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A cantina you can't go wrong in

The Gossiping Gourmet

March 10, 2006|By By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz

Conveniently located directly on the Albertsons' parking lot, La Sirena's patio provides a spectacular ocean view over the hoods of the parked cars. The unadorned natural-wood picnic tables contrast nicely with the concrete sidewalk.

Each table seats up to eight uncomfortably. The more elegant interior actually features chairs at the tables and a hint of color in the concrete. The room is dominated by an open kitchen, a salsa bar and a drink dispenser. This contemporary cantina is done in tones of burnt orange and pale lime with pressed-tin wainscoting.

Dispensing with the maitre d', you may immediately assume a comfortable place in line from which to leisurely peruse the menu overhead. Others in your party may select a table from those that are available. No interacting with snooty waiters, or waiting for inefficient busboys, you can get your own water whenever you like.

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Your representative in line can place everyone's order and pay the bill, eliminating the tedious wait at the end of the meal for the check to arrive. It goes without saying that the service is superior, since you do it yourself.

All kidding aside, the food is great!

Owners Scott Cortallesa and Mark Thompson met while working at Kachina, the southwestern restaurant that was David Wilhelm's first venture in Laguna Beach. In 1999, when a little cottage in downtown Laguna became available, they decided it would be the perfect place to realize their dream of opening their own eatery, and so the first La Sirena was born.

The instant popularity of this tiny spot encouraged them to open a larger second location a few years later, and they are looking for another.

The cuisine in these boisterous beaneries is California Mexican taken to a higher level. Creative touches abound and freshness rules. In addition to the standard menu items, tacos, burritos, enchiladas etc., there are also tortas, sopes and entrée salads.

All of these feature a choice of carne asada, carnitas and pollo, while some have pescado, shrimp or vegetarian fillings as well.

An example of their special touch with traditional fare is the quesadilla: spread with sautéed mushrooms and onions, then brushed with chipotle paste and stuffed with your choice of filling. Thus, bringing additional layers of flavor to a simple dish. The carnitas, pollo and carne asada quesadillas are really delicious.

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