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Upscale Mexican restaurant opens in Laguna


I've been hearing a lot about Asada, one of several new eateries in Laguna Beach, from friends who live in the area.

Many had walked by as the restaurant and tequila bar was putting the final touches on its sleek, breezy decor in the space off Pacific Coast Highway once occupied by Javier's.

It's at a stretch of sidewalk that's always busy with foot traffic, so I met with a few friends to see if this was simply another tourist trap or a restaurant that could hold its own.

Chips and salsa are easy to take for granted, but at Asada, the free starter is something special.

Thin, light strips of tortilla feature specks of some kind of orange seasoning salt, and the smoky salsa is served warm. Savory and satisfying, it's a perfect beginning – especially paired with one of the restaurant's flavored margaritas ($13) Pricey, yes, but not completely out of line in this neighborhood.

Ceviche ($14, pictured top) is big on seafood flavor, with plump shrimp and flakes of crab.

Our server recommends the fire roasted jalapenos ($9),  bacon-wrapped peppers stuffed with cream cheese and served with a jalapeno jelly. Spice from the pepper is cooled down by the soft cheese, and the thick-cut bacon comes crisp.

For the entrees, I'm not sure anyone managed to finish their large portion. Most of the plates come with rice and beans, which could be mundane sides without Asada's attention to detail. Rice is fluffy and moist, and the house-made black beans offer a hearty texture.

The crab tacos ($14) make a good impression, with big pieces of meat and a piquant tomatillo salsa.

The plump Baja burrito with fish ($10) also features the slightly spicy green sauce.

The blackened yellowtail torta ($13), on grilled potato bread, is a good sandwich, but low on spice.

That's something that could be said of the two entrees I tasted as well. Ingredients are high quality, but it tastes like something is missing. I'm not talking about heat, necessarily – I get that a restaurant that caters to visitors from around the country might want to take it easy. The flavors that mark food as Mexican were missing in the meat, though.

The ancho honey shortribs ($24), for example, proved to be tender and the plate was loaded with great sides. I couldn't taste much honey or ancho flavor, though, so the dish fell flat.

Carnitas ($16) also had all the makings of a great meal – big hunks of tender pork with huge scoops of rice, beans, guacamole and fresh flour tortillas. But the meat didn't have much punch on its own, and a thin drizzle mild ranchero sauce didn't add any, either.

Between the appetizers, drinks and Southern California-style Mexican specialties, there's a lot to love about Asada. Be cautious of the meat-based entrees, though – or maybe just carry some cumin in your purse.

Asada Laguna480 S. Coast HighwayLaguna Beach949-715-5533


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