There was a lot of buzz leading up to the opening of Chiko, located in the building formerly occupied by DB Hackers, Jamrock, and most recently Bull Taco. In my time in Encinitas, Jamrock made the longest run of it there but nothing really thrived in that space next door to Encinitas Surfboards on Coast Highway 101.
I’d have to say that based on the experience of the new management team, the chef-driven kitchen, and the complete transformation of the interior and exterior, that Chiko has a solid shot for success in the spot. They have made it work once already at their Washington, D.C., location where they were the winner of Eater DC’s 2017 Game Changer of the year award. Chiko was created by a trio of restaurant veterans called the Fried Rice Collective. The partners include co-chefs Danny Lee and Scott Drewno, who created the menu based on their mutual experience with Korean and Chinese cuisines. The third partner, Drew Kim, was co-founder of Matchbox Food Group along with several other restaurant and nightclub ventures. He relocated to Encinitas and is running the Encinitas location. He has immersed himself in the local community and his kids attend Paul Ecke Elementary in Leucadia. Drew will be my guest next week on Lick the Plate on The Mighty 1090 where we talk food, restaurants, music and him growing up a Steelers fan in West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
They tapped the talented Eric Brannon to execute and add his personal touches to the menu as the executive chef and general manager of the Encinitas location. I had the pleasure meeting Eric somewhat randomly sitting at the bar at O’Hurley’s in Leucadia prior to their opening where he filled me in on his impressive culinary resume. He was there with his wife who bartends the afternoon shift at my favorite Leucadia watering hole.
When I interviewed Drew he was hesitant to use the words fusion or hybrid to describe the menu at Chiko. And while those words have fallen out of favor in the culinary world, they do somewhat describe what’s going on at Chiko in the best possible way. The menu has roots in traditional flavors and ingredients, but they have definitely put their own creative spin on dishes like the popular and delicious Orange-Ish Chicken made with candied mandarin oranges and chicken thighs. The Soy-Glazed Chopped Brisket with a six-minute egg, furikake butter, and rice is another fun example. A tribute to the famous Cardiff Crack from Seaside Market is incorporated in the form beef skewers featuring the famous marinated tri-tip.
We ate our way through a good portion of the menu so let me back up and start from the beginning. Snacks can be ordered individually or as the “Full Monty” on a very cool multi-tiered metal display thing … for lack of a better description of it. We went with the Full Monty and while everything on it was really good, the Potato and Egg Salad, Chilled Marinated Littleneck Clams, Napa Cabbage Kimchi and Sichuan Spicy Cucumbers were amazing. I’m still thinking about that potato salad.
Our sampling from the starters section was equally impressive. The Half-A-Cado Salad with citrus soy, breakfast radish, almond slivers and avocado was a new sensation for me and a beautiful salad. The Garlic Shrimp Stir Fry with Cali Gold rice porridge was a unique spin on shrimp and grits, and the Pork and Kimchi Potstickers were as good as I’ve had anywhere.
I mentioned above two of the entrée’s we sampled but the Cumin Lamb Stir Fry with wheat flour noodles and caramelized shallots and the Rib Eye & Rice Cakes were equally impressive. I should add that the entrée’s are substantial portions.
Another new sensation was the Sesame Custard for desert. It had lemongrass infused basil seeds, candied almonds and blood orange sorbet and was a perfect way to end the meal.
Adult beverages include local crafty beer along with their “patio pounder” a Korean tall boy called Cass Korean Lager. That’s a perfect segue into a mention of the very nice patio that is an extension of the dining area and a perfect place to hang out. Hard Kombucha and Soju are available as well along with a couple very tasty Soju concoctions called the Chiko-Lada and Caloe-Fornia Love. Wine is available by the glass or bottle and on the non-alcoholic side Korean fruit juices and Bos Yuzu Iced Tea round out the beverage options.
Coming soon is a reservation only, four-seat chefs counter offering a $50 tasting menu that takes diners through a greatest hits selection from the menu. Chinese New Year celebration week is happening Feb. 4 to Feb. 10 featuring a Chiko Brunch on Feb. 9 and Feb. 10. Check out their website for all the details.
Whatever you want to call this cuisine, its really good food and there is definitely an energy around Chiko that previous concepts in the space were lacking. Give it a try for yourself.
Find them at 101 N. Coast Highway 101, Encinitas. Call (760) 230-1076 or visit www.chikoca.com.