The challenge? 48 hours to eat our way through Laguna Beach, California. Such choices! Terrific chefs, local produce, proximity to Mexico, and diners open to bold flavors converge into oh-my-heavens terrific plates of food. Here is a starter list of what to eat in Laguna Beach. Chili Verde with the World's Best Egg
Never have I tasted an egg like this. This egg was so fresh, so very very fresh, that the chefs must keep a hen in a kitchen and have it magically hatch to order. That, for me, was the foundation of a satisfying brunch item at Sapphire Laguna. The egg did not stand alone. In fact, it was a mere topping for fork-tender pork in a just-tart, just-spicy chili verde sauce, tossed with avocado, and sprinkled with cheese and cilantro leaves.
Mexican Street Corn
A stylish young crowd fills the colorful dining room at Carmelita's Kitchen de Mexico. You must start with the corn on the cob. Must. In Orlando, I've had this Mexican street food at Rocco's Tacos, where the appetizer has no flavor whatsover, and at Pig Floyd's Urban Barbakoa, where it's plenty flavorful. I order it regularly. Yet Carmelita's takes a humble ear and infuses it with some sort of flavor magnifier. Not only was the corn both charred-tasting and super sweet; each topping -- cheese, cilantro, sauce -- was intense on its own. The combination is wow-pow spectacular.
Across the street from indulgent Montage Laguna Beach hotel, La Sirena Grill surprised with fresh, flavorful, affordable lunches. La Sirena Grill, part of a quartet, decimates any fast-casual meal (read: fancy counter-service) spot I've had in Orlando, except maybe Greens & Grille, which is quite good, though not as shockingly good. I lunched on a simple salad, yet the tomatoes were firm and flavorful in a way I haven't experienced in at least two decades. You hear how tomatoes are no longer as they once were? Now I know it's true. The steak had an incredible flavor, too. Every element was ultra-fresh. The salad was mild on its own, yet a few drops of salsa verde from the salsa bar brightened it right up. Over the course of two days, we tasted other items, all satisfying. The guacamole, made seconds before lunch service begins, is so good that my husband talked about it the entire long flight home.
Before I get to the sweets, I want to plug a restaurant that, based on a single visit, was even better than the rest. It's called Broadway by Amar Santana. I was too stuffed to take pictures or notes. In fact, I only ate a kale salad. Yet I got to taste an appetizer and an entree, and both were a higher dimension. Visiting again, I'd put Broadway by Amar Santana at the top of my list.
A few doors down from Carmelita's, Dolce Gelato has a crazy assortment of gelatos. The one-unit, family-run spot has the basics, but also concoctions with rosemary, habanero pepper, and Guiness beer, among others.
That's what to eat in Laguna Beach. Or, you could just live on the tomatoes. They are that good.