LAGUNA BEACH IS in Chef Lindsay Smith-Rosales’s blood. She was born and raised here and lived in town most of her life (with stopovers in San Francisco, New Mexico, and Hawaii). In 2008, she and her husband, Luis Rosales, opened Nirvana Grille at the corner of Broadway and Beach—where Chef Smith-Rosales has made fans with her fresh-bright flavor profiles and deft plating.
This week, while balancing construction in the restaurant, quality time with her six-year-old son, and the grueling hours of a being a full-time chef, she took a few minutes to speak with us about where she likes to eat, her favorite beaches, and the notion of “Laguna-Style Cooking.”
I always wanted to have a restaurant in my hometown. Laguna Beach is serene and there are a lot of health conscious individuals and that way of being has always resonated with me.
I don’t think there is a Laguna Beach style of cooking per se, but it’s definitely a health conscious environment where people pay attention to what they put into their bodies. That fits well with my cooking. I want my food to taste fresh and clean, I don’t want you to leave feeling heavy and tired. I’m using tarragon, shallots, and mint—there’s a vibrancy of flavor there, everything is crisp.
I love cooking for tourists and I’m grateful that hotels want to send their guests to us—but if locals don’t support you in this town, you won’t survive. Personal relationships are first and foremost in Laguna Beach; it’s an experience that we give to people, not just a meal. We’re fortunate that locals get that, they understand what we’re about, and they connect with it.
My favorite picnic spots are the lawn overlooking the bluffs at Montage Laguna Beach and the hidden beach just below. I grew up on Victoria beach and still love it there, but the water is a little too rough for my son.
My favorite walk in Laguna is the footpath through Heisler Park from Beverly Street to Las Brisas. At the end of that stroll is the gazebo where my husband proposed to me. My father gave us a painting of the spot by one of Laguna Beach’s first plein air painters as a wedding gift.
If I’m eating out in town I’ll get something at Juice & Shakes for breakfast and for lunch I walk over to La Sirena’s Mermaid Street location. Both places emphasize sourcing and sustainability—right in line with my values. For dinner, Starfish has become our go-to because everyone in the family likes it.
Another favorite day-off activity is sitting on the patio at The Ranch at Laguna Beach watching our son tee off at Ben Brown’s Golf Course. Mark Christy and his team are doing a great job with the property and I’m excited to see how it develops.
If I have a break in the middle of the day, my son and I love riding up and down the coast on the free trolley. On Sundays during the summer, we’ll ride all the way down to Mountain Street with picnic supplies from the restaurant to see the Concert in the Park series. It’s become one of our favorite traditions.
'My Laguna Beach' is a series of interviews in which some of the city's most prominent fans give us a virtual tour and share their Laguna Beach secrets. TWEET or INSTAGRAM your own Laguna faves to us @VisitLaguna with the hashtag #MYLAGUNABEACH.