Coyote Grill: Tremendous tacos along with magical margaritas make this eatery a fabulous fun zone

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

#Unpretentious, #authentic, #truelaguna, #eclectic, #exciting, #loyal, #regulars, #crazy #bajaatthebeach – if this were an Instagram post, these are the many things I would be hash-tagging about the wonderful Coyote Grill. 

However this isn’t Instagram, and I have to write like a grownup.

In 1989 Kim “Coyote” Bryant made the decision to downsize from his original restaurant Café Del Clemente and open up a “modest little shack” in south Laguna, Coyote Grill. Kim, who is half Korean, half Italian, was adopted by a white family and raised in Santa Monica, yet he frequented Baja so much throughout his life that he couldn’t help falling in love with the Baja cuisine. 

That’s how Coyote Grill came about. After many renovations and years of building a loyal and long standing team, Coyote Grill has become a Laguna institution. Kim has retired and now lives on the Big Island, leaving his wonderful daughter Desiree Gomez to take over the running of this legendary Laguna eatery.  

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Desiree Gomez loves her job managing Coyote Grill, keeping it all in the family

Desiree has been a firm fixture in Coyote Grill for 27 years, working from age 12 busing tables and she’s made her way up the ranks taking on every role that Coyote Grill has to offer. At age 18, just after she graduated high school – she laughs, saying she took a brief hiatus, leaving the business to “get a real job,” – she worked as a fry cook on T Street Beach, then went on to have a brief stint in a video store.  

However, Desiree made her way back to Coyote Grill, and you can see and feel the love she has for this place and the customers through her food and her attitude. 

Coyote Grill is a hub of eclectic décor: hand-painted murals adorn the walls and the hardwood floors, with paw prints carved out and peso coins, are a true reflection of its quirky taste.  

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Coyote Grill is a “hub of eclectic décor”

Desiree is quick to point out that she uses only local Laguna people when it comes to renovations and closes during the winter for five days each year to renovate.

I am always so impressed when I go to a place that has a long-serving team. And Coyote Grill is a great example: the longest standing member is Victor, who has served for 27 years. 

The staff forms a real team and you can tell there is chemistry between them, which gives this place its unique ambience. 

I ask Desiree what the secret is to her team’s camaraderie. She explains to me that when it comes to hiring, she has to find people who mesh well together, who can laugh and have fun with customers no matter what time of day they come in to eat. 

Coyote Grill is customer friendly, specifically local friendly. 

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Taco Tuesday is great, but so are tacos every other day of the week at Coyote

During the recession, the restaurant started a Coyote Grill Card, a reward card that gives customers 10 percent back on food orders. Some people now have large amounts of money on this card and, as Desiree explains, with many regulars the card gives people a bit of a bragging rights status. 

Coyote isn’t all locals though; this place (particularly during the summer months) is really popular with tourists too. Although it is “off the beaten track” of downtown Laguna, the resorts often recommend people to head to Coyote Grill to experience “real Laguna.”  

My food journey at the Coyote Grill

My food journey took me to the Coyote Grill for Taco Tuesday. Every Tuesday from 3 p.m. until close every taco is $3.50 and this is a firm favorite with many Laguna locals. I chose a selection of tacos to try. I started with a chorizo taco, one I hadn’t tried before, and it was really delicious, ground spicy chorizo served on a corn tortilla with cilantro and onions and a lime wedge. I’d highly recommend this, it was really tasty.

Next up was my favorite, the calamari taco, tender strips of calamari, lightly battered and fried, served with Coyote’s secret sauce with cabbage cheese and cilantro, served on a flour tortilla. This is always a hit with me, and Desiree explained to me that it was a customer who encouraged them to do this dish as a one-off 12 years ago. It has since become a regular favorite on the menu.

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Calamari and shrimp tacos are favorites at Coyote Grill

For me a taco tasting wouldn’t be a taco tasting without a carnitas taco, and Coyote Grill doesn’t disappoint: try their corn tortillas served with Mexican roasted pork and topped with pico de gallo, served with guacamole and salsa verde - perfect.

And finally I chose the blackened shrimp taco, consisting of blackened shrimp coated with Coyote’s secret sauce, served on a corn tortilla with cabbage cheese, tomato and cilantro. This was delicious and very more-ish. 

Alongside the delicious food, I also sampled Coyote’s magical margaritas. Margaritas are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the beverage selection at Coyote. Wines, beers, and various tequilas are available, and as with everything Coyote does, the emphasis on selling “local Laguna” beverages is clear.

It’s safe to say that I love the whole vibe of Coyote Grill. I love the energy, the color, the magic and the sense of family. It’s busy for a number of reasons: great food, great drinks, great prices, great atmosphere and what’s more, it’s a guaranteed fun zone, any day of the week.