At the start of our Memorial Holiday on Saturday morning, word came down that Orange County restaurants could begin opening for dine-in service, provided they followed approved plans and health-driven protocols.
It put our Laguna Beach restaurants in an interesting predicament.
Do they immediately open to accommodate holiday crowds? Which of their furloughed employees would be picking up the phone this weekend and be agreeable to coming back to work with mere hours’ notice? How could they order additional produce and proteins over the holiday weekend, especially when their purveyors just received the same memo? And who’s maintained a giant store of liquor over these many weeks?
The Weekend’s Wild, Wild West
Many of our counter service restaurants stepped up. With very little in-room dining available and no need for traditional servers, it was an easier task to configure their spaces and open their doors.
It was the first weekend back for Papa’s Tacos Owner Michael Skerly, who enjoyed one of his most profitable days ever on his first day back. Like locusts to a corn field, the swarm came early and stayed through the entirety of the weekend.
On the more formal dine-in side, Chef Pirozzi’s Alessa, Chef Cohen’s 230 Forest, the Gundogars at GG’s Bistro and the Canyon’s Laguna Beach Beer Company stepped into patio and dine-in options on Saturday with limited menus and hours of operation.
By Sunday, a handful more had joined the fray. From downtown’s Sushi Laguna and Rasta Taco to North Laguna’s Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill, owners reported running out of food before their advertised closing hours.
“It was a blow out,” said Rasta Taco’s Mario Melendez. “It was beyond crazy.”
“This is Not a Return to Normal.”
Meanwhile, other restaurant peers stood back and assessed. Many have not yet set dates for re-opening.
“For us, we actually want to observe. I want to try going out myself to see what it’s all about! I also want to hear from customers that have dined out to get their take on it all, too. In the meantime, we will continue to do “to go” and we’re dialing in our patio for more outdoor tables and a living wall.
“It’s not like this is a return to normal,” said Co-Owner Chris Olsen of Wine Gallery. “We would rather take our time and do it right and learn from other operators as to what works and what doesn’t work,” he continued. “We want to slowly re-assimilate responsibly and cautiously. We should have a date for re-opening this week,” he finished.
Popular Harley Chef Greg Daniels echoed the sentiment. “We aren’t planning to re-open our dining room in response to the guidance that was given over the weekend. My refusal is not meant to shame those who have. I believe that this can be done responsibly if the public allows; I just haven’t seen that many positive examples.
“Our priority is to do this right for the patrons who trust us, not to do it as quickly as possible. Our restaurant has an open kitchen, narrow dining room and no patio. We don’t even have the room to expand if the City were to allow it. It just isn’t the right time for us yet.
“In the meantime, we will be rolling out our new take-out menu for Laguna Beach in coming days. We want to warm up the restaurant and bring some of our people back. It’s time to get our Laguna family back together.”
Aaron Fu, General Manager at longtime local favorite Mandarin King told me, “We’re going to wait until restaurant restrictions lift a bit more because the current protocols just don’t work for our location.
“With current social distancing, we would only be able to seat 16 patrons at a time in the restaurant, and my highest priority is to keep my parents safe and our employees safe,” he finished.
And Reconfiguring …
Many restaurants are putting finishing touches on both temporary and permanent change-ups to better accommodate new requirements.
“At The Cliff Restaurant, we’ve taken the requirement of social distancing and sanitizing very seriously,” said Co-Owner Sharon Haron.
“We’ve redesigned the seating, entrance and exit and added sanitizing stations to help keep with COVID state requirements. We can’t wait to serve the Laguna Beach community again in our newly remodeled property!”
Meanwhile, South Laguna’s Coyote Grill Co-Owner Desirée Gomez said that they’ve devoted weeks to measuring spaces, removing furniture and bringing in employees for staggered training sessions. The popular neighborhood watering hole plans to open this Tuesday, May 26th, for “Taco Tuesday.”
“I’ve appointed a ‘Door Master’ for our first few weeks,” she said. “My team thought I was joking at first, but this is serious business. We’re not going to put our team or all the patrons we love at any kind of risk.”
Dine-In Restaurants Open This Week
This is my most up-to-date compilation of all Laguna restaurants that have announced patio and/or dine-in service this week. Walk-up counter service restaurants are not included in this list because they have been, for the most part, already open.
These have all been personally confirmed. If you don’t see your favorite listed, they have either not chosen an opening date or they haven’t gotten back to me. Restaurant owners, please contact me at Diane@TheBestofLagunaBeach.com with new updates. Readers, check my Instagram daily updates for new information, too (info below in tagline).
North Laguna Dine-In Restaurants
Asada Tacos + Beer – patio and dine-in
Las Brisas – patio and dine-in
Reunion Kitchen – patio and dine-in
Royal Hawaiian Fire Grill – patio and dine-in
Zeytoon Cafe – roof deck only
Laguna Canyon Dine-In Restaurants
Kitchen in the Canyon – patio and dine-in
Laguna Beach Beer Company – patio and dine-in
Oliver’s Osteria – opening Friday, May 29th for patio and dine-in
Downtown & Restaurant Row Dine-In Restaurants
Broadway by Amar Santana – hoped for opening “later this week” for dine-in
GG’s Bistro – patio and dine-in
Lumberyard – opening Tuesday, May 26th, patio and dine-in
Moulin – limited patio and dine-in
Nick’s Laguna Beach – opening Wednesday, May 27th, patio and dine-in
Nirvana Grille – opening Wednesday, May 27th, patio and dine-in
Skyloft – roof deck only
Slice Pizza & Beer – opening Tuesday, May 26th, dine-in
Sushi Laguna – patio and dine-in
230 Forest – patio and dine-in
The Cliff – opening Thursday, May 28th, patio and dine-in
Zinc Cafe & Market – limited patio
Central Laguna Dine-In Restaurants
Avila’s El Ranchito – patio and dine-in
Driftwood Kitchen – opening Monday, June 8th, patio and dine-in
Feast Laguna – patio
Gu Ramen – patio and dine-in
Heidelberg Cafe – patio and dine-in
Mozambique Steakhouse – rooftop only
Oak Laguna Beach – patio and dine-in
Roux Laguna Beach – hoped for opening “later this week” for dine-in
Selanne Steak Tavern – opening Tuesday, May 26th, patio and dine-in
The Deck on Laguna – opening Monday, June 1st, patio
Central South & South Laguna Dine-In Restaurants
Coyote Grill – opening Tuesday, May 26th for Taco Tuesday, dine-in
Dizz’s As Is – patio and dine-in
Ruby’s Auto Diner – limited dine-in, rooftop patio
Starfish Laguna – opening Friday, May 29th
The Drake – hoped for opening “later this week” for patio and dine-in
Take-Out Still Available at Your Favorites
Please note that every Laguna restaurant currently providing take-out for delivery or curbside pickup is continuing to do so as well. Please continue to support our Laguna Beach restaurants in the way you feel most comfortable and keep this community of amazing restaurateurs and chefs alive.
Please follow my social feed at BestofLagunaBeach for daily updates!