Classic and Contemporary

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Nick's appetizers_Ashley Ryan
Appetizers including (clockwise from back) the bacon deviled eggs; asparagus fries and tuna tartare, shown with the Nick’s Mai Tai (bottom left) and jalapeno watermelon margarita (center) | Photo by Ashley Ryan

Since opening more than 15 years ago, Nick’s Laguna Beach has remained a favorite in the local dining scene.

By Sharon Stello

 

Other restaurants have come and gone, but Nick’s Laguna Beach—the first location for this small, regional chain—has been a staple in our coastal town since opening in 2008.

Situated in the downtown area on South Coast Highway, this cozy spot features a central bar, booths and tables along the dining room’s edge and a front patio to eat your meal while watching passersby. The display kitchen, which was renovated in the fall, is surrounded by windows in the back of the room. Even with a small kitchen, the quality and variety of dishes is impressive.

Settle in with a glass of wine, beer or a cocktail: Consider the jalapeno watermelon margarita or Nick’s Mai Tai, which is made with spiced rum and topped with lilikoi (passion fruit) foam.

Nick's Laguna Beach_Nick's Laguna Beach
Nick’s Laguna Beach, opened in 2008, is a fixture along South Coast Highway in the downtown area. | Photo by Nick’s Laguna Beach

For appetizers to share with the table, consider the bacon deviled eggs, which are a lightly fried version of this classic—complete with a Parmesan-and-panko crust—and come topped with crumbles of applewood-smoked bacon. These delicious bites have been on the menu since Nick’s opened and it’s easy to see why. The asparagus fries are another popular item, with a crunchy Parmesan crust and a buttermilk ranch dipping sauce; the center is a vegetable so you can pretend you’re being healthy. The tuna tartare is also a tempting option, with chunks of sashimi-grade tuna marinated in a spicy soy sauce, served with a spicy aioli, sliced avocado and crispy wontons.

Those seeking a salad will find plenty of creative varieties, from a Spicy Thai rendition that incorporates udon noodles and peanut dressing to the Grilled Steakhouse selection with sliced rib-eye, mixed greens, warm potato salad, a blue cheese wedge and tomatoes.

When it comes to entrees, diners would be remiss not to try the buttermilk fried chicken. The crisp breading gives way to succulent chicken, served boneless with whipped mashed potatoes and a flavorful sausage country gravy, buttermilk biscuit and sweet roasted corn on the cob. For a handheld option, the prime rib dip and original rib-eye melt are both popular. The former, which uses thin-sliced meat that’s slow-roasted daily and served on a brioche bun with red wine au jus, is only offered until the eatery runs out. However, the blackened fish sandwich is an excellent choice, too. Well seasoned, the flaky fish—which changes based on seasonal availability—comes on a brioche bun piled high with house-made tartar sauce, crunchy cabbage, wild baby arugula, tomato and fried “firestick” onions.

blackened fish sandwich_Ashley Ryan
The blackened fish sandwich with halibut and fries | Photo by Ashley Ryan

And there are plenty of other dishes on the menu, from baby back pork ribs to chicken piccata, pan-seared Chilean sea bass, Scottish salmon, San Francisco cioppino, center-cut filet and a crispy chicken sandwich.

Nick’s is also open for breakfast with favorites like avocado toast, fried chicken and waffles, chilaquiles or a croque madame. Wash it down with a mimosa, a bloody mary garnished with fried, blue cheese-stuffed olives or an espresso martini. We can’t think of a better way to get the morning started.

Nick’s Laguna Beach

440 S. Coast Highway
949-376-8595; nicksrestaurants.com

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