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Nirvana Grille and Sally’s Fund partner to deliver Easter dinners to homebound seniors

By DIANNE RUSSELL

Easter Day was anything but tradition this year, but Lindsay Smith-Rosales, chef/owner of Laguna Beach-based Nirvana Grille, teamed up with the city’s senior services and transportation 501(c)(3) nonprofit Sally’s Fund to make it one to remember for some of the city’s homebound seniors. 

Together, Nirvana Grille and Sally’s Fund provided 140 Easter dinners to the most vulnerable elderly members in the community (most were Vista Aliso and Alice Court). The two-course meal that included a turkey, ham, or chicken entrée, mashed Yukon potatoes, green beans with herb butter, fresh-baked baguette, and dessert, was funded by last-minute donations to Sally’s Fund.

Executive Director of Sally’s Fund Rachael Berger reports that the response has been amazing. 

Nirvana Grille van

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Courtesy of Sally’s Fund

(L-R) Volunteer, Chef Lindsay, Sally’s Fund Driver Jason Pastore, and Sally’s Fund Executive Director Rachael Berger

Susana Cruciana says, “I was so surprised and thankful to have a divine honey ham meal with real mashed potatoes, green beans, and dessert appear at my door from these wonderful volunteers at Sally’s Fund! Thank you so much, Nirvana! I’m making it last three days!”

An anonymous recipient comments, “Got real chicken dinner, so good...thanks Sally’s Fund.” 

Sally’s Fund has been serving Laguna Beach seniors since 1982. 

“In a typical year, Sally’s Fund makes over 7,000 trips for our local Laguna Beach seniors, transporting and escorting them to medical appointments, grocery shopping, running errands, and doing wellness checks,” said Berger. “Many of the people we serve have disabilities due to old age, are low income without family nearby to assist, and have increased anxiety and fear as a result of COVID-19.”

Nirvana Grille meal

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Courtesy of Nirvana Grille

Scrumptious Easter dinner

“A wonderful trolley driver delivered a huge bag filled with goodies,” says Pam Nelson. “Then came back because he forgot the sweets. No amount of thanks can ever be enough. I am so very blessed to be a part of this loving and close-knit community. I would love to pay it forward someday. You are all truly angels that keep on giving warm fuzzies to Laguna Beach. Again – God Bless you all and keep you safe.” 

Sally’s Fund carries on with services 

Sally’s Fund is committed to continue delivering at least 100 bags of groceries each week including necessities like toilet paper and masks. Berger says, “Our drivers may be the only people seniors see each week and they are extremely grateful for the help we provide them.” 

Bette Due praises Sally’s Fund volunteers, “Thanks for all the good information. Miss you all. Love all of you ladies.”

From Phyllis Wilson, “Jason has delivered me some wonderful groceries yesterday and today. Doing well! Can’t thank you enough.” 

Nirvana Grille trays

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Courtesy of Nirvana Grille

Chef Lindsay in foreground, preparing meals

Nirvana Grille took immediate action

Chef Lindsay was quick to respond to the unprecedented challenge that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought upon the community. Prior to the “stay-at-home” restrictions, she had an “ah-ha” moment after seeing a social media post of empty shelves at a local grocery store. Those photos gave her the idea to create an online market co-op filling a need for both her restaurant suppliers and her customers; restaurant suppliers would have a new sales channel with items other restaurants stopped ordering, and residents an alternative method to shop for grocery items, cleaning supplies, and household necessities. This idea came to fruition within hours and on her first social media post about the Nirvana Grille Co-Op, she received hundreds of responses and has never looked back. 

Nirvana Grille co op

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Courtesy of Nirvana Grille

A sampling of groceries from the Nirvana Grille co-op

Moving forward, Nirvana Grille and Sally’s Fund would like to see their collaboration grow to service Orange County hospital and healthcare workers, police, and other first responders with regular meal deliveries. To fund this, Nirvana Grille has added “donation” buttons to their online platform where people can donate to their effort for one or all of the categories. To access, click here.

Berger says, “Sally’s Fund wants to thank all the generous donors in the community that supported our efforts, showing kindness and care for the most vulnerable in Laguna Beach.” 

From Melanie Vargas, “This is Melanie, Barbara’s daughter. My mom and I have been talking about how wonderful it is that even with this COVID-19 virus, Sally’s Fund is still helping out so many people. My mom would like to make a small $250 dollar donation to help contribute.” 

Nirvana Grille delivering

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Courtesy of Sally’s Fund

Rachael Berger and Jason Pastore delivering Easter dinner to resident

More kudos for Sally’s Fund

On behalf of her mother Sara Pardo Figueroa, Monica Crawford says, “Thank you again for your concern and your support, Rachael! Sending you blessings and hugs and kisses.” 

Michelle Venya says, “Laguna seniors are very lucky to have such a resource. Great job, Rachael… stay well.”

For more information on Sally’s Fund, go to https://sallysfund.org/.

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Laguna restaurants want you to celebrate Easter

By Diane Armitage

Here I am again, back with more Laguna Beach restaurant updates for you. I hope the news I share here at Stu News Laguna is a happier daily briefing than most of the news you’re seeing elsewhere. 

I’ve always adored our restaurant owners and chefs in this town. I’m constantly amazed and amused these days, though, with what they keep coming up with to stay in operation while feeding you the best food in Orange County. 

Here’s what’s new:    

First, The Pantry thanks you

        Last week was the first full week of operation for new Owner/Operator Russ Bendel at The Pantry, formerly the Sapphire Pantry in The Old Pottery Place. (If you missed my story last week here about their opening, find it at my website.) 

Bendel and Laguna’s Director of Operations Chris Hutten sent a shoutout, thanking all the many Laguna residents who checked in to welcome their new staff. 

Laguna restaurants Jared

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Courtesy of Diane Armitage

Executive Chef Jared Cook puts his newly inherited Sapphire kitchen through its paces with the re-opening of their next door to-go outlet, The Pantry 

Their best-sellers to date? The Breakfast Burrito (it took me three mornings to finish mine), their own guava cream cheese danish, and gourmet coffee drinks.

They’re hoping to be able to sell their craft cocktails by this weekend; stay tuned for updates. Their hours are 7 a.m. - 3 p.m.

The Stand takes a seat

This weekend, longtime Laguna favorite The Stand notified me that they had decided to temporarily close “through at least April.” Citing difficulty in paying the skeleton crew and the fact that her workers wanted to spend more time with their families, Owner Alizabeth Arciniaga shuttered the store on Saturday. 

Hours prior, Zinc Cafe and Market confirmed that they, too, had closed for at least four to eight weeks.

My vegetarian and vegan friends, don’t despair. While all of us will be happy to see these restaurants re-open, many restaurateurs have assured me that they will be able to offer plenty of creative options for you, and that you’re welcome to call directly to discuss further.

Laguna restaurants Lumberyard

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Courtesy of Lumberyard Laguna Beach

Lumberyard’s Vegetarian Burrito is gaining in crowd popularity 

Cary Redfearn of Lumberyard was first to come back to me after my plea for “great vegetarian food ideas.” He and Chef “Primo” (Josue Tavares) offer a giant vegetarian burrito with spinach, sprouts, edamame, Spanish rice, and Jack cheese (which can be optional) for $12.

Remember, too, Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill’s Chef Maro Molteni wood-grills substantial servings of a rotating field of fresh vegetables daily, and pairs them with various sauces and salsas. 

Laguna restaurants Royal

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Courtesy of Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill

Ready to eat healthier yet? Chef Maro at Royal Hawaiian is wood-grilling daily arrivals of fresh farmer’s market veggies as sides or entrées.

The Drake champions “Setting the Table”

One of our newest restaurant additions, The Drake Laguna Beach, came up with a great idea that’s going viral. They’re suggesting a “challenge” they’ve titled “Set the Table… Set the Mood Challenge.”

Noting that dinner is a meal to be enjoyed, The Drake suggests that patrons order from The Drake and, while waiting for delivery, actually set their table and take a “before” shot and “after” shot once the food is in play.

Laguna restaurants before Drake

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Courtesy of The Drake Laguna Beach

Before: The Drake patrons have been challenged to set their tables and upload “before” and “after” photos once their food arrives 

Laguna restaurants after Drake

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Courtesy of The Drake Laguna Beach

After the food arrives

When they upload their photos and tag The Drake, they’re entered to win gift cards or another “Drake Experience” on the house.

“It’s been a surprising success,” said Director of Operations Matthew Timmes. “It’s a nice reminder to everyone that we can control our mood and enjoy moments throughout the day that celebrate what’s good in life. 

“I’d love to see other restaurants in town take up the challenge, too,” he continued. “We’re a community that doesn’t just love food – we love the experience of food.”

Some clients have provided extravagant table decor, one even setting the table for her upcoming Easter Sunday dinner. (The bunnies are waiting!)

Laguna restaurants bunnies

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Courtesy of The Drake Laguna Beach

The Drake patrons are submitting rather significant table decor photos as they wait for the arrival of their food 

And speaking of Easter…

Easter Just a Hop Away

I love celebrating Easter, but this year has almost gotten away from me. (Seems I’ve had other things on my mind. You, too?) 

Several restaurants are reporting special menus for Easter Sunday, many of which are still under construction. Check at my website this week, www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com, or my social platforms under the same moniker for Easter announcements as they arrive. I’ll also be cobbling a larger list together for Friday’s Stu News

Keep in mind that all of these restaurants prefer pre-orders in advance of Easter Sunday. Many of these menus are specialty items that they won’t otherwise order in-house, so please be respectful with orders no later than Saturday morning, and earlier if possible. 

Here’s what we have to date:

Laguna restaurants Selanne

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Courtesy of Selanne Steak Tavern

Selanne Steak Tavern celebrates Easter with three menu options, including its popular brunch menu

Selanne Steak Tavern has its Easter plans chirping along like a barnyard of newborn chicks. They’re offering three options for Easter, beginning with an a la carte brunch menu (with separate kids’ menu), and a family-style Easter Brunch for Two with accompanying Sofia Blanc de Blanc or 32 ounces of Bloody Mary in a mason jar (that sounds like the makings of a song to me). 

Selanne is also offering a Family Style Easter Dinner for up to six people that includes herb-crusted leg of lamb roast with mint jelly, potato gratin, and starter and side options from the regular menu. Orders for this must be placed by Wednesday, April 8.

The Lumberyard is offering what I was always raised to eagerly expect for Easter lunch after church… slow-baked ham, mashed potatoes, and veggies with fresh-baked apple cobbler. Single servings are $25, and $75 for a family of four.   

Las Brisas just began offering a weekend brunch (two-course prix fixe) and a Brut Mimosa Kit as an “impulse buy” add-on for $15. Additionally, they’re offering an Easter Meal for four for $99, which includes whole roasted chicken, side veggies and potatoes, salad, and mini strawberry shortcakes. Add-ons beside the Mimosa Kit include Cadillac and Las Brisas Margarita singles and pitchers.

The Cliff Laguna Beach isn’t doing a specialty Easter menu, per se, but they will be offering their usual breakfast menus on Saturday and Sunday.

Easter menus still being clucked over

A few other restaurants have confirmed Easter and/or brunch menus on Easter Sunday, but they’re still pecking at the details. Look for details this week from me on news on at least the following: Oliver’s Osteria, Broadway by Amar Santana, Nirvana Grille, and Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill.    

Restaurants closed JUST for Easter Day

Scott McIntosh at Asada Tacos + Beer and Reunion Kitchen will be closed just on Easter. “I want to give my workers a day to be with their families, but we’ll be back the very next day,” he assured me. 

The only other restaurant confirming closure on Easter Sunday is Zeytoon Cafe. Stay tuned for other holiday closures. 

Full Restaurant Directory, Version 7, available now

I’m always posting daily finds in my social platforms and updating my large Restaurant Directory on all open restaurant hours, food specials, and discounts here in Laguna Beach (confirmed closures are also noted on the last page). Opt-in at my website for the latest downloadable edition today, April 7. 

Thank you for continuing to support your favorite restaurants and chefs of Laguna Beach! As a community, we will help each other through this. 

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 www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com and follow on Instagram @BestOfLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).


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New Sapphire Pantry opens with inventive breakfast, lunch options

By Diane Armitage

As restaurants are temporarily shuttering everywhere, it’s such a blessed and optimistic turn to see Sapphire Pantry’s new ownership actually do the opposite. On Wednesday, April 1, restaurateur Russ Bendel opened The Pantry, a portion of his new Sapphire operation in The Old Pottery Place. 

New Sapphire Chris and Russ

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Photo by Russ Bendel

(L-R) Operating Partner Chris Hutten and Sapphire & Pantry Owner Russ Bendel have opened “The Pantry” for breakfast and lunch to-go orders 

Bendel and his group own the highly successful Vine Restaurant & Bar (San Clemente), Ironwood, Cellar. Craft. Cook (Laguna Hills), and Olea, Cellar. Craft. Cook (Newport Beach on Westcliff Drive). 

He and his business partners announced the purchase of the Sapphire restaurant and pantry from Chef Azmin Ghahreman in early February with plans at that time to open both by April 1.

Clearly, we’re not going to be opening Sapphire, Cellar. Craft. Cook until we can provide the full dine-in experience for our guests,” said Operating Partner Chris Hutten. “But, we’re happy to have the Pantry open, and will continue to build it out over the next few weeks.”

As I stand at the door and peek inside, the first person to greet me is Russ Bendel, Sr., the CEO of Habits Restaurants. It is such a pleasure to see him again. Aside from his phenomenal success with Habits, Bendel, Sr. is a great supporter of another of my clients, Illumination Foundation, which provides resources and temporary and permanent housing to thousands of homeless people in Orange County and L.A. 

His son, Russ, Jr. has proven a chip off the “old” block, proving both great restaurant acumen and eagerness to jump in and help Illumination, too, most recently with an Olea table at their renowned OC Chef’s Table. I can’t tell you how pleased I am to have people like this in our Laguna Beach community.     

New Sapphire sr bendel

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Russ Bendel, Sr., the CEO of Habits Restaurants, stops in to pick up breakfast burritos at his son’s - Russ Bendel, Jr.’s – newest restaurant endeavor, The Pantry 

Breakfast and lunch all day

Now open daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., The Pantry has been refurbished with whitewashed floors, gleaming subway tile, and a light quartz counter whose end corner houses a display case of pastries and gluten-free pastries. 

The former “salad bar” is gone as is the walk-in cheese cellar, the latter of which will soon be a “grab-and-go” of packaged, freshly made salads, soups, sandwiches, and more from Executive Chef Jared Cook.

The “introductory menu” offers a Breakfast Sandwich and Breakfast Burrito, both of which can also be made vegetarian style.

You can also find scratch-made pastries, a Jidori Chicken Confit Sandwich, a Sapphire Garden Herb Salad and, in homage to Chef Azmin and the many Laguna locals addicted to his former Sapphire hamburger, an American Wagyu Beef Burger.

“You can order any of these items all day,” Bendel told me. “If you feel like a burger at 7 a.m., we’ve got you handled.” 

The coffee is also new, a masterful and mellow blend from Gavina that won the vote of all the operating partners involved.

The team will be expanding the menu in the weeks ahead, with the addition of a Beyond (meatless) burger and ready-made craft cocktails soon to debut.

Custom-crafted breakfast options

They load me up with the Breakfast Burrito and the Breakfast Sandwich to take with me. (Awesome, as my refrigerator now looks like a hoarder’s heaven of
“to-go” boxes.) 

These are giant servings, so I commit to trying just a few bites of each, as I’d prefer that my hips emerge from this lockdown on the lighter side of life.

New Sapphire breakfast burrito

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Both awesome in their own right, The Pantry’s Breakfast Burrito and Breakfast Sandwich can be ordered vegetarian style, too

Chef Jared’s Breakfast Burrito is a fabulous taste sensation of scrambled eggs, chorizo refried beans (yum), applewood bacon, and crispy potato chunks with avocado slices, lime crema, and charred salsa. It is out of this world…that is, until I try the Breakfast Sandwich.

The sandwich is a Jenga puzzle of fried (cage-free) egg, house-made sausage, crispy applewood bacon and, of all things, thin-sliced smoked Gouda (so heavenly) with cracked pepper aioli. And, the force de resistance as far as I’m concerned when it comes to breakfast sandwiches – a super soft challah bun.

New Sapphire sandwich

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Pantry’s Breakfast Sandwich

I’m serious here: As a Breakfast Sandwich fanatic who must try one anywhere in the world that I go, this is the best I’ve ever tasted.

And, meet your soon-to-be Sapphire Restaurant

Since I’m already here, it only makes sense that we pop next door to take a quick look at the refurbished interior of Sapphire, Cellar. Craft, Cook.

Everything has been lightened, brightened, and polished to a sheen. The patio teak tables are newly restored. Expect to see brighter orange umbrellas in play soon – they’re the same tone as the originals, but they will be fresh out of the box. 

The curved monolith that stood behind the hostess stand is gone, but the original hostess stand remains, as do the tables and chairs, although dining chairs have been reupholstered. 

New Sapphire Chris Hutten

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Operating Partner Chris Hutton, Sapphire, Cellar. Craft, Cook.

The wine cellar on the far south wall (where endless streams of people would wander, thinking it was the restroom) is now gone. A banquette in rich black will soon run the length of the wall to provide for more seating.    

John Barber’s gorgeous glass-blown lighting remains in play everywhere (“It’s the best feature of the entire restaurant,” comments Hutten), but the ceiling and walls have been lightened considerably to spotlight these spotlights, so to speak. 

“We’re just opening the restaurant up a bit more, and we’ve lightened it to give it a little more height and airiness,” said Hutton. “But there are some great features here that will always remain – as an example, we’re matching the turquoise of the lower bar to paint the far south wall. It’s a great color.

“We know the locals loved this place for many years and paying homage to a restaurant’s original roots has always been a priority for us,” Hutten finished. 

When the team is allowed to reopen, you will be seeing familiar faces, too, as more than 80 percent of the existing staff chose to remain.

“Wine Country Cuisine”

Stay tuned for a peek at the new Sapphire, Cellar. Craft, Cook. menu in my social platforms and at my website, www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com. Chef Jared, with Russ Bendel’s team since they first took over the San Clemente Vine restaurant seven years ago, has been trading ideas with Chris Hutten, also an acknowledged chef who joined Bendel’s team after a long stint as Executive Chef at The Capital Grille at South Coast Plaza.

“We’re doing a similar wine country cuisine style here as we do in our other restaurants, but the menu items will be unique to Laguna Beach. I really like my Duck & Pork Meatball, for instance, and you’re only going to find that here,” said Executive Chef Jared Cook.

“We’re adding in more of what we’d call ‘California coastal cuisine’ here, too, so we’re bringing in more seafood and fresh fish. 

“And this will be the only restaurant where we’ll be serving brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. I’m really excited about introducing that menu.”

New Sapphire building

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The newly opened The Pantry at The Old Pottery Place

Again, The Pantry is at The Old Pottery Place, 1200 S Coast Hwy, Suite 102 (next door to the restaurant). Stop by to wave hello (from a distance of six feet please) to our newest restaurateurs. 

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 www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com and follow on Instagram @BestOfLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

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New updates on Laguna restaurants in operation

By Diane Armitage, The Best of Laguna Beach™

Since Friday, we’ve seen quite a bit of movement in our Laguna restaurants, so I’m just doing a short article here of a few notable updates.   

Family menus growing in popularity

I can’t give you all the details here for space reasons but suffice to say that most of the dine-in restaurants prior to this crisis are now offering inventive family-style meals. 

I’m posting more information about each of these on my website, www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com, but you can easily find all family-style menu offerings at their websites, too. 

Margaritas growing in popularity too

Hopefully, we’re not all wasting away in our own Margaritaville here, but it seems that margaritas are definitely one of the more popular to-go cocktail options. While there’s a good chance you’ll find your favorite margarita to-go somewhere, keep in mind the following: 

Las Brisas is offering margaritas by the pitcher now.

Rasta Taco is still delivering a “margarita in a box,” which is every possible item you need to build your own margarita, minus your own favorite tequila.

Avila’s El Ranchito is offering three margaritas with the fourth one for just $1. They’re doing the same for draft beers, too.

New updates Mason jars

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Coyote Manager Emma Lorenza with new mason jars of their organic, house-made sweet-and-sour mixer

  Taking its cue from the “impulse buy” racks at every grocery store, Coyote Grill now has large mason jars of its organic, house-made sweet and sour lined up at it’s to-go window. Just $5, it’s an easy mixer with your own tequila and fresh limes (which they offer, too), and it stays fresh in your refrigerator for up to three days, or you can freeze in ice cube trays for later use. 

And, just a shout out to our newly opened The Pantry (see my other story here in Stu News Laguna), which will soon be offering its own to-go craft cocktails, which are slated to become our own Laguna signature cocktails when they open Sapphire, Cellar. Craft. Cook. They assure me that I’ll be one of the first they call to try their debuting Tequila Mockingbird

Empanada blitz, go figure

New updates Empanadas

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Photo by Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill

Chef Maro’s popular empanadas are back at Royal Hawaiian and the buying blitz is on

Last week, Owner/Operator and Chef Maro Molteni re-opened The Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill. While his daily family-style meals have been selling very well, he’s been a bit surprised with the crazy number of to-go orders for his fresh-baked beef or mushroom empanadas. Purchase by the half dozen ($15) or dozen ($30). They freeze well for up to a year. 

Chef Rainer packs up his Laguna wagon and heads south

On Thursday morning, Chef Rainer Schwarz announced that he’s closing his two restaurants here temporarily – The Deck on Laguna and Driftwood Kitchen. Until Thursday, he had combined their most popular menu items out of one kitchen and offered a significant “pop-up market” sale on weekends. 

Happily, though, Chef Rainer has only moved a bit down the road, taking up residence at his Ocean Ranch Hendrix restaurant next to the Cinepolis movie theater. His pop-up market will continue every Wednesday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m., and he’s offering a number of popular menu items along with a new Rotisserie Prime Rib Dinner every Tuesday through Sunday. 

Zinc Cafe & Market takes a pause

Longtime Laguna Zinc Cafe has also temporarily closed, but it’s possible it will return in the next few days or weeks ahead.

New updates zinc

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Laguna’s Zinc Cafe has temporarily closed until further notice

 Owner John Secretan chose to shutter his large Zinc operation in L.A.’s Art District last week after growing concerns of COVID-19 in that area. This week, he closed both the Laguna and Corona del Mar locations, noting that he and his management need to look at “safer ways to serve you.”

66 Laguna Beach restaurants still serving you

The number of operating restaurants in Laguna Beach is a continually shifting number. At my last check yesterday, however, I believe we still have 66 restaurants in operation, which includes the lovely new opening of The Pantry in The Old Pottery Place.

I’m always posting daily finds in my social platforms and updating my large Restaurant Directory on all restaurant hours, food specials, and discounts here in Laguna Beach (confirmed closures are also noted on the last page). Opt-in at my website for the latest downloadable edition today, April 3. 

Thank you for continuing to support your favorite restaurants and chefs of Laguna Beach! As a community, we will help each other through this. 

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 www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com and follow on Instagram @BestOfLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

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Laguna restaurants adding everything from beer wall favorites to family meals & wine tv

By Diane Armitage

On Friday, March 20, we had 82 Laguna Beach restaurants offering take-out and delivery. Last week that number dropped to 67 restaurants open, but that included the re-opening of three restaurants and three “bars/wine bars.”

Yesterday, on March 30, we were at 65 restaurants open with the same scenario. A few have closed completely through this “temporary” period, and a few have re-opened with hoped for “to-go” activity. 

Meanwhile, the creativity only gets more entertaining! 

This week + a running archive of restaurant specials

Each new column here and at my website at www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com features my latest bi-weekly discoveries and the newest restaurant implementations in our ever-changing Laguna scenario of inventive chef genius.   

Just opt-in at above website to download my entire PDF Directory of All Restaurants in Laguna Beach Offering “To-Go” Options. Version 5 of this directory just published yesterday, and I’m quite sure that every single restaurant changed its details, from hours of operation to all discounts, features, and deals including “to-go” cocktails, pop-up grocery and market options, family-style meals, and bulk freezable items. 

Thankfully, nearly 2,000 of you have downloaded the PDF, and I can’t thank you enough for the show of support for our indie restaurants in Laguna who are doing all they can to stay alive while entertaining their Laguna fans. 

Here’s the latest news on some great finds: 

Sandwiches for First Responders

Subway closed its doors this weekend for take-out and delivery, but they came up with a great online grocery that sells all your favorite Subway foods for your refrigerator and freezer. As an example, their addictive Italian Herb and Cheese Bread can still be yours for just $1.50 per 12-inch loaf, as are all their other fresh-baked loaf options. 

Laguna restaurants Subway

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Courtesy of Subway Laguna Beach

Subway isn’t making sandwiches to go any longer, but they’ve set up an amazing online grocery through which you can also purchase a sub sandwich for a Laguna Beach first responder (doctors, nurses, police, fire, and EMTs) for just $5

What I found most enticing – 150 pre-cooked bacon strips for about $35. What can be better than ready-made bacon? Subway even has whole egg and egg white patties sold by the dozen for super-easy egg sandwich assemblage.

Find sliced cheeses, whole and sliced veggies, and a number of frozen soups sold in two-plus pound bags. Even their famous cookies are sold individually for 89 cents.

Their best idea, though, is their First Responder Sub. Priced at just $5, you can add as many sub sandwiches to your cart as you’d like. They will assemble and deliver to Laguna Beach local doctors, nurses, police, fire, and EMTs. 

Coffee, Wine & Beer News

I know many readers used to think these three items were the necessities of life, but they’re still important in the middle of this crazy crisis. Oddly, cocktails to go are proving the biggest item of purchase at most restaurants, so our smart restaurateurs have simply expanded their options. 

Laguna restaurants GG coffee

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Courtesy of GG’s Bistro

GG’s Bistro has added “Morning Coffee” service

GG’s Bistro is still going strong, with an expanded lineup of family meals and salads as well as its entire restaurant menu of single servings. They’ve also introduced “Morning Coffee” service with Lavazza Italian coffee drinks and breakfast items from 7- 8 a.m. Just point your phone at the QR code on the receipt they present to pay. 

Laguna restaurants wine galler

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Courtesy of Wine Gallery

Wine Gallery’s Proprietors Paul Spiegelman (left) and Chris Olsen (right) are offering superb deals on their fabulous wines by the bottle. 

Wine Gallery’s online selection of fab wines by the bottle just keeps growing. Place your order online at their website and pick up or have it delivered to your door. 

Laguna restaurants Slice

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Photo by Slice Pizza & Beer

Now, order direct from Slice’s famed Beer Wall to go

On Friday, Slice Pizza & Beer announced that their beer wall is trotting home with you now – that is, 12- and 24-ounce fresh draws of at least eight gourmet  beers, along with 24-ounce popular wine pulls (that’s three cups of wine, folks!) with prices ranging from $15 to $24. 

And, our Canyon based wine merchant, McClain Cellars has now created “Wine TV,” which features virtual wine tasting events and wine education classes on their proprietary McClain Cellars wines. Classes are Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 7 p.m. 

Laguna restaurants Lumberyard

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Courtesy of Lumberyard

This Bloody Mary can be yours next Sunday for just a $5 add-on

And best news till last: My favorite Bloody Mary in town hails from the Lumberyard. This coming Sunday, April 5, when you order a $10 breakfast burrito, you get the Bloody Mary and all its fixins’ for just $5. 

Royal Stokes Up the Wood Grill Again

After two full weeks of closure, and just two days before its one-year anniversary, Owner/Operator Chef Maro Molteni at Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill is firing up that giant wood grill this Wednesday, April 1 (no joke) for a custom menu of family style meals for two or four people.

In this case, the family  that locks down together stays together – Chef Maro is only allowing his immediate family into the kitchen to help with meal prep and packaging. Orders must be made online the day prior (beginning Tuesday, March 31).

Laguna restaurants Royal

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill

Chef Maro Molteni is back in play with wood-grilled family style meals

Daily items range from wood grilled pork chops, chicken breast, salmon, shrimp, and steaks as well as house-made cannelloni. His famous empanadas can be ordered in half dozen and dozen allotments and all bottles of wine are 50 percent off. Order online at the website and pick up at the kitchen door the next day (in the alley behind the restaurant) or ask for delivery. 

Free Kids’ Meals

Las Brisas is still offering free kids’ meals with any order from their custom, daily menus. 

Ruby’s Auto Diner is offering free kids’ meals with any order through the end of March and continues to do so on every Tuesday of each week forward. 

Stay Tuned

I’ll be posting daily updates in my social platforms and reporting on more this Friday. Again, for the entire directory, just go to my website to download it. Thanks for keeping our restaurants busy!

The bestselling 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 www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com and follow on Instagram @BestOfLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

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The Cliff Restaurant offers no-touch pickup and free delivery: new family menu available

The Cliff Restaurant offers free delivery to all of Laguna Beach, even Dana Point and beyond. All of the limited menu items are available, as well as the family menus (to feed four people), with all beer and wine selections 50 percent off with the purchase of any food. The cocktails are “just add ice,” and the restaurant is offering margarita kits and blackberry mojito kits to-go as well as engineering a “quarantini.” The Cliff is also are featuring curbside no-touch pickup.

Hilary Haron says, “Our delivery driver has been provided additional hand sanitizer and gloves. If orders are pre-paid, we offer a no-touch drop-off if the customer requests – meaning the food is placed on the front porch, or specified place of delivery by a gloved delivery driver.

Ordering can be done via phone at (949) 494-1956 (free delivery through the restaurant) or DoorDash (not free delivery). The Cliff has an application being released soon and will post details on its website, Instagram, and Facebook pages.

The Cliff take out

Click on photo for a larger image

Submitted photo

Curbside pickup at The Cliff Restaurant

“Again, our main concern is your health and safety, and the health and safety of our staff. Rest assured we are staying abreast of the COVID-19 situation at state, local, and national levels,” Haron states.

In response to the required closure of all in-restaurant dining, The Cliff Restaurant is:

--Continuing to provide curbside pickup and free delivery

--Has instituted additional cleanliness and safety measures, including limiting staffing

--Using effective disinfectant and sanitization practices following CDC guidelines 

--Menus are wiped down with disinfectant after each use 

--Staff is practicing social distancing and following all CDC guidelines

--Staff is utilizing additional protective gear

--No touch pickup and delivery available

The Cliff Restaurant is located at 577 S Coast Hwy.

For the new family menu and take-out items, go to www.thecliffrestaurant.com.

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The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

Laguna restaurants move to creative to-go endeavors

By Diane Armitage

With the required shutdown of our bars and, then, dine-in service for our restaurants, it really has been an emotional week. 

While Laguna Beach prides itself on the number of independent and family-owned restaurants we boost in our town, it’s also been traumatic to see the livelihood of our restaurateurs, chefs, and service employees so quickly endangered. 

Thankfully, Laguna residents are still showing support with take-out and to-go orders. If you’re already hankering for your favorite restaurant’s food, I’d say 80 percent of Laguna Beach’s restaurants are more than happy to take your order.

Discounts and daily deals aplenty

Many of our kind restaurateurs are also offering specials on purchase and/or delivery. I’ll note a few unique items below but can’t list them all as it’s changing too rapidly. Just be sure to ask when you call or seek it out in their social media platforms. I’m also offering a regularly updated PDF to readers on my email list at www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com

This list is not complete and could change daily!

As you can imagine, everything is moving like a school of tiny fish, so be sure to check with your restaurant of interest before driving there. In fact, most would appreciate an online or phone-in order so that they can ready your order before arrival.

Remember that most restaurants are open for shorter periods of time now. Some restaurants that are typically open for lunch are only opening for to-go orders in the evening, and vice versa. If you try once and don’t reach them, be sure to give it a second try.

Laguna restaurants Nirvana

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

In addition to to-go and delivery, Chef Lindsay has created a co-op for food items, cleaning supplies, and more (read more below)

For the most part, most of these restaurants also use third-party delivery services, i.e. Door Dash, Uber Eats, though this may change.

Rule of thumb? Call it in.

Restaurant owners – if I don’t have your information listed here, please don’t yell. I’ve tried reaching everyone by phone, but it’s a hectic week. Just contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we’ll get it updated. 

Counter services still available at some places

At publication, most of our coffee shops are still open for take-out and some delivery.

All of our pizza restaurants are still open for take-out and delivery. 

All of our counter service American, Mexican, vegan and vegetarian, and Greek restaurants are still open for take-out and delivery (I’ll get to the dine-in restaurants in a moment).

So, from (roughly) North Laguna to South Laguna, counter service restaurants still open include:

North Laguna

Asada Taco + Beer – (949) 226-7263

Gina’s Pizza & Pastaria – (949) 497-4421

Husky Burger – (949) 497-9605

Jan’s Health Bar – (949) 371-0023

UrthCaffe – (949) 376-8888 

Zeytoon Cafe – (949) 715-9230

The Canyon

Kitchen in the Canyon – (949) 715-5388

Downtown and “Restaurant Row”

Adonis – (949) 715-4581

Anastasia – (949) 497-8903

Catmosphere – (949) 619-MEOW

C’est La Vie – (949) 497-5100

Greeter's Corner – (949) 494-0361

Feast Laguna – (949) 494-0642

Hapi Sushi of Laguna – (949) 494-9109

Heidelberg Café – (949) 497-4594

La Sirena Grill – (949) 497-8226

Moulin – (949) 715-6990

Pizza Bar – (949) 497-2277

Rasta Taco – (949) 715-1510

Shirley’s Bagels – (949) 494-6296

Slapfish – (949) 715-0460

Slice Pizza and Beer – (949) 715-3993

Thai Brothers – (949) 376-9979

Wild Taco – (949) 549-4282

Zinc Cafe + Market – (949) 494-6302

Laguna restaurants Zinc

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Zinc Cafe + Market

Zinc Cafe + Market is now more “market” than ever with fresh produce and many rolls of toilet paper

Ever resourceful, Zinc Café + Market Owner John Secretan has converted the market into more of a grocery store with fresh produce (including onions and toilet paper!) and some household items, too.

Central Laguna (Woods Cove) & HIP District

Active Culture – (949) 715-5188

Andree’s Patisserie – (949) 494-1577

Banzai Bowl – (949) 715-8989

Domino’s Pizza – (949) 376-0333

Gina’s Pizza & Pastaria – (949) 494-4342

Jack in the Box – drive-up window

Sergio’s Empanadas – (949) 715-7622

Taco Bell – drive-up window

Taco Loco – (949) 497-1635

The Lost Pier Cafe – Aliso Creek Beach – walk-up window 

The Stand – (949) 494-8101

Wahoo’s Fish Taco – (949) 497-0033

South Laguna

La Sirena Grill – (949) 499-2301

Papa’s Tacos – (949) 499-9822

South Swell Donuts – (949) 499-6171

zpizza – (949) 499-4949

Traditional dine-in restaurants that are now take-out/delivery only

These traditional wait service restaurants are now only allowed to provide take-out orders, so please don’t expect any dining-in experience for a while. I’ll be the first to update as soon as dine-in is available to us again as this is a giant wallop to our restaurants and their employees.

North Laguna

242 Café Fusion Sushi – (949) 494-2444

Las Brisas – (949) 497-5434 – $45 3-course meals + 50% off bottles of wine

Mandarin King – (949) 494-8992

Reunion Kitchen – (949) 226-8393

The Canyon

Another Kind Cafe – (949) 715-9688

Laguna Beach Beer Company – (949) 715-0805 – Growlers and crowlers to go, too

Oliver’s Osteria – (949) 715-0261

Downtown and “Restaurant Row”

Alessa by Pirozzi – (949) 497-8222 – Chef Alessandro has temporarily closed his other downtown restaurant, Salerno by Pirozzi, and has moved staff to help with cooking at Alessa. In addition to the regular menu, Chef is offering unbaked pizza dough for sale so that you can have your own “make your own pizza” parties at home.

BJ’s Pizza – (949) 494-3802

Brussels Bistro – (949) 290-7851 – Leave it to Chef Tomas to come up with the first offer of vacuum sealed, ready-to-eat meals that can last as long as seven days in your refrigerator. Pickup is also limited to once a week. The order form is already set online.

Lumberyard – (949) 715-3900

Nirvana Grille – (949) 637-4708 – Chef Lindsay is offering regular menu items to go as well as a handy co-op for food items, cleaning supplies, and household necessities. Check Nirvana’s website (www.nirvanagrille.com) for more information and order forms. 

Romeo Cucina – (949) 831-4131

Sushi Laguna – (949) 376-8786 

The Cliff – (949) 494-1956 – One of the few restaurants offering daily breakfast to go. 


Central Laguna (Woods Cove area) and HIP District 

Adolfo’s Laguna Beach – (949) 497-2023

Avila’s El Ranchito – (949) 376-7040

Driftwood Kitchen and The Deck Laguna – (949) 715-7700 –Chef Schwarz has combined popular menu items from each of his restaurants.

GG’s Bistro – (949) 494-9306

Gu Ramen – (949) 715-0825

Natraj Indian Cuisine – (949) 497-9197

Maro Wood Grill – (949) 793-4044

Orange Inn – (949) 494-6085 

Roux Laguna Beach – (949) 715-3707

San Shi Go – (949) 494-1551

Selanne Steak Tavern – (949) 715-9881 – In addition to regular menu options, check out the TS Gourmet Shoppe as a sort of pop-up mini market for fresh meats, dairy, eggs, seafood, and produce. Even their premium wines by the bottle are available to go. 

Laguna restaurants Selanne

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Selanne Steak Tavern

Now you can cook up on of Selanne Steak’s famous menu items at home with fresh, premium meat to go at their TS Gourmet Shoppe

South Laguna

Coyote Grill – (949) 499-4033

Dizz’s As Is – (949) 494-5250

Neapolitan Pizzeria – (949) 499-4531

Ruby’s Auto Diner – (949) 497-7829

Starfish Laguna – (949) 715-9200

Ti Amo by Il Barone – (949) 499-5350

The Drake – (949) 376-1000

Support however you can

I have close “foodie” friends who literally eat out 10-12 times a week. Yesterday, I checked in on them, fearful that they had already dried up to little wisps. Quite the contrary. They’re now ordering at least two meals a day from various restaurants to support this community. 

I know most of us can’t support at that level, but any time you can order a meal or even drop by for your to-go cup of coffee, you’re doing your part. 

Keep in mind, too, that most restaurants offer gift cards on their websites. It’s a perfect way to purchase your future meal (or gift a friend the same) while immediately supporting these families and their employees. The more we support now, the happier will be the celebration when our lives – and restaurants – return to normal.

The bestselling 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 www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com and follow on Instagram @BestOfLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

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Fast and easy five-ingredient vegetarian chili

By DIANNE RUSSELL

This is the perfect chili recipe for a chilly night.

Five ingredients: one yellow or white onion (diced), one package of beef-less ground beef (12 oz), one package of chili mix (Lawry’s or other brand), a 15 oz can of kidney beans (undrained), and a 15 oz can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes (undrained).

In a heavy pot, cook onions in two tablespoons of olive oil until translucent, add crumbled beef and cook for about five minutes (or more if you prefer), add chili mix and stir, then add tomatoes and beans.

If needed, add a little water (or veggie broth) to make it juicier. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes or longer. 

Serve with buttered Saltines for a little extra comfort food.

Even my grandkids, who are meat-eaters, love this chili.

Fast and bowl

Click on photo for another image

Courtesy of saltandpepper.com

Five ingredient chili

Some fun facts about beans

Yay for legumes, the lowly bean. Who knew there are over 40,000 varieties of beans?

The word “bean” has existed in common use in West Germanic languages since before the 12th century, referring to broad beans, chickpeas, and other pod-borne seeds. After Columbian-era contact between Europe and the Americas, the use of the word was extended to pod-borne seeds, such as the common bean and the runner bean. 

The term has long been applied generally to many other seeds of similar form, such as Old World soybeans, peas, other vetches, and lupins, and even to those with slighter resemblances, such as coffee beans, vanilla beans, castor beans, and cocoa beans. Thus the term “bean” in general usage can refer to a host of different species.

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Summer’s Table: A marvelous moveable feast from her table to yours

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

As would be expected in these challenging times, Summer’s Table pre-assembled meals are heaven-sent. Earlier this week, I was fortunate to be on the receiving end of one of these amazing moveable feasts, courtesy of owner Summer Tarango.

Summer’s Table is on a mission to provide beautiful, balanced food. Every meal is partially prepared to finish fresh in the kitchen with approximately 15 minutes active cooking time. 

As described on Summer’s website, “Our menus are seasonal and approachable. We strive to provide the highest quality food and personalized service. We serve the rainbow, choose sustainable, support local, and give back to our community.” 

A specific vision

Summer had a particular mission in mind when she founded Summer’s Table in 2019. “While I was walking through breast cancer in 2018, meal kits were a life saver. I loved getting to choose what would be delivered and having it be easy enough for anyone to prepare.” 

(Summer’s journey was featured in Stu News in May of 2018.)

“However, I was concerned with the single-use packaging and the quality of ingredients. So I set out to hand deliver meals in a more earth-friendly way that I, and my customers, would feel good about.”

Summer later explained, “We normally don’t use single-use plastic items, but with the current situation, for health and safety reasons, we are substituting them.”

Summer's Table counter

Click on photo for a larger image

Gabe Sullivan/Courtesy of Summer’s Table

Meal kit

Every Wednesday, Summer’s Table provides a menu for the following week featuring: three meal kits (two or four person), seasonal specialty trays, and pantry items. There is a cut-off time for ordering for the following week, so check the website for the date and time. The meal kits can also be gifted to others.

Like magic, the pre-ordered meal components arrived on Monday afternoon for our dinner and were left at the door in an insulated bag filled with ice packets. 

Each Monday morning, Summer’s Table picks up the bags and washed containers that customers leave out for pick-up.

Our feast consisted of: Roasted Atlantic Salmon with organic brown rice, roasted sweet onion, yellow squash, feta, dill + red wine vinaigrette. *Vegan option: Tofu. 

The preparation couldn’t have been easier – the ingredients arrive on cooking trays, and all the ingredients are color coded for effortless preparation. 

For this dish – prepare the brown rice in a saucepan, then pop the tray with the squash, roasted onion, and salmon into the oven for 20 minutes. Mix the dressing with the rice, onion, squash, and feta, top with salmon and dill, and voila, dinner is served!

Summer's Table chicken

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Pulled BBQ Chicken Sandwich + Rainbow Potato Salad: sampled by photographer Mary Hurlbut and husband Spence who raved about the fresh brioche buns, moist chicken, and variety of flavors with the sauce and onions

The salmon was some of the best I’ve tasted; the quality and freshness were evident in every bite. Cooking salmon is tricky – it’s easy to overcook – but this was the perfect amount of time to render it moist and tender. My teenage grandson, who is staying with us, couldn’t get enough of it, and that’s saying something, because up to this point, he wouldn’t eat cooked salmon. The brown rice salad had just the right mix of nuttiness from the rice and tang from the feta and vinaigrette

As accompaniments, we also had the Roasted Vegetable Tray (GF) – a mix of seasonal vegetables roasted with organic olive oil. This assortment included sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts, carrots, zucchini, cauliflower, and broccoli, all wonderfully seasoned. Along with that, we also had a seasonal salad of greens, with tomatoes, roasted red peppers, artichoke hearts, and shaved parmesan with lemon vinaigrette – a delightful mix of flavors.

And to top it off, Summer added a bag of frozen chocolate and sea salt cookies, which was a genius idea, as they could be cooked on demand and eaten warm. They were out of this world. I bake and am not free with baked goods compliments, but these were extraordinary – chocolate dough with large chocolate chunks and just enough sea salt to make the combination mouth-watering.

Summer's Table veggies

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Roasted Vegetables

With the escalating health situation, Summer reported on Wednesday:

“We really had to think on our feet this last week to get the meals we promised out to everyone! Because of difficult it currently is to count on being able to order what I’d like to send you all each week, we are going to modify how we do things until it settles down.

“We will now be offering two deliveries a week with a few basic kits and expanded pantry/grocery items. We are only offering items that we have already purchased. Once the items are sold, they will be removed from the list until they are restocked.

“We will also be offering back alley pick up at Sourced here in Laguna on Friday, March 20 from 10 a.m. - 1 p.m. for anyone that would like to save the delivery charge and say, ‘Hi.’” 

Summer's Table Jonah

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Roasted veggies served by Mary's grandson – with cookies on the side

In addition to items from their kitchen, Summer’s Table is supporting a few other small business owners here in town by offering items from them: Fresh bread from Bread Artisan Bakery, muffins from Kitchen In The Canyon, coffee from Jedidiah Coffee, and mini-bouquets from French Buckets.

Summer adds, “We are not allowing people to order multiples at this time. I want to make sure that we are able to get a reasonable amount of food to as many people as possible.”

If any meal-kit service was tailor-made for these challenging times, it’s Summer’s Table. If you are looking for the highest quality ingredients prepared by a creative and excellent chef, you won’t bet this one.

Thanks, Summer, for providing a delectable culinary respite amid our current chaos.

Order online at www.summerstable.com. If you have questions, call Summer directly at (949) 637-4709.

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The Best of Laguna Beach Banner2

Laguna’s Harley Chef Greg Daniels, AHBA Chefs Nick and Jayro join other top OC Chefs to raise nearly $1.2 Million

By Diane Armitage

Every time the most acclaimed chefs of Orange County and L.A. gather at the Disneyland® Resort for Illumination Foundation’s OC Chef’s Table, magic happens. 

On Sunday, March 1, magic was in play again, with nearly $1.2 million raised in the name of disrupting the cycle of homelessness, particularly for OC’s homeless children and their families. 

Laguna's Harley tables

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by WerkItPhoto

On March 1, 44 top chefs in Orange County and L.A. treated more than 440 guests to dinner in Disneyland®’s largest ballroom. The event raised nearly $1.2 million for the nonprofit Illumination Foundation, which is focused on disrupting the cycle of homelessness.

For me personally, it is the most extraordinary gala I’ve ever attended. This was my third year there, and it’s always more special to me when Laguna Beach chefs get involved. 

Slapfish returns for 5th Year

For several years now, Chef Andrew Gruel, the owner of several Slapfish locations (one of which is in Laguna Beach), has participated in OC Chef’s Table. 

“I love everything about OC Chef’s Table,” Gruel told me. “I love the Chef’s Breakfast that Illumination Foundation and Disneyland® put on for us beforehand where we get to meet up with all our chef buddies again. I love hearing all the stories of redemption from the stage – it’s everything, from start to finish,” he told me.

Laguna's Harley Gruel

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Illumination Foundation 

Chef Andrew Gruel returns every year to OC Chef’s Table

“OC Chef’s Table is really about understanding and following what Illumination Foundation is doing from a closer angle. Every year, I’m amazed at how much progress they’re making to help our homeless population, and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger. I’ll do anything I can to support the great work they’re doing,” Gruel said. 

New AHBA makes it a “No Question” decision

This year, two of our newest restaurants in Laguna Beach participated which, in itself, is somewhat extraordinary. Chefs who are just getting up and running with their restaurants find it more difficult to break away from their new operations. But Harley’s Chef Greg Daniels and AHBA’s Owner Nick Bennett and his chef Jayro Martinez didn’t give it a second thought. 

“We closed AHBA for the evening because we wanted to give 100 percent of our focus to this cause,” said AHBA Owner Nick Bennett. 

Laguna's Harley Ahba

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

AHBA’s Owner Nick Bennett, left, and Executive Chef Jayro Martinez, right, closed AHBA for the evening to participate in OC Chef’s Table

“Chef Jayro has been involved with OC Chef’s Table in previous years, and after I learned that we could truly help homeless families and kids, there was no question we would participate,” Bennett continued. 

“But when you’re there and hear the stories and interact with the people, it really becomes an even bigger reality about what our fellow humans are going through. It’s mind-blowing. It was very emotional for us.”

“They make it easy for small restaurants to be involved”

While Disneyland® Resort and the Bickerstaff Family Foundation were platinum sponsors of the event this year, dozens more were involved with sponsorship and donations of some sort to virtually eliminate any cost on Illumination Foundation’s side. Many sponsors get involved on the chefs’ side, too, providing free proteins and specific produce to any chef that asks. As an example, repeat sponsor Melissa’s Produce delivers any produce order to the chefs, no matter how large the order or how rare the vegetable or fruit might be. 

Laguna's Harley Daniels

Click on photo for a larger image

 Courtesy of Illumination Foundation 

Harley Chef Greg Daniels participates in a pre-event toast by Disneyland® Napa Rose Chef and OC Chef’s Table host Andrew Sutton

“The teams at Disney and Illumination Foundation have made this event huge, and I admire how they’ve taken it to this level, while being organized and seamless in the execution,” Harley’s Chef Greg told me. 

“Couple that with the sponsors who kick in so much to help the chefs prep their meals – the whole effort in many ways makes it much easier for a small restaurant to be involved.

“What it comes down to though, is the cause and the people involved with it,” Chef Greg continued. “Illumination Foundation makes a significant impact on homelessness in Orange County, and this dinner raised over $1.2 million toward that!

“This was my second year participating in OC Chef’s Table for Illumination Foundation, and it has quickly become one of my favorites. I can’t wait to be there again next year!”

Funding for a third emergency family home

Funds raised at the March 1st OC Chef’s Table will go toward building an emergency house for families in dire need. It is modeled after the success of Illumination Foundation’s initial emergency family houses, the Stanton-based Theriault House, and the Bob Murphy House in Anaheim. 

The Bob Murphy House was acquired, renovated, and opened to families just months after funds had been raised for that cause in the 2019 OC Chef’s Table.

“We put the funds raised at this event immediately into service,” said Illumination Foundation’s CEO and Co-Founder Paul Leon from the stage. “Last year, we were able to purchase, open, and operate our second emergency home for families – the Bob Murphy House – in a matter of months after our OC Chef’s Table event. All of you here will, again, be a part of this visible success with funds this evening going toward the purchase of a third emergency home.” 

For seven years now, patrons, celebrities, and top-ranked chefs have worked together to raise funds for the nonprofit organization Illumination Foundation, which secures recuperative care, emergency housing and permanent housing for homeless families, children, and individuals. In an effort to help these community members get back on their feet, Illumination Foundation also provides a multitude of wrap-around services, including case management, behavioral health substance use counseling, children’s programming, work force help, and more. 

To learn more about OC Chefs Table and Illumination Foundation, click here.

Chefs interested in participating on OC Chef’s Table 2021 can contact me directly at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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 www.TheBestofLagunaBeach.com and follow on Instagram @BestOfLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).

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