites, Oliver’s Osteria in Laguna Canyon next to the Sawdust. While Chef Erik is never one for loading in frothy, empty calories, his dishes are so rich and fabulous in flavor that you simply can’t stop eating. We joined my dear friends, Kaj and Mary Garmshausen, and there were plenty of bites to share. 

Chef Erik has recently debuted his spring menu, and it is alight with lively color and complexities. Even Mary’s simple dish of New Zealand King Salmon was fresh and colorful and cooked to perfection.

A week Oliver's salmon

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s simple and flawless New Zealand King Salmon

Diana opted for Chef’s new Gnocchi Viola. That’s right – it’s a purple potato gnocchi (something I’ve never enjoyed before) in a creamy smoked scamorza sauce. 

Scamorza is a lesser-known cousin of the mozzarella family, but it’s one I prefer to add into sauces when I can find it. It’s a super creamy, mild cheese with just a hint of caramel smokiness. It added a great new depth to the gnocchi dish without the stickiness that can occur as gnocchi cools in its cheesy sauce. This luxurious dish could easily be shared as an appetizer, too. 

A week Oliver's gnocchi

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s new Gnocchi Viola is made of purple potatoes in a smoky, rich sauce

Kaj choose the evening pasta special, which also proved a rich, yet light blend of mushrooms and braised pork ragout folded in with freshly made short tube pasta. Topped with paper-thin truffle shavings, it was a rustic, sublime event. 

A week Oliver's mushroom

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s serves nightly specials, including this mushroom and pork ragout pasta with truffle shavings

Ever a seafood fan, I chose the Spaghetti Chitarra All’ Aragosta. The stately dish features house-made guitar spaghetti with fresh lobster in an arrabbiata sauce, which adds peppery spice to a marina base. It was fresh and bright with plenty of rich lobster pairing companionably with the sauce.   

A week Oliver's lobster

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s Lobster pasta dish is both memorable in presentation and taste

Leave it to Chef Erik to knock it out of the park once again. The dishes were lovely, and the service even lovelier. This is a must this summer for you as well as your visiting guests. 

Finally, the last lunch 

The following day before her departure to the airport, Diana and I waddled over to another favorite mainstay of mine – Harvest at The Ranch Laguna Beach with Chef Kyle St. John at the helm. 

Of course, Diana chose salad. Neither of us, though, expected the still-steaming salmon slab atop a mound of fresh greens and herbs. It had to be the largest serving of salmon I’ve ever seen on a salad. She noted it was spectacular. 

I, however, was involved in my own spectacular dish, my first try of the Grilled Salmon Sandwich. Chef grills Nordic Blu salmon and tops it with kimchi slaw, miso aioli, sweet soy glaze, and crispy fried onions. Sounds rather simple, I know, but it was simply unbelievable. 

In mere minutes, this rather unassuming sandwich bulldozed its way past any other sandwich contender in Laguna Beach. In my book, it’s taken the crown, the throne, and the singing minstrels, too. This sandwich is a game changer.

A week Harvest salmon

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage 

Harvest’s unbelievably amazing Grilled Salmon Sandwich

Since Diana’s departure, I’ve done my best to follow her lead – salads, salads, and more salads. This weekend, though, I stumbled into Chef Rainer Schwarz’s new spring menu at Hendrix, his Ocean Ranch-based restaurant. While it’s not in Laguna Beach as are his first two restaurants (The Deck and Driftwood Kitchen), you deserve to hear about this heady and delicious welcome for spring. It was a perfect stop after seeing In the Heights at Cinepolis. Stay tuned this Friday in Stu News Laguna

Check out my almost daily foodie finds on my social media platforms, below, opt-in for gift card freebies and weekly updates at https://thebestoflagunabeach.com/, and start making your plans to return to the restaurants that never stopped cooking and creating on our behalf. Our Laguna chefs and owners continue to outdo themselves – be sure to let them know! 

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).


Jedidiah Coffee: the artistry and ingenuity of craft coffee from the Munsey family to you

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Yes, there is a word for someone who loves coffee – caféphile. For even the most discerning of caféphiles, Jedidiah Coffee is the ultimate taste experience. Steve and Embry Munsey, the owners of Jedidiah Coffee, are passionate about coffee – so much so that they have developed it into an art form. 

It’s apparent they’re doing what they love – and have been for some time – and our community is the fortunate recipient of that expertise. 

As Steve explains, there truly is a science to roasting, “The coffee industry is behind the craft beer industry. We need to catch up and get the palate adjusted to craft coffee.” 

Jedidiah coffee couple

Click on photo for a larger image

Steve and Embry Munsey

Why craft roasting?

Craft coffee roasting offers the versatility needed to roast a delicious batch of coffee by optimizing sweetness and clarity. By combining passion and ingenuity, craft roasters create original roasts that stand out from the rest as they are able to unlock varied nuances from within the bean.

As described by craft roasting experts, “The act of coffee roasting is nothing short of an art form. Roast masters – much like potters, sculptors, and oil painters – devote countless hours to the honing of their craft until they master it.”

When Embry and Steve met 18 years ago, they hadn’t yet discovered their mutual affection for coffee.

Embry (from Texas) and Steve (who grew up in Mission Viejo) met in Sydney, Australia, at a bible school. They long-distance dated for a while and then on a visit here, Steve picked Embry up at the airport and took her straight to the Orange Inn and then to the beach. Evidently, that cinched the deal. 

In 2005, Steve and Embry married and started their family in North Texas where Embry was born and raised. Steve had been working with Starbucks in Orange County which made for an easy transfer to Grapevine, Texas, when they moved there to be closer to Embry’s family.

Jedidiah coffee roaster

Click on photo for a larger image

The Munseys are planning on buying a larger roaster

Time in Texas

“Once in Texas, I moved up quickly and was promoted to manager within two years,” Steve adds.

“I got pregnant there with our firstborn, Zealan, but we had decided we wanted to raise our kids back here in Laguna,” says Embry. “So when he was four months old in April of 2008, we came back.”

Steve transferred to the Starbucks at Quail Hill and by that time there was talk of him being promoted to District Manager. “I loved the interaction with the community and getting to know the regulars. I would hike and surf with some of the regular customers,” says Steve. “It was that community in Irvine that started to refer to me as ‘the Mayor of Quail Hill’ and started encouraging me to open my own shop.”

By 2010, Steve had been at Starbucks over six years, and they both had warmed up to the idea of having their own cafe. “Embry was 38 weeks pregnant with our second son, Jedidiah, when we got a verbal ‘yes’ from an investor to move forward with a spot,” says Steve. “Just a week later, we lost Jedidiah [at birth], and put the whole coffee dream on hold. We kind of stopped doing everything. 

“We moved from Club Laguna in the Audubon down to Laguna Terrace in South Laguna, and I’d walk down to the beach every day to watch the pelicans. Being at the beach gave us a lot of peace during that time.” 

His fondness for pelicans is reflected in the Jedidiah Coffee logo, which is a uniquely designed abstract pelican in flight combined with the colorful art culture of Laguna Beach. 

Jedidiah coffee cups

Click on photo for a larger image

Jedidiah Coffee cups

“By late 2013, we added another boy to the crew, Gideon – our first ‘rainbow baby,’” says Embry. “Rainbow baby is the term for a child that’s born after a loss. A friend helped us come up with the middle name Malex that was a combination of Zealan and Jedidiah’s middle names. We want to always honor and hold a space for Jedidiah as part of our family and have found so much comfort and healing in sharing his story with people.”

Southern California had been home for the Munseys for over eight years, and they were deep in community at Mariners Church Irvine, where they both worked on staff from 2012 until the time they moved back to Texas in 2016. They were expecting their first (and only) daughter, Liberty, and “although SoCal was home, we were wanting to be back by my family, and possibly have more space for our growing family,” Embry says. 

Launch of coffee catering

“While we were in Texas, I worked for a hunger initiative organization, and we launched our coffee catering as a side business in 2017,” says Steve. “Because of a friend’s suggestion, Jedidiah Coffee was named in our own son’s memory.”

The Munseys stayed three years and did very well with the mobile coffee bar but didn’t feel like Texas was home for their family, so they came back here to Orange County in 2019.

“A year after we had moved back and relaunched in OC, we were starting to get traction with the business. We served regularly to the staff and students at LCAD right here in the Canyon and were finding our way back on preferred vendor lists around town,” says Embry. “We’re so happy to see events picking back up after such a wild year, and grateful to have this facility to house our roasting operations. We love that we have a space for our community to come by for a chat!”

Jedidiah coffee Steve

Click on photo for a larger image

Steve preparing a “pour over” which is used for small events

The majority of Jedidiah Coffee’s business is online. The Munseys offer pre-customizable coffee subscriptions (fulfilled every two weeks) with a 10 percent discount and free delivery for Laguna and Aliso Viejo (or the coffee can be picked up at their location). Subscriptions are a surefire guarantee that you’ll never run out of coffee and have to rush out to get more.

Five 12 oz blends are available – Ethiopia Sidama, Honduras Copan, Guatemala Heu Huetenango, Colombia Jerico, and Decaf Columbia.

In addition to subscriptions, they also offer small packages for hotels, a 10 oz sampler pack, a 40 oz bag, travel cups, hats, and other items.

Of course, although they want the city to know “they are here” and want to succeed, Embry says, “What sets us apart is that we truly want to be here for our community. We have worked hard since 2017 to create a dependable, quality coffee product and catering experience, but what truly drives us is offering whatever we have as a family and business back into our community, and partnering with the other local families, businesses, and organizations that do the same.”

They have already partnered with Hobie Surf Shop, Laguna College of Art and Design, Summer’s Table, Jade Tea, and Amenah and hope to expand their collaborations. 

Mobile coffee bar

Jedidiah Coffee offers next-level, full-service espresso bar service alongside their locally-roasted craft coffee. The mobile coffee bar is perfect for any gathering. Their events cover a wide spectrum – weddings, office parties, birthdays, anniversaries, corporate events, house warmings, employee appreciation, grand openings, and backyard soirées – pretty much any function one could imagine. 

Jedidiah coffee Embrey

Click on photo for a larger image

The mobile coffee bar – perfect for any gathering

Recently, they provided coffee for the teachers and staff at Laguna Beach High School for “Teacher and Staff Appreciation Week.” 

For get-togethers, the Munseys offer expresso drinks from their mobile coffee bar or pour overs for those on a smaller budget.

Their website states, “Since we truly believe every day calls for great coffee, we literally bring the entire (ultra-friendly) cafe vibe to you. So nix the average brew and let us pour our love and professionalism into giving you the absolute best coffee experience around! So what are you waiting for? Let us transform your venue, office, or even your home gathering into a coffee lounge full of excitement, good vibes, and of course, unforgettable coffee!” 

“One of the aspects I especially like is the party planning – we get to be part of people’s special occasions,” says Embry.

Currently, she is working with a friend in South Laguna on personalized cookies to add to the special occasion events.

Environmental responsibility

In running Jedidiah Coffee, environmental impact is uppermost on Steve’s mind. “We use an importer for the beans. In choosing, I look for the quality of production. Because some farms use child labor, the kids skip school. That doesn’t line up with our beliefs and sense of duty. One of our values to the community is that we try to select products that respect the environment – and people – even if we have to spend extra money. Even our cups and packaging are ecologically friendly.”

Jedidiah coffee door

Click on photo for a larger image

The door is always open – the guitar is Steve’s and Embry sings 

“Our initial dream in 2010 was to open a vibrant, welcoming cafe right here in the heart of Laguna Beach, and we are finally seeing that process begin,” says Embry. “We look forward to operating a coffee shop that not only serves incredible coffee beverages but becomes a space that locals and visitors alike come together to enjoy one another, and hopefully, rally to give back to our special town. Our company has always been about gathering people together and setting the tone for genuine, vulnerable conversation and relationship.” 

Invitation to stop by

As the Munseys say, “Coffee cultivates community.”

They want the town to know that, “We are here! Feel free to come by our roasting facility this summer, we just can’t promise it will be a quick chat. We’ll be posting specific hours and days, along with some fun offerings we’ll have available certain days of the week – make sure you’re following us on Instagram to keep up with all the excitement.” 

When not at their facility, the Munseys spend time together as a family, hiking and surfing. Zealan is a student at Thurston, Gideon goes to Top of the World, and Liberty, when she’s old enough, will go there as well.

So stop by and take a look any weekday morning, but best to call ahead and let them know you’ll be coming by – at 2177 Laguna Canyon Rd. Use the driveway between the wine gallery and the classic car shop – take it to the end, go left, and then just follow the wonderful coffee smell to their location.

Caféphiles, don’t miss your chance to give Jedidiah Coffee your own discriminating taste test. You won’t be disappointed.

Stay tuned as their coffee journey goes full circle, marking ten years this summer. 

For more information about Jedidiah Coffee, go to www.jedidiahcoffee.comor call (949) 291-4325.


The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

Rumari expands with neighborhood Italian market

By Diane Armitage

As we inch ever closer to expanded restaurant seating options, Laguna restaurateurs are expanding their options, period. 

Chef Craig Connole (formerly K’ya and Rooftop) has gained traction since taking over Ristorante Rumari’s operation a year ago. With the City’s blessings, the crew created an entire 80-seat patio on its back parking lot (and discovered a lovely ocean view in the process.)

While that patio remains busily popping with Chef’s talented cooking, the interior of the restaurant is making way for a new Famiglia Alimentari with wine bar and bistro seating. 

Rumari expands wine

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

The Alimentari Italian Market has recently opened at Ristorante Rumari

Laguna’s first Italian market

Picture your favorite go-to market when you were last in Florence or a larger city’s “Little Italy,” and you know exactly what’s developing at Rumari over the next 30 days.

An Italian “Alimentari” is typically a family-run market that offers sublime pantry items, fresh-baked breads, daily made sauces and pastas for grab-and-go, wines and beers by the glass or bottle, and even butchery items.

Rumari expands burrata

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo courtesy of Famiglia Alimentari 

The Osteria housed in the market offers many of Chef Craig’s most popular items, including Burrata dishes

The market, which includes an Osteria (“wine bar with simple foods”) will be open from about 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. five or six days a week. Dinner seating for Rumari’s larger menu will continue as usual (once allowed indoors), Wednesdays through Sunday, 5 to 9 p.m.

Keeping it in the family

In keeping with the family-run theme, Chef Craig has brought on his sister, Christi Bell, and niece Keely Bell to help him run the Alimentari operation. Older sister Christi is a familiar face, having been a staple in management in various restaurants operated by Craig and fellow business partner Chris Keller.

Rumari expands family

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Famiglia Alimentari is a family kind of thing with management between sister Christi Bell (left), Chef Craig Connole, and Christi’s daughter (Craig’s niece), Keely

“We put the plans together for this about a year ago,” said Craig. “But then, you know, everything got crazy, and we’re just now getting around to finally creating what really is meant to be a neighborhood go-to for our Laguna neighborhoods.”

As refrigerators for bottled items and grab-and-go dinners are rolling into play, Famiglia Alimentari already offers plenty of pantry items, and its Osteria remains true to its name, offering a fully stocked wine bar (and bartender!) at the Rumari bar. 

The wine bar and bistro seating will offer a revolving shorter menu of Chef Craig’s famous Meatballs Marinara, Smoked Salmon Carpaccio, Polenta with Ragu Bolognese, and Italian sandwiches with Rumari’s melt-in-your-mouth breads.

“We’ll be opening around 11 a.m. each day, so it’s easy to stop in, grab a great lunch or early dinner, maybe have a glass of wine, and pick up items for your next dinner at home,” said Christi.

Rumari expands chops

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo courtesy of Famiglia Alimentari

Ready-made dinners will include popular favorites including Chef Craig’s fabulous lamb chops

The grab-and-go refrigerators will be stocked with ready-made dinners from the Rumari menu, including best-selling lasagne, eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti & meatballs, and more. Chef Craig is also packaging up his famous sauces, meatballs, salads, and desserts.

Italian beers and popular wines from both sides of the Atlantic will be housed in the miniature wine shop, too.

Customized picnic baskets 

In keeping with that old world, rustic theme, Alimentari is offering picnic baskets of various sizes, too. These can be custom ordered in advance or picked up with packed-to-go options.

“People can pick up a picnic basket for the beach or their backyard. And, we’re hoping hotel guests in the area will be interested, too,” said Craig. 

“A lot of times, you may be checking into a hotel after flying across the country. You know you need to eat but you really don’t feel like heading out again. So, grab your picnic basket and hang out on your deck where you have the best views in town, anyway.”

Rumari expands market

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Authentic Italian pantry items and foodie gift baskets adorn the shelves at the new Italian market housed in Ristorante Rumari

Ready for parties & catering, too

As the front of house is seeing significant changes, the back storeroom has been cleaned up too.

“We’re just here to be your go-to,” said Chef Craig. “If you want something special…if you need a private chef…if you have a special occasion you don’t know how to plan for…that’s what the Famiglia Alimentari specializes in.”

 It’s that added homey touch in one of the longest running neighborly restaurants in Laguna Beach.   

“In the end, we’re just neighbors helping out neighbors,” said Craig. 

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).


La Rue du Chocolat: sweet dreams are made of this

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

“Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” 

No doubt everyone recognizes that famous line from the movie Forrest Gump. However, contrary to that quote, you always know what you’re going to get at La Rue du Chocolat – fine handmade chocolates, truffles, and fresh chocolate-dipped strawberries. 

La Rue du Chocolat means the street of chocolate – an apt name since the shop is located in Pepper Tree Lane, a historic building constructed in 1934 around a pepper tree. They have been creating handcrafted chocolates since the 1950s. When passing through the arched brick entries of this Laguna landmark, one can leave reality behind and experience the mood of a European holiday. 

La Rue entrance

Click on photo for a larger image

Historic Pepper Tree Lane – built around pepper tree in 1934

Owner Cosima Qiza, who has worked at the shop since she was 19 and eventually took it over, has seen a lot of changes in the narrow walkway that constitutes Pepper Tree Lane. The restaurant across the passageway changed from Partners Bistro to Watermarc, and it will soon be a new establishment, Rum Social Kitchen & Cocktails. A hat shop became Gelato Paradiso, and Sutton Place is now Smitten, which Cosima acquired 18 months ago. 

“Anita, the previous proprietor, wanted to retire after 30 plus years in business,” Cosima says.

La Rue du Chocolat is a traditional chocolate shop in every sense – from the marble cabinets to the glass cases filled with exquisite delights and the glass jars filled with delectable treats such as chocolate-covered almonds. 

Everything about the shop is unique. Even the signage on the window was made years ago – and because the artist passed away, cannot be replicated.

In 2020, the shop earned an Award of Excellence from the Health Department, which is granted to very few establishments. 

La Rue case

Click on photo for a larger image

All chocolates handmade in their certified kitchen 

“We have been using our own certified kitchen for about 10 years,” Cosima says. “The chocolatiers I used slowly went out of business. They either gave me their recipes, or I researched them. Everything is handmade and shipped weekly.”

Some of the favorite chocolates are birthday cake truffles, Grand Marnier Liqueur, and dark chocolate almond clusters. They also have vegan and sugar-free chocolates.

When Cosima says her chocolates are hand-dipped, she means it. There is no machinery involved. “They are authentically hand-dipped, the caramel is mixed over a pot, and the English toffee is spread out on a marble board and cut.”

To add to the shop’s charm, Cosima added a section filled with cards, stuffed animals, and boutique items. 

La Rue store front

Click on photo for a larger image

La Rue du Chocolat carries unique gift items

“We go to shows in Las Vegas and Los Angeles for the merchandise, and I bring some back from my travels,” she says. “We have gifts and a little bit of everything – ornaments, cards, dolls. I love finding cool items.”

Because La Rue du Chocolat was considered essential (since chocolate is food), during the pandemic, they stayed open, filled pickup orders, and delivered. 

The shop celebrates the holidays in a big way – both in the creation of their candies and in designing the store windows.

“We’re very seasonal,” says Cosima. “We decorate the windows for the holidays – Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Valentine’s Day. People come from all over to see our window decorations.”

La Rue window

Click on photo for a larger image

Windows are decorated for seasons 

And they come for the customer service as well. 

Cosima has four employees. Izzy, who has been with the shop for eight years and now works – as needed – in Smitten, says, “It’s super great to work for Cosima. It’s the best job I could ever have. It’s creative, and I get to decorate chocolate.”

“They all have little specialties,” says Cosima. “Izzy does the cellophane for packaging, Jamie does the ‘O crunch,’ Ella does the mint frogs, and Sala decorates. And they do whatever is necessary, such as restocking. There’s always something to do – mop the floor or clean out the refrigerator.”

Sala has been with Cosima for six years, Ella is a student at LBHS, and Jamie will graduate this year from LBHS. For three and a half years, Danica has helped run the business. “She assists with everything,” says Cosima. “And all my staff is good with customer service.”

Started as a teenager

“I started here when I was 19 years old,” says Cosima. 

Since she started at La Rue du Chocolat, the shop has served as a touchstone. She continued to return to it over the years until she took over the business from the landlords 10 plus years ago. “I stayed and never left,” she says. 

While she was working there, she attended University of California at Irvine, earning a degree in Political Science. 

La Rue strawberries

Click on photo for a larger image

Hand-dipped strawberries 

“Then I took a position at Target as manager,” she says, “and worked there less than a year while still at the shop. I started here in sales, then went on to managing and ordering, and held other jobs too – one at Diane’s Swimsuits. For Habitat for Humanity, I traveled to Thailand, Hungary, and Egypt and then came back and again worked at the shop. I always had a key, and I always came back here.”

A fateful meeting

Pepper Tree Lane also houses The Saloon, where Cosima met her husband Erik Hill.

Although both Cosima and Erik are longtime Laguna residents – Cosima went to El Morro, Thurston, and Laguna Beach High School – their paths didn’t cross until that momentous meeting.

Unbeknownst to Erik, he went to LBHS with Cosima’s two older brothers. “When they met, Erik mentioned, ‘I go to school with two brothers from Pakistan,’” Cosima says – and the connection was made.

Their wedding photographs were taken on the stairs just outside her shop.

The couple now has three children (two attend El Morro), ages seven, six, and two. Erik, who comes from a family of teachers, is an instructor in the Santa Ana Unified School District.

La Rue chocolates

Click on photo for a larger image

Chocolate is the “food of the gods” 

How Cosima ended up in Laguna was a long journey. Her parents took the family from Pakistan to Singapore and then eventually settled in Laguna. Her parents and in-laws still live here. 

Anyone who has been in Laguna that long knows the town is all about community. “The locals really support us,” she says. “Some come in once a week. If we don’t have what they want, we’ll make it.”

Called the “food of the gods,” chocolate has been unmatched in history for its taste and importance. Its history goes back to over 4,000 years. 

La Rue du Chocolat is doing its best to keep this tradition alive and well and at your fingertips. If you want a taste of heaven, go to Cosima’s shop. You’ll be dreaming of this “sweet food of the gods” from now on.

The shop is open every day from 12-8 p.m.

La Rue du Chocolat is located at 448 S Coast Hwy.

For more information on the shop, go to www.larueduchocolat.com or call (949) 494-2372.


The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

Saigon Beach Vietnamese Eats opens at last

By Diane Armitage 

It’s been exactly two years and eleven months since the former Royal Thai went dark, waiting for a new breath of life. 

She finally got her wish when new owners Phong and Lan Vu opened the doors to Saigon Beach Vietnamese Eats last Thursday.

Saigon exterior

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Saigon Beach Vietnamese Eats has opened next to Mozambique

“As you can probably guess, it’s been a much longer timetable than we first envisioned,” said Phong, “But we’re finally here and we know it’s where we’re supposed to be. 

“On our first day last Thursday, a couple Laguna police stopped in, and they called on the radio to let all their peers know, so we had a busy restaurant right from the start,” said Phong. 

An engineer by trade, Phong says his wife, Lan, has been the driving force behind the restaurant business. Ever and always interested in what she could create in the kitchen, Lan initially started with a yogurt and sandwich shop 17 years ago. 

Saigon owners

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Saigon Beach husband-and-wife team, Chef Lan (left) and Phong Vu

Chefs just can’t help but expand their repertoire, though. With urging from his successful uncle, who opened the first Vietnamese restaurant in Minneapolis in 1975, the couple opened Saigon Beach in Newport Beach in late 2016. 

With rave reviews on Lan’s unique take on banh mi (the heavenly Vietnamese version of a flaky baguette stuffed with meats or vegetables), Saigon Beach in Newport Beach was an immediate hit, and still ranks consistently as one of the Top 100 Restaurants in the United States. 

Two years later, it was time to expand (because that’s what chefs do). The couple considered Huntington Beach, but felt drawn to Laguna for the local vibe.

Sleek & Chic

If any of you remember the dark wood and ornamentation of the former Royal Thai, you’re in for quite a surprise at Saigon Beach. Simple, chic modern is the name of the game for the dining room, with a brand-new kitchen’s shiny stainless-steel winking from behind.

“We swept everything away and started from the ground up,” said Phong. “We had the opportunity here in Laguna to create a bigger kitchen that would accommodate more of a gourmet menu along with catering fulfillment, and we’ve taken full advantage of all this space,” he added. 

Saigon interior

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Saigon Beach offers quick counter service in a peaceful, chic setting

This is a sophisticated counter service kind of place with wine and beer options to keep you company as your food is prepared. It is a casual eatery (seating outside, too) with fine food fare. 

Pork Belly Lollipops?

“It seems that the locals have a passion for food here,” Phong explained. “And, as our Chef says, we didn’t come all this way to cook ordinary food.”

While Lan and her fellow chef have transported a few Newport Beach favorites into the new Laguna restaurant, they’ve spent time crafting a new menu specifically for Laguna Beach that leans more toward gourmet Vietnamese.

Chef specials and favorites adorn simple chalkboards, while paper menus with accompanying QR codes for scanning offer an extensive array of Vietnamese food at its finest.

Saigon interior

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Watch for favorites and specials on the daily chalkboards

Chef Lan says the Pork Belly Lollipops have proven a big hit, while the Golden State Curry offers a rare mix of Vietnamese flair with Indian curry.

Adds husband Phong, “The 420 Green Rice didn’t have a name for the longest time, but many of our customers told us that it was seriously addictive…so, thus the name.”

The All-Day Menu ranges with Banh Mi options, Crispy and Fresh Spring Egg Rolls, 420 Green Rice, Nam Nam Wings, Pho Noodle Soup, and Crazy Rich Bao (perhaps I’ll try this with my Crazy Rich Asians Production Designer buddy Nelson Coates).

The Evening Menu, served from 4 to 9 p.m., adds in small plates and entrées that include Shakey Shakey Beef, Golden State Curry, and Garlic Noods.

Stay tuned for emerging details

Saigon Beach is open in Laguna Beach seven days a week, 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch, and again from 4 to 9 p.m. The parking lot is available to Saigon Beach clientele for both dine-in and pick-up. 

I’ll be trying the food at Saigon Beach in short order, but feel free to send me your comments and photos about our newest restaurant’s fare by DMing me at Instagram or Facebook @BestofLagunaBeach. I’ll be happy to feature your best photography!

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).

Shaena Stabler, President & CEO - Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com

Lana Johnson, Editor - Lana@StuNewsLaguna.com

Tom Johnson, Publisher - Tom@StuNewsLaguna.com

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Sara Hall, Suzie Harrison and Theresa Keegan are our writers and/or columnists.

In Memoriam - Stu Saffer and Barbara Diamond.

Email: Editor@StuNewsLaguna.com with news releases, letters, etc.

949.212.1499

Email: Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com for questions about advertising

949.315.0259

© 2022 Stu News Laguna - All Rights Reserved.