The amazing Chicken Cobb salad at Urban Plates is a meal in its own right. Photo courtesy Urban Plates
The amazing Chicken Cobb salad at Urban Plates is a meal in its own right. Photo courtesy Urban Plates
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Lick the Plate: Affordable gourmet goodness at Urban Plates

Writing and talking about restaurants and the culinary talent behind them on a weekly basis is not always conducive to developing loyalty to them or return visits.

That said, on occasion, a new discovery or old standby nails it on so many levels I make it a point to get back and become a regular of sorts.

Fish 101, Blue Ribbon Pizza, La Especial Norte fall into that group and Urban Plates just worked itself into that rotation.

The variety of fresh, local offerings at Urban Plates would make it easy to eat there every day and be perfectly content. Urban Plates, whose motto is “Farm to plate and won’t break the bank,” offers a wealth of culinary choices in a vibrant atmosphere. It has elements similar to an open-air market, with most of the fresh, organic food bought from local farmers. And just about everything is made from scratch.

The line flows through different stations that are categorized into Greens, Plates, Sandwiches, Braises & Stews, Soups & Sides, and Pizzettes.  There is also a bakery section with a nice selection of desserts and beverage options that include local craft beer, cane sugar soda, wine and even Kombucha on tap. Expect to start seeing that at more and more mainstream places.

Upon entering Urban Plates, you stand in line and select a “station” from which to choose your meal — from soups and salads to entrees and braises — and watch it being prepared in front of you.  Dishes change seasonally, are priced at $10.50, which is a steal for the quality of the ingredients, although they can be upgraded with sides and a la carte items. That can up but if you keep it simple, it’s a heck of a bargain.

On my first visit I had the grilled steak with sides of quinoa and broccoli and was quite happy with the meal. Next visit I tried the chicken cobb with a lettuce blend, grilled free-range chicken with both white and dark meat which I really appreciated, organic tomatoes, turkey bacon, avocado, organic sprouts, organic egg, bleu cheese and buttermilk dill dressing.

This was a meal of a salad and I really enjoyed it with a cup of the ginger carrot soup.  Next time back I’m trying the nicoise and the meatloaf. This is just a hunch, but I don’t think there are too many misses on this menu. I’m looking forward to eating my way through every station.

There is a local connection at Urban Plates as they are headquartered in Cardiff and Executive Chef Zac Lennox grew up there.

Lennox started cooking professionally in 1995 when he moved to Crested Butte, Colorado and worked in a hotel kitchen.

Within six months he was managing the Banquets kitchen and decided to attend the Culinary Institute of America to backfill his culinary skills.

He graduated second in his class after completing his externship at the Ritz Carlton Laguna Niguel. Soon after, he started work at Ilo, a Manhattan restaurant that earned three stars in the New York Times.

During his three years in NYC, Lennox learned how to deal with a stressful and demanding kitchen. I can’t tell you how many chefs have told me that about their experiences in New York kitchens.

He met his wife while in New York and made the move back to North County where he quickly landed at the Four Seasons Aviara as a line cook.  He was eventually promoted to Sous Chef at most of the outlets on the property, including Vivace, the fine dining restaurant and The California Bistro.

Needless to say, Urban Plates has some serious talent in Lennox heading up their kitchens. Lennox is involved with training, menu, research and development, and organizing the new restaurant openings at the corporate level.

Urban Plates are on track to open eight to 10 new locations in 2015 so it looks like a busy year for Lennox.

If I can keep myself out of the J. Crew and Apple stores at the Forum Shops where my local Urban Plates is located, I could see this becoming a weekly habit.

Their two North County locations are at 1923 Calle Barcelona, Carlsbad and 12857 El Camino Real, Del Mar. Check them both out at

Lick the Plate can now be heard on KPRi, 102.1 FM Monday – Friday during at 4:10 and 7:10 p.m.  David Boylan is founder of Artichoke Creative and Artichoke Apparel, an Encinitas based marketing firm and clothing line. Reach him at or call (858) 395-6905.