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Juiceless, But a Deluge of Other Delights

By Billy Fried
By Billy Fried

It’s Christmas in Laguna, another reminder that we are as blessed as any humans on earth! I hope you’re feeling merry, getting on with everyone, and your children appreciate not just the overindulgence of everything, but the blessings of growing up with such good fortune. It’s hard outside the bubble. But it sure is gooey here. Ripping winter sunsets, swells, sun-kissed days and brisk nights, plus indoor plumbing! What a delight.

Post holiday is when people pledge to stop eating and start cleansing. But how will we do that here, with the sudden dearth of juice bars? A year ago I celebrated the sudden proliferation of cold press juice and heralded the owners for having judged us Lagunans as such a healthy lot. Now all the downtown shops – Living Juice, Nektar, and Juice and Shakes – gone in the blink of an eye. The public has voted, and the winner is still acai bowls. Because sugar is the sweetest drug, baby.

However, the good news is we are swimming in new restaurants, with some long fallow landmarks once again taking root. Here’s a rundown.

Opened this past year:

Gu Ramen: We now have a Japanese noodle bar where Goko’s used to be. Ramen has become the after hours choice of cooks the world over. And they are the connoisseurs of comfort food.

Sergio’s Empanadas: Whoa, delicious Venezuelan food in place of the old lock shop.

Central – What, more South American? The new, stylish Peruvian joint replacing Sun Dried Tomato is making us feel downright cosmopolitan.

And of course the two splashiest openings:

Skyloft – Ivan Spiers is quickly becoming the Sam Nazarian of Laguna. He knows how to build a swanky club, and after overcoming more resistance than most mortals could bear, he made Mozambique one of the premium restaurant and nightlife destinations in Laguna. Now he’s doubled down on Skyloft in the beautiful Heisler Building, as stunning a spot as you will find in town, with great food and live music seven days a week. Thank you Ivan for supporting our local bands and keeping Laguna rocking. Now please buy that hotel across the street and make a Skybridge!

Urth Caffé – OK, I know you all are complaining about the interminable lines, the rush you feel at the counter when ordering, the botched orders and overwrought staff, and the fact that they still haven’t opened their takeout coffee counter. But hey, it’s Urth Caffé. They’ll work it out. And we finally have a quiet place to go after dinner where we can sit and have a coffee or tea. As The Donald would say, that’s huge.

2016 is looking even more spectacular. Here’s what’s coming:

Seaside: Since they just opened, I’m calling them new. But the menu looks clean and delicious, and while some of you may pine for Olamendi’s, don’t.

Asada (the second coming): Asada pulled out of downtown for likely the same reason Javier’s did. The rent. Now they’re betting on the former Señor Fish space in North Laguna, which was half of Gina’s Pizza previously in a center where no restaurant has survived except that half-sized Gina’s. The new fast casual concept should be a hit.


Rasta Taco: I’m always one to say we have enough Mexican restaurants, but we don’t have a Chipotle. And this is a wonderful alternative, especially when La Serena has a line out the door. And really, is there such a thing as too much Mexican (see above)?

Reunion: Speaking of The Boat Canyon Center, Umami, a sensation in LA, couldn’t make it here. Not because of the location, but because they couldn’t pull that “fifth taste” schtick on us. We know a thick, juicy, overpriced burger when we see it. And Umami was overpriced. Reunion is honest American food, and instead of tacky beach pictures from the Jersey shore, we’ll have a beautiful design upgrade from Todd Skendarian.

But now strap on your bibs because here now are the big four game changers of 2016:

Taverna: It’s coming. An actual restaurant on Ocean where the rug store used to be. We’ve all been marveling at the amazing restoration of the historic bank building, but wondering when we could sit on that wonderful patio and stare at the riveting mosaic of loan documents being signed. Soon you can do it with an ouzo. Sorry, I mean pinot grigio Even though it sounds Greek, Taverna is an Italian joint. Here’s hoping it will be a great one, which will have a transformative effect on Ocean Avenue.

Red Dragon: If there is a cuisine we are desperately lacking (besides a Jewish deli), it’s Chinese. It’s where the Jews go when the delis are closed – on nights like tonight. This one is where Mosun and Club M used to be and they are applying for a rooftop deck. Wow. Three floors of Chinese. Please stay open late, you’d be doing a community service. And please offer Peking duck everyday, and dim sum on Sundays. You’ll kill!

Pacific Terrace Bar and Grill: Not to be left behind on the roof deck phenomenon, the lovely Inn at Laguna is getting in on the game and will open a casual eatery on their roof. So look out Rooftop, Mozambique and Skyloft. This may be the best view in all of Laguna.

Harvest Restaurant: And finally, if Ivan Spiers is the Sam Nazarian of Laguna, then Mark Christy is the Ian Schrager. Talk about resilience. What an incredible transformation Mark has done with a tired and toxic hotel. If you haven’t seen the rooms, stop by for a tour. And now comes his dénouement: Mark has gutted the old restaurant and opened it up for great volume and light. It will seat up to 250 and I predict will be the community place to see and be seen. Especially because of his great chef Camron Woods, who’s already tearing it up with his patio fare and banquet meals.

Wait, there’s more: The old Jean Paul’s Goodies will apparently be leased after the construction is done. The former Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf in Boat Canyon is also scheduled to reopen, so that center will go from one eatery to five. The Grove is a new breakfast cafe replacing Laguna Coffee Pub on Forest. Scandia recently closed and will undoubtedly be reborn as something else. There are rumors that the Royal Hawaiian may reopen as a Greek or Middle Eastern restaurant, and on the not to distant horizon something will surely emerge from the former Boom Boom Room.

So there you have it. Up to 19 new joints. 2016 looks to be a very fattening year. Go ahead. Gorge yourself. You can always juice cleanse after. You’ll just have to make them at home. Happy Holidays.


Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday nights at 8 p.m. on KX93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]



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