Starfish Laguna Beach continues to draw diners with its Pan-Asian dishes, Opium Hour specials and an atmosphere that feels a world away from Orange County.
By Sharon Stello
For more than a decade, Starfish Laguna Beach has been a local favorite, bringing together the vibrant flavors of Thailand, Vietnam, Japan, China and Korea, from sushi to wok-fired classics, seafood dishes and elevated street fare. Guests feel truly transported as they sip exotic libations, sake, wine and craft beer while sharing small plates or enjoying a full meal in the dimly lit restaurant with decor from far-off places.
In addition to lunch and dinner, Starfish offers its popular Opium Hour—the eatery’s version of happy hour—with drink and food specials from 3-6 p.m. daily. With great deals and tasty dishes, Starfish has gained a loyal following. And now, the restaurant is gearing up to add a Newport Beach location this summer and expand its current south Laguna spot in the fall. In Laguna, the restrooms will be moved to an adjacent space and the patio will be wrapped around the front of the building while the kitchen will be expanded to keep up with demand; the restaurant will only be closed briefly in January during the final stages of construction.
Until then, Starfish continues to serve up creative and flavorful fare. Start with a cocktail like the Wild Lychee Martini, a sweet drink with a hint of tartness that mixes vodka, Soho lychee liqueur, fresh lychee puree and raspberry. To go with your beverage, choose from one of several sushi rolls or opt for the Crispy Lobster Spring Roll, a tempting appetizer filled with succulent chunks of lobster tail, crunchy cabbage, fresno peppers, cilantro and basil, then fried and served with kaffir lime aioli and chile plum sauce. The Braised BBQ Pork Buns are another great choice. The warm, pillowy buns wrap around pulled pork that’s braised all night. Ginger and soy flavors mix with pickled red onion and cilantro-cucumber slaw for a savory snack.
Those seeking more spice should go with the Chili Fire Wontons, one of the most popular items, which are stuffed with chicken and shrimp, steamed and served in a bowl with chile oil; fresh chiles are used so the amount of heat can vary, but there’s a reason “fire” is in the name—you’ve been forewarned. Cool the palate with Thai coconut chicken satays: The strips of chicken, marinated with Thai coconut and lemon grass, come on wooden skewers with a sweet-and-salty peanut sauce and tropical mango chutney.
On the list of rice and noodle dishes, the SoLag Drunken Noodles with added prawns can be shared by the table or enjoyed as a full meal. With a flavor that’s slightly reminiscent of pad thai but with wider, house-cut “pad see ew” noodles, this item combines garlic soy sauce and a touch of heat, egg, Thai basil, red bell pepper, onion, chile flakes and cherry tomato halves that lend a burst of sweetness to help brighten the dish.
While it’s easy to fill up on these smaller plates, more substantial entrees are also available. When it comes to ribs, both dry and saucy versions are offered: Slow Cooked Baby Back Wet Ribs are prepared with a five-spice blend and katsu barbecue sauce while the Cantonese Coastal Baby Back Dry Ribs are dry-rubbed with a seven-spice blend.
For seafood, the Chilean sea bass in Thai green curry is a must-try. The impressive presentation in a boat-shaped banana leaf only sets the stage for what lies within. Tender fish is smothered in a slightly sweet green curry sauce. It’s all served on a bed of coconut rice alongside crisp garlic green beans. Or try the wok-fired Thai Spicy Beef with Basil for more of a zing: Steak strips come together with red bell peppers, green beans, asparagus, fresh Thai basil and a sweet-and-spicy glaze that’s sure to satiate your cravings.
For a sweet treat, the chocolate chip bread pudding is a decadent choice topped with caramel sauce and sliced bananas, or indulge in the whipped cheesecake, which comes in a glass bowl atop graham cracker crumbs and garnished with sprinkles of cinnamon and poached Asian pear slices. Dessert never tasted so good.
Starfish Laguna Beach
30832 S. Coast Highway