Laguna Beach, with its impressive artist community and gorgeous seaside location, is the ideal escape. And though it may be a quaint, sleepy town, there’s nothing tired about the area’s dining scene. From experiential fine dining to authentic lasagna using nonna’s recipe, there’s something for everyone.
For Italian: Alessa Laguna Beach
When the craving for pasta hits, a menu created by a top Naples chef is about as authentic as it gets. And that’s exactly what you’ll experience at Alessandro Pirozzi’s Alessa.
Pirozzi learned his way around the kitchen from his grandmother. And grandma’s favorites live on at Alessa with Nonna Ida’s lasagna and meat ravioli — both house specialties.
For nostalgia and elevated comfort food: Harvest
Though locals have known this property as Ben Brown’s for the past 50 years, the newly refreshed The Ranch at Laguna Beach — now owned by local Mark Christy of Hobie Sports — features a fresh and contemporary take on the former motel and golf course while paying homage to its storied past at the same time.
The centerpiece of the remodel is Harvest. Executive chef Charles Imbelli serves a local take on seasonal comfort food (using many ingredients grown on property), set amid 180-degree views of the golf course and a stunning canyon backdrop. Don’t miss the Bloody Mary mussels, pimento mac and cheese and the popcorn panna cotta.
For people watching: Nick’s Laguna Beach
There’s a reason this Laguna Beach landmark has been packed every day since it opened in 2008. And no, it’s not just because of those fried-blue-cheese-stuffed olives atop each Bloody Mary — though that’s worth the trip alone.
Nick’s has the artistic air, relaxed hospitality and community seaside vibe that epitomizes all things Laguna so, naturally, locals and out-of-towners want to be a part of that. Join in the fun during lunch, brunch or dinner yourself by ordering the prime rib dip and orecchiette mac and cheese, and enjoying a large helping of people watching.
For rare spirits, wine and a fine steak selection: Selanne Steak Tavern
Though hockey fans may be drawn here simply to say they ate at former NHL great Teemu Selänne’s place, his namesake restaurant is pure delight for steakhouse lovers, too.
Imagine expertly seared filet mignon or châteaubriand, served with a side of chef Joshua Severson’s parsnips, butternut squash or Yukon Gold mashed potatoes — talk about your gourmet hat trick.
Selanne’s 34-page tome of a drink menu is just as enticing. Rare wines, mostly from California, barrel-aged cocktails and other exquisite liquid treasures (such as an 80-year-old sherry) await here. Hot tip: Ask Vito Pasquale, wine enthusiast and sommelier, to curate a bespoke wine pairing and be prepared to be blown away.
Located in a restored 1930s cottage, Selanne’s three unique dining spaces include an elegant upstairs dining room, a lively tavern scene and outdoor terrace.
And for those looking to wow that special meat-loving someone in the privacy of their own home, Selanne also has a butcher shop with cut-to-order aged Wagyu, as well as the chef’s favorite seasonings.
For a special occasion: Studio
Between the location perched atop an oceanfront bluff, flawless formal service and expansive wine selection (2,500-plus bottles), Montage Laguna Beach’s Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Studio is one of Southern California’s most elevated dining experiences. The food is modern French with a California flair.
To sample just how delicious a combination that is, opt for the tasting menu, typically a six-course meal that allows chef Craig Strong’s culinary skills to be displayed in the most delectable manner possible.
For a more casual energy with the same stunning seaside views, check out The Loft, which is also located at the Five-Star resort. The eatery’s Loft Cheese Gallery is an interactive experience featuring more than 150 selections that proves worth the trip to Laguna alone.