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Laguna Beach Help Please - Restaurants & Mexican

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My family and I are in Laguna Beach for a few weeks (we come here every year) and we need some input. Can anyone help with recommendations for good spots in/around Laguna Beach. We had a magnificent meal at the Montage last year but need more recommendations. Also, what are the best Mexican places in the area? It can be a taco stand or more. We love Taco Loco but the value proposition seems a bit off. Any and all help is most appreciated. We are from Chicago but lived in the LA basin for about eight years (west side mostly). Our kids are 4 and 6 (no, they did not come to the Montage with us). Thanks.

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  1. If you like Taco Loco, you should also try La Sirena Grill. It is also a tiny place with even less seats. Everything is made to order and very fresh. I really like the salmon tacos.
    347 Mermaid St.

    No matter what the concierge at your hotel says, expect only a great view at Las Brisas.

    1. I like Sapphire Laguna, Brussels Bistro and Splashes at the Surf and Sand. No idea on mexican as I think Javier's moved.

      1. Consider having breakfast or lunch at the Coyote Grill on South PCH in Laguna. Great ocean views and good Mexican food.

        For your family...including the kids...definitely consider breakfast or lunch at the Beachcomber Cafe at Crystal Cove in Newport. This place is right on the beach (the kids will love that!), and it obviously has great views and also very good food...and a full bar too! Only caveat...they do not take reservations, so go during an off hour, or be prepared to wait...and avoid weekends!

        If you want something fancier...respond with what kind of food you like (sushi? steak? etc.) and if you will be dining alone or with the kids.

        1. Javier's moved up the coast to Crystal Cove. Quite the happening place. I liked the original better. Also in CC shopping center, Bluefin for incredible sushi/Japanese, Sage on the Coast - I always enjoy lunches there, ditch the kids & have a drink at Rooftop, K'ya is up and down, but fun, 230 Forest very good, Sun Dried Tomato vg, Splashes for lunch & views or sunset cocktails - not so big on dinner there, Mozambique is awesome, another 'ditch the kids' experience is the Eno Bar at the Ritz Carlton - would be more fun with another couple if you are 'sharers,' but we went with 5 of us & loved it. You first choose your flights of wine - anything from champagne to Sav Blanc, Chards, Roses, Pinot Noirs to Cab & more - 3 fairly generous tastings for each person. Then choose your cheese flights (my 'On the Silky Smooth' - was the best, the Italian flight 2nd), get a plate of chartcuterie (awesome duck proscuitto - I asked when then are going to add Iberico ;-), then do a small chocolate flight for dessert. The Jin Patisserie sea salt caramels are to die for - both taste and price-wise. Really an enjoyable evening. We were passing the wines back & forth, then passed our cheese plates around and just had a great time.

          1 Reply
          1. re: torta basilica

            Torta knows his/her stuff. Agree with everything.

            I would definitely avoid Javier's in Crystal Cove. It is strictly a scene with noise, crowds, indifferent service and mediocre food. Don't subject yourselves to this! On the other hand, in the same center Bluefin does indeed have incredible sushi, probably the best you will ever have. It is expensive however, but at least in my opinion, worth every penny. Sage in the same center is also very good, but for my money, I would drive the extra ten minutes and go to the original Sage in Eastbluff (Newport Beach)...it is much friendlier, less of a scene, and has a wonderful garden in which to enjoy their terrific food in a much less hectic environment.

            Also agree with the recs for Sun Dried Tomato and Mozambique in Laguna. Also, in addition to my recs in my earlier posting, Zinc Cafe right in town is great for breakfast and/or lunch.

          2. For Mexican, I like Olamendi's (in Laguna; there are several around Orange County, each is operated by a different sibling, and each is a pretty different restaurant). Anyway, I would not call the food spectacular, but it's fairly inexpensive (my wife and I generally get out for around $25), and they make some interesting dishes with potatoes and pumpkins; if you sit in the right place, there's an ocean view. Kid friendly; there's a single mariachi most nights if you're into that sort of thing.

            1 Reply
            1. re: sunnyand72

              I have friends in the area, we always end up at Olamendi's for margaritas and decent to good food, good service and kid friendly.

            2. Javier's, which is probably one of the better sit-down Mexican restaurants in the area, has moved to a new location in the Crystal Cove shopping center, which is just a few miles north on PCH. It's halfway between Newport Beach and Laguna, so it's not far.

              I haven't been in quite a few years so I don't know how it is lately, but you might also check out Casa Olamendi's which used to be good IMO and had some nice dishes that were not your standard "enchilada-taco-combo platter" style thing (whoops sorry I just saw the review of Olamendi's above - sounds like the place hasn't changed much, so it may be worth your while.

              Have fun !

              1. There's a second La Sirena Grill in the Albertson's shopping center across the street from the Montage if you don't want to deal with the traffic/parking in the 'downtown' area where the Mermaid St location is. La Sirena is really good, but many of their dishes are SPICY; ask before ordering anything for the kids.

                For basic & cheap mexican take out, there's Laguna Feast on Glenneyre; nothing fancy, but the prices are good. I think a 2 item combo with rice and beans runs about $6 or maybe $6.50. My contractor went there just about every day when he and his guys worked on my house.

                Olamendi's just seemed a little worn and dated to me; I felt the food on par with going to Acapulco's.
                I think the quality of food at Las Brisas is really uneven; I've had a couple of very good meals there, but on my last visit, the drinks were okay, the food was not.

                The food & margaritas at Javier's are excellent. Javier's at Crystal Cove is totally a scene, pretty loud, snooty hostesses. The bigger problem is the wait; on most nights, the wait is well over an hour, and on some nights as bad as three hours & they don't take reservations for parties less than 6. Try what you'd think is a slow night & show up no later than 6 pm. Good for people watching and telling your friends from Chicago what the scenesters from the 'OC' look like. Not a place I'd take kids to. Alternatively, there is a Javier's at Irvine Spectrum, but I haven't tried that one out.

                Good non-Mexican places are...
                Sun Dried Tomato on Forest Ave. took kids at lunch; not a problem.

                Zinc Cafe for breakfast; nice patio seating. kid-friendly. Madison Square is also good for breakfast/lunch, and kid-friendly. nice garden atmosphere, lots of things for the kids to look at.

                Mozambique has great food, but the atmosphere in the upstairs bar is more fun than the downstairs 'formal' seating area with exactly the same menu. not really for kids.

                Bluefin is the best (& priciest) place for sushi. Lots of my friends like San Shi Go as well, but Bluefin is better. San Shi Go has a larger non-sushi menu, and is slightly more kid-friendly. I took my 4 month son with me to a lunch at Bluefin (at that point, he was pretty quiet as he slept through the entire meal); and while the staff was reasonably nice about it, I received frosty stares from the other diners.

                I've had a lot of recommendations from my neighbors for Tabu Grill, but I just haven't had a chance to try it out yet. not for kids.

                and finally, alternative opinions on some of the other recommendations...
                I thought Sapphire was good, they an intriguing menu, but the result was not memorable enough to justify their prices.

                I also have to disagree about Beachcomber Cafe. The location is unbeatable (it's right on the beach!) once you figure out that you have to park across the street and take the shuttle to the state park. However, I had the worst breakfast there ever; their beignets are awful little hockey pucks, and I had some sort of deconstructed omelette where all the vegetables were coated in grease. We had a party of twelve people for breakfast last fall, and there was a lot of food left behind on that table at the end of the meal because it just wasn't good.

                Unfortunately, the places that are the best place to take kids in town are mostly chains or have food that's not necessarily CH-worthy: z pizza (which is frankly not the best pizza in the world, but it'll do & we've had them deliver our pizza right on the beach-they don't deliver for lunch but we've had pizza parties on the beach for dinner well before sunset), Ruby's (for breakfast or burgers), and Wahoo's.

                1 Reply
                1. re: empfam

                  Wonderful summary of the Laguna scene. I agree with you on almost everything, especially so re Bluefin which certainly ranks with the best sushi restaurants this side of the Pacific. It's terrific.

                  I would definitely not go to the Javier's in Crystal Cove unless it's strictly for observing the ultimate O.C. scene. The wait is horrific, that attitude over the top, and the food barely mediocre. However, the scenery and the scene are amazing!

                  Also, you must have hit the Beachcomber on an especially bad day. I have eaten there several times (B,L,D.) and although the food is not memorable, it has always been good enough to compliment the amazing setting right on the beach. Perhaps you should give it another go, but wait until the summer crowds are gone!

                2. With two kids, you are going to want to eat at El Callejon. The food, drinks and prices are all pretty good. Staff is friendly too.


                  Besides the Mexican and American-Mexican standards, I recommend their cochinita pibil. Simply delicious.


                  Callejon El
                  480 S Coast Hwy, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

                  1. No restaurant in Laguna Beach has ever impressed me as worth going to when one considers price and value along with quality. You can't eat the location. Parking is miserable as well. Laguna has great beaches, but the food scene is mediocre at best. Enjoy the beach, it's gorgeous.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: OC Mutt

                      I disagree. Although there are no great restaurants in Laguna Beach, there are many good and pleasant restaurants from which to choose from when visiting this charming village. Many have been mentioned above. Finding good food in Laguna has never been a problem for me.

                      Also, if one is willing to travel 20-30 minutes from Laguna, there are definitely some excellent restaurants both south to Dana Point (for example, the Stonehill Tavern at the St. Regis), and north towards Newport Beach (Bluefin for sushi is one of southern CA's best!).

                      As the OP surely knows, they can have a great time in Laguna Beach, and be well-fed in the many good (but admittedly not great) restaurants in the area.

                      1. re: OC Mutt

                        I too disagree. I have had several wonderful meals at Sapphire's and they have a parking structure in the back. Park there and they give you a token to get out. Plus they have wonderful truffle fries.

                        1. re: OC Mutt

                          Ever been to Sapphire or Mozambique?

                          1. re: OC Mutt

                            I largely agree. 98% of the Laguna's restaurants are waaaaay over-priced for what you get. That said, El Callejon, Brussels Bistro and the gelato place hidden in the courtyard are pretty good, although not great.

                          2. I'm going myself, next Saturday. Is there anything good between Laguna and LA we sgould stop at? I'm looking more for healthier seafood and such. No kids, so that's not a concern.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Diana

                              Brussels Bistro has a great pot of mussels marinière. I highly recommend it.

                              1. re: vlad

                                can't eat the little clams, oysters, mussels and such. Allergies.

                            2. For Mexican, I really like Taco Rosa in Newport Beach near UCI.

                              2632 San Miguel Rd., Newport Beach

                              1. One of my favorite Mexican restaurants is El Patio Cafe in Capistrano Beach on Doheny. It's a dive, but the food is very yummy. I love the tacos, which are huge, and cheese enchiladas. It's pretty much a locals place with just a few booths and a communal table. There's a patio in the back that they open during the summer, but it still gets quite crowded.

                                1. A real good Mexican place to eat is EL Patio Cafe. It's actually in Capistrano Beach which is south of Laguna Beach. Well worth it though! Great service, food and prices!