Dish List: Lemonade

Where: 987 Newport Ctr Dr, Newport Beach, 92660

What: Lemonade

 How Much: $3-13

 Hours: 11 a.m. – 9:05 p.m.

 Rating: 5/5

When it’s almost 90 degrees outside and all you need is a light lunch and an ice cold drink, the last thing you want to do is drive an hour in traffic to get some. Yet that’s what I did this summer. The restaurant that was so delicious I just had to make the drive to Los Angeles multiple times for? Lemonade.

Courtesy of Taylor Weik

Courtesy of Taylor Weik

So you can imagine my relief when I found out the popular SoCal chain, with 11 exclusively LA spots so far, announced they were finally branching out of the valley with a new location in Newport Beach’s own Fashion Island shopping center.

Founded five years ago by restaurateurs Alan and Heidi Jackson out of their own catering business, Lemonade has grown into a business that embodies the same traits that its LA customers value: casualness, health and style. Even the bright yellow sign outside my favorite location at Larchmont and Melrose boasts the phrase “Southern California Comfort Food” underneath the playful, looping letters of Lemonade.

And the new Lemonade in Newport Beach doesn’t disappoint. Finding it among the department stores and restaurants is so easy you’d be blind to miss it –– the restaurant is twice as big as the other, more cramped LA locations, and features an awning over dozens of outdoor tables held up by stilts, all of which are painted a –– you guessed it –– lemon-yellow.

Just as expected, the sheer size of this Lemonade offers a wider variety of dishes to choose from, as well as a more spacious seating arrangement. Set up cafeteria-style, customers slide their neon-colored trays down the aisle as they select items from the categories offered. Marketplace is your go-to for unconventional salads, land and sea is your stop for seasoned chicken and fish, the sandwich station toasts your meal to order, the braise and soups area boasts hot stews and soups and the dessert area displays everything from macaroons to red velvet cake.

It’s more than I expected and I took a few minutes studying my options before I selected the herb grilled chicken sandwich with mozzarella, basil pesto and arugula squished between two slices of ciabatta bread, which comes with a side of green salad. My sidekick-brother, loving his salads, opted for a three portion meal: watermelon radish with black sesame and ginger, smoked turkey with roasted yukon potatoes and honey pecans and figs with blue cheese and arugula. We’d never tasted these dishes before.

The toasted sandwich had just the right amount of crunch, and the layers of mozzarella melted easily. The chicken was light, as expected of Lemonade, but seasoned well and lathered in the zestiest basil pesto I’ve ever had. The salad was simple, but I didn’t need much, as the sandwich itself was huge and I was unable to finish the whole thing.

The salads offered at Lemonade seem like strange combinations, but all the flavors work well together. After sampling the three portions (only $7.50 for three and you can go up to six) I decided my favorite was the turkey with potatoes and pecans, a satisfying mix of the savory that is the smokiness of the turkey and the sweetness of the glazed pecans. Everything tastes fresh and is doled out in large portions, which makes the already low prices even more reasonable.

What’s so addicting about Lemonade is that all of their food is so unique that you often find yourself craving for random things like curry chicken and Israeli couscous that only Lemonade can satisfy. Not to mention, even filling foods like mac’n’cheese are so light that you always have room for a slice of lemon meringue pie.

But it wouldn’t be Lemonade without, well, lemonade. For $3 you can choose from seven different kinds of unique lemonades. I went with watermelon rosemary, my favorite for its sweet watermelon flavor, while my brother went with the more unconventional, yet refreshing, cucumber mint. There’s only one size, but I often find myself walking out of the restaurant with my cup half-full, which leaves me feeling summery and happy for the ride back home.

I couldn’t be happier that the Lemonade closest to school is the biggest and most diverse one. Though the summer is nearly over, I look forward to the free time in between classes where I can pop in for a quick, healthy lunch and yet another cup of lemonade. No more 60-minute drives for me.