Lumberyard’s people pleasing menu 

is perfect for all seasons

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Located in the center of downtown on the site of an historic 20th century Lumberyard, Lumberyard restaurant has been a firm fixture in Laguna Beach for the past eight years.

A little backstory

Owner Cary Redfearn began as a busboy at the Marine Room in San Diego working his way through college on his way to a career in medicine, but quickly discovered that medical charts were no rival for the energy of the restaurant business. Before opening Lumberyard, Cary opened eight other restaurants including five Enterprise Fish Companies, currently known as Brophy Brothers (it was the John Dory when Cary ran it), in Santa Barbara and Walt’s Wharf in Seal Beach. More recently, Cary owned and operated Oysters Restaurant in Corona Del Mar from 1989-2010, which gained recognition as one of the most highly regarded restaurants in Orange County.

On the evening I reported on The Lumberyard, Cary was out of the area, but Erik Pulver, the manager, more than catered to our needs. Erik worked at Sage on the coast prior to coming to The Lumberyard three years ago.

A lot of local color

The Lumberyard prides itself on having a loyal local Laguna Beach following. It supports and holds events for SchoolPower, The Board of Realtors and many other local community groups. It’s also a hive of activity during art festival season, and is hailed as “the place” to meet on the opening night either before or after the festivals (or both).

With summer fast approaching and Sawdust Art Festival being around the corner, I felt this was the perfect time for my review of Lumberyard, and let you all know what it has to offer Laguna Beach families (and visitors).

For this week’s review I took along my daughter Lula, my friend Stacey and her son Parker. Both kids are 11 years old. 

Our food journey at The Lumberyard

As with every report I do, I like to make my way around the menu, ordering from different sections. We decided to choose a couple of appetizers for the four of us to share.  Lula chose the Fried Calamari, served with lemon aioli. (Those of you who read my reports weekly will know that this comes as no surprise when I bring Lula with me; she will order Calamari or guacamole every time). It’s worth mentioning that a gluten free alternative is offered here – Calamari Kung Po style with crushed peanuts, cilantro and carrots.

The Calamari was really good, small tasty rings and lightly fried small squid, which we all thought looked like deep fried tarantulas, giving the kids many laughs as they ate.

Click on photo for a larger image

Calamari Kung Po style

We also ordered the Ahi Poke, a favorite of mine everywhere I go, but I had not tried Lumberyard’s, and I was not disappointed. Served with avocado, seaweed, and crispy wontons, this dish was seriously delicious and I know I’ll be back to order it again. 

From the kid’s perspective

It was time to move on to the entrées. Lumberyard offers a great children’s menu, with choices of fillet and salmon alongside the usual suspects; chicken fingers, ribs etc. At this point I would like to tell you that my young culinary diners decided to extend their palates, and go for the slightly more adventurous choices on the menu. But as many of us know, 11 year olds know what they want (or at least think they do) and went straight for Chicken Fingers and Ribs. However, these were by no means “junk food.” With a choice of sides (naturally, these guys went for the French fries option), the children’s meals are hearty portions and fun – the chicken is a chicken breast cut to represent five fingers and lightly fried in breadcrumbs.  

The children’s dishes are presented really well and are exceptionally tasty. Like I said, the portion sizes are large and we did in fact box and take home some of the meal.

Click on photo for a larger image

Ribs: the portion sizes were large

Adult special time

It was time for the adults to chose and with a really diverse menu of steaks, fish dishes, salads and sandwiches, as always the choice was difficult. In the end, we went for the night’s special dish: Halibut on Asparagus and Spinach Risotto, garnished with a tomato ginger salsa. To accompany this we chose the Kale Salad, and we split the dish. This was really good, very tasty, light, with lots of different flavors and textures that all complemented each other beautifully. 

I always think its worth asking for the “special” in restaurants, as it really does challenge you to try new things, and you know that the chef will be doing his or her hardest to impress with the new featured dish. Even though we split this dish, it was more than enough, with me taking home a lot of the Kale Salad.

Click on photo for a larger image

Halibut on Asparagus and Spinach Risotto

Sweet for all

It was then onto dessert and we allowed our younger diners to chose. They chose Lumberyard’s Hog Heaven Pie, which has a cookie crumb crust, chocolate ganache and peanut butter mousse, and topped with whipped cream. This was decadent, delicious and a big piece of pie. But we all made a gallant effort. 

Alongside this we chose the chocolate molten chocolate lava cake – a melt in your mouth chocolate cake that was as heavenly as the Hog Heaven Pie.

Click on photo for a larger image

Young diners enjoy every bite at Lumberyard

Our experience at Lumberyard was really very good.  It’s a perfect place to take your family pre or post art festivals (make sure to book though, as it does get busy), and with its huge local following you are guaranteed to run into someone you know. It’s a family friendly restaurant with great happy hour deals and a variety of handcrafted beers on tap, as well as TV screens broadcasting all the big games. 

Lumberyard is located 384 Forest Avenue  (949) 715 3900

Brussels and mussels make a fine combination on Forest Ave, our “little Europe” restaurant row

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

Forest Avenue is like our own little taste of Europe: we have French, Italian and more, and this week’s food review focuses on our very own Belgium restaurant, the wonderful Brussels Bistro.

When I first arrived here in 2014 it was a World Cup year and as an avid football fan,  (I know you guys call it soccer but I just can’t get on board with that, I’m afraid) one of my first experiences of singing out in Laguna Beach was in Brussels Bistro watching England vs Holland. 

England lost but less about that… Instantly I loved Brussels Bistro, I loved the below ground cool basement style vibe, the wide variety of beers, the beautiful accents that resonate from the staff, but my absolute favorite thing was the fries. So when Brussels came up on my list as a restaurant that Stu News had not featured for a while, I jumped at the chance to go.

Click on photo for a larger image

My absolute favorite thing is the fries

Thomas Crijns opened Brussels Bistro in 2004 and it has been firmly established as one of the most celebrated restaurants in Laguna Beach, renowned for its authentic Belgium cuisine and of course its huge selection of Belgium Beers. It most recently won Open Tables February Diners Choice award, this alongside many other accolades since it opened. 

Seven months ago Thomas’ best friend of 40 years, Nicolas Servais, moved his family over from Belgium to partner with Thomas, a partnership that has only enhanced this already popular and successful bistro.

Brussels offers something for everyone: its weekly specials include Sunday steak and fries for $20 per person; Monday 50 percent off all beers when selecting an entrée; Tuesday “all you can eat mussels and fries” with a glass of beer or wine for $29 per person and Wednesday, any Belgium beer with an entrée for $25.  

My food journey at Brussels Bistro

As well as these themed nights, Brussels also offers a 4-6 p.m. happy hour and on Friday and Saturday nights, the bistro turns itself into one of the best dance music venues in Laguna Beach, playing dance music both European and American. 

I chose to do my report on Brussels on a Tuesday night. All you can eat mussels and fries? Er, I’m in!

Brussels prides itself on its mussels, which are flown in daily from Washington State and collected every morning from the airport. It’s estimated that they bring in 350 - 400 lbs every week.  

The Basic Broth starts with a base of celery onion and butter, which they call “Nature,” then additions are added, depending on what is ordered. Our server Adela was super knowledgeable and guided us through our mussel journey.

Click on photo for a larger image

Mussels Provencale

We started light with a small pot of Provençale, which is Nature, with tomatoes, basil and pastis. This was delicious, not too heavy but full of flavor and every mussel was equally as delicious as the next.  

Of course alongside the mussel dishes we had fries. Brussels fries really are the best, double fried in beef oil so they are crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. We were also given a selection of their special sauces to dip in which were all spectacular. 

The next pot of mussels were the marinara, probably the most common of the broths available, this is made of the Nature, with added white wine and garlic and was just delicious, especially mopped up with the fries or the bread that was presented to us. 

It was then time to move on to the main course style mussels, which are denser as they incorporate cream into the broth. We started with the Hoegaarden beer mussels, again made of the Nature base, with added cream and beer. These were gorgeous, the beer and cream together worked and now there was the dense creamy base, the broth stuck to the fries: perfect.

Being a huge curry fan, I suspected the curry mussels would be my favorite. I was not wrong… Nature, cream and curry powder made this wonderful broth that I dipped way to many fries into and devoured my own body weight in mussels.

Click on photo for a larger image

Mussels and tequila taste amazing

Just when I thought I had reached my mussel limit. Adela presented us with the special that evening Tequila, jalapeno and cream and wow – these were really good.  I’ve told people about them since and have seen a few screwed up faces at the thought of tequila and cream, but trust me it really works.

My overall experience of Brussels was really very good. Everything about the Bistro from its décor to its website design to its menu is cool European chic. I love that fact that in the heart of California I can escape into this little basement and feel I’m in Europe again, which as much as I love Laguna, it’s nice to do at times. It was great to see that Brussels is so forward thinking in its weekly deals, and I am not surprised that it has won as many awards as it has. Well done Thomas, Nicholas and team on an outstanding Bistro. 

Brussels Bistro is located at 222 Forest Avenue and opens at 4 p.m. every day.

Find your bliss at Nirvana, where dishes are inspired by and in harmony with the changing seasons

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

In 2008 downtown Laguna Beach was graced with the arrival of Nirvana Grille, a sister restaurant to its flagship restaurant in Mission Viejo, which had opened just two years prior. 

Nirvana Grille is committed to offering delicious food and impeccable service. Their fresh menu allows a kitchen full of high-quality ingredients to take center stage. 

They describe their food as ‘clean’ California cuisine. They strive to work closely with purveyors to ensure access to the best-available provisions while changing menus with the seasons. 

The menu I got to taste was the fall menu – however, the spring menu is out this weekend, and I’ll be back to try that soon.

The menu is composed entirely of all natural meats free from hormones and antibiotics, organic free range Mary’s poultry and sustainable seafood. No food allergy or intolerance is too much of a challenge for these guys. Offering gluten free vegetarian and dairy free alternatives is no problem for this forward-thinking, adaptable restaurant. 

The nuances of American-, French-, Latin-, and local-seasonally influenced fare has earned executive Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales and Nirvana Grille accolades from both local press and her peers. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Light, fresh, gluten free and tasty: the burrata and organic heirloom salad

The night I chose to report on Nirvana Grille, Chef Lindsay was not there. However, she had no worries about this as she has full confidence in her sous chef, Jimmy Corona, and she left him full instructions that we should be presented with a delectable tasting menu.

I love it when chefs surprise you with dishes, it’s the best thing about this job – the element of surprise and trying all things new is my favorite thing to do.  

Our server for this evening was Enrique, who has been with Nirvana Grille Laguna Beach for six years and is charming, charismatic, knowledgeable and professional. He explains that we are to have a tasting menu that the chef will prepare fresh, therefore he will need to know of any allergies. 

With one of us choosing to be gluten free and the other not, he explains that he will cater the tasting menu to suit us both.

Our Food Journey at Nirvana Grille

The first dish to come out was the burrata and organic heirloom tomato salad. Served with a delicious basil pesto, balsamic reduction, kalamata olives, fresh basil and micro arugula, this dish was really good: light, fresh, gluten free and incredibly tasty. The organic cherry heirloom tomatoes were sweet and juicy. This is a dish I would definitely order again and again.

The next dish was Nirvana Grille’s famous poblano chile, a huge green chile stuffed with fresh spinach, artichoke hearts, shallots, cream and Parmesan cheese, served with cream cheese garlic toast for the gluten free guest. This was totally my kind of dish, the little kick of the pepper was just enough to taste and the texture of the whole dish felt right, not too greasy or heavy. It was a perfect dish and reminded me of a giant jalapeño popper. Great to share. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Delicious whole “Loup de Mer” sea bass is served with sautéed vegetables

I then chose a dish from the large plates section of the menu, a whole Loup de Mer sea bass served boneless, with a fresh herb coating that is grilled to give the fish a crisp coating and then baked in the oven to cook through. This is served with lemon, sautéed vegetables and sautéed lentils. This dish hit the spot on many levels. 

The fish was first of all cooked to perfection, because the two methods of cooking, lightly grilling and then baking, ensured it really did “fall apart” without being dry or chewy. The vegetables, in this case broccolini and zucchini, were cooked al dente (I suspect steamed) and were perfect. Lentils are so hard to get right, but chef Jimmy knows what he’s doing. No mush, no hard bites. A perfect side to a perfect dish.

Next was the grilled fillet mignon, a center cut, in our case cooked medium rare, served with herb maître d’ butter, roasted garlic mashed Yukon gold potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon and Cambazola cheese.  This dish is usually served with a green peppercorn sauce, however that does contain wheat, so we were served with a delicious chimichurri sauce that worked just as well. 

This dish was tasty and surprisingly light given the density of the ingredients.  The fillet cut through like velvet and had that delicious melt in your mouth texture. The Cambazola cheese worked really well with the Brussels sprouts also.

Click on photo for a larger image

Individual mud pies were delicious, rich and perfect for two

It was dessert time and we were presented with two beautiful options to try.  

The individual mud pie was a gluten free chocolate cookie crust, with espresso ice cream, chocolate sea salt and truffle gelato, topped with macadamia nuts, chocolate sauce and fresh whipped cream and strawberries. It was delicious, rich and perfect for two spoons.

The goats’ cheese ice cream was the second option and this was crazy good. Absolutely not what I expected (ice cream and cheese?) however it was insanely more-ish, smooth and had such an interesting flavor. 

I did take some strawberries from the other dessert to combine the berries and goat cheese and that worked really well too, so it may be worth asking if you could have a small side of berries to accompany this when ordering.

All in all, my experience at Nirvana Grille was really positive. I left feeling like I had eaten a healthy well-rounded packed full of goodness meal, even with having a dessert.  I didn’t have that stodgy, I’m full-to-popping feeling. 

In fact I felt in a state of bliss, oblivion – an ideal condition of rest, harmony, stability and joy, also known as: Nirvana…

Well done to Lindsey and the team. I look forward to your spring menu!

Nirvana Grille is located at 303 Broadway. Visit or call 949-497-0027 for more information.

Yummy dishes, some served family style: the Avilas know how to please Mexican-food-loving Lagunans

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

When Salvador Avila came to the United States from Guanajuato, Mexico with his wife and children, he came with hope and the American dream in his heart. Five decades later, Avila and his children own and operate one of the most well known and highly successful groups of Mexican restaurants in Orange and Los Angeles Counties, Avila’s El Ranchito restaurants.

It all started in the kitchen more than 50 years ago. Mama brought with her recipes that have been in her family for generations, paying strict attention to freshness and quality.

It was Papa, though, who had the idea to involve the whole family and create a truly special restaurant. The entire Avila family pitched in and helped at the first El Ranchito when it opened in Huntington Park in 1966 with only five picnic tables. Even Grandpa Poldo offered a helping hand by washing dishes.

Today, the 50-year tradition that has made their authentic Mexican cooking legendary continues to be served at the family’s thirteen restaurants. It is still a family business, family owned, family operated and family loved. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Michael Avila, son Brandon, Lula Buckle and her friend – and fried ice cream…

Mama and Papa eventually shared the responsibility of running El Ranchito with their children and now their grandchildren. Each restaurant is under the personal care of a family member, guaranteeing the reputation the family has earned for treating the customers “like part of the family.”

My food tasting is in he Laguna restaurant (of course), which has been open for 14 years. I have the pleasure of meeting and being served by not just one, but two generations of Avila’s El Ranchito, Michael the owner and grandson of Salvador, and his 10 year old son Benson, possibly one of the cutest most polite waiters I have ever had serve me. 

Michael, after opening Avila’s in San Clemente, opened this place with his wife Christine, whom he met in San Diego.  Benson was one year old and Christine was pregnant with their youngest son Braden, whom I didn’t get to meet but I am sure if he’s anything like his brother he is a truly wonderful boy. 

Not only is Avila’s historical story fascinating, but Avila’s also has a history for me and my family as it was the first place we came to eat when we visited Laguna Beach six years ago on vacation. I remember sitting in there during Oscars’ week and having my first shrimp tacos – we are not renowned for our Mexican food in England… 

So Avila’s El Ranchito will always have a special place in my heart. 

Our food journey at Avilas Laguna Beach

It’s Taco Tuesday when we arrive and the deal on Taco Tuesday is $2 per taco and trust me this is a great deal, the tacos are huge and fully loaded. Avila’s El Ranchito deals do not stop there either with an array of daily specials including “kids eat free Wednesday” and $3 mimosas all day Saturday and Sunday- yummy! 

Click on photo for a larger image

Mama’s soup is something special, spring, summer, fall or winter

The restaurant is buzzing with familiar local faces and given its location, a large number of tourists also.  Avila’s El Ranchito rarely takes bookings, but in a true friendly family style restaurant, there are plenty of places to sit and wait if you need to the ambience is always welcoming and comfortable.

Michael had suggested I bring the family for this tasting so he could serve us dishes family style. Sadly my son was on babysitting duties, so we took my daughter’s friend along to feast.

I had saved myself. If there’s one thing I know about Avilas, it’s that the portion sizes are always substantial, so I knew I needed to prepare for a feast 

Sensing our hunger, Michael and Benson, along with Erika, our server who has been with Avilas for three and a half years, brought us chips and salsa. The salsa is sooooo good at Avilas! One of my favorites.  Lula’s friend quickly ordered her favorite guacamole (she’s obsessed) and we scoured the menu.

After our conversation, Michael had a firm idea of the types of food we enjoyed Mexican style, and seeing how quickly the girls – who had been in the ocean and were beyond hungry – wolfed down the chips, the Avila boys bought them a cheese quesadilla, a bean and cheese quesadilla and some fries to start off with.  

I would like to accurately describe how delicious this was, but within seconds of them being out in front of the girls they were gone. However the satisfaction in their faces told me all was good.

Click on photo for a larger image

Great tacos at Avilas

It was then time for The Avila boys to wow us with a selection of foods for us to try family style. 

The first dish bought out was Mama Avila’s soup, a large bowl of chicken breast and rice soup, garnished with fresh avocado, cilantro onions and tomatoes, cooked in mama’s special broth. This soup is beautiful, on a hot or cold day.

Next to try was the Californian burrito. It’s a crazy burrito, inspired by Michael’s wild college days, where in the early hours of the morning he would visit a place called Santanas in San Diego and order a plain flour tortilla stuffed with carne asada, French fries, guacamole, cheese, pico de gallo, guacamole and sour cream.  

This is a complete carb fest and the kids LOVED it. I had a taste and it was yummy, definitely a good option to soak up one too many margaritas.

The Californian enchiladas came next: two enchiladas filled with shredded chicken and topped with tomatillo sauce, shredded cheese and avocado, served, of course, with Mexican rice and beans. These were great, surprisingly light, very tasty and the tomatillo sauce was one of the best I’ve tasted.

I’m a huge fish taco fan, so Michael bought us the halibut tacos, two seasoned grilled halibut tacos with cabbage, pico de gallo, avocado and chipotle aioli.  These were great, the halibut worked so well and was very salty and peppery which I loved I would for sure order these again and again. 

Finally came the shrimp botana platter, a favorite of my family’s, large Mazatlan shrimp sautéed in Avila’s special garlic butter sauce, with sliced avocado, fresh tomatoes, onions, jalepenos and lemon slices. This comes with rice and beans and tortillas so you can make your own tacos. It’s really good and a great dish to share.

Click on photo for a larger image

The shrimp botana platter is a favorite dish to share

As always, just when we thought we were done, it was time for dessert and we were served fried ice cream, crispy coated vanilla ice cream that is literally dunked into the fryer for a second so the sugar caramelizes around the ice cream, topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and caramel. 

This was decadent to say the least. The kids loved it. I could only manage a small taste.

Avila’s did not let me down. In fact Michael, Benson and the team went above and beyond to give my family a really pleasurable experience. Hospitality runs through the Avila DNA, and meeting young Benson, I feel like I saw the future of Avila’s right there.

Awesome job, Michael, Christine and your whole team. 

Avilas El Ranchito is located 1305 S. Coast Hwy. Phone: 949.376.7040

Outside Nick’s, a wet and fearsome storm raged: but inside, warmth, hospitality and great food reigned

Story and photos by LAURA BUCKLE

On a stormy day in Laguna I set off to seek warmth, comfort and of course great food. Luckily for me, this week’s report gave me the opportunity to do just that, as it was time for me to report on the ever so popular “go to” place in Laguna Beach: Nick’s.

Established in 2008, Nick’s has become something of a brand, with five locations under its belt, all of which have excellent reputations. I was confident that this evening’s tasting was going to be something special. 

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, the night I chose to report on Nick’s was the Friday night of the infamous storm. Nick’s is notoriously busy, so I thought maybe visiting them on a wet crazy night would be the best idea as it might be a little quieter. It was indeed quieter but by no means empty. The lure of Nick’s food warmth and generators (most areas in town were without power) seemed to pull in many customers.

Click on photo for a larger image

Nick’s generated both light and great food on the evening of the Great Storm

The chef that evening was Chef Rene Regaldo. He is the newest chef at Nick’s and started his career as a line chef, working his way up to the top of the tree. The restaurant manager was the delightful Krystal, who was attentive, knowledgeable and who clearly loved her job. She had been a fan of Nick’s for years, mainly visiting South of Nick’s in her hometown of San Clemente and, having carved a successful career at PF Chang’s for eight years, is delighted to have been part of the Nick’s family for the past 12 months.

Our server was Katie, who was bright, bubbly, knowledgeable and very attentive.  The staff at Nick’s have never disappointed whenever I have visited.

My food journey at Nick’s

We decided to try a couple of starters. I chose Nick’s original bacon devilled eggs, lightly fried and with crumbled nueske’s bacon. We were served four eggs, two of which were a gluten free option (non-fried) and the other two were regular. Both were delicious.

Click on photo for a larger image

A devilish choice on a devilish night: delicious eggs

We then went for one of the specials, the fire roasted artichoke, served with herb mayo and lemon butter. This was delicious, light yet tasty and I would totally order this again, maybe as a bar snack with friends. 

There were three of us taking part in this food report and we each chose a dish. From the house specialties menu we selected pan seared Chilean sea bass served with lemon beurre blanc, sautéed spinach with garlic and slivered almonds and whipped mashed potato. I have to be honest, I have had this here before and it is one of my favorite dishes. Yet again it did not disappoint. The fish was fresh, beautifully cooked and the accompanying sides were perfect. 

Another dish ordered from the house specialties menu: the baby back pork ribs, beer-braised, with Nick’s house recipe BBQ sauce, served with thin cut fries and petit bistro salad. These were so good. The petit bistro salad was amazing and something I will definitely be trying to replicate at home. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Gluten-free burger came wrapped in lettuce leaves

The final dish was from the sandwiches and burger section of the menu. We ordered Nick’s Burger, which, I may add, if you Google best burger in Laguna Beach, this comes out as top. We changed the burger to the gluten free option, so instead the burger came wrapped in crisp iceberg lettuce.  We ordered this with a side of Nick’s fries, and it really was a very tasty burger, perfect for a cold stormy evening.

It was then onto dessert and this did not disappoint. We ordered two desserts, one a warm butter cake with a crystalized sugar crust, served with Haagan daz vanilla ice cream and served with a berry compote. This was outstanding and a large portion, but we managed to finish it all. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Butter cake was the ideal dessert – tasty, and not too big a portion

Our second dessert was a hot fudge sundae, vanilla ice cream, Helen Grace hot fudge, fresh whipped cream and chocolate toffee crunch. This was also really good and although I am not a whipped cream fan, I did enjoy it. There was no gluten free dessert option, so our gluten free guest could merely watch the dessert-eating going on.

To accompany our food we had a couple of cocktails: a delicious cucumber Collins and a local draft beer called Trigger Figure by the Artifacts beer company based out of San Clemente. Both were gorgeous.

Nick’s turned a stormy night of unrest into a very pleasurable evening of great food, warm hospitality and a unique charm that makes Nick’s so popular locally. No wonder this place is always busy, come rain, hail or shine.

Nick’s Laguna Beach is located at 440 South Coast Hwy. Call 949.376.8595 for more information.

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.  

Click on photo for a larger image

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.  

Click on photo for a larger image

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. 

Click on photo for a larger image

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.

Click on photo for a larger image

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.

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Lynette Brasfield is our Features Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

Maggi Henrikson is our Contributing Editor.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster.

Katie Ford is our Ad Designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Cameron Gillespie, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers and/or columnists.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are the staff photographers.

Stacia Stabler is our Instagram Manager.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

Email: for questions about advertising


Email: with news releases, letters, etc.