Hotel Laguna’s new Larsen restaurant serves up ocean views and fresh dishes by Craig Strong.
By Sharon Stello
Tucked at the back of Hotel Laguna’s newly renovated ground floor, expansive windows frame the waves rolling onto the sand mere steps from Main Beach. At sunset, streaks of pink and purple paint the sky, only adding to the view at Larsen, the new restaurant overseen by acclaimed chef Craig Strong, formerly of Studio at Montage Laguna Beach and then his own Ocean at Main downtown.
The straightforward menu offers standout seafood, steaks, salads and more. Although some items, like the burger at dinner or milkshake at lunch, may seem simple, they are executed perfectly—the best possible version of each dish, eliciting nostalgic memories of summertime cookouts or diners with music playing from the jukebox.
For example, the Hotel Laguna Burger juxtaposes the grilled beef patty and melted cheddar with slightly sweet caramelized onions, crisp shallots, fresh lettuce and a tangy grain mustard aioli. Meanwhile, the shakes come in flavors from vanilla bean to dark chocolate malt, strawberry, mint chocolate chip and even cardamom orange. Lunchtime also offers tacos with braised beef, roasted chicken or grilled fish topped with Strong’s own Salsa Fuerte, or the shaved steak sandwich, an elevated Philly cheesesteak made with pickled fresno chiles, provolone and caramelized onions. And the chicken breast sandwich with green curry sauce came from something Strong and the other kitchen workers made for themselves to eat, he shares.
Whether you’re coming for a midday meal or sundown seating, make sure to take in the pieces of history on the walk from the front door to the restaurant. The 1931 hotel ledger is open to a page that bears the signatures of guests from 90 years ago. A wooden Laguna Beach pinball machine sits in one corner while historic photos line the wall. The lobby area is at once vintage and contemporary with a touch of Hollywood glamour, a nod to the days when the likes of Humphrey Bogart and Bette Davis would escape to Laguna’s beaches.
The hotel’s renovated ground floor reopened in mid-October following the building’s closure since 2017. This is the first step in a broader restoration of the hotel planned by Laguna Beach Co., the locally owned real estate business led by Mo Honarkar and his daughter, Hasty Honarkar. The restaurant, Larsen, is named after the town’s first official greeter, Eiler Larsen. The dining room is designed with coastal tones and natural materials, fading to the background to make the ocean view the star of the show. A patio is also available for alfresco dining.
Enjoy the panorama while sipping craft cocktails like the rum-filled Bird of Paradise with banana, coconut and lime, or the Redline, which mixes smoky mezcal with blood orange, lime and a Tajín rim. For appetizers, diners must order the Short Rib Cigars at least once. A popular item from Strong’s former Ocean at Main, they come in a fun, oversized black “ashtray” dish and are served with horseradish creme fraiche and black pepper “ash.” A seasonal option is the vegan roasted squash soup with cashew cream, pickled squash and pepitas. For seafood lovers, the lobster fettuccine features succulent pieces of lobster mixed in a bed of tender pasta with lobster bisque sauce and brown butter crumble.
The seared scallops are another top choice with sunchokes, sea beans, chicken-truffle sauce and pickled kumquats—grown in Strong’s own yard, diners may come to find out as the chef takes time to chat with guests around the room, remaining friendly and down-to-earth even with a Michelin star to his name, earned while at The Langham Huntington hotel in Pasadena.
When it comes to dessert, loyal diners from Strong’s past establishments will be happy to see Craig’s Spice Cake still on the menu, but the pear creme brulee with ginger ice cream will also make your taste buds happy as the chef expertly weaves together complementary flavors for a delightful end to the meal.
at Hotel Laguna
425 S. Coast Highway
11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily