It is quite amazing how the culinary scene has evolved in North County over the past six years since I’ve started writing Lick the Plate.
My first column was on the new Wine Steals in Encinitas and I remember being thrilled to have a restaurant serving cassoulet locally along with their fabulous wine collection.
Well, the seed was planted so to speak because on a regular basis since then there have been new restaurants opening not only in Encinitas, but also in Cardiff, Leucadia, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Vista, San Marcos, Solana Beach, Del Mar and Rancho Santa Fe at a rate that has been tough to keep up with.
If you have read the column over the past six years, you have probably figured out by now that I’m not a restaurant critic. I started Lick the Plate during the early days of social media and Yelp in particular, which turned everyone into a critic overnight, for better or worse.
Lick the Plate has always leaned toward being more of a feature-driven column, telling the stories behind the folks running the restaurants from chefs to owners to brewers and growers.
If it’s a fabulous dining experience sure, that will be the focus of the column, but I will always try to include some personal elements of the people behind the establishment.
I’ve found that format is best conveyed through my “where local businesses eat around town” series. It’s a great way for employees from businesses that I find interesting to share their favorite places and hopefully turns The Coast News audience on to their workplace as well. Occasionally I’ll branch off into a somewhat random topic like my recent unofficial guide to health and happiness, but there is always at least a loose connection to food.
Since the culinary world entered the mainstream even before I started writing Lick the Plate, there is no shortage of sources for me to gather content ideas. Oh, in case you haven’t noticed, content has taken the place of story and copy in our digital vocabulary. Content comes to me in the form of press releases and other pitches from local and national public relation firms and publicists, industry friends, subscriptions to Eater San Diego and Thrillist, and by simply driving around town and seeing a new restaurant under construction.
It would be easy to focus on new openings, but I like to see that a restaurant has legs and is not going to be closed in six months. There have been at least a dozen that have shut their doors and that’s just part of the very tough business of owning and operating a restaurant. I also like to spread the love around and tell the stories of places that have stood the test of time.
Picking favorite restaurants from the past six years is nearly impossible, so I’m going to give myself some leeway and pick a top three in three different categories: Mexican joints, low- to medium-range price points and going out big.
In the category of Mexican, my list would include Juanita’s for what I consider the best fish taco in North County, La Especial Norte for their soup and Raul’s for their funky cool location in downtown Encinitas, their chicken and rice burrito and their soup which is a hell of a value.
In the medium price range category I’d have to start with Fish 101, one of my favorite restaurants anywhere, though it can easily get up into the high price point range with a surf-induced dinner hunger but it’s always worth it. The arrival of Blue Ribbon in Encinitas was and still is a great thing for foodies in the area; give me the My Father’s Pizza any day of the week. And everything about the Flying Pig in Oceanside was and still is still on my favorites list.
Going out big is always fun and my meals at A.R. Valentine at the Lodge at Torrey Pines are still among the best I’ve had anywhere. Solace and the Moonlight Lounge in Encinitas scores for both killer aesthetic and another very solid menu from Matt Gordon. Just FYI, they have fried chicken on Sunday that is as good as it gets. And then of course we have Market in Del Mar, which was another very memorable meal.
I’ll close this out with a couple of the more memorable columns in general and that would have to start with my Weed Dating experience at Suzie’s Farm. Singles getting together on a farm was my kind of singles experience, even if I was just covering as a writer. Hey Farmer Leo, you ought to put one of those on up in North County!
My experience with Gordy Haskett and the San Dieguito Academy track team was a blast as well. The enthusiasm those kids showed for what they eat was a breath of fresh air … and the fact that I try to maintain this dual life as a plate licker/track guy made it one I could relate to.
I’ve since expanded Lick the Plate to a radio show on 102.1 KPRI in San Diego and 93.9 The River in Detroit and we have plans in the works for a TV pilot and I’m looking forward to another 300 columns in The Coast News!