Asada brings Mexican flair to Laguna

When Scott McIntosh was 15 and washing dishes in Long Beach, he never imagined what the restaurant business would mean to him, or that more than 30 years later he would be opening his own restaurants.

McIntosh's latest project, Mexican-themed Asada, opened last week at 480 S. Coast Hwy.

"I've opened a lot of restaurants in my life, but this is probably my favorite one," he said. "I love my restaurant."

McIntosh was first brought into the restaurant business by the Nickoloffs, who hired him as a dishwasher at Nick's in Long Beach in the late '70s.

Craig Nickoloff later asked McIntosh to help his son, Nick, open a restaurant in Laguna Beach, and McIntosh jumped at the chance. In 2008, Nick's Laguna Beach was born.

Now no longer involved with Nick's, McIntosh focuses purely on Asada. He couldn't be prouder of it.

Although he considers Asada a sophisticated take on Mexican cuisine, he didn't want a Spartan atmosphere that pushed people out the door.

"It's OK to come in and kick back in my restaurant," he said. "We really want people to be comfortable."

McIntosh has a history with restaurants known for comfort.

A familiar name in the restaurant business, Craig Nickoloff took McIntosh with him when he opened a little franchise some people might recognize: Claim Jumper.

Opening the first location as a dishwasher and finally leaving the company in 2003 as chief operating officer, McIntosh credits the restaurant for never letting him forget the importance of value and comfort.

Claim Jumper had big portions, he said, and people walked out satisfied. He didn't want to bring the same size to Asada but definitely did not want to skimp on food for the sake of presentation.

"With the economy so shaky, they need to walk out of the restaurant feeling like they spent their money well," he said. "You can put really high quality ingredients together and still deliver shock value — a burrito that looks like a football — and people get excited about that."

Before opening Nick's in Laguna Beach, McIntosh got a taste for luxury while working for David Wilhelm's Culinary Adventures, opening well-known Laguna Beach eateries such as French 75. He noticed the difficulty that high-end concepts faced with the economic downturn, especially those catered toward special events dining.

When the Fong family, Asada's landlords, came to him about opening a restaurant in the former Javier's space, he knew he had to take the opportunity.

"I came up with Asada after working at Nick's and hearing how disappointed people were … not having a polished Mexican concept downtown," he said. "I think there was definitely a vacancy and an expectation that something good would come back to that space."

The transformation wasn't easy.

The building was dilapidated, with the worst conditions McIntosh said he had seen in his entire career.

He transformed the space, brought it up to code and it's ready for the next 20 years, he said. In fact, he has a 25-year lease on the space.

"We're looking long term," he said. "I'm here to build relationships with people."

It's a bittersweet feeling to open the restaurant, which is only a couple doors down from Nick's, he said.

"Nick and I are friends, lifelong friends, and we're neighbors now," he said. "I think it brings a good energy to this block. We're really serious about our restaurants. That's why Nick has a line down the block when it's busy, and so have we since we opened."

Asada Restaurant

Address: 480 S. Coast Hwy.

Call: (949) 715-5533

Online: http://www.asadalaguna.com/

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