I will admit up front that I was very bummed a couple years back when Haggo’s moved out of their quaint, funky space straight out of a Wes Anderson movie where The Lanai now resides. It captured the essence of Leucadia at the time and combined with the stellar food they put out became a go-to spot for me. But hey, the times they are a changing and quaint and funky does not cut it for a restaurateur trying to keep up with increasing demand in cramped quarters with limited refrigeration. Chef and owner James Haggard had limited growth potential in that spot so when the space Dos Palmas occupied became available, he jumped on it.
That’s where my initial concern began, as the new building could not have been more different than his original location. Its modern lines did not necessarily exude the warmth and charm that was so much a part of the original Haggo’s experience. That said, it definitely provided a challenge for Haggard to transform the space and make it his own. Based on a couple of recent visits, I’d say he accomplished that nicely. The lighting, seating, art and fixtures all combine to make the space work.
The odes to Wes Anderson and Jacques Cousteau still exist, yet in a manner that is contemporary yet still maintains its distinct personality. They have carved out a cool little bar area and another room feels more like a warmly lit library. The soundtrack is as eclectic as one would expect from Haggo’s and is one of the better restaurant mixes around. Outdoor seating is largely unchanged and provides a great view of the parade going north and south on Coast Highway and the occasional passing train. I visited recently to check out their new Friday evening dinner service and really enjoyed sitting outside.
For those of you unfamiliar with Haggo’s, I should point out that this is no ordinary taco shop. Tacos are on the menu, but this is a chef-driven endeavor and there is much more going on here. First off, 98 percent of what they serve is organic with much of it sourced locally, which plays a big factor in the quality of ingredients. This was Haggo’s mantra long before the farm to table and organic movement became a trend, it’s just the way he operates.
I’ve said this many times before but it’s worth repeating. Chefs, especially those with a European or rural background, have been sourcing locally when possible since long before it became a culinary marketing buzzword and with little fanfare. Prior to opening Haggo’s, chef/owner Haggard was a 15-year food and beverage veteran with the majority of that time spent at Rancho Valencia. He has resided in Encinitas for the past 20 years and definitely has a pulse on the local vibe, and this new location is definitely a reflection on the changing face of Leucadia.
As far as the food goes, the quality is on par with if not better than what Haggard has been putting out all along. Quality ingredients in the hands of a talented chef go a long way. I started a meal out recently with a ginger carrot soup that was a perfect way to begin the meal. There were several dinner options on the board along with the full menu. An example of the quality differentiator at Haggo’s would be the Nautilus Plate. It’s a sautéed seasoned local catch of the day on a bed of organic red inca quinoa and seasonal veggies with organic mango salsa cruda and cumin-lime crema with a side of organic rice and beans. There is some thought and passion put into that dish folks, and it’s a prime example of how they do things at Haggo’s.
Tacos are represented, of course, with fish, beef and veggie options either as a combo plate or a la carte. The plates come with two tacos and organic corn tortillas beans and rice. One of my favorite burritos is the Ron Burgundy. It’s made up of citrus soy marinated grass-fed beef, sautéed corn, poblano, onion, heirloom red cabbage slaw and fresh herbs. It’s served with a cumin-lime crema and rice and beans. I really love this burrito. The $7-$12 price points are well worth it considering the quality of ingredients. There are kid options as well and a list of sides for you to mix and match. Beer is a new addition along with Kombucha and all the beverages are organic as well. Overall, I’m a big fan of the new space and the food is better than ever. I’m stoked that they have been able to grow while maintaining their unique appeal.
Haggo’s is located at 1302 N. Coast Highway 101, in Encinitas. Call (760) 753-6000 or visit www.haggosorganictaco.com.