The Cliff: The terrific food, drinks, view, ambiance, and live music make for a truly Laguna experience

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

With a 180-degree view over the coastline of Laguna, it’s small wonder that The Cliff is constantly buzzing with guests from far and wide, as well as local regulars. 

The Cliff prides itself on its location, ambiance, event space, and its live music – there is music at The Cliff most nights – and its food.  

I had only ever visited The Cliff to watch live acts and have a cocktail or occasionally enjoy a breakfast from their delicious brunch menu. So I was excited to try the lunchtime menu.

As always I was accompanied for my tasting. If I ate everything on these tastings, I’d have to be hoisted into my bathing suit by the summer. I took Stu News’ very own Shaena Stabler, and what wonderful company she was. 

Our food journey at The Cliff

It’s still January, and I’m still detoxing, therefore I stuck to water, but I can assure you that The Cliff does cocktails very well. I am particularly partial to starting a Sunday fun-day here with a spicy Bloody Mary with breakfast while soaking up the spectacular view from their patio.

Having just come from visiting New Orleans, my love for oysters was reignited, so when it came to choosing my starter, there was little debate.

Click on photo for a larger image


The ocean view provides the perfect backdrop for tasty oysters

The raw oysters were huge, served with lemon, horseradish and cocktail sauce. We ordered half a dozen, and that was perfect to share between the two of us.

Shaena told me I had to try The Cliff crab dip: apparently it’s to die for, she said. The dip is made up of blue crab, melted Brie, Parmesan, artichoke and cream cheese and is served with toasted baguette. 

This dip certainly was to die for, and definitely meant for sharing as the portion was huge. It was so tasty and very more-ish. I took some home for my family and they loved it. I would absolutely order this again.

Click on photo for a larger image


The generously portioned crab dip is “to die for”

It was then on to the entrées. The entrée section is huge and is made up of different categories: burgers and hot dogs, salad, Mexican style dishes, soups, seafood specialties, sandwiches and wraps. 

We decided to go for the mahi mahi fish tacos, consisting of grilled mahi with shredded cabbage, cilantro, red onion and roasted salsa. There is a choice of corn or flour tortillas. We chose corn. This dish is served with Spanish rice and mixed greens, but I held the rice and added more mixed greens. This dish was great, beautifully presented, colorful and really tasty.

We chose from the sandwich section next and went for the prime rib dip, slow-roasted thin sliced prime rib, served on a French roll with au jus and horseradish cream. We added mushrooms and onions to this on the advice of our really helpful and very friendly waitress Tara. This dish was delicious. The beef melted in your mouth and the au jus complemented it beautifully.  

Again it was a large portion, so my lucky son got to devour the remaining half, which he also really enjoyed.

Click on photo for a larger image


The bananas foster bites were naughty but very nice

It was only polite that we try a dessert, so we again asked Tara what she recommended.  We tried the bananas foster bites, which are battered and deep-fried and served with chocolate and caramel sauce. Naughty but very nice.  I’m not a huge fried fan, but these were very light on the batter and the cheesecake inside was phenomenal.  There was a large serving of these, so yet again my children did very well with the “doggy bag.”

I enjoyed my lunch at The Cliff with Shaena. I particularly enjoyed the crab dip and can totally understand why that is a favorite. 

If you want good food, fantastic ocean views, great service, an array of live music on various nights, as well as a place to hold beautiful oceanfront events, The Cliff is the perfect venue.

The Cliff is located at 577 S. Coast Hwy. Call 949-494-1956 or visit for more information.

Eating lunch or dinner at Tortilla Republic puts lovers of Mexican food in a blissful state of mind

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

This week’s report took me to Tortilla Republic, a firm favorite of mine for Taco Tuesday, however this was Wednesday – but it was also my parents’ last night in Laguna Beach before they headed back to England. 

I thought this place would be perfect, particularly for my dad, who has only recently developed a love for Mexican cuisine.

Tortilla Republic offers inventive modern Mexican fare with unexpected flavors, using all-natural meats as well as organic and locally grown produce. It offers a variety of gastronomic experiences, with updated Mexican classics made with fresh seasonal ingredients. 

The restaurant prides itself on signature dishes including tacos de jicama, duck confit enchiladas, and the ever-popular carnitas. All their dishes are seasonally inspired and they also offer a gluten free menu.

Click on photo for a larger image


Delicious ceviche consists of chilled citrus marinated swordfish and shrimp, with cucumber, avocado, cilantro and mango salsa, served with a crispy tortilla.

The restaurant layout is one of my favorites in Laguna, including a lovely off-center bar area, which is so nice to sit at and share an appetizer and sample a cocktail or two or three. The rest of the restaurant is laid out really well, with comfortable booths and large tables to accommodate its many customers. Even on a cold Wednesday evening in Laguna, this place was full by 6.30 p.m.

There are also large private dining tables situated in the back room, where I have personally spent time during events, and it is really great.

Our food journey at Tortilla Republic

We were greeted by the ever-charismatic Mike Murillo, restaurant manager, who showed us to our booth. Mike is such a great guy, funny, and a professional. I took my daughter on this tasting also, and straight away a fuss was made of her, offering her crayons and a kids’ menu – it is such a kid-friendly environment. 

We ordered drinks. Mum went for the Skinny Margarita with salt, which I know is delicious, Dad chose the Mexican IPA and Lula chose a Shirley Temple. I am having a January break so I stuck to water and occasionally sniffed my mum’s cocktail. Dad is an IPA fan, and thought the Mexican IPA he ordered was the best he’s had in the past six weeks (and believe me, he’s had a lot). 

We were presented with chips and salsa and while we browsed the menu, we also ordered a side of guacamole, my daughter’s favorite. The guacamole is so good here. 

Lula ordered from the kids’ menu. She chose the cheese quesadilla, a flour tortilla with Monterey cheese. She added shredded chicken and of course had extra guacamole.

The children’s menu is great, and the portions are generous. And Lula found a heart shaped chip!

Click on photo for a larger image


No surprise that the food at Tortilla Republic is great – but Lula did find a surprise in the form of a heart-shaped chip after ordering from the terrific kids’ menu

The adults at the table ordered the ceviche appetizer to share. This was delicious: chilled citrus marinated swordfish and shrimp, with cucumber, avocado, cilantro and mango salsa, served with a crispy tortilla. 

We then ordered two main dishes to share between the three of us.

From the enchilada menu, we ordered the suizas, which is an enchilada with pulled Mary free-range chicken, tomatillo sauce and melted Monterey Jack cheese, served with refried black beans and rice. This was really tasty. The homemade tomatillo sauce makes this dish, so that it is not too sweet, with a slight spicy kick.

We ordered the short rib chile verde from the principales menu, consisting of prime all natural short rib with spicy roasted tomatillo and jalepeńo roasted garlic potato purée. The meat literally fell apart, it was cooked beautifully. The whole dish was really tasty.

In addition I ordered a takeout of nachos de pollo for my son, who was sick at home. When I arrived home I checked the bag and they had also given me some chips and salsa, such a nice touch, and my son loved them.

Click on photo for a larger image


The Key Lime pie was outstanding: the pie looked great and tasted great

We then went for a dessert – I thought I’d treat myself as I’m not drinking cocktails for a while – and we ordered the Key Lime pie, which was outstanding, really creamy and delicious.

I was as always really impressed with Tortilla Republic. The interior is dark and sexy yet welcoming and warm. I love the kids’ options and Taco Tuesday, and happy hour is incredible value.

See you next week!

242 Café Fusion is a unique sushi “restaur-art”: enjoy beautifully plated, locally inspired & delicious dishes

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

I love sushi, but had never visited 242 Café Fusion Sushi for one reason: I could never get in… This busy 21-seat sushi restaurant has been in Laguna Beach since 2000 and offered, according to many of my local foodie friends, the most incredible sushi I would ever try, so I couldn’t wait to visit.  

I was told that speaking to owner Miki Izumisawa was also a challenge as she is much more interested in creating delicious food than talking about herself. Therefore I decided to do some background research on Miki and how 242 Café Fusion Sushi, which Miki affectionately calls her “restaur-art” – no doubt because of the creativity of the dishes and their imaginative plating – came to life. 

Born in Fukushama Japan, Miki was always intuitive. Her intuition encouraged her to head to the US on a backpacking trip and she never looked back. She realized she would need a visa sponsor and thus began her career path into the world of sushi. 

Miki started to work in a restaurant called Sambi in Downey, becoming a pioneer as one of the only female sushi chefs in the industry. While she was there, she received a call to make sushi for the Grammy awards. It was there she met Nobu Matsuhisa who asked her to work for him. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Teamwork: Lizzie helps chef/owner Miki Izumisawa serve unique sushi dishes

Honored to be asked by such a legend in the sushi industry, Miki jumped at the opportunity and headed to Las Vegas to work with Nobu at the Hard Rock Hotel. 

Nobu was very kind to her, but her relationship with the other chefs was not good. Being the only female in an all male sushi kitchen took its toll, and Miki left after one year, feeling shattered and discouraged. 

She visited Laguna Beach In 2000 and immediately (as so many of us have) felt a connection with the energy in our beautiful town, deciding very quickly this would be where she would open her restaurant. She would create a non-traditional sushi place, transforming the elements of the natural world into its food.  

As an example, Miki’s famous Laguna Canyon roll recipe is based on the 1993 wildfire in Laguna. The narrative of the tragedy inspired Miki. Making the roll, she laid it in two rows, which reminded her of the canyon. She sensed a connection. 

Now when she makes the roll, she sprinkles it with fish eggs then uses her torch to sear the top. The fish eggs are set alight and make a sizzling sound representing the fire. After this, she sprinkles it with herbs to represent the rain falling. Then she adds greenery to the top, representing the rejuvenation of the plants. 

Click on photo for a larger image


A variety plate of Miki’s sushi: aesthetically pleasing and amazingly tasty

Miki is an artist in every sense of the word: her food, her photography and her restaurant are adorned with nature and beauty.

With more than a hundred different dishes on the menu, all looking amazing with such interesting names such as Moon and Sun Roll, Lava Flow, and Feather in the Sky, my guest for the evening didn’t know where to start – nor did I – so we decided to let Miki feed us whatever she thought we would like. She did not disappoint.

My food journey at 242 Café Fusion

We sat at the bar, and I am so glad we did, as we could see the commitment and dedication that Miki and her assistant Lizzie put into every dish. If it’s fast food sushi you want, this is not the place for you. Each sushi roll is handcrafted and it is an absolute pleasure watching these experts at their craft. 

We started with a variety of sushi. Before we ate these, I knew they were going to be good, just looking at the colorful selection of top grade sushi with a variety of flavors and sauces carefully chosen to accompany each one. 

On these two plates we had a wide variety of Fusion sushi dishes: salmon with passion fruit, served with a garlic and jalapeno sauce. Snapper with a beet sesame paste served with a light soy vinegar. Tuna with chrysanthemum, served with a Koji cheese and soy vinegar sauce. Crispy tuna roll with avocado purple cabbage and a subtle hint of coconut. Yellowtail with banana, served with serrano shiso. 

Each one of these was exquisite. The flavor in every bite was incredible, and you could literally taste the dedication and confidence of Miki’s recipes in every bite. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Toro foie gras: the complementary flavors made for a delicious dish

We were then served the toro foie gras which Janice, our lovely server, explained was a very popular dish with regulars: tiny pieces of toro, served with pan fried foie gras, along with a garlic soy horseradish. This was a beautiful dish. The toro and foie gras were cooked to perfection and the flavors complemented each other so well.

It was then time to try a roll and Miki presented us with a hot roll called “Thunderstorm.” This roll consisted of shrimp, salmon, eel, shishito pepper, cucumber, shiso, pickled radish and cucumber, sesame and shichimi pepper, topped with a soy vinegar meringue and yolk sauce. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Want a taste explosion? Try the Thunderstorm hot roll

The dish really was a thunderstorm, the tastes building in every bite and literally exploding in your mouth. It was unique, exciting and brave to have so many flavors on one plate, but as with everything we tried this evening, it totally worked.

I loved my experience at 242 Café Fusion Sushi. It is such a unique place and I love Miki’s creativity, enthusiasm and her connection to the earth that guides her to create so many wondrous delights. 

Miki is a pioneer for all women out there interested in the world of sushi: she defied all negativity and has really created something magical. 

This place is always busy for a reason because it is beyond good – but remember, soy sauce is not required.

K’ya Bistro: Share the good news and the good food: small plates provide big-time eating pleasure 

Photos and story by LAURA BUCKLE

Named as Best Chef in Orange County in March 2010, K’ya Bistro’s Chef Craig Connole is hailed for his creative approach to cuisine. Born and raised in Newport Beach, Chef Craig started his career at the infamous Gina’s Pizza in Corona del Mar in the 1980s. 

After making his name around Southern California with flavorful stints at the Four Seasons, Meridien, and Windows on the Bay in Newport Beach, Connole had six successful years at the Ritz Carlton Kapalua and spent some time in the modern day restaurant mecca, Las Vegas. 

He returned to his Laguna roots when the owners of La Casa del Camino lured him back with an invitation to reinvent the restaurant at their hotel. 

Connole shifted the direction of K’ya in Jan 2009, morphing the Cal Asian menu to incorporate a wide variety of worldly eats, bringing in his knowledge of Hawaiian and European dishes and deconstructing the traditional three-component meal way of thinking by creating a myriad of small plates. 

I have had the pleasure of meeting and working with Craig on a number of occasions and I can honestly say he’s not only incredibly talented, but warm, personable interesting and most of all passionate about his food and Laguna Beach.

My food journey at K’ya Bistro

As always I took a guest with me to the tasting. In K’ya’s case, this was ideal situation: after all, K’ya prides itself on small plates and sharing.

We started with K’ya’s very popular Wild Hawaiian poke, served on chips with onion seaweed avocado and spicy soy (which can be substituted for tamari for those who are gluten intolerant). This was delicious, just enough for two people to share without being overwhelmed. The tuna was really delicious and tender.

Click on photo for a larger image


Wild Hawaiian poke is understandably very popular at K’ya

We then moved onto another small plate sharing dish, which Craig told me was a firm favorite with customers, the seared fillet mignon tips served with horseradish cream. These were beautiful and cooked to perfection. The horseradish cream was mild but had a spice that complemented the tips beautifully.

We then went on to the garlic shrimp and bacon wrapped scallops, served with a polenta, cream corn and crunchy garlic. This dish was actually from the large sharing plate menu, but we just ordered a small plate to share between us. The shrimp was tasty, the smoky-ness of the bacon worked really well and the polenta corn combo, I could have eaten on its own. 

Click on photo for a larger image


Shrimp, bacon-wrapped scallops, and polenta corn: could it get any better?

After this we sampled the hibachi salmon, served with farro, portabella, a spicy coconut sauce and asparagus.  This dish was great. It was nice having farro again as I don’t think it is used enough; it worked great in this dish, as it soaked up the flavors really well.

For dessert we were well behaved and shared a banana bread pudding served with vanilla bean ice cream and bourbon sauce. This was outstanding.  My guest was not a huge dessert person, but in the end we battled for the last bit (I won).

Click on photo for a larger image


Bread and butter pudding might sound ordinary: it’s anything but!

All in all my experience at K’ya was wonderful. It’s not difficult to see why this restaurant has stood the test of time in Laguna Beach and has a huge local following as well as being a popular tourist attraction.

K’ya is open from 4 p.m. every day and runs a happy hour from 4.30 - 5.30 p.m., which offers incredible deals and a great menu. Chef Craig and his kitchen also offer a lunch menu up at the rooftop bar, which has many K’ya’s favorites also. So you can eat his food all day long…and why wouldn’t you? 

K’ya Bistro is located at 1287 S. Coast Hwy. Visit for more information.

Shine on, Harvest Restaurant: every facet of Laguna’s hidden gem sparkles with innovation and good taste

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Having been given a tease of Harvest’s delectable menu on its opening night in November, I was delighted to be personally invited back to the restaurant by Jim Tolbert for a full dining experience. Understandably, Jim wanted to show off all that this “hidden Laguna Beach gem,” beautifully tucked into the curve of a quiet canyon not far from the beach, has to offer for foodies like me.

As the director of sales and marketing, Jim oversees all sales and business developments as well as account management. Now with more than 20 years of luxury resort management experience prior to being at The Ranch, Jim was formerly the director of West Coast sales at Montage Laguna Beach. Before that, he served as national sales manager for the San Diego North Visitors & Convention Bureau where he promoted business for 90 hotels and resorts represented in San Diego and Arizona.

Experience matters, and Jim Tolbert has what it takes

Jim has also held sales management positions at The Island Hotel in Newport Beach, as well as La Costa Resort and Spa and Four Seasons Resort Aviara, both in Carlsbad. His early career was spent in high-level directorship positions at prestigious golf resorts throughout Arizona. 

With his vast experience and knowledge of the industry, I was given the crème de le crème of tours: Jim showed my guest and me the many event and conference spaces, the amazing hotel rooms, pool and spa. It is safe to say that the property is one of the most beautiful and unique spaces Laguna has to offer. 

Click on photo for a larger image


The perfect blend of sharp and sweet, soft and crispy: these Brussels sprouts were exceptional and a great example of Harvest’s innovative cuisine

It was then on to Harvest for dinner, where we were introduced to our delightful server Haylie, who was attentive, witty and charming in every way. We were greeted by a beautiful cold glass of Kin Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. Instantly I knew this was going to be a delicious experience.

We were presented with a couple of smoked Gouda gauche, served with marmalade butter. These were so delicious, a perfect light bite to start our evening. 

We then ordered the Brussels sprouts, which were served fried and crispy with sweet chili sauce, pecans, green apple and radicchio. This was not a starter, but a side dish, and the serving was huge. These were quite possibly the nicest sprouts I’ve ever tasted as the sweetness of the chili sauce cut through the sharpness of the sprouts.  

Both my guest and I couldn’t get enough of them, and in the end we had to tell our server to take them away (and box them, of course) as we were worried we would fill up on them.

Click on photo for a larger image


Hamachi crudo, served with yuzu vinaigrette, was oh so good

We ordered hamachi crudo from the starter menu, consisting of slices of hamachi with yuzu vinaigrette, served with pickled red onions, spicy corn nuts and mint. The flavors of this dish worked well together and the crispy texture of the pine nuts alongside the softness of the hamachi was a beautiful combination.

At this point in the evening, it was only polite to try one of The Ranch’s handcrafted libations. Being a gin lover, I decided to try the Harvest Moon cocktail, which consisted of Hendricks Gin, lime juice, St Germaine, cucumber, rosemary and tonic. It was an easy drink, a light, tasty cocktail, not too sweet yet not too sharp. Perfect, in fact.

My guest chose a Three Clubs cocktail, consisting of Ketel One vodka, hibiscus syrup, limejuice and ginger beer. This was the prettiest cocktail I have ever seen, bright pink in color, served in a Moscow mule cup. And it tasted just as stunning as it looked.

Click on photo for a larger image


Cocktails (this one the Three Clubs) were uniquely presented, typical of Harvest

Harvest regularly offers a special menu and we decided to go with the special entrée of the evening, which was the New York Centre cut steak, served with creamy mash, large shallots, a mixture of root vegetables and delicious gravy. This was an exquisite meal, rich but not heavy. I asked for medium rare and that was exactly the way it was done. The steak was velvety in texture and the vegetables that accompanied this dish were cooked to perfection.

My guest ordered the Skuna Bay salmon, pan seared salmon served with red pepper tzatziki, dill pickles, wild rocket and Marcona almonds. As I do with all tastings, we swapped halfway (so I can taste it all) and it was really good. Salmon can be so hit and miss, and this was a hit – not as rich as the steak, but just as delicious.

Click on photo for a larger image


Skuna Bay salmon: the dish looked and tasted fabulous

Just when we thought we couldn’t fit any more food in, we were directed to the dessert menu. We chose two desserts to share, the chocolate pot de crème, which is espresso whipped cream, cocoa nibs and chocolate mint, and then, on Haylie’s recommendation, the apple fritters, which are cinnamon sugared fritters with orange whipped cream, served with an apple cider reduction. 

These were both gorgeous desserts. I took the remaining fritters back for my children and they loved them.

My experience at Harvest at The Ranch Laguna Beach was nothing short of spectacular. Jim was such a professional in his tour of this magical property, and the food was just as magnificent as the setting. With its location, ambience and food, this place has all the right ingredients to be the hottest hidden gem in the OC.

Harvest Restaurant at The Ranch Laguna Beach is located at 31106 Coast Hwy. For more information, visit or call 949-715-1376.

Another day, another favorite, Another Kind Café: Cool “cross-culture” cuisine is close by in the Canyon

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

As a huge lover of Asian Cuisine I was delighted to be invited to sample Laguna Beach’s new and only “cross-culture” canteen, Another Kind Café.

Located at 793 Laguna Canyon Road, next to the Sawdust Festival, this canteen looks and feels as eclectic and clean as its food. What was once a “pop up” gallery space has been transformed by Thinh Nguyen and his team into a contemporary cool looking sit-down space with canyon views, ample parking, and a very appealing take out service (a perfect pick-up point for people who come through the Canyon on their way home from work).

Click on photo for a larger image


I wasn’t slow to finish the colorful crunchy slaw

Open 8 a.m. – 9 p.m. seven days a week, Another Kind Café offers a breakfast menu, small plate menu and larger dish menu as well as specials, which are changed weekly. Alongside this are a variety of soft drinks and teas. 

At the time of my report the restaurant offered no alcoholic beverage license, but a license is on its way.

Another Kind Café prides itself on being MSG free and offers a wide range of “cross-cultured” pan-Asian dishes, many gluten-free and vegetarian.

My food journey at Another Kind Café

To start I tried the Sai Thanh Slaw, a Vietnamese dish. This was a gluten free option consisting of red and white cabbage, peanuts, onion, fried shallots and herbs. There is an option to add poached chicken. This was so delicious: fresh, colorful, crunchy and light, a great starter or side to a main dish.

We then moved onto the Spicy Pulled Pork French Fries, delicious French fries crispy on the outside, soft on the inside, served with a generous portion of spicy pulled pork and topped with a delicious spicy mayo, green onion and chili. These were naughty but nice! A stark contrast from my healthy-feeling salad, but so delicious – a great option to share on a cold winter’s night when you leave the Sawdust Festival.

Click on photo for a larger image


The Vietnamese-style stew, the claypot fish, was my favorite

Next was the claypot fish, which is a Vietnamese style stew, served in the pot in which it is cooked. This dish consists of white fish in a caramelized sauce with cilantro, chili and organic jasmine rice. I have to say, this dish was my favorite of the evening. It was rich tasty and the fish fell apart (in a good way).

We then tried the Beef Pho, absolutely delicious bone broth, served with fresh basil, sprouts, chili, lime and chili sauce. It was a huge bowl, so I took the contents home with me and feasted on the dish for another couple of days.

Click on photo for a larger image


The Beef Pho was oh so good

It was then time to try “a special.” The special menu is changed weekly.  We decided to go for No. 4, which was a chicken curry with chickpea, ginger, onion, potato, egg and served with organic jasmine steamed rice. This was delicious also (although at this point I was very full). 

Thinh very kindly gave me a portion of Soi48 Wild wings from the small menu to take home for my children. The kids said they were the best chicken wings ever.

I really enjoyed my time at Another Kind Café. I love the location and hope that this will be the start of many cool little food places to be developed in our beautiful canyon.

The timing of the opening is also genius. This place is great to visit pre- or post-Sawdust Winter Festival. From a price point it is very reasonable, the most expensive dish being the claypot fish at $11.95.

I think I’ve found “Another” favorite take out – and eat-in…

Visit to check out their menu, or call 949-715-9688.



Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Dianne Russell, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

Email: for questions about advertising


Email: with news releases, letters, etc