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Happy Earth Day from here in Laguna Beach! We are so proud to live in a town that collectively comes together each day to genuinely care for and love the planet we call home.
It takes a lot to create and maintain a great restaurant that delivers quality food and an overall experience. It takes even more for a business to put in eco-friendly parameters on itself and weave them into daily business practices. So below, find some praiseworthy spots in Laguna that are dedicated to properly feeding you and mother nature, each with a strong vision, collaborative passion and unwavering commitment to making a large impact without leaving a large, ecologically damaging footprint.
Harley, a restaurant named after chef and owner Greg Daniels’ grandfather, has “home” written all over it – if that home had a modern interior and cool fix-ins. Daniels had a vision of Harley being an upscale but approachable hangout, which is exactly what he has accomplished at his welcoming New American restaurant. All the menu items, which are heavily based on seasonality, are a result of friendships Daniels’ has built with local farmers, butchers, and fishermen. Take their burger for example. This is made with grass-fed and finished beef from Stemple Creek Farm, topped with St. Agur blue cheese and fresh local produce, all in between an OC Baking Co. brioche bun. Not only is this a beautiful and flavorfully smoky dish, but this, along with everything else here, has its own specific backstory to tell. Our favorite anecdote, however, is about his Grandma Mary’s cookies. They are served warm in a ceramic dish and with a postcard of the whole story behind Harley and these chewy, moist morsels of comfort. Just give us a glass of milk, tuck us in, and we’d stay forever.
This space feels like the modern version of a secluded, rustic ranch in the middle of Montana, where Executive Chef Kyle St. John hails from, but it resides right between canyon and sea in coastal town Laguna Beach. Everything here is impeccable because Kyle, his team, and the larger family at The Ranch go the extra mile (no, extra 100 miles) to ensure they are telling a sustainable story where every detail and part of the narrative aligns with their eco-conscious ethos. For starters, Harvest sources as much produce from their own restored garden, growing various organic plants from a classic arugula to the uncommon borage flower with flavor notes of cucumber and melon. The entire bar program’s infused syrups, herbs and garnishes are also sourced from their onsite farm. The Cross Pollination, Cole’s signature cocktail with gin, is a perfect example of this where the lemon, chamomile honey and lavender bitters, are ingredients found on property. Garden manager Leo has autonomy to grow what he likes, acting like a true vendor, to keep things in the kitchen exciting, fresh, and truly seasonal. Past using native plants in their canyon farm, Chef Kyle also utilizes their large and fruitful backyard: the Pacific. They have key relationships with local businesses that share the same value system and ecofriendly practices. One of their staple dishes, Fisherman Ceviche, always reflects the fresh catch of the week. Kyle even meets with these local fisherman, sometimes at 6AM, to pick up locally caught, single line rod and reel fish. On their board in front of the restaurant, they’ll have detailed information on their fresh catch, down to the name of the fisherman that caught it. Even their sea urchin gets delivered from a Santa Barbara diver every Saturday. Harvest sells and serves it fresh, but if there are leftovers, Chef Kyle and his team will use it for a creative special like uni risotto or pasta to avoid any waste. In an extra effort, Kyle has created a standard for the staff to compost anything they can, which all go back into creating rich soil for their garden to have prosperous produce growth. They have created an efficient and almost self-sustaining system where they eventually hope to not have to outsource for produce at all.
Past the food, Harvest and the entire hotel have no single use plastic on property. All their takeaway containers are biodegradable. They even have an onsite glass crusher, which gets ground down and used to replenish the bunkers of their on-premises golf course. Harvest and The Ranch have truly set an example of what it means to protect our planet, which is why Harvest has rightfully become Surfrider Foundation’s first ocean friendly restaurant in Laguna Beach and The Ranch overall is the only hotel in California to be named a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World.
For Jilla and Shallom Berkman, it all started with a cup of coffee. After meeting Jorge, a coffee farmer from Peru, they learned about the environmentally destructive practices that go into creating the cup that is essential to many people’s morning routines. With a desire to change this, they became the nation’s first exclusively organic heirloom coffee company. Then, they started importing and hand blending organic teas. When they began to expand past drinks, and moved into the healthful food space, they brought and incorporated their philosophy along for the ride. Today, they source local and sustainable organic products and use 100% natural ingredients completely free of any artificial ingredients or GMOs.
La Sirena Grill calls themselves a MexECO eatery because they have ingrained environmentally responsible ideals into everything they do. It is their ultimate goal to not only serve delicious Mexican food, but to do so in a welcoming environment that nurtures the planet and reduces waste. They hold the products they use to a very high standard, ensuring everything is fresh and comes from a place with humane values. Look at their story, and you’ll see that all their meat come from conscious farms and contain no antibiotics or hormones.
This counter service spot is a local favorite for casual Mexican cuisine. While they have a wide variety of options, there is a heavy focus on vegetarian and vegan options, like the Blackened Potato or Veggie Phish Tacos. They even have a Blackened Mushroom and Tofu option for something that reminds you of a meaty, classic favorite without the energy consuming and often damaging footprint that comes with raising animals.
While all these spots are wonderful, part of what makes Laguna Beach so beautiful is the overall commitment to preserving our environment and properly using the beautiful natural resources we’ve been given. Check out our other article for more healthful, eco-conscious options to celebrate Earth Day.