Ahba shines with creative fare, friendly service and communal spaces in which to lounge with friends for a drink after dinner.
By Sharon Stello
Whether sitting on the quaint patio, at the chef’s counter or long communal table inside, or next door at Helen’s—the speakeasy lovingly named after the building’s owner—Ahba offers a cozy vibe for sharing some delicious small plates or tucking into one of the tempting entrees, like a filet mignon with herb-garlic butter or the half chicken with harissa and chimichurri.
Nestled in a cottage in south Laguna, in the space once occupied by Eva’s Caribbean Kitchen, Ahba was opened in 2019 by chef/owner Nick Bennett and has gained a following for its Mediterranean-American fusion fare, craft beer, cocktails and natural wine list. The eatery is open for dinner every night except Mondays and, on the weekends, it also serves up breakfast and then lunch starting at 2 p.m. In addition to the regular menu, be sure to check out Taco Tuesdays and the Burger and Beer deal on Wednesdays, plus trivia nights and other occasional happenings at the speakeasy.
When you arrive, grab a classic cocktail like a margarita made with tequila or mezcal, a Negroni, mai tai or specialty drink like the Paper Plane with bourbon, amaro, Aperol and lemon, and choose some appetizers to share with friends. Order at the window then take your number to sit anywhere—inside or out—or over at Helen’s (if it’s open); just be sure to let the staff know where to find you.
When it comes to the small plates, you can’t go wrong with any of the tasty dishes. Although the menu appears short, the depth of flavor is impressive. Sweeeeet Papas brings together sweet potatoes with spicy morita peppers and tangy labneh, which is strained yogurt. The roasted cauliflower offers a substantial half head of cauliflower served on a bed of tahini (sauce made from toasted sesame seeds) and topped with dukkah seasoning and pickled raisins.
A creative spin on the avocado toast trend is a mushroom option: a thick piece of toast generously slathered with whipped goat cheese and piled high with brown beech mushrooms that are sauteed in garlic and white wine sauce. The squash blossom quesadilla is another fun treat, filled with Oaxaca queso, squash blossoms and salsa macha. But the whipped feta dish will have you coming back for more with a sweet-and-savory mix of tomato jam, pine nuts, mint and parsley, served with thick slices of bread.
There are also some salads, but for meat-eaters, the Ahba Burger is where it’s at. The aroma of sizzling beef patties and caramelized onions will draw you in and the taste won’t disappoint. Garlic aioli, melted American cheese, pickles and a slight kick from fresno chiles combine for one great burger that’s served with shoestring fries. On Wednesdays, add a beer for $3.
For morning meals, choose from a lineup of avocado, harissa or labneh toast, shakshouka, cauliflower hash, a breakfast burrito and French toast with bananas, powdered sugar, maple syrup and whipped cream.
For anyone who hasn’t made the trip to Ahba, do yourself a favor and make the short drive to south Laguna—if you don’t already live nearby. Trust us, after dining here, you’ll be wondering why you waited this long.
31732 Coast Highway;