THERE'S SOMETHING WONDERFUL about beach-chic concepts. The salty air, the swaying palm trees, a cocktail in the afternoon. And perched above the bustling beachgoers, surfers carrying boards and lucky locals strolling PCH sits a new splendid spot that’s totally beach-chic. The chef has passion and family legacy, and the proprietors are locals with top-notch taste. Laguna, you’ve got a winner—with food as good as the view. A warm welcome to Oak.
Nestled in Laguna’s HIP District, at the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Oak Street, the neighborhood spot is marked by a wraparound patio and second-floor views. It’s a handsome restaurant with a beautiful bar, sleek lines and tremendous hospitality—cool, hip and just intimate enough to make you feel like a local. The open-air seating is my vibe, and whether you’re there for Sunday brunch, lunch or dinner, you can catch up with a friend or plan a night out that is sure to satisfy.
Here’s a bit of backstory: Chef Chris Tzorin comes from culinary lineage; his father was the longtime chef at 21 Oceanfront and The Beach House, and the dishes at Oak draw upon Tzorin’s childhood memories of growing up in professional kitchens. The owners are Laguna Beach residents and wanted a place to hang and entertain. Put the two together and you get a lively atmosphere, authentic fare and a good dose of local ambiance. The servers are uberfriendly and the kitchen staff are all old comrades—it feels like family.
Let’s start with brunch; it’s a Sunday and you’re hungry! Cop a squat at a table and start with a not-too-sweet blood orange mimosa or a killer bloody mary—expect a full salad of garnish that includes a savory, smoky spear of bacon and a blue cheese-stuffed tempura olive. The huevos rancheros are the perfect indulgence: The chef’s signature pico de gallo enrobes fried eggs over homemade tortillas—a nod to his roots—and it’s outrageously delicious. The pork belly quiche is also a winner, as it’s baked in a cast iron skillet with huge chunks of sweet, silky pork to contrast the light and lovely fluff of the filling. (The only trouble is that there isn’t more of it.) The West Coast Chicken and Waffles features a housemade waffle and crisp fried chicken (ask for extra maple syrup and you’ll have it made). A late-morning feast by the water, combined with live music to liven the mood, and your weekend ends well.
If dinner is your delight, you’ll want to start with a crafty cocktail. Opt for the Dee Oh Double Gee, a piquant blend of serrano chili-infused vodka, grapefruit, elderflower liqueur and a dash of simple syrup to ignite your palate, or imbibe the Telonics Tea, with black tea-infused bourbon, fresh rosemary lemonade and lemon-infused meringue foam, if bourbon is your poison. Vino lovers will find an impressive catalog of Napa-centric favorites by the bottle, plus a barrel-to-table program that delivers wines on tap by the glass.
As for the fare, the highlights that go big on flavor come in petite portions—head straight for the small plates. The Brooks Street Classic Meatballs is my new go-to dinner at Oak, with their deliciously tender texture accompanied by a tangy pool of rich marinara sauce—don’t skimp on the ciabatta bread for dipping. The cornmeal-crusted fried green tomatoes are topped with melting burrata cheese and crispy prosciutto, rendering them both decadent and delectable. Need I say more? Throw the chef’s seriously good heirloom tomato soup, with grilled cheese bites floating atop, into the mix, plus a few tacos, and you have a shared meal that excites. About those tacos: The pork belly iteration with peach salsa and the succulently tender octopus option with avocado mousse are equally extraordinary. The fish selection is also noteworthy. Mahimahi, sea bass and salmon are all well-executed and beautifully plated. Finish with the local favorite—decadent cinnamon-sugar doughnuts drizzled with bourbon caramel and a dusting of Butterfinger crumbs—for the end to a pretty stellar meal.
Oak is bringing Laguna Beach new local flavor, modern California comfort fare and a fresh approach to neighborhood dining, all in a room with a view. The cuisine is craveworthy; the chef is talented, attentive and present in the dining room; and the service is spot on. Now, that’s what I call community.
1100 S. Coast Highway, Ste. 202, Laguna Beach,949.940.3010,
Small plates, $8-$15; bowls, $8-$11; salads, $8-$15; entrees, $17-$38; sandwiches and tacos, $14-$17; desserts, $8-$9
Brunch Sun., 10am-2pm; lunch daily, 11:30am-3pm; dinner Sun.-Wed., 5-10pm, Thu.-Sat., 5-11pm