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Longtime Lumberyard staff members launch website to match restaurants with applicants

By DIANNE RUSSELL

A year and a half ago, Emily Johnson and Jeane Parel, longtime servers at Lumberyard Restaurant, came up with the idea for a restaurant hiring website for Orange County. As a result, Hire Lilo (named after Emily’s two dogs Lily and Lola) was founded. Emily’s dad is Hire Lilo’s third partner/owner. 

It’s like a matchmaking service for applicants and restaurants.

Emily says, “My co-founder, Jeane, and I have worked in the restaurant industry for years and wanted to create a place where restaurants and applicants could find their perfect match.” 

Emily has been in the industry for a total of 18 years (11 at Lumberyard) and Jeane for 12 years (five at Lumberyard). 

Website introduced in June

A year in the making, Hire Lilo was launched on June 30 of this year and Emily admits, “Launching this website in the middle of a pandemic that is affecting restaurants so greatly has been a challenge.” 

Jeane agrees, “When the stay-in-place order happened, it was out of our control. Restaurants were acting as two restaurants – outside and inside – and then it was reduced to takeout. It was a timing thing. Restaurants were nervous about hiring additional staff amid changing restrictions.” 

“They had hired so much staff. And it was unknown how long it would last,” Emily adds.

Of course, now with the restrictions back in place as of Sunday, the challenge is even more daunting.

Longtime Lumberyard staff

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Submitted photo

Hire Lilo co-founders Jeane Parel (on left) and Emily Johnson at Lumberyard

It took a year to build the website to their satisfaction. Emily says, “I’m OCD, and it took a while.”

There are other sites with job postings – but not with all the features Hire Lilo offers. Emily and Jeane wanted to build into their website the features that were missing in similar websites.

Hire Lilo applicants are offered free job postings. As for the restaurants, they were initially given a free promo code, and now Emily and Jeane are extending the promo code so restaurants can reuse it and have a free posting for a period of time.

Hire Lilo also provides applicants a free resume builder. Another specific feature they added is the mandatory shift requirements hours/days for the position offered, so the applicant can determine right away if the job is a fit. Additionally, for convenience, appointments for interviews can be made on the site.

Spreading the word

To get the news out about Hire Lilo, Emily and Jeane have used social media – mostly Facebook and Instagram – to spread the word, but when it was first launched, they used good old-fashioned footwork. 

In one day, driving from Fashion Island through Laguna, they hit 60 restaurants, speaking directly to managers about Hire Lilo.

Jeane says, “We did the ‘boots on the ground’ approach. A face-to-face connection makes a lasting impression.”

They also do card mailings and have crafted an eye-catching mailout. 

Their original business plan included visiting colleges, but then the schools closed, and that source fell by the wayside.

It’s apparent that both ladies love the industry and all it entails, which was the original reason for founding the website. 

Jeane says, “Locals are now permanent in our lives. We’ve seen their kids grow up. That’s what makes the industry so special.”

An industry that they hope Hire Lilo will help stay intact.

For more information about Hire Lilo, go to www.hirelilo.com.


Selanne Steak Tavern unveils luxurious new dining experience

Selanne Steak Tavern is pleased to introduce a customized multi-course gourmet experience paired with exquisite wines from its Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence list – graciously served in a posh, ultra-private dining room located adjacent to the main restaurant, overlooking the culinary gardens and cozy patios.

The private atmosphere is an excellent choice for dining this coming holiday season for couples, families, and people who want their own exclusive dining space. The private dining venue accommodates parties of two to 12 and has its own kitchen and bespoke menus that focus on unique specialty products in season, some only available depending on the day, as well as opulent gourmet ingredients such as Wagyu beef, truffles, caviar, Nantucket scallops, duck, and octopus. 

Selanne Steak inside

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A look inside the private and elegant Selanne Steak Tavern atmosphere 

Executive Chef Vince Terusa and his team will create these distinct tasting menus featuring courses not found on Selanne Steak Tavern’s customary menu. Courses might feature delicacies like Duck Rillette, 40-Day Dry Aged Steak Tartare, and Barramundi. The menus will also include delectable canapés and a lavish dessert service. Advanced Sommelier Vito Pasquale will oversee paired wine selections from the restaurant’s award-winning list, which specializes in wines produced in California and France.

Private tasting menus start at $400 per person, plus tax and gratuity. 

For inquiries regarding private parties, contact the restaurant at (949) 715-9881. 

Selanne Steak Tavern, located at 1464 S Coast Hwy, 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.


seven7seven series features “A Pop-Up Dining Experience” with Chef Craig Strong

seven7seven, which is adjacent to The Hive in Laguna Beach’s Arts District, invites food lovers to join together for a unique dining adventure – “A Pop-Up Dining Experience” with local Michelin star Chef Craig Strong. 

Each weekend will feature exclusive dinner and brunch menus, including a prix fixe themed dinner menu transporting guests around the world, while Saturday and Sunday mornings will deliver a modern twist on a classic brunch menu featuring an a la carte menu.

seven7seven series chef

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Chef Craig Strong

The prix fixe dinner menu starts at $65 per person. The brunch menu is offered a la carte with bottomless mimosas available. Live music will be featured all weekends. The dinner menu kicks off this weekend, November 6 and 7, and continues through December 20.

seven7seven welcomes diners tonight, Friday, Nov 6 and Saturday, Nov 7 for an Italian Night under the stars with live music featuring Tommy Benson, Emilio Modern Gypsy, Zach Churchill, and more!

Both nights offer a journey through four courses inspired by authentic Italian cuisine. seven7seven offers a safe outdoor space to enjoy an epicurean meal surrounded by the gorgeous Laguna Canyon setting.

seven7seven series dinner

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Submitted photo

Pop-up dining series 

This exclusive event will take diners around the world without leaving the comfort of Laguna Beach. The Italian menu includes: Hamachi Crudo, Citrus, Calabrian Chilis, Extra Virgin Olive Oil Spinach Pasta Raviolo, Ricotta, Farm Egg, Butter Glaze Italian Brick Pressed Chicken, Farro, and Carrot Wedding Cookies with House Made Espresso Ice Cream. Wine pairing is available for $20 extra.

Chef Craig Strong, whose 25-year career in luxury hotels and resorts earned him a Michelin star during his time at The Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa in Pasadena, has come full circle to his native Southern California roots. Chef Strong previously held the title of Executive Chef at the prestigious Studio at Montage in Laguna Beach for nine years. 

seven7seven series dessert

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Dessert 

From the coasts of California to Washington, D.C., and Barcelona to Hong Kong, Chef Strong has cooked all over the world. His dishes draw inspiration from the culture and cuisine that make these places unique. From growing up in San Diego and cooking with produce from the family garden, Chef Strong has been sharing his coastal California cuisine with the community he has embraced for the past decade.

To visit seven7seven’s Resy page today to make a reservation, click here.

seven7seven is located at 777 Laguna Canyon Rd.

For more information, go to www.777lagunabeach.com.


Slice Pizza parklet

Slice Pizza umbrella

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Photo by Mary Hurlbut

Pleasant patio to eat pizza


Local owner of Pasta Mia partners with Personal Gourmet to bring the best of the best to your door

Story and photos by DIANNE RUSSELL

What could be better than two people who have a passion for food partnering to bring their extraordinary products right to your doorstep?

“For years,” says Marisa Mazza, manufacturers’ representative at Pasta Mia and daughter of its founder Diego Mazza, “people have been asking where they can buy Pasta Mia products.” 

Pasta Mia, a pasta manufacturing company, sells to distributors like Cisco and U.S. Foods, who then sell to restaurants, but the products aren’t available in markets. 

However, two weeks ago, Pasta Mia partnered with Eric Kahane of Personal Gourmet, a fresh-frozen delivery service offering the highest quality in specialty seafood, chicken, and meat. Problem solved – and now Pasta Mia products will come to your doorstep. For the time being, only the beef and cheese ravioli will be available but other varieties are sure to follow.

In addition to ravioli, they carry tortellini, lasagna noodles, sauces, and other pasta items.

Local owner Marisa and Eric

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Eric Kahane of Personal Gourmet and Marisa Mazza of Pasta Mia

Pasta Mia has a long culinary history based in Italy.

Diego Mazza came from Northern Italy in 1980 with a dream of introducing the American market to the authentic Italian pastas that he had eaten in Italy. Diego grew up experiencing the best of Italian cooking rooted in the traditions of the Italian countryside. He watched his grandmother, Nonna Nina, prepare delicious meals and homemade ravioli, and ate the wonderful results. He brought this passion and respect for Italian cuisine to his products when he opened Pasta Mia in the U.S.

Marisa says, “In 1984 my father conquered his dreams – he moved to Laguna Beach and achieved his desire to live at the beach – and he founded Pasta Mia, to put his Italian tradition into his work. He started at the back of malls with two pasta machines, and he now has 40 machines.”

Diego Mazza now has over 500 different products and continues research and development – sometimes in his own kitchen, according to Marisa.

Pasta Mia products are a natural and inspired result of the Italian heritage of the company. This treasured experience instilled in him a deep appreciation for the natural flavors of real Italian food. 

The cheese raviolis are little heavenly pillows of flavor – the perfect combination of textures – silky pasta and a creamy blend of Ricotta, Romano, Parmesan, and fine herbs. We served it with butter, cracked pepper, and a few basil leaves. To fully appreciate the delicate taste, it isn’t a dish that should be overpowered with too much sauce. 

Local owner ravioli

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Pasta Mia’s cheese ravioli

Pasta Mia imports ingredients from Italy and uses local meats and vegetables.

Marisa says, “Pastas are prepared in our kitchens for maximum flavor and then fresh-frozen to lock in the fresh taste with no preservatives.” 

Marisa’s mom knew Eric and was familiar with Personal Gourmet, which delivers specialty items that can’t be found in grocery stores, so to offer Pasta Mia to the same customers seemed a perfect marketing match. 

Eric says, “The Mazza family and I share a passion for food.” 

Personal Gourmet offers quality and convenience by coming right to your doorstep. These are not run-of-the-mill products found in most restaurants or grocery stores. He sells to five-star restaurants and works with private chefs. 

He carries colossal shrimp, crab cakes, scallops, ahi tuna, sea bass, New York steaks, filet mignon, chicken, hamburger – just about anything you would order in an upscale restaurant. All the seafood is wild and all the beef prime. The chicken is free range, and he does carry organic.

Local owner ahi and pasta

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Ahi tuna and beef and cheese ravioli 

“Seventy-five percent of my business involves driving into the driveway, the customer opens his garage door and fills up the freezer. Customers also call their neighbors and tell them I’m there,” says Eric. 

“For the same price as it costs to go out and have a meal of scallops or sea bass for two, you could load up on frozen food for a week’s worth of scallops. Everything goes from freezer to table in 30 minutes – burgers, chicken, and seafood – all ready at the same time. And they contain no hormones or antibiotics. If members of your family each want something different for dinner, it will all be ready at the same time.” 

The majority of his business is by word of mouth, and he has an excellent customer retention rate. “Once they try it, they’re hooked,” he says. “The quality and convenience speaks for itself. It’s all about reliability and availability. There is zero pressure, and I offer a ton of variety. Most customers find real value in home delivery. It’s convenience over cost.”

Local owner truck

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Specialty products delivered right to your door

He also carries seasonal meats for the holidays.

Eric travels from Palos Verdes to San Diego, and travels up and down Pacific Coast Hwy. “It’s about the lifestyle, the peace of mind that comes with convenience and quality. If someone needs something, I get it to them.”

Giving back locally, he also runs fundraisers for schools, and supports local businesses and kids. “It’s a win-win,” he says.

Another win-win is the partnership of Pasta Mia and Personal Gourmet. Now residents can get specialty foods not found in grocery stores delivered right to their homes.

For more information and product lists for Personal Gourmet, go to www.personalgourmetfoods.com.

A new website is being developed that will be separate from Personal Gourmet for Pasta Mia orders, however, in the meantime, to view their products, go to www.pastamia.com.


Local owner of Pasta Mia partners with Personal Gourmet to bring the best of the best to your door

Story and photos by DIANNE RUSSELL

What could be better than two people who have a passion for food partnering to bring their extraordinary products right to your doorstep?

“For years,” says Marisa Mazza, manufacturers’ representative at Pasta Mia and daughter of its founder Diego Mazza, “people have been asking where they can buy Pasta Mia products.” 

Pasta Mia, a pasta manufacturing company, sells to distributors like Cisco and U.S. Foods, who then sell to restaurants, but the products aren’t available in markets. 

However, two weeks ago, Pasta Mia partnered with Eric Kahane of Personal Gourmet, a fresh-frozen delivery service offering the highest quality in specialty seafood, chicken, and meat. Problem solved – and now Pasta Mia products will come to your doorstep. For the time being, only the beef and cheese ravioli will be available but other varieties are sure to follow.

In addition to ravioli, they carry tortellini, lasagna noodles, sauces, and other pasta items,

Local owner Marisa and Eric

Click on photo for a larger image

Eric Kahane of Personal Gourmet and Marisa Mazza of Pasta Mia

Pasta Mia has a long culinary history based in Italy.

Diego Mazza came from Northern Italy in 1980 with a dream of introducing the American market to the authentic Italian pastas that he had eaten in Italy. Diego grew up experiencing the best of Italian cooking rooted in the traditions of the Italian countryside. He watched his grandmother, Nonna Nina, prepare delicious meals and homemade ravioli, and ate the wonderful results. He brought this passion and respect for Italian cuisine to his products when he opened Pasta Mia in the U.S.

Marisa says, “In 1984 my father conquered his dreams – he moved to Laguna Beach and achieved his desire to live at the beach – and he founded Pasta Mia, to put his Italian tradition into his work. He started at the back of malls with two pasta machines, and he now has 40 machines.”

Diego Mazza now has over 500 different products and continues research and development – sometimes in his own kitchen, according to Marisa.

Pasta Mia products are a natural and inspired result of the Italian heritage of the company. This treasured experience instilled in him a deep appreciation for the natural flavors of real Italian food. 

Pasta Mia imports ingredients from Italy and uses local meats and vegetables.

Marisa says, “Pastas are prepared in our kitchens for maximum flavor and then fresh-frozen to lock in the fresh taste with no preservatives.” 

Local owner ahi and pasta

Click on photo for a larger image

Ahi tuna from Personal Gourmet and Beef and Cheese Ravioli from Pasta Mia 

Marisa’s mom knew Eric and was familiar with Personal Gourmet, which delivers specialty items that can’t be found in grocery stores, so to offer Pasta Mia to the same customers seemed a perfect marketing match. 

Eric says, “The Mazza family and I share a passion for food.” 

Personal Gourmet offers quality and convenience by coming right to your doorstep. These are not run-of-the-mill products found in most restaurants or grocery stores. He sells to five-star restaurants and works with private chefs. 

He carries colossal shrimp, crab cakes, scallops, ahi tuna, sea bass, New York steaks, filet mignon, chicken, hamburger – just about anything you would order in an upscale restaurant. All the seafood is wild and all the beef prime. The chicken is free range, and he does carry organic.

“Seventy-five percent of my business involves driving into the driveway, the customer opens his garage door and fills up the freezer. Customers also call their neighbors and tell them I’m there,” says Eric. 

Local owner truck

Click on photo for a larger image

Specialty products delivered right to your door

“For the same price as it costs to go out and have a meal of scallops or sea bass for two, you could load up on frozen food for a week’s worth of scallops. Everything goes from freezer to table in 30 minutes – burgers, chicken, and seafood – all ready at the same time. And they contain no hormones or antibiotics. If members of your family each want something different for dinner, it will all be ready at the same time.” 

The majority of his business is by word of mouth, and he has an excellent customer retention rate. “Once they try it, they’re hooked,” he says. “The quality and convenience speaks for itself. It’s all about reliability and availability. There is zero pressure, and I offer a ton of variety. Most customers find real value in home delivery. It’s convenience over cost.”

He also carries seasonal meats for the holidays.

Eric travels from Palos Verdes to San Diego, and travels up and down Pacific Coast Hwy. “It’s about the lifestyle, the peace of mind that comes with convenience and quality. If someone needs something, I get it to them.”

Giving back locally, he also runs fundraisers for schools, and supports local businesses and kids. “It’s a win-win,” he says.

Another win-win is the partnership of Pasta Mia and Personal Gourmet. Now residents can get specialty foods not found in grocery stores delivered right to their homes.

For more information and product lists for Personal Gourmet, go to www.personalgourmetfoods.com.

A new website is being developed that will be separate from Personal Gourmet for Pasta Mia orders, however, in the meantime, to view their products, go to www.pastamia.com.


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The tale of two breakfasts

By Diane Armitage

Dining out for breakfast on the weekends is one of my favorite treats. Recently, I finally ventured out to Harvest at The Ranch Laguna Beach and GG’s Bistro for the first sit-down experience I’ve had in many months. 

A peaceful sojourn at Harvest

Prior to COVID and nearly every Sunday morning, I would walk down the beach to Aliso Creek and cross through the tunnel to The Ranch. 

The staff knew I preferred the corner table in the bar closest to the golf course. My server, Manny, would usually greet me at the table with my decaf cappuccino already in hand. I came to adore The Ranch’s Harvest Restaurant for that early morning peace, which allowed me time to think, dream, and plan my week ahead.

I ate my “last breakfast” at Harvest on a Sunday morning, just days before the March shutdown. Since that time, The Ranch’s personnel have done an impeccable job abiding by the new rules of play. They began serving food again with their patio upstairs, and then quickly expanded to the larger patio that fronts their banquet room below. 

The tale Harvest

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Ranch’s Harvest interior offers wide open spaces

When I visited Harvest for the first time indoors last week, it was comforting to see that they’ve followed the same protocol, distancing tables and diners with aplomb.   

Hearty breakfasts stave off hunger all day

 It felt like old times. The breakfast menu was exactly what I recall from earlier days, with everything from Bagel and Lox to their crazy-decadent Cinnamon Roll and my favorite Breakfast Burrito. 

The tale cinnamon roll

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The Cinnamon Roll for two at Harvest

The Harvest Cinnamon Roll was first created by The Ranch’s first pastry chef, Mary Catherine. Thankfully, she believed in bacon as a priority in one’s diet, and this is the only cinnamon roll I’ve ever found with chunky bacon sprinkles. It is an awesome treat that I reserve for special occasions!

My usual – The Harvest Breakfast Burrito – is a giant meal, stuffed with house made carnitas, scrambled eggs, and Oaxaca cheese. I knew it was too much to handle that morning, so I settled, instead, for something I hadn’t tried –

the Country Omelet.

The tale omelet

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                                                                                                                                            Photo by Diane Armitage
Harvest’s hearty Country Omelet 

This showed up as a giant, too. The Country Omelet arrives with a veritable pile of potatoes and choice of toast. The egg concoction was stuffed to its perfectly fluffy edges with smoked bacon, country ham, peppers, and aged white cheddar. It was fabulous and oven-hot, and I managed a scant half of it before submitting to a takeout box. 

Euro-Style at GG’s Bistro

Throughout the craziness of COVID, Francesca Gundogar has remained unperturbed. Cool as a cucumber and always smiling, Francesca is the eye of this year’s hurricane. 

All these long months, Francesca and husband Ragi  have maintained a significant takeout business while going through the motions of closing, opening, closing, and reopening their patio dining. 

The tale GG's patio

Courtesy of GG’s Bistro

GG’s Euro-Style Bistro patio 

The GG’s Bistro breakfast menu is served just on Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon. As menus go, it’s not remarkably different in description than many breakfast menus – bagels, omelets, French toast, basted eggs, hash browns. 

But what shows up is quite the delectable treat. The ingredients are super fresh, the eggs are whipped light beyond belief, and the hash browns are officially the Eighth Deadly Sin. They are buttery, rich, and crisped just perfectly. 

My go-to has always been G’ss amazing Turkish Pan-Fried Eggs served in their own skillet with Turkish sausage and those amazing hash browns. 

If you (like me of late) are on more of a health kick, try the glorious Mediterranean Plate with cucumbers, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, and Mediterranean-style Roma tomatoes. 

If you arrive with a friend or two, you simply have to try the GG’s Sultan Tray. It’s such a beautiful homage to the Gundogars’ roots in Turkey with a giant tray devoted to Turkish cheeses, olive, hardboiled eggs, Turkish sausage, organic Turkish honey, and all sorts of nuts, dried fruits, veggies, olives, and more.

The tale GG's Sultan's tray

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Photo by Diane Armitage

GG’s Sultan Tray 

And, of course, you simply can’t pass on the Turkish coffee, a fresh, strong brew that’s actually how and where coffee began in the first place. (I have an entire blog article devoted to the history of Turkish coffee – just search “Turkish coffee” on my site).

The tale GG's turkish coffee

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                                                                                                                                           Photo by Diane Armitage
                                               GG’s Turkish Coffee 

Even in this rather frantic time, GG’s Bistro patio offers that rare peace we all need a moment of. It’s a beautiful way to greet your Sunday, especially when you’re worn out from the rush of your week.

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


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Fun foodie finds in Laguna

By Diane Armitage

Last month was my birthday month, and it seems my friends know only one thing to do with me – take me to a restaurant. It proved a delightful, busy, and caloric month, as those of you who follow my social media can attest.

For today’s column, I just had to share a few fun, new finds I enjoyed along the way.

Beautiful burrata

Chef Erik’s Oliver’s Osteria has become one of my favorites these last several months. With plenty of elbow room on his temporary patio, you can focus on what matters most here: his incredible food. 

It’s singularly impossible to choose Chef Erik’s “best” menu item for representation here as every menu item I’ve tasted is the “best.” Pictured here is his Burrata Due Pesti with heirloom tomatoes, flawless buffalo burrata (yes, derived from grass-fed buffalo milk), and a swath of freshly made basil pesto.      

Fun foodie burratta

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Photo by Diane Armitage

  Oliver’s Osteria’s Burrata Due Pesti

Oliver’s Osteria is next to the Sawdust Festival in “The Hive.” Its new autumn hours are Brunch/Lunch on Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.; and Dinner Monday through Friday, 5 p.m. - 10 p.m., with Saturdays and Sundays beginning at 4 p.m.

Best export from Balboa Island & Peninsula

I don’t know how long ago the Lost Pier Café began featuring the Balboa Ice Cream Bar. I’m not quite sure how I’ve lived a happy and fulfilled life until this discovery a few weeks ago. 

The Balboa Bar claims its rightful beginnings at the Fun Zone on Balboa Peninsula. The hand-dipped chocolate wonder has found a home in a handful of shops on Balboa Island and Peninsula, but this is the first time I’ve seen an escapee to the south. 

Yes, they do the hand dipping while you wait. And, yes, they double check on the chopped nuts and peanuts roll just in case you have an allergy. 

Fun foodie Balboa Bar

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Lost Pier Café’s decadent Balboa Bar

Frankly, I missed out on the whole Balboa Island craze as a Colorado native kid as I didn’t even know the island existed. But the Balboa Bar brings back happy memories of vanilla Dairy Queen swirls hand-dipped in chocolate; they were the special treat we would order after a night of family putt-putt golf. 

The Lost Pier’s Balboa Bar, though, is way better. It’s absolute joyful decadence. 

At Aliso Creek Beach, Lost Pier is owned and operated by the lovely folks at The Ranch Laguna Beach. (You’ll love their breakfast burrito, too.) Current hours for Lost Pier are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. 

So much in this Machaca Burrito

Michael Skerly, owner of Papa’s Tacos, tells me he’s had one of the busiest summers on record, even with reduced hours (daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.). He continues to offer his breakfast menu all day long, a blessed relief to those of us who love eating breakfast.

Fun foodie burrito

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Papa’s Tacos Beef Machaca Burrito

A few weeks ago, he suggested I try his favorite breakfast burrito – the Machaca Beef Breakfast Burrito with three eggs. I prefer “wet” burritos, so he suggested his best-selling ranchero sauce. Five minutes later, he handed me a bag that weighed like a bowling ball. 

Although I live less than a block’s walking distance from Papa’s Tacos, it felt like I’d had a full workout bringing that burrito home. It settled onto my dinner plate like an elephant in a living room. 

There’s absolutely no skimping here on the machaca beef, which is fabulously seasoned and slow-cooked daily. While I usually prefer green salsa for my breakfast burritos, Michael’s ranchero sauce was a perfect pairing to the beef. 

Priced at just $9.49, this burrito was three full breakfasts for me. 

Papa’s Tacos is in South Laguna next to the Community Garden. Hours, as noted, are daily, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

A birthday candle for this cobbler

A couple months ago, I ordered a fantastic “BBQ Rib Dinner” from Cary Redfearn’s Lumberyard. I was hosting a small dinner party and decided to throw in a couple apple cobblers for dessert. While these cobblers are neatly tucked into what appear to be individual servings, each cobbler can easily feed two to three people. These are generous giants with nothing but love for you. 

I’ve never been much of a birthday cake person, so when it was time to light the annual candle and make a wish, I chose Lumberyard’s Apple Cobbler from one of my two favorite desserts in town (the other being Starfish’s Banana in Filo Dough). Filled to its flaky pastry walls with nothing but love, I’m sure this cobbler has seen to it that my wish comes true. 

Fun foodie cobbler

Click on photo for a larger image

Courtesy of Lumberyard Laguna Beach

Lumberyard’s Apple Cobbler

Lumberyard is downtown on Forest (with its adjacent Yard Bar outdoor dining, too). Current hours are Monday through Wednesday, 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Live music plays in the Yard Bar Wednesday through Saturday. 

After all that, it was time for salad

As Di’s birthday month waned, I wisely began opting for salads. Active Culture serves up some great creativity in their salads. 

Pictured here, my three options from left, Heaven’s Blend (carrot, beet, red onion, fennel, cranberries, walnuts, and goat cheese), my favorite, the Eastern Trade Winds (quinoa, garbanzo beans, fine chop kale, red pepper, cucumber, dates, peanuts, and walnuts), and Rustic Kale Salad (cranberries, grapes, walnuts, almonds, and parmigiano reggiano cheese). 

Fun foodie salads

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Active Culture’s three salads

For me, each salad easily served two separate meals. Dressing always comes on the side, too, to ensure your salad stays super crisp. 

Active Culture sits at the corner of Anita and Coast Highway. To go pickup and parking is in the back. Current hours are 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. 

And for the month of October…

Stay tuned to future Stu News columns, my Best of Laguna Beach blog, sign up for my weekly emails, or nose through my social media channels for news on GG’s Bistro’s new cheeseburger meals to go for Game Day fans; a visit to the refreshed Las Brisas; Coyote Grill’s blessed return of Baja-style grilled local lobster; Royal Hawaiian’s recent “to go” meal with Seared Fiji Ahi Tuna starring in the lead role; my Harvest Restaurant breakfast; and a review of the pumpkin desserts that seem to be sprouting up around town. 

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).


The Ranch at Laguna Beach named #6 Resort in SoCal in Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers’ Choice Awards

Condé Nast Traveler announced the results of its annual Readers’ Choice Awards, with The Ranch at Laguna Beach recognized as the #6 Resort in Southern California. This makes the coastal canyon retreat the highest-ranking Laguna Beach hotel on the prestigious 2020 list.

More than 715,000 Condé Nast Traveler readers submitted an incredible number of responses rating their travel experiences across the globe.

“The results of this year’s survey, conducted at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, are a testament to the lasting power of a meaningful travel experience,” said Jesse Ashlock, U.S. Editor of Condé Nast Traveler. “The winners represent the best of the best for our audience and offer plenty of trip-planning inspiration for all the adventures we can’t wait to have next.”

The Condé Nast Traveler Readers’ Choice Awards are one of the longest-running and most prestigious recognitions of excellence in the travel industry. The full list of winners can be found here. 

The Ranch view

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Photo by Eric Rubens

The Ranch in Laguna Beach receives another prestigious award 

“In an especially challenging year for the hospitality industry, our Ranch family continues to step up and show up in meaningful ways to not only make our guests feel welcome, but also cared for and safe,” said Kurt Bjorkman, General Manager of The Ranch at Laguna Beach. “We have rallied together in a common mission to provide an authentic Laguna Beach experience in a tranquil space where guests can relax, reset, and revel in the beauty of our canyon and the ocean. It is humbling and heartwarming to earn the top spot for Laguna Beach on this year’s prestigious Readers’ Choice Awards, and we are grateful to our guests and fans for their support.”

For more information or reservation for the Ranch at Laguna Beach, visit

www.theranchlb.com or contact Christina McGoldrick at Victoria King Public Relations at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The 2020 Readers’ Choice Awards are published on Condé Nast Traveler’s website at www.cntraveler.com/rca and celebrated in the November issue of Condé Nast Traveler US and UK print editions.

The Ranch at Laguna Beach is nestled in the majestic Aliso and Wood Canyons. Spread over 87 acres, the resort offers 97 guest rooms and suites reflecting the culture and rich history of the Laguna Beach community.

The resort also features the only golf course in Laguna Beach and a 3,000 square foot indoor/outdoor Sycamore Spa. Guests indulge in seasonally handcrafted, California comfort food and drink at HARVEST restaurant. Additionally, Ben’s Pantry, reminiscent of a treasured country bakery and cafe, offers upscale grab-and-go options for beach outings and homemade pastries. In 2018, the property added an official coastal extension with the opening of Lost Pier Café, a California dining venue perched at the edge of the Pacific Ocean on the golden shores of Aliso State Beach.  

Condé Nast Traveler is the world’s most distinguished travel title providing inspiration and advice for discerning travelers. Authoritative and influential, Condé Nast Traveler is a multi-platform, transatlantic brand. Publishing US and UK print editions under Editor-in-Chief Melinda Stevens, Condé Nast Traveler offers award-winning expertise in luxury travel from around the world. 

For more, visit www.cntraveler.com.


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Beachcomber Cafe raises the flag for fun dining

By Diane Armitage

Last week, I decided it was time for a field trip. Never one to stray far from home, however, I chose a restaurant less than a mile out of Laguna Beach’s northernmost city limits – The Beachcomber Cafe.

A very popular restaurant with visitors, the Beachcomber is particularly appealing to me in the fall and winter months when it’s not so packed with people. 

Last Thursday, I parked in the Crystal Cove lot, careful to tuck my parking validation ticket in my wallet for a Beachcomber stamp, which makes the parking lot complimentary. Rather than pay the $1.50 for the Beachcomber/Crystal Cove shuttle, I chose my preferred mode of access, winding my way down on foot to the pedestrian tunnel under Coast Highway. 

Beachcomber Cafe tunnel

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Photo by Diane Armitage

The tunnel between the Crystal Cove parking lot and the Historical District where the Beachcomber Cafe resides

Admiring the children’s environmentally themed paintings along its stretch, I eventually popped out on the other side and walked into another era.

In this rough and tumble year, nostalgia is healing 

To date, 29 of the 46 historical cottages in Crystal Cove State Park’s Historic District have been fully restored with their rentals booking months in advance. Funds from the rentals go directly toward supporting conservation and educational programs in the park. 

In February this year, the District was given final approval to begin renovation of the north beach cottages as part of the Heritage Legacy Project for California. Because COVID-19 hit shortly thereafter, the construction has just begun again, rumbling into play. 

The Beachcomber Cafe sits as the crown jewel in this semi-circle of cottages. First opened in 2006, the restaurant was a significant remodel of an existing cottage in the park, which used to be called the Whistle Stop. While its interior is rather cozy, the Cafe offers sprawling wooden decks on three sides of the restaurant, a definite welcome sign to all of us this during odd year.

Defuse, relax, recharge

Sometimes, there’s nothing better than stepping back in time (especially this year). I walk up the sandy rise and down into a 1950s world that opens up to one of the most pristine views along our South Orange County coast. Kids frolic in the waves. Parents lounge nearby, chatting with each other. Friends patter along in the sand. And at 5 p.m., all attention turns to the Beachcomber as a bugle trills and the black martini flag scoots up the flagpole. 

Happy Hour has officially begun.

Beachcomber Cafe flag

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Courtesy of Beachcomber Cafe

Every day, the Beachcomber raises the martini flag at 5 p.m. and at sunset

Suddenly, I feel like “Baby” in Dirty Dancing’s Catskills (…well, sadly, without Patrick Swayze hip-twitching his way into my picture). I’m in a world where everything is just plain normal, and the pace slows, allowing me to truly take a deep breath and revel in life and its luxuries around me.

My restaurant-exploring buddy, Ali, and I solemnly salute the martini flag and order the restaurant’s popular cocktail, the Blackberry Lemon Gin & Tonic. A mix of Hendrick’s Gin, Blackberry Liqueur, fresh muddled blackberries, lemon, and mint, this is a tall order of love and hope. 

Beachcomber Cafe gin and tonic

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Ali North

The Beachcomber Blackberry Lemon Gin & Tonic

The Beachcomber dinner menu is extensive, a range of Polynesian-infused appetizers, fresh fish, shellfish, and exactly two beef dishes – Filet Mignon and their best-selling Braised Short Ribs. 

It’s been my birthday month celebration for exactly one entire month, so I sigh and pass on the short ribs with walnut gorgonzola sauce (my favorite cheese sauce ever), and choose, instead, the Blue Crab Stuffed Salmon. Ali orders the Pan-Seared Diver Scallops. 

We then sit back and happily yabber, watching people come and go, remarking on exceptionally adorable toddlers doing their toddle thing, and talking about a world that has somehow eliminated current event news. 

It’s a magic that happens here. Somehow, I think the Beachcomber just erases the current day from your mind, even if just for a couple hours’ respite. 

Fresh, creative entrées

Sometimes when coastal restaurants are inundated with visitors, they can lose their sense of taste. They may opt for ease rather than the more tasteful, or choose heartier dishes designed to withstand the elements instead of dishes that conquer your heart. 

The Beachcomber chefs – Executive Chef Carlos Olivera and Sous Chef Favian Orozco – aren’t interested in compromise. Both dishes arrived with immaculate plating and impeccable tastes. 

Beachcomber Cafe salmon

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Diane Armitage

Beachcomber’s Crab Stuffed Salmon

In all my years of food writing, I’ve not tried a crab stuffed salmon. The best of both worlds in my book, I decided to give it a try. 

The salmon arrived politely enough, buttoned up and looking like your usual salmon plank. Cut into it, however, and the most beautiful crab concoction shows itself. Served with wisps of scallion, a few plump capers, and woody shitake mushrooms, this is one of the most pleasing, well-balanced salmon dishes I’ve yet tasted. With the finest drizzle of lemon caper beurre blanc and crunchy pan-seared capers at its crown, the salmon is hoisted on what looks to be Yukon Gold potato mash and blanched, bright green baby green beans. It is delectable and tender at every bite. 

Beachcomber Cafe scallops

Click on photo for a larger image

Photo by Ali North

Beachcomber’s Pan Seared Diver Scallops

For me, I have to hear rumor of great scallops before I’ll try them. 

Scallops are one of my favorite shellfish dishes, but they need to be super fresh and meaty with just the right amount of searing to keep them from becoming too fishy or too mushy. They are delicate, rather high-maintenance dishes. Chefs such as Craig Connole (former K’ya seared scallops), Chef Amar Santana (Broadway) and Chef Rainer Schwarz (Driftwood Kitchen) are a scallop’s best friend. Most scallops, however, will shun such relationships. They are divas to the core.

Clearly, Beachcomber Chefs Olivera and Orozco have done their due diligence to establish friendship ties with the scallop. The dish arrives with four hearty scallops, shoulder-to-shoulder with lightly braised heirloom tomatoes and asparagus, all ladled gently onto a generous beurre blanc swath and forbidden rice foundation. Pea tendrils join the frisse on top, a fluffy, happy combo that’s just happy it has found its way to this magnificent dish.     

No rush, no worries

Years ago, when the Beachcomber first opened, I used to paddle my outrigger down from Newport’s Back Bay with my outrigger friends. We would park our one-man outriggers and surf skis on the sand and dig into a Beachcomber breakfast before paddling back in headwinds to our outrigger stable. The entire adventure destination to the Beachcomber felt very Hawaiian and neighborly to me. 

Fast forward 12 years, and the Beachcomber is still the icon for neighborly invitation and a trip back in time. When you need to escape this year, my friend, the Beachcomber is waiting. 

Beachcomber reservations for parties of six and under are can be made at (949) 376-6900. Please practice social distancing; masks are required in and around the property.   

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

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