With Laguna Beach’s 20th Laguna Plein Air Invitational in full effect, it seemed only right to share some of my favorite foods from this city that I covered for four years at the Los Angeles Times Community News.
I had reported and written on the city’s arts, festivals, restaurants, musicians, hippies — yes, that included a talk with Curtis Rainbow, the pony-tailed wanderer and organizer of the 1970s chaotic Christmas Happening one-day music event — and now I’m sharing with you two food treasures I found along my former beat.
One I discovered, the other a local had recommended. Here are those places, both old and new, that are pretty wonderful to try when you’re visiting the coastal town.
Broadway by Amar Santana
Tucked down Glenneyre Street, with an inviting Speakeasy bar, warm tones and wood paneled walls reflecting an industrial New York look, there is the open kitchen where one can only imagine the artistry behind the preparation of the restaurant’s globally-influenced menu.
We’re talking entrees like Japanese Hamachi Sashimi, marinated prime skirt steak, seasonal oysters, charred Spanish octopus and desserts that you make room for despite being stuffed — hello, lemon goat cheese mousse.
Each course is a solid bet for a weeknight (or weekend) dinner.
A longtime fan of Chef Amar Santana — his Spanish steakhouse Vaca in Costa Mesa will be reserved for another post — this signature hub is known to implement ingredients from local farms and serve up New American dishes on small plates.
Transforming the Orange County culinary scene into a food destination has long been Santana’s mission since he first opened his Laguna Beach flagship restaurant in 2011. The chef was born in the Dominican Republic and at age 12, moved with his family to Queens, N.Y. During his sophomore year in high school, he was placed in a cooking course. After finishing studies at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., Santana was running the kitchen of Charlie Parlmer at Bloomingdale’s South Coast Plaza. He also competed in Season 13 of the Bravo show, “Top Chef” and became a finalist.
If you spot a man sporting bright-colored shoes, dashing in and out of the kitchen dressing plates, making people laugh at the bar and serving dishes to diners — that’s Amar.
Dizz’s As Is
I first learned of this restaurant nestled in a 1920s-era shingled house off South Coast Highway thanks to Sabrina Harper, a ballerina and Laguna Beach native who was then touring in a national production at Segerstrom Center for the Arts. During an interview, Sabrina — whose grandfather was noted for his designs of landmark Laguna Beach homes during the 1920s and ’30s — told me she was most looking forward to reuniting with her family for dinner at Dizz’s As Is.
Laguna Beach certainly features trendy cuisine and health-conscious cafes, but Dizz’s As Is in South Laguna is a favorite among locals and beloved for its exceptional food, incomparable service and Art Deco design.
When I had mentioned this restaurant to a favorite foodie friend of mine, we made a dinner date and quickly understood why the restaurant is iconic.
We started at the parlor with a Gingertini – a cranberry Vodka and ginger cognac – and then made way to a glass-top table within a pink-painted dining room adorned with antiques, kitschy wall paintings and light fixtures. Our server greeted us with sourdough bread, Pate de Maison and a glass of vermouth to cleanse our palettes before we noshed on one delectable course after another — a twice-roasted duck topped with an orange glaze, and a lightly-breaded lamb rubbed with rosemary and garlic served over Au Jus sauce.
You cannot miss dessert here — do yourself a favor and cap off the evening with the mixed berry and whipped cream cake. It’s so scrumptious because the confection is baked inside an almond sugar crust and served atop a sweet creme brûlée sauce.
Now, to brief you on logistics, Dizz’s As Is can be quite difficult to reach as public parking is minimal. This is why locals love it — it’s within walking distance from homes. Keep it easy and take a Lyft ride.
As for its personal history, here’s where it gets into, well, classic Laguna lore.
As Marcel Pitz and his family moved to Laguna Beach in 1977, the “Hippie Mafia” of the city began to dissipate after the long-drug bust of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love – a commune run by the infamous Timothy Leary. The Pitzs stumbled upon a restaurant named “Dizz’s” that was advertised for sale by a bohemian couple. After the family purchased the 1900s bungalow, Monique Pitz treasured the mixed-matched dishes left behind and she used them to plate continental cuisine. The term “As Is” was added to the title.
What makes the restaurant feel all the more special is the loyalty shared between employees and patrons. When Marc Pitz, the son who operated the restaurant with his brother Dominic, announced he was battling pancreatic cancer, the community hosted benefit dinners and came in nightly to voluntarily work as servers, bar backs and hosts. Marc passed away in 2016 after a courageous battle with cancer.
If I were you, I would make this a point on my Orange County restaurant list — you remember your culinary experience at Dizz’s with fondness. It’s one of the best dining decisions I’ve ever made.