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Maro Works Wonders Over a Wood Grill

Patty Pinto

With open arms and a grateful palate, I extend a gracious welcome to my new neighbors Mariano and Patricia Molteni, chef-owners of Maro Wood Grill on Coast Highway. Along with sister, Fiore, and the creativity of executive chef Debra Sims, this team of culinary artistes and experienced restaurateurs do a wonderful job adding their culinary magic to the town.  Their focus is Argentinean style fare using local purveyors (such as VRG Farms) and the freshest-organic ingredients, as well as offering patrons a seasonal menu.

A warm fire pit with flickering flames, along with outdoor dining tables and heaters greets visitors who prefer to dine under the starry skies of Laguna. The previous restaurant at the location, A La Carte, was gutted and re-designed by Patricia and her mother in law, Lili. Now, the décor invites patrons into a sleek and intimate dining room with indoor seating for eight customers and a bird’s eye view of chefs Mariano and Debra at work while sweet scents emanate from the wood fire grill.

My empanada de pescado arrived on a small wood plank with a side of mayonnaise. Rather than the traditional half-moon shaped pie, this was a cute, round-knot shaped empanada with a shiny, golden pastry crust.  The shrimp, cod and pineapple filled turnover was so good, I never bothered to dip it into the side of mayo. The devilishly tasty morsel broke my diet for the day; it was worth every bit of guilt and the expected reprimand from my strength and conditioning coach. (He reads my reviews!)

Maro burger

I have supped on many dishes at Maro and have yet to be served one that failed to satiate my finicky culinary pleasures. Kudos to chefs Debra and Mariano for their creativity and offering wholesome goodness, grilling up items such as the Maro burger – prime grass-fed beef on a fresh potato bun, Nueske’s bacon, picked onions, house aioli and year-aged white cheddar. Note to carnivores: it is extremely difficult to find organic, grass-fed beef on restaurant menus and this burger, flame-grilled over hickory smoked wood chips, was very tasty!

Well, I have a couple of minor squawks after all. The butterscotch pudding with honeycomb candy and fresh whipped cream was a tad too sweet for my personal taste  and the tournedos wrapped in bacon and sage could have been crisper.

While awaiting lunch, I watched and salivated as Chef Mariano rotisserie-skewered two whole organic chickens, placing them over his indirect wood flame and squeezing fresh lemon juice over the poultry as they revolved above the grill. I later discovered the hens were being roasted for the Maro Wood Grill Family Dinner (including side orders for a mere $50) that evening. Place your order by 4 p.m., ensuring a home-style takeout meal for dinner that evening.

Chef Debra created the most beautiful plate of roasted beets I have ever seen, and the presentation of tapas was almost too pretty to eat. I wanted to frame my photo of the beets and hang it in my kitchen wall for all to view! The tubers were plated over hefty mounds of mascarpone cheese, a chili flake honey and balsamic reduction drizzle and burnt honey comb brittle sprinkles. The balance of flavors and ingredient combination was so good I literally used a digital assist to sop up the remaining sweet-sticky drippings!

I could continue to describe the many unique tapas and entrées available at Maro; share that Fiore mixes refreshing Argentinean chilled teas; chat about the various wines available; alert vegans and vegetarians to the pizzas, salads, and non-meat tapas on the menu; admit I surreptitiously licked my fingers after sucking out the wood-fired edamame seeds speckled with sea salt; or detail one of the recent daily pre-fixe menus. But you need to experience Maro and come to your own conclusion.  My instinct is you will not be disappointed.

Maro Wood Grill, 1915 S. Coast Highway (between Center & Diamond Streets)

(949) 793-4044. Closed Mondays. Lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

Read more reviews by South Laguna resident Patty Pinto at


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