Mexican food is as essential to Southern California’s identity as the Pacific Ocean itself. Here in Laguna Beach, the influence of the Northern Baja—just 90 miles down PCH—is evident in the plethora of ceviche and fish taco dishes that appear on local menus. Offerings from Oaxaca (famous for its mole sauces) and Michoacán (home of carnitas) are also easy to find, as are dishes representing Southwestern Tex-Mex and Mexico City’s famed street food.
Visitors to Laguna Beach eager to satisfy a craving for Mexican food will find what they’re looking for any time of day, in any part of town, and at every price range.
BREAKFAST // Huevos rancheros are one Mexican breakfast food item that everyone seems to know. Try La Sirena Grill’s rendition (ask them to add sausage picadillo) for a dish doused in plenty of red sauce with just the right hit of spice. For all the fried egg goodness with a little more variation of flavors, order the huevos divorciados at Tortilla Republic. The dish features two poached eggs each smothered in a different sauce—traditional ranchero red sauce, and a brighter, lighter tomatillo salsa—with bacon crumbled on top. For classic chilaquiles, Avila’s El Ranchito has a recipe that’s been handed down for generations. Pair it with a mimosa…or two.
LUNCH // It may not be traditional Mexican food, but Taco Loco is a Laguna Beach institution. The blackened mushroom and tofu taco is a flavorful and inventive locals’ favorite. For more refined fare, the ceviche at Las Brisas mixes fresh fish and shrimp with just the right hit of citrus, salsa, and cilantro. A good ceviche tastes like the fish was just caught that morning, and Las Brisas makes one of the best in town.
MIDDAY SNACK // Every Mexican restaurant worth its salt has guacamole on the menu, but some elevate it through style or freshness. At Carmelitas, they make their guacamole fresh to order and serve it up with a basket of featherweight tortilla chips, chipotle puree, and chopped cucumbers. Beer aficionados from around Orange County head to La Sirena Grill’s South Laguna location for guacamole and beer paired together. Co-owners Scott Cortellessa and Brian Hendon go through so many avocados that they’re known to often dream about buying their own farm.
DINNER // The number of all-star Mexican entrées served at dinnertime in Laguna Beach is almost endless. Carmelita’s Camarones al Chipotle features the sort of monster shrimp you can’t find at the grocer, smothered in a silky chipotle cream sauce. While you’re eating, treat yourself to the cucumber-cilantro margarita—the perfect way to balance out the richness of your entrée. The pork chop al pastor at Tortilla Republic might not be shaved from a spit in the traditional manner, but the flavors will remind you of Mexico City through and through. A few blocks north, the mussels in chipotle broth with chorizo at Las Brisas make for a surprising combination and the chorizo adds a fatty richness to the plump Pacific mussels.
---Dine in and guacamole pictues by Baldemar Fierro for La Sirena Grill