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A week of eating with my visiting friend

By Diane Armitage

Two weeks ago, my best friend from Denver (Diana) was in town. People are always asking me where I would send a tourist if they had just a few days here, and to that I always reply, “It depends on what the tourist wants to experience.”

Diana wanted to experience the “local vibe” as I experience it. So, on the day of her arrival, I started in my own SoLag hood, Coyote Grill. Seriously, folks, you can’t come to Laguna Beach and miss out on some of our neighborhood favorites. 

Steve made us margaritas and trotted out later to catch up on restaurant gossip and offer a shot of new tequila. Meanwhile the kitchen rolled out my favorite, the giant chicken burrito (minus beans and added green sauce to make it “wet”). It was the start to a very good week of eating. 

She ate salads, I tried everything else

On Memorial Day, we joined the throngs downtown, stopping at GG’s Bistro for my favorite sangria in town. Diana also ordered the Arugula Goat Cheese salad, a super-fresh blend with beets, melons, cranberries, and walnuts. 

A week GG's arugula salad

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Photo by Diane Armitage

GG’s Bistro Arugula Goat Cheese salad is a breezy, summery blend

Tuesday was a visit to Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook for a late lunch. While Diana dug into another lovely salad, I opted for the appetizer, Lemon Thyme Confit Kurobata Pork Ribs. These were luscious, fall-off-the-bone nuggets in saucy bourbon barbecue glaze. It was all I could do to not order another helping.

As we dined, we chatted with Operating Partner (and great chef) Chris Hutten. It turns out the Sapphire team was readying to celebrate the restaurant’s one-year anniversary already. I’m sure the year ahead will prove less tumultuous than the first. 

A week Sapphire ribs

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Courtesy of Sapphire.Cellar.Craft.Cook

Sapphire’s ribs appetizer is a memorable event

On Wednesday, we moseyed down the sand from the Surf & Sand Hotel to the longtime local favorite Zinc Cafe & Market. Owner John Secretan was actually there (I haven’t seen him in months), so we caught up on his various enterprises as Diana and I enjoyed our vegetarian breakfast items. 

I chose my old favorite, poached eggs on toast, while she opted for the daily quiche offering with a side of fruit salad. Service was quick and friendly, our dishes were delicious, and the patio was its usual people-watching pleasure.

A week Zinc quiche

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Photo by Diane Armitage

Zinc Café’s daily quiche offering is always a winner

Oliver’s new spring menu

That same evening, all diets were off with a visit to one of my favorites, Oliver’s Osteria in Laguna Canyon next to the Sawdust. While Chef Erik is never one for loading in frothy, empty calories, his dishes are so rich and fabulous in flavor that you simply can’t stop eating. We joined my dear friends, Kaj and Mary Garmshausen, and there were plenty of bites to share. 

Chef Erik has recently debuted his spring menu, and it is alight with lively color and complexities. Even Mary’s simple dish of New Zealand King Salmon was fresh and colorful and cooked to perfection.

A week Oliver's salmon

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Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s simple and flawless New Zealand King Salmon

Diana opted for Chef’s new Gnocchi Viola. That’s right – it’s a purple potato gnocchi (something I’ve never enjoyed before) in a creamy smoked scamorza sauce. 

Scamorza is a lesser-known cousin of the mozzarella family, but it’s one I prefer to add into sauces when I can find it. It’s a super creamy, mild cheese with just a hint of caramel smokiness. It added a great new depth to the gnocchi dish without the stickiness that can occur as gnocchi cools in its cheesy sauce. This luxurious dish could easily be shared as an appetizer, too. 

A week Oliver's gnocchi

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Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s new Gnocchi Viola is made of purple potatoes in a smoky, rich sauce

Kaj choose the evening pasta special, which also proved a rich, yet light blend of mushrooms and braised pork ragout folded in with freshly made short tube pasta. Topped with paper-thin truffle shavings, it was a rustic, sublime event. 

A week Oliver's mushroom

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Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s serves nightly specials, including this mushroom and pork ragout pasta with truffle shavings

Ever a seafood fan, I chose the Spaghetti Chitarra All’ Aragosta. The stately dish features house-made guitar spaghetti with fresh lobster in an arrabbiata sauce, which adds peppery spice to a marina base. It was fresh and bright with plenty of rich lobster pairing companionably with the sauce.   

A week Oliver's lobster

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Photo by Diane Armitage 

Oliver’s Lobster pasta dish is both memorable in presentation and taste

Leave it to Chef Erik to knock it out of the park once again. The dishes were lovely, and the service even lovelier. This is a must this summer for you as well as your visiting guests. 

Finally, the last lunch 

The following day before her departure to the airport, Diana and I waddled over to another favorite mainstay of mine – Harvest at The Ranch Laguna Beach with Chef Kyle St. John at the helm. 

Of course, Diana chose salad. Neither of us, though, expected the still-steaming salmon slab atop a mound of fresh greens and herbs. It had to be the largest serving of salmon I’ve ever seen on a salad. She noted it was spectacular. 

I, however, was involved in my own spectacular dish, my first try of the Grilled Salmon Sandwich. Chef grills Nordic Blu salmon and tops it with kimchi slaw, miso aioli, sweet soy glaze, and crispy fried onions. Sounds rather simple, I know, but it was simply unbelievable. 

In mere minutes, this rather unassuming sandwich bulldozed its way past any other sandwich contender in Laguna Beach. In my book, it’s taken the crown, the throne, and the singing minstrels, too. This sandwich is a game changer.

A week Harvest salmon

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Photo by Diane Armitage 

Harvest’s unbelievably amazing Grilled Salmon Sandwich

Since Diana’s departure, I’ve done my best to follow her lead – salads, salads, and more salads. This weekend, though, I stumbled into Chef Rainer Schwarz’s new spring menu at Hendrix, his Ocean Ranch-based restaurant. While it’s not in Laguna Beach as are his first two restaurants (The Deck and Driftwood Kitchen), you deserve to hear about this heady and delicious welcome for spring. It was a perfect stop after seeing In the Heights at Cinepolis. Stay tuned this Friday in Stu News Laguna

Check out my almost daily foodie finds on my social media platforms, below, opt-in for gift card freebies and weekly updates at, and start making your plans to return to the restaurants that never stopped cooking and creating on our behalf. Our Laguna chefs and owners continue to outdo themselves – be sure to let them know! 

The best-selling author and blogger on The Best of Laguna Beach™, Diane Armitage is on an endless quest for the most imaginative adventures in Laguna’s restaurants, events, and lifestyle. Check out chef interviews, retail and restaurant news, and favorite events at and follow on Instagram @BestofLagunaBeach (look for Diane’s smiling face).


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