The Best Restaurants In Laguna Beach

The 16 best spots to dine in Laguna, from beachside cafes to special-occasion steakhouses.
Exterior of Selanne Steak Tavern at nighttime

photo credit: Selanne Steak Tavern

A charming seaside resort town that just so happened to have its own reality show for a few years, Laguna Beach is a place where, for better or worse, Southern California stereotypes run rampant (see: pomeranians in sweaters, plastic surgeon offices, investment bros that wear board shorts and flip-flops year-round). But if you think that means the only noteworthy restaurants in town are expensive tourist traps and mediocre chains, that isn't the case—there's way more great food here than MTV might have led you to believe.

From smashburgers served out of a beachside cottage to sushi bars with a serious view, Laguna Beach has many excellent places to eat. The next time you’re lucky enough to find yourself in this beautiful town, use this restaurant guide for guaranteed dining success.


photo credit: Garrett Snyder


Laguna Beach

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Saying a restaurant feels like a house party is a total cliche, but in the case of Ahba, it’s shockingly accurate. Housed in an old beachside cottage, this indoor-outdoor spot in South Laguna is filled with young beach-bum couples sharing natural wine and bobbing their heads to ‘70s funk. There’s an impromptu bar in the back and seat-yourself tables strewn throughout the cottage’s nooks and crannies—people don’t so much dine here as they do post up in a corner and eat. Ordering at the front counter can be a little confusing, but the food at Ahba is unmatched. We love the gooey smashburger with chiles, and any of the vegetable-heavy small plates, like sweet potato with dill chimichurri or burnt broccolini with pickled shallots. Make sure to hit the quirky retro cocktail room next door (previously home to a Swiss engineering office) for a mezcal bee’s knees on the way out.

photo credit: Jakob Layman



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Nick’s is the crown jewel of the Laguna Beach world. But not because of Michelin stars or a seven-course tasting menu featuring baby quail eggs and celery foam. Quite the opposite. This casual restaurant is the ultimate Laguna go-to because it’s one of the most crowd-pleasing restaurants you’ll ever encounter. You will also encounter ridiculous wait times, zero reservation availability (unless you book many weeks in advance), and the greatest prime rib sandwich of all time. Go for a post-beach lunch, go for drinks and snacks at the bar, or go for a dinner date. And get the asparagus fries.

Find yourself in Laguna with the need to impress someone, or at least the need to eat a very thick ribeye? Selanne Steak Tavern is your best option for both scenarios. Owned by a former Anaheim Ducks star, this classic "fancy steakhouse in a remodeled historic house" is the place to throw down on giant lobsters, wagyu prime rib, and chocolate souffle in Laguna Beach. Save it for a special occasion (or when someone else is paying).

It can sometimes feel like Laguna Beach is a decade behind LA, and Broadway is the perfect example of why we mean that as a compliment. This kind-of-fancy restaurant has a very mid-2000s, semi-industrial interior (visible pipes, bare brick), plates with artful sauce smudges, a Top Chef chef, and really good food. The menu is big, but whatever you do, leave room for the crispy pork cheeks and the perfectly cooked whole branzino (which they conveniently remove all bones from for you). It’s a nice spot for a date, especially if you sit at the kitchen counter and order a few of their fantastic cocktails to start.

Originally opened in 1947, Royal Hawaiian is a historic tiki bar that recently underwent a full makeover by the people behind Yamashiro in Hollywood. The interior alone is like stepping into a tropical time-warp: pufferfish lamps, palm fronds, and more bamboo torches than an episode of Survivor. But even if you’re not someone who collects aloha shirts, the solid food and delicious tropical cocktails make this one of the most fun spots for a night out in Laguna. Kick things off with a pupu platter and a flaming Chief Lapu Lapu and see where the currents take you.

Finding great tacos in Laguna Beach is like getting a rental car on Christmas Day: your options are going to be limited. Fortunately, there’s Taco Stand, a mini-chain from San Diego that does Tijuana-style tacos filled with grilled asada and al pastor from the spit. Aside from the usual taqueria staples, we like their vegetarian options, like nopales and mushroom tacos. The dining room can get crowded during peak hours, but don’t let that stop you from taking advantage of their fully loaded salsa bar.

Given the growing number of hedge-fund dudes purchasing mansions in Laguna, there’s bound to be at least one high-end omakase sushi spot in town. That’s Rebel Omakase, and the good news is it lives up to its special occasion price: $260 for 20-ish courses. This relaxing, quiet sushi counter resembles a fancy spa, except with fish flown in from Japan instead of hot stones and essential oils. It’s run by a Peruvian chef trained in Tokyo who mixes in fun twists like wasabi sorbet and a sashimi-style riff on shrimp chowder. If you’re looking for a lighter splurge, book the shortened lunch omakase for $160—there’s less caviar and truffles, but it’s just as satisfying.

Grazie Grazie is a casual Neapolitan-style pizza shop just north of downtown that serves our favorite pies in Laguna. The chewy, nicely freckled pizzas are excellent, as long as you don’t expect Naples-level ambiance to go with it (the dining area is your basic fast-casual setup). We appreciate that the high-quality toppings are kept simple, like the amatriciana with pecorino, guanciale, red onion, and basil, or the ricotta-topped bianco verde with pistachio pesto and honey. Grab a pint of lemon raspberry gelato for later, too.

Rye Goods is a bakery and cafe with a few locations around Orange County and is best known for heirloom sourdough loaves and putting tasty farmers market-y things on toast. The Laguna Beach location is inside the Lumberyard Mall, a woodsy shopping plaza that strongly resembles the village of Beauty and the Beast. Come here for a casual brunch, or just a nice chocolate croissant and a flat white while you browse at the nearby boutiques filled with crystal sculptures and large oil paintings. Rye Goods is also a good low-commitment evening option, with natural wines by the glass and simple dishes like potato-leek soup and a roasted veggie sandwich.

The best option for (somewhat) affordable sushi in Laguna Beach, Seabutter is where we’d send someone looking for an unstuffy date night spot or a slightly chaotic group dinner involving sake flights and draft Sapporo. The more over-the-top items tend to be the best things here, so we suggest leaning into flashy rolls and colorful sashimi plates rather than basic nigiri. The restaurant is somewhat hidden on the third level of a business mall and can be slightly tricky to find, but the top-floor coastline views from the outdoor patio are worth the hassle.

One of Laguna Beach’s great charms is that it is somehow home to both a Tommy Bahama restaurant and old-school beach town holdouts like Penguin Cafe. (Let’s be clear: you’re not allowed to go to the Tommy Bahama restaurant. It doesn’t matter how good those ahi tuna tacos are.) This place has been open for over 40 years, and while it’s not much more than a diner counter and a few booths, it’s awesome. It's only open until 1:30pm, though, so come here for a classic American breakfast of corned beef hash and french toast, or a mid-day patty melt with onion rings.

There are as many mediocre Italian restaurants in Laguna as there are poorly parked Range Rovers. Oliver’s Osteria, tucked in the hills a short drive up from the beach, is the exception. The staff is made up of Italian men who will sell you on beef carpaccio or housemade tagliatelle with bolognese like they were new sports cars. Skip the unremarkable entrees and stick to the excellent pasta, like the spaghetti pomodoro over burrata cream. There’s a tent-covered patio out front, but the move is grabbing a table in the cozy back dining room and ending the evening with tiramisu and chianti.

We’re not sure why, but there’s a law that every fancy Mexican restaurant in Laguna must serve seafood enchiladas. Anyway, we’re here to tell you that the cheesy, gooey crab-filled ones at Carmelita’s are the best in town. Located right across the street from Main Beach, this OC mini-chain is our preferred choice for when we just want a spicy mango margarita, some chips and bean dip, and a sea breeze flowing through our hair. Order those enchiladas and some queso fundido (served in a casserole dish) and stake out a patio table just before sunset.

The grilled pork banh mi from Saigon Beach might be the greatest sandwich to pick up pre-beach in Laguna, but that’s not the only reason we’re fans of this casual family-run Vietnamese spot right off PCH. Along with bowls of pho and shaking beef, they serve creative dishes like cilantro-colored “420 rice” with shredded jackfruit, spicy-sweet chili peanut wings, and a juicy pho baguette dip stuffed with shaved brisket. Takeout is popular, but there’s a shaded patio out front and a short beer and wine list if you decide to dine in.

Lost Pier Cafe is so close to the waves that you might initially mistake it for a lifeguard station (as we did). This stand right on Aliso State Beach serves much nicer food than you’d expect from, well, a stand right on the beach: there’s clam chowder fries, poke bowls, and a short rib California burrito that’d make any surfer’s afternoon. Prices aren’t cheap, but considering the toes-in-sand location and lack of nearby options, even the $32 lobster roll seems fair. Keep in mind that you’ll have to pay to park in the adjacent beach lot, and beware the seagulls—they love unattended fish tacos.

If you’re dead set on dining so close to the ocean you can see sand crabs, Driftwood Kitchen is the best option in town for a sit-down meal with beachfront views. The bright, vaguely Cape Cod-ish dining room is quite literally perched over the sand (“Any closer and you’d have to swim” is the restaurant’s tagline) and the food meets the assignment: upscale but not ridiculously overpriced, and interesting without being pretentious. You can certainly splurge on a surf-and-turf dinner at sunset, but we prefer the house burger and a Bloody Mary during their daily brunch. Reservations are a must on weekends.

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