Eating at the beach has gone way beyond hot dogs and s'mores, especially if your ideal version of sun, sea and sand happens to be Laguna Beach. Culinary enthusiasts have been flocking to the Orange County coastal haven for years to sample the creations of world-class chefs and nearly 90 restaurants along an eight-mile stretch.
Ten new eateries are opening their doors this year and in early 2016, offering myriad food choices that range from Latin American edibles and Southern-style barbecue to upscale Italian and authentic Asian cuisine.
Those in the know swear that Peru serves up the best seafood in South America, a claim you can investigate yourself at Centrál Coastal Peruvian on Forest Avenue, two blocks up from Main Beach. Culled from four generations of family recipes, the menu features sea bass, calamari, shrimp, octopus and out-of-this-world ceviche.
Another South American favorite is the star at Sergio's Empanadas on Pacific Coast Highway near Anita Street Beach. Sergio stuffs his samosa-like pastries with seafood, meats and vegetarian blends, and there are inventive desserts like strawberry and Nutella empanadas.
Restaurant maestro Ivan Spiers is expanding beyond his already successful Mozambique Steakhouse with a second Laguna Beach eatery called Skyloft at Laguna Avenue and PCH. The emphasis this time is on Dixie dining — a combination of Southern-style barbecue and New Orleans cuisine accompanied by ocean views, a rooftop lounge, and live music.
Gu Ramen at PCH and Thalia Street elevates a dorm room staple into a culinary art form. Blending Japanese and Thai ingredients, the noodle soup is served with three basic components — chasu pork belly, spicy ground pork, curry lollipop chicken and a wide variety of extras. Beyond ramen, the petite eatery also cooks up delicious rice bowls, soft-shell crab and Japanese tapas dishes.
Another new Asian restaurant, Red Dragon, is coming to Laguna Beach in the spring of 2016, dedicated to bringing authentic Cantonese cuisine to Laguna Beach. Highlighting fresh seafood and vegetables, dishes will be prepared by two veteran Hong Kong chefs and served indoors or on a rooftop terrace with panoramic views of the sea and Catalina Island.
Seafood, gourmet pizza and fresh pasta will spangle the menu at Cucina Italiana on Ocean Avenue. Scheduled to open late 2015, the restaurant occupies a historic California-Spanish style building next to the popular Marine Room Tavern and just steps from Main Beach. The family-run eatery will make its own pasta and desserts, including gelato.
And Laguna Beach just got its own Urth Caffé. Renowned for organic heirloom coffee, the first Urth opened its doors in West Hollywood in 1994 and soon became a Southland sensation. Opened in mid-September, the first Orange County branch occupies a historic 1917 cottage and serves soups, sandwiches, salads and desserts in addition to its celebrated specialty coffees. Urth Caffé offers a breakfast menu until 1 p.m.
Other new dining establishments include the Caribbean-Mexican fare of Rasta Taco, opening its first brick and mortar in Laguna Beach; the traditional American comfort foods of Reunion Kitchen + Drink; and Asada Tacos + Beer, offering South of the Border cuisine at Boat Canyon and PCH.
Many of the longtime Laguna Beach favorites are still around, like Las Brisas (formerly Victor Hugo Inn) in North Laguna, offering authentic Mexican Riviera cuisine and breathtaking ocean views; Watermarc restaurant with its famous Grazing Plates; the "clean" contemporary California cuisine of Nirvana Grille; and the incredibly romantic and five-star-rated Studio, perched on the cliffs at Montage Laguna Beach resort.
Another ongoing beach treat is "Brown Bag Tuesday" at Ryan Adams' Three Seventy Common Kitchen + Drink during which anyone who purchases food receives a mystery brown-bagged bottle of white or red wine for $15. You can also get a jump on your late companion and "Buy Your Friend a Drink" in advance. This friendly board at the bar posts the names of people who have pre-paid drinks waiting for them on their next visit.
The Laguna nightlife scene is also quite eclectic. The aforementioned Marine Room Tavern is known for its whiskey selection and live bands. Originally opened in 1918 — and popular with visiting movie industry elite during the Golden Age of Hollywood — the White House Restaurant presents an incredible array of tunes, from deejay-spun electronica to live singer-songwriters. DJ's Nightclub at Brussels Bistro goes total Euro on Friday and Saturday nights with Ibiza-inspired house music. Folk, blues, reggae and country are among the wide range of styles of the live acts at Mozambique after dark.
Come for the world-class cuisine and stay for drinks and live tunes by the beach. Laguna Beach has all that and much more.
—Joe Yogerst, Tribune Content Solutions