There are so many great restaurants — casual & fine-dining — in Laguna and it’s surrounds, so I won’t even pretend to be an expert on the best. What I will do, however, is give you the low-down on where I ate on a visit last week.
FYI: Click on the restaurant name to go to it’s website.
- Zinc Cafe: I have loved this little cafe on Ocean Avenue since the 1990’s. In fact, when I was still cooking professionally, this was the type of place I dreamed of owning one day. *side note: Don’t worry that my dreams have not been realized — there would be very little traveling being done if I was tied to a restaurant!*
- Zinc is the place you go in the morning to procure your coffee and muffin, and sit down with the paper at one of the zinc-topped tables on the lovely patio for a few perfect minutes. BUT, it’s also the place to meet friends for a delicious brunch or lunch.
- There are two sides to Zinc — literally. The left side is for take-out and also has prepared foods to-go, plus some beautiful home goods and cookbooks to browse; while the right side has a full menu, though still counter-service. Just take a seat after ordering, and they will bring it to you when it’s prepared. The food, service, and ambience here will guarantee an absolutely perfect way to start your day.
FYI — Zinc has two other locations in Cali: L.A. and Corona Del Mar!
- Nick’s Laguna Beach: Nick’s sits right on the Pacific Coast Highway, across from the historic Hotel Laguna. There is no view here, but no mind, as it is the food, service, and reasonable prices that keep it ranked #1 on Trip Advisor. Sometimes, I don’t agree with Trip Advisor’s rankings, but I did find Nick’s to be one of my favorite restaurants of the weekend (Ramos House was #1 for me.)
- I started feeling warm and fuzzy about Nick’s when I called two weeks prior to make a reservation — whoever took my call was so congenial, and even asked if my party of 6 would be celebrating an event. Yes, my mother’s 80th birthday, though not necessarily that evening — but he still insisted on writing this down with my mom’s name.
- The evening of our reservation, Nick’s called me 45 minutes prior to let me know that we could arrive earlier than our reservation time of 8 p.m. — if we wanted to — because the prior party at our table had finished early. Nice touch! We took them up on the offer since we were all quite hungry!
- I’m going on a bit, and haven’t even gotten to the food, yet! So let me just say, our waiter was a delight, my cocktail of Hendricks, cucumber, lime, and basil was one of the best drinks of my life, and everyone at the table was thrilled with the food.
- We all started with the bistro salad — which by the way, is only $4 as an add-on to an entree — I plan to try to replicate this salad as it was so simple, yet so good!
- My entree of pan-seared salmon was also simple, but perfectly cooked, and the lemon-caper-mustard beurre blanc sauce made the dish.
- Two pieces of advice: 1) entrees are large, so definitely shareable for lighter eaters; and 2) Make a reservation as it is extremely popular.
- Ramos House Cafe: Technically not a Laguna Beach restaurant, but I HIGHLY recommend this San Juan Capistrano cafe for breakfast, lunch or brunch (not open for dinner.) The food is absolutely fantastic (much of it comes from their garden), and the quaint patio with views of the historic district makes for a very lovely backdrop. Click here to see my post on a perfect day spent in San Juan Capistrano for even more inspiration.
- Watermarc Restaurant: We enjoyed Sunday brunch at this downtown Laguna restaurant immensely. My cousin and I both were drooling over two items — Lemon Waffle with Mascarpone Whipped Cream and Blueberry Gastrique and Top of the World Omelet: short ribs, caramelized shallots, potato puree and sour cream. I’m sure you can understand why. We ordered both and split them; they were equally amazing, though I would say the lemony waffle pleased me slightly more. But I think having a little sweet and a little savory composed the perfect meal here. We walked by the restaurant on a Friday evening, and it was hopping… reservations essential.
- Carmelita’s Kitchen: This is a superb Mexican restaurant right downtown. They are known for excellent and unique margaritas — I can attest to the Pineapple-Jalepeno one (blanco tequila, grilled pineapple and a chile-rim) as well as the one my waiter recommended — Julio’s Margarita (Don Julio Anejo, orange twist, and chile-rim). The latter marginally my favorite.
The homemade chips and salsa are fabulous, especially combined with the house guacamole. I ordered the skirt steak fajitas — skirt steak is such a perfect cut for fajitas or tacos in my opinion — and I was a very happy girl. No idea what the rest of the table ordered (remember the 2 margaritas?!) We did celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday here, and the staff took excellent care to make sure it was a special one. Reservations absolutely essential. Note: come on the early side if noise is an issue for you — it’s a small, lively place.
- C’est La Vie: Meh. We had a reservation at The Deck, but due to a rainstorm, canceled and looked for an early dinner downtown before our evening at Laguna Beach Theater (recommended!!) C’est La Vie was able to get us in promptly. That and the round table for the six of us (LOVE round tables for a group!) were the most redeeming qualities of the restaurant for me. Food and service were not bad, but nothing remarkable.
- Rooftop Lounge: Go here for cocktails with a sunset view of the Pacific. Enjoy it for what it is.
Note: We had Sunday afternoon reservation at Splashes — the elegant water-view restaurant at The Surf and Sand Resort where we were staying (see my review here). However, due to some crazy hurricane-like weather, we chose to cancel, go to the movies, and opt for an early dinner at Carmelita’s. I have enjoyed many lunches here in the past, so will recommend from those delightful experiences. If you choose to dine here, make your reservation during daylight hours to enjoy the view. Also, note that the dinner menu is quite pricey.
If you have more recommendations for Laguna Beach, please list them in the comments!