Rebirth at the Royal Hawaiian Laguna Beach

There’s been a Royal Hawaiian restaurant in Laguna Beach for decades, but the venue has gone from great to terrible to okay to terrible and now once again to great thanks to an impressive rebuild led by Notch Gonzalez (Dr. Funk, Smuggler’s Cove). We made sure to visit the refreshed location on our trip and met up with friends but had a late 8 pm reservation on a Wednesday.

Inside, the Royal Hawaiian looks completely gorgeous and the modern “Fire Grill” elements that led the 2019-2022 RH version are completely gone. Instead, it’s an explosion of bamboo and thatch that is quite immersive. We were seated in a booth in a back corner of the restaurant and indeed we seemed completely shut off from the outside world (and the staff, as it would happen). Food is Polynesian inspired and we liked what we tried.

The cocktail menu is nicely varied, including the Royal Hawaiian’s signature Lapu Lapu, a bold grog served flaming. I found the Mai Tai to be just okay but did really love the Saturn riff Passionate Maiden, with Elderflower liqueur subbing for the Orgeat in the original. Really great.

Our service was good and we were having a great time. At some point the excellent surf and exotica soundtrack transitioned to a nice but out of place post-punk / post-punk revival soundtrack. This should have been our clue we were staying past closing at 9 pm, though remember we were all the way in the back corner and didn’t catch the drift (nobody reminded us of the closing time, either). Sorry about that, RH crew, alcohol may have been involved.

On the way out we saw jade tiles, artwork, and other lighting elements that were a feast for the eyes. The overall build and vibe here is absolutely breathtaking and we enjoyed the traditional cocktails and food inspired by tiki bars of the past.

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