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Visiting Laguna Beach for a week - need recommendations

I will be visiting Laguna Beach for a week starting on Saturday May 5th and will be there for a week. I am looking for good mexican and awesome southern bbq joints in the area. Any recommendations would be appreciated, not afraid to eat in weird or 'off tourist' areas. I also don't mind travelling a bit out of the way, will be in Los Angeles for a day too.

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  1. I won't get into too much detail because it's been awhile now since I've been to several of these places, so I'll leave it to others (or, do some specific searches on this forum or others), but:

    Las Brisas - great views, good food IMO

    Javier's, located in a shopping center called Crystal Cove a few miles north of Laguna Beach, is quite the scene and the food is good and interesting.

    For "real" (i.e., non-touristy) Mexican food, head inland especially to Santa Ana and environs. There are lots of threads for specific places here on Chowhound for Santa Ana Mexican food.
    One place that I will mention that I've been loving lately is called Two Guys Taqueria, it's on Warner Avenue at Flower, in Santa Ana - it's a new place, the people who own and run it are super-friendly and welcoming, the tacos are amazing - definitely have an Al Pastor taco, but I don't think you can go wrong here. Also their horchata (a sweetened rice-water drink) and the jamaica (hibiscus - water drink) are very fresh and delicious.

    As for awesome southern style bbq, I don't think you'll find much in or around LB - the OC has it's share of chains like Lucille's and they're fine but you can get that anywhere I think. You might want to check out Burrell's in Santa Ana - about as "real" as you're going to find - it's a converted house, in a run-down residential neighborhood, the meats are smoked out-back, and you eat in the side-yard on old picnic tables. It's been some time though since I've been, probably others will have recent intel.

    There are lots of authentic, unique southern BBQ joints up in LA, mostly in South LA area (Watts, Compton, Inglewood, Carson and so on)

    24 Replies
    1. re: mikester

      Las Brisas has good food, but it is not really traditional Mexican.

      Javier's is not well regarded here, but I enjoy it. I get the carne asada tacos, which are made with a nice cut of beef, and they have good premium margaritas, my favorite being the Marcos Mexican. The coastal one is very busy and populated with more plastic that you see in a weekend marathon of the Real Housewives of OC.

      Inland, in Irvine and Costa Mesa, is Taco Rosa, a mid-level upscale Cal-Mex. There are plenty of autentic Mexican joints in Santa Ana, Tustin and Orange. Search for Das Ubergeek (http://www.chow.com/profile/10811) and look for his recommendations for hole in the wall places to search out.

      Burrell's in Santa Ana is definitely as down home as you are going to get. There is not a whole lot else in the area because there is not a large population that has settled the area. Up in LA, you have areas like Torrence, Crenshaw and the ones mentioned above which are going to give you a lot more options for real Southern BBQ.

      If you want other recommendations in the area, there are always a few recent posts that will give you a list of places to try out.

      1. re: ocshooter

        "Javier's is not well regarded here"

        Really? I think the food is wonderful although it's definitely a place to be seen. It's definitely a much different vibe than the previous cantina on PCH but the food's well worth it and I know many locals (not OC Housewives) who still love it.

        1. re: latindancer

          I am one of the few OC regulars who defends the place here on CH. I think in part it suffers because it is not longer the unique, funky, hole in the wall in Laguna that it used to be. For $20, I doubt I could find a better carne asada taco/margarita combo around. The rest of the menu holds limited appeal for me though.

          1. re: ocshooter

            We've had terrible food, drinks, and service at Javier's...and it's expensive. It would be the last place I'd go if I were looking for good food.

            1. re: josephnl

              I don't even look at the menus any more. I get the carne asada tacos and a (ok, 2 or 3) Marcos Mexican margaritas (top shelf, fresh lime). The tacos, with rice and beans and one margarita comes out to about $25 with tax and tip. Now, I am more often in the Spectrum location, but I can get the same on PCH.

            2. re: ocshooter

              I know....the place is a total scene and not my scene by any stretch of the imagination. I get that and it's expensive.
              Given that...like you say, the carne asada is very good.
              I've also stated I like their fish. It's flavorful and I know it's fresh. I was with someone and they really loved the pork sparerib carnitas. The service has been good and I've had no complaints.

              1. re: ocshooter

                I agree OC. Javier's seems to be one of those spots that is either loved or hated here. I stick to the lower priced items, all of which I enjoy- especially the tacos and carnitas.. I'm certainly not going to a Mexican place for steak and lobster.

              2. re: latindancer

                Las Brisas you go to for the view. Nobody goes to Laguna Beach for Mexican food, but I'd they get the itch for Mexican while they're in Laguna Beach (and have the money), Las Brisas is where they go.

                You can have the Javier's experience by taking an expensive escort to El Torito.

                1. re: Das Ubergeek

                  I don't go to Laguna for anything other than rest and quiet solitude.

                  I've gone to Javier's on a rec and enjoyed the seafood....it was fresh and flavorful....something I'm extremely selective about.
                  Las Brisas is a nonstarter for me....there are too many other places along that stretch to enjoy a drink during a sunset.

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    I do warn people that I am in the minority on Javier's.

                    But what place would you recommend for good carne asada tacos and a premium margarita? Let me add that I am not a huge fan of Taco Rosa's margaritas.

                    1. re: ocshooter

                      I'd rather go to Sol than Javier's for that.

                      1. re: Das Ubergeek

                        I ate at Sol's once. It was good, but the prices were out of this world for what you got. The tacos seem reasonably priced until they arrive. They look like something off the kid's menu.

                2. re: ocshooter

                  Las Brisas is average food and very touristy. I would never recommend this place to anyone looking for good chow.

                  1. re: latindancer

                    Las Brisas is owned by the same corporation that owns El Torito, Acapulco, Chevys, et. al. Does the quality of the food there rise above these chains?

                    1. re: Peripatetic

                      I think the name is given to guests at surrounding hotels for a touristy experience...certainly the view is great to watch the sunset with a drink.

                      1. re: latindancer

                        Absolutely - but what's wrong with that ?

                        It's funny, I'm feeling defensive about Las Brisas now, and really I have no reason to be - I am not really a great fan of the place - only been a handful of times in many many years, and I don't think anyone is saying it's going to be the best mexican food ever - far from it I'd say. But I think we have to say there's a time and a place for places like these, and I guess that's why Las Brisas is still around.

                        1. re: mikester

                          Exactly, I took my parents there when they were visiting from back East. We we're treated very well and half of us had very good food and the other half wasn't bad or anything.

                          1. re: mikester

                            "Absolutely-but what's wrong with that?"

                            There's nothing wrong with recommending any of the phenomenal view restaurants along the PCH in Laguna Beach....I can think of at least 10 that would fit the bill. As long as the people, asking for advice, are told upfront the view is remarkable and the food is average. This is Chowhound, not View hound.
                            You could easily say the same about 'The Cliff'...incredible view.

                        2. re: Peripatetic

                          As of March 2012 Las Brisas in no longer owned by El Torito.

                          1. re: wienermobile

                            As I understand it, El Torito, Acapulco, Las Brisas, etc. were owned by Real Mex Restaurants, who sold them in March to RM Opco, so they still were under common ownership. Was Las Brisas subsequently sold off?

                            1. re: Peripatetic

                              I believe that I was wrong....From their Web site: On March 21, 2012, Real Mex Restaurants, Inc. (and its subsidiary businesses, including El Torito Restaurants, El Torito Grill, Acapulco Restaurants, Chevys Restaurants, Las Brisas, Who Song & Larry's, Sinigual, and El Paso Cantina) was sold to a new owner, RM Opco LLC. This sale was part of a financial restructuring and does not impact the regular operations of our restaurants or the great guest experiences we strive to deliver every day.

                        3. re: latindancer

                          You know what I thought the last time I was there (which, admittedly, it has been a few years) ? I thought "better than it needs to be".

                          Meaning this - here is a location which is just about as good as it gets - tourists and the "beautiful people" of the area are going to come here no matter what - at least once and for a tourist destination like Laguna Beach that's probably enough. I was kind of expecting to get pretty but boring food, without too much flavor, but that's not what I got. It was quite good in fact, and the service was good - it was clear that the management and staff cared about the dining experience. So, I was pleasantly surprised. I think that's worth something. Maybe things have changed, I have no idea, but I give them credit for that.

                          1. re: mikester

                            Well, admittedly, I think I was there about 20 years ago. Unless things have changed it'd be another 20 before I took the chance again unless someone convinced me it had changed for the better.
                            I love Laguna Beach for many reasons. Who doesn't? This restaurant happens to be located on a prime piece of property in Laguna and it would not make me happier to know the food delivers along the same line.

                    2. Cafe Zoolu is a must. Fantastic seafood. Very casual and nice wine list.

                      http://cafezoolu.com/

                      1. For two or three of those days I will be spouse free, which doesn't mean much, just means I am alone and can drive further etc. I own a southern BBQ in Toronto, which means when I say real BBQ, it's a must. I am visiting a friend (Neil ' Big Mista' Strawder in Los Angeles one of those days for sure, will be eating his BBQ. Anything that is unique to socal that I must try (like in Ontario we have peameal bacon, it's an Ontario style bacon only really found here)

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: BusterRhino

                          Big Mistah's is kind of a local legend, so it sounds like you will be in good hands in that department !

                          As far as local So Cal specialties, I'm going to say you really need to go to Tommy's, for the original Chili Cheeseburger. It's very much an LA institution - go to the original one at Beverly and Rampart. That, and of course In 'n Out.

                          Also, you should go to Pann's, at La Tijerra and La Cienega Boulevards, not far from LAX, for the original Googie architecture if not the food (the food is not at all bad either, though). Lots of TV and movies have used this place for shoots (I swear it was just in the most recent episode of Mad Men, standing in for a Ho Jo's). If you've seen Pulp Fiction you'll feel an instant sense of deja vu. Anyway....I've never had it but the fried chicken is supposedly very good here. I like the breakfasts too.

                          Depending on your cholesterol level and so on, you might also want to explore Los Angeles' "hood burgers":

                          http://www.chow.com/digest/76296/hood...

                          1. re: mikester

                            You hit the nail on the head with the burger idea, although I cook BBQ every single day Burgers are my favourite meal of all time. Truly love them.

                        2. For BBQ - hit Bludso's (when you are en route to LA). It's in Compton. Tiny spot, no seating (there's a couple bar stools and a small counter) but SO SO good. Cash only.

                          In Laguna, I had a great meal at Nick's (right on the main road). It's not Mexican' or BBQ, but a solid choice if you need a dinner spot while in town.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: The Oracle

                            As an FYI, there is some outdoor seating at Bludso's in the back.

                            1. re: JAB

                              Fantastic to know!! Thank you!

                            2. re: The Oracle

                              I've been to Nick's a couple times. Once for a weekend brunch when Nick was working the front of house. Food was terrific, service was spot-on and really sharp. Second time was a weekday dinner. Nick wasn't there. Food was meh, service was meh.

                              If you've been more than I have , do you find the same sort of inconsistency at Nick's?

                              1. re: Professor Salt

                                I've been to Nick's many times for dinner and service is always solid- food is OK. Great place to take unadventuresome out-of-towners. They have a great veggie burger, but if OP goes- do not get the ribs. They taste par-boiled.

                                1. re: Professor Salt

                                  Nope, only went once and got lucky, I suppose. We were blown away and would beeline there, when in the area again.

                                  1. re: Professor Salt

                                    I have been there 5-6 times and the service has never been anything but stellar. Also, the food has been great.....agree with Bubbly on the veggie burger. I actually craved their VB and made the trip from Ciosta Mesa specifically for it.

                                    1. re: Honeyman

                                      For what it is, a beachside casual restaurant serving burgers, sandwiches and some fish. Nicky's is terrific. Good food, good drinks, great service, and perfect location for indoor or outdoor dining. It's a winner!

                                2. Saw this place in Roadfood, El Campeon in San Juan Capistrano. Thought it looked pretty good for an inexpensive Mexican lunch.

                                  http://www.roadfood.com/Restaurant/Re...

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: curiousgeo

                                    We have really enjoyed our meals at Las Brisas. They have a great outdoor patio area and gorgeous views. The Stuffed Sole there is very good and the service is always very friendly. :)

                                  2. Not Mexican or southern BBQ, but some places in Laguna Beach I like a lot: Three Seventy Common, Broadway by Amar Santana (cocktails!!), House of Big Fish and Ice Cold Beer, Scandia Bakery, 230 Forest.

                                    1. As you have probably gathered by now, there are very few terrific restaurants in Laguna. For Mexican, it's a funky place, but I love the Mexican breakfasts at the Coyote Grill in south Laguna. If you get there early enough, you can get a table on their deck with a peek-a-boo view of the ocean. They have decent margaritas, good beer and pretty good Mexican breakfasts. In town (Laguna), we enjoy Nick's a lot. Sure it's casual, but their drinks are good, their burgers and French dips are as good as you'll get anywhere, and the service is terrific. If you want to eat "on the beach"...the Beachcomber Restaurant at Crystal Cove (Newport/Corona del Mar) has decent food and drinks, and it is literally right on the beach. Their breakfasts and lunches are fun, and the setting can't be beat. Also in Crystal Cove (a 10 minute drive from Laguna Beach) you'll find Bluefin, an excellent...albeit expensive..sushi restaurant. The owner Abe, is an alumnus of Nobu. Also in this center is one of southern CA's best upscale Indian restaurants, Tamarind of London. This is the sibling of another Tamarind in London (of course) which has a Michelin star.

                                      If you're willing to drive for 30 minutes, and want an upscale French restaurant, you cannot go wrong heading to South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa. On the upper level you will find one of southern CA's very best French restaurants...Marche Moderne. It's outstanding, especially for dinner, and with the tasting menu being the star. Do reserve!

                                      Have fun!

                                      1. IMO with regard to Las Brisas, go for the view, not the food. Our fave Laguna Beach mexican food is La Sirena. Wahoo's is okay. I'd say go to LA or San Diego for better mexican, by far.

                                        1. So we are back from our trip, our biggest surprise for food was K'ya - we went there with 4 people in total. Our experience from all of us was that the food was excellent, that it's not a 'Tappis' style restaurant at all (as they suggest) and that ordering two of their plates of food is about right for anyone. We tried probably a dozen things from the menu and it was all very good. We would visit again if we were in town for sure. Oh and cheap, incredibly cheap.

                                          I also went to the Pottery place and ate at the restaurant there, very good meal as well. They also have a great little cheese shop and a chocolate shop on site.

                                          There were several other places we also visited, not all worth mentioning. We did go to Jack Shrimp in Newport Beach with friends of ours down there - it was excellent food as well.

                                          We also visited the inaugural BBQ Comp in Long Beach by the Queen Mary on the Saturday. We tried a dozen places including Big Mista's BBQ - Yea, Big Mista's was very good.

                                          Overall notes
                                          1) Your portion sizes are freaking HUGE down there, we found in most cases that we were unable to eat about half of each plate we ordered. You would never find plates of food like that in Toronto or surrounding area.
                                          2) Your food is incredibly cheap, cheap, cheap.
                                          3) Even your worst mexican is better than our best mexican up here.
                                          4) I tried 6 burgers when I was down there and was disappointed in every one of them. I don't know what it was, maybe it's the meat (we have incredibly meat in Ontario... our ground beef is amazing.

                                          Thanks Laguna Beach and area, the visit was great!

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: BusterRhino

                                            The place in the Pottery place is called Sapphire and wa ate there this weekend and I would call it over priced. Since I have already tried most of their menu, I made a mistake of ordering their fish tacos. $17.50 for three small fish tacos is hardly cheap!! I haven't been to Toranto in years, but most of the restaurants we go to in LA/OC are not cheap and the portions are not huge.

                                            1. re: BusterRhino

                                              May I ask where did you try the 6 disappointing burgers?

                                              1. re: wienermobile

                                                That was my thought too. I've never had Canadian burgers (other than Vancouver), but considering you can find an upscale burger joint on almost every corner here, I am curious. BTW, thanks for the post Buster. So many recs here and so few reviews.

                                                1. re: BubblyOne

                                                  I won't mention the places I had burgers since it may have been a regional difference in meats, breads etc. I love burgers - it's my thing (next to Southern BBQ). For my preference they were all griddle cooked which I love, that is a rarity in Canada, mostly grilled. The bread there is different than here, I would explain that in the wheat and water that is used in most cases.

                                                  There are many many regional differences in the way food is made, I could see it in everything we bought (I own a meat packing plant in Canada). I would guess our meat in most cases is far different than the US. We are way more limited in growth hormones and antibiotic's we are allowed to use in our animals. This makes a huge difference.

                                                  The mexican though dammit, the mexican you should never complain about if you knew what counted as "great" mexican up here..