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California dreamin' on such a humid (NYC) day...

How is it that I'm already back?  I thought, while staring out of my passenger's seat window in a random Manhattan-bound cab...

Every time I go to Southern California to visit my family (parents in San Diego - sister in Orange County), I always wonder what the hell I'm doing in New York.  Why?  Well, the weather, for the most part, sucks, 9 out of every 10 people are assholes, it's ridiculously expensive, the Mexican food blows, there's barely any green space, it's far away from everything and everyone, it's dirty and smelly...Shall I continue?  Then you have Southern California or, what my dad likes to call, "the Promised Land."  The weather is pristine year-round, the Mexican food rocks, the locals are friendly and actually smile at you (...and not just because they're a pedophile or high on crack), the landscape is breathtaking, the Pacific Ocean is warmer than the Atlantic (even if it is just by a few degrees), the produce is phenomenal, the cost of living is cheap compared to NYC, and I'd take a sun-kissed surfer boy over a douchey, Nantucket Red-wearing, East Coast-prep any damn day. 

"Nantucket Reds," for those of you lucky enough *not* to know what they are.  Until now.

Gahhhhh! Hate hate hate!! (Photo: Jenny Haniver dot com)At the end of every reunion, I hate having to say goodbye to my family.  Because I only get to see them 2-3 times/year, boarding that NYC-bound plane is always hard for me, and rarely tear-free.   But, the reality is, once I land in this gritty, grimy, either too hot or too cold city of mine, I am reminded that there's no where else I'd rather be.  California - while beautiful, laid back, and so many other glorious things - is a little bit too perfect for me.  I think that, because I thrive on pressure and am always up for a good challenge, I love New York.  Even with all of its flaws and proverbial road blocks.


Please enjoy some beautiful - and delicious - photos from my recent trip "home," in honor of America's birthday.  By the way, how did you spend the 4th of July?


No trip is *ever* complete without a combination plate (1 shredded beef taco, 1 cheese enchilada, rice and beans) from my favorite local Mexican spot, Juanita's Taco Shop.  Something about Christmas lights lining the perimeter of the roof, wrought-iron bars protecting the windows and doors, that scary chola cashier, and the fact that I have no clue what "Tepatitlan" means makes this place super fcuking legit. 

Make sure to grab some gratis homemade "Mexican Giardiniera" (pickled carrots, onions, and jalapenos) to accompany your meal!

Mexican combination plate:  1 shredded beef taco, 1 cheese enchilada, rice, and beans

The aftermath...


In what has become a tradition, we always grab a hearty breakfast at St. Germain's Cafe on my first morning in town.  Make sure to snag a table on the restaurant's lovely, shaded patio!

On this particular trip to the cafe, I opted for lunch, instead:  Red wine-poached pears, arugula, and brie on ciabatta with a side of garlic fries.


I was ecstatic to get to meet up with my great friend from college, Devon, later that afternoon.  We headed to Diversions Sport Lounge, overlooking La Costa Resort's new adult's-only edgless pool, to grab a margarita (or 3). 

Sweet and tangy, with the perfect amount of salt and extra lime, this traditional margarita was the best version I had during my trip.  Oh, and the view didn't suck too hard, either!  :) 


On Friday, Mom and I drove to Orange County to visit my sister.  For lunch, we indulged in a plethora of seafood at Newport Beach's The Crab Cooker

One thing that I found, repeatedly, across Southern California was that most menus did not feature *local* seafood.  Although delicious and incredibly fresh-tasting, everything, except for the halibut, at The Crab Cooker was either from Alaska or the East Coast.  WTF, man?

Ready to work for our food!

Locally-caught, simply-grilled halibut filet, sliced tomatoes, cheesy potatoes

Shrimp, cod, and veggie kebab, cole slaw, cheesy potatoes

Crab, vermicelli rice, cole slaw


After a window-shopping extravaganza at South Coast Plaza, we headed over to Fashion Island.  But, instead of shopping, we decided to grab cocktails at my sister's - and Real Housewives of Orange County - fave, True Food Kitchen.

Me, Mom, and LeilaWe each grabbed a margarita and shared a delicious Caramelized Onion Tart, with Smoked Garlic, Black Fig, and Gorgonzola.


As if we had not eaten enough during the day, we had dinner reservations a mere two-hours post our cocktails and snack at Corona del Mar's The Bungalow.

I whetted my appetite with a margarita, served up.

Homemade, parmesan-topped sourdough rolls were served with whipped butter.  I inhaled three before my entree arrived...

Colossal shrimp were accompanied by a horseradish-laden cocktail sauce

Our palettes were cleansed with a miniature scoop of lemon sorbet that was paired with a single basil leaf

For an entree, Mom and I split the filet, topped with blue cheese, fried onion strings, and sauteed mushrooms.  The steak sat atop a blanket of smashed potatoes.

This was, by far, the best cut of beef that I've had in recent memory.  I was able to cut each piece without the use of a knife!

We ordered the root vegetables - baby carrots, squash, and potatoes - as one of our two side dishes

...And creamed spinach

This meal was excellent from start to finish, making The Bungalow a new favorite.  I will make it a point to return here upon each visit to Corona del Mar.


On our last morning with my sister, we went to the Corona del Mar farmer's market.

Gorgeous, hand-made, glazed cherry turnovers

Heirloom tomatoes

Exotic flowers

Local white shrimp


On my last day in town, I grabbed lunch with a dear friend from college.  Beautiful Bethany owns the successful Bindu Yoga Studio in Del Mar.  She suggested dining at Haggos Organic Taco, a food truck serving healthy Mexican.

What a cool place!


As per the menu, I ordered the 'Cousteau' Fish Taco special:  Two grilled fish tacos (wild California seabass), organic brown rice and red beans, served with house-made salsa.  And, yes, it was every bit as delicious as it sounds!


Below, please find a list of the restaurants/markets that I went to in each town: 


  • Juanita's Taco Shop - my favorite Mexican food in the entire state of California; casual, no frills
  • St. Germain's Cafe - a solid cafe that offers al-fresco seating; great for a pre-surf breakfast!


  • Diversions Sport Lounge - bar at the La Costa Resort overlooking adult's only edgeless pool; best margaritas in town

Newport Beach

  • The Crab Cooker - casual, no frills, old fashioned; great atmosphere and fresh seafood (but not too many local offerings)
  • True Food Kitchen - tasty, albeit, expensive cocktails; al-fresco dining/drinking

Corona del Mar

  • Corona del Mar farmer's market - lovely local produce, seafood, baked goods, and flowers
  • The Bungalow - fabulous steakhouse serving some of the best beef I've had, to date; martinis; a definite "must" when in Corona del Mar


  • Haggos Organic Taco - healthy, fresh Mexican that doesn't suck; food truck with a fantastic al-fresco dining patio


Until we eat again,

The Lunch Belle

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