Hearties - Organic - Diane Armitage

It’s the Food Network’s fault.

The new Hearties restaurant in Laguna Beach (next to Thalia Surf Shop) wouldn’t have been a possibility to Owner Sonny Mehta if he hadn’t started watching the Food Network.

A happy Toronto hotel owner and manager, Sonny admits he became something of a Food Channel “zealot” and converted his entire family to organic cooking several years ago.

Apparently, that wasn’t enough for the budding organic chef.

Recently, he retired from the hotel business and moved his wife, Amarinder, and their three children to the Laguna Beach area, having fallen in love with our city on a family vacation. Once they were settled, the couple decided it was time to open a new, healthy restaurant in Laguna Beach.

“My family had always been in the hotel business and I followed that path my entire life,” says Sonny. “But, as I traveled from Toronto to our hotels in Florida, I realized there were so few restaurants offering organic menus, much less menus with options for vegan or gluten-free.

“It just seemed time to introduce this concept whole-heartedly.”

Thus, Hearties in Laguna Beach was conceived. Sonny and Amarinder may have hoped for an actual “birth” of a restaurant in four months but, instead, worked through nine long months (with some labor pains) to finally open their café on February 27th. (A second Hearties “snack shack” opens on San Clemente’s North Beach next week.)  

“We did not want to start off on the wrong foot with the residents here,” says Sonny. “So, we had to change some plans and we completely rebuilt the interior, but we weren’t complaining. We’re in this for the long haul, and we know happy residents are key to our business.”

The wait was worth it. Hearties is one great, new alternative for residents and visitors alike, and the pricing is as nostalgic as its surfer “beach shack” décor. The entire Hearties in Laguna Beach menu is organic, from the already-popular chicken and waffles at breakfast (“Happy Times”), to the freshly-juiced blends, beefy hot dogs and hamburgers, and organic wines and beers.

“Just because we’re organic doesn’t mean we don’t have awesome-tasting food,” says Sonny. “In fact, BECAUSE it’s organic, it tastes that much better.”

Hearties organic hamburger - Diane Armitage

While the husband and wife team created most of the menu items, they left the true innovation to Chef Steven Price, who spends his days at Hearties, and his evenings at the Ritz Carlton. Chef Price managed to create vegan and gluten-free options for at least 50% of all the menu items, and there are many menu items.

Hearties’ Breakfast begins at 8:00 a.m., with additional popular items being the Morning Glory Sandwich and the vegan breakfast slider, the Sunshine Sandwich. The pricing is a great way to start any day, ranging from $2 for toasted bagels to an average $8 plate.

Drop in any time for Hearties’ organic house lemonades and juices with pricing, again, an exceedingly generous $3.95 for 8 ounces, and $5.95 for a monstrous 16-ounce serving. To date, the most popular juice is the Kermit, says Sam Kaye, fellow Master Juicer with Ashley Vine. He mixes one for my sampling, and it’s one refreshing treat with apples, celery, ginger, lemon, cucumber and spinach.   

From 11:30 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., enjoy the Hearties in Laguna Beach lunch and dinner menu with an additional section for kids and students. Kids’ meal options (main dish, sides and drink combined) run $5.95. As long as students can produce an ID from anywhere in the world, they can enjoy hot dogs with everything, plump baskets of chicken tenders, or a full-size burger with all the fixings, all with fries and drink for $7.95.

For the rest of us, grilled organic hot dogs come in four varieties (beef, chicken, pork and vegan); organic burgers can be ordered as beef, chicken, sweet pea or black bean; and both come with bun choices (yes, even gluten-free).

I tried the “loaded” grilled beef hot dog (piping hot and delicious) and the rather enormous burger, also grilled to perfection, with fries tucked into the burger stack (yum), and all the condiments crisp and fresh.

The seven salads at Hearties are feisty, large affairs, all of which can be optionally ordered as vegan or gluten-free, too. I sampled the Fiesta, with avocado, radishes, grape tomatoes, red onion, in-house fire-roasted peppers and homemade cilantro lime dressing.

For the record, all the condiments – sauerkraut, mayonnaise, garlic pickles, salad dressings and ketchup – are organic and made in-house each day by Chef Price.

The Hearties in Laguna Beach organic wine list is as large as its food menu counterpart, and this is great wine! (Did I say that a little enthusiastically?) Seven wines by the glass are offered at less than $6 per, and organic sake can be ordered “straight up” or mixed with fresh strawberry or lime juices. Not to be outdone, the organic beer list offers three drafts, seven bottled favorites and even two gluten-free beers 

But wait! Hearties has a happy hour menu, too! From 5:00 – 9:00 p.m., drop in for $4 hot dogs, $4 draft pints, $3 sake cocktails and $3 wines by the glass.

I like this joint. The interior is fresh and lively with light wood tables and surf and skate décor still going up on the walls. The staff is warm and friendly, from locally-grown servers to Edgard, a French citizen who decided he preferred Laguna Beach over Missouri (go figure). The front patio welcomes dogs, and Hearties offers free wi-fi, too.

Indeed, Hearties looks to have its fingers on the pulse: very good food and drinks, very good pricing, and everything good for you.

Hearties is at 907 S. Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, Ca. 92651. Phone number for take out orders is (949) 200-7734 

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