North County continued to see an expanding restaurant scene, especially along the coast in Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside. As always, Lick the Plate tried to mix up our coverage, featuring a handful of those new hotspots along with those that have stood the test of time. We also mixed it up a bit by highlighting where some local businesses and bands eat around town.
With that, I will start in Oceanside and work my way down the coast. Irina’s in Oceanside was a new discovery and one that I have been back to several times since I featured her traditional German cooking. All the dishes are hand-made from scratch with fresh ingredients including all sauces and side dishes. Irina is the matriarch who heads up the kitchen and runs the restaurant with her daughter Lana and stepson Jonas. They hail from a small town in Westphalia, Germany. Irina’s dishes are known and appreciated in any part of Germany but it is her execution that makes them stand out.
Pino Bottalico developed a loyal following when his restaurant was in Encinitas so there was some buzz around his return to Oceanside. When he took over Veneto’s in Oceanside he brought back his recipes that helped him develop such a following. I joined his legion of fans with a fine dinner in his cozy and charming new location.
Moving inland a bit to Escondido, I discovered Debbie’s in an area where chain restaurants tend to dominate. Debbie’s Restaurant is an independent oasis with a warmth and charm that would fit in anywhere. I wish this place were down the street from me as I’d be there at least a couple of times per week. That said it’s worth the drive to San Marcos from wherever you are as it’s right off the 78 on Nordahl Road so it’s very easy to get to. Besides the charm, Debbie has been in the restaurant business going way back to her roots in New Jersey and her food reflects it.
Moving back to the coast but still in Oceanside, The Miller’s Table is an intimate space with soft lighting, candles and large communal table that provide a warm, intimate environment to enjoy a fine meal. Staci Miller is the chef/owner who also curates their ever-changing wine program. Most of its 24 seats are situated around a large communal table and they are surrounded by a smattering of tables that seat two to four. Both of my visits have had me at the communal table and resulted in conversations with strangers who I would not have met otherwise. Loved this place!
Rounding out my Oceanside picks is Privateer, whose approachable, yet sophisticated wine program curated by Susan Porter-Guarino is a big draw. In addition, they have a tasty coal-fired menu and public market that co-owner Charlie Anderson has had a big role in shaping.
Just a bit south down Coast Highway 101 in Carlsbad is the sexy, stylish and delicious Clara. The newish project is from Chef Alex Carballo, one of the more talented chefs I’ve had the pleasure of covering over the years. My enthusiasm for Clara was enhanced when I learned Seth Marquez is behind Clara’s innovative beverage program. Seth comes from Campfire and Sycamore Den, two of my favorite places for cocktails. On top of that they have a stellar sommelier in Derry Van Nortwick. Clara over-delivered on all fronts.
Continuing on in Carlsbad, it’s been almost five years now since Blue Ocean Robata & Sushi elevated the restaurant scene in Carlsbad with their innovative mix of Japanese Robata, sushi and a fabulous cocktail lounge. Since then they have opened a poke joint next door called Pokewan and their latest venture is nestled between the two, an intimate, 25-seat space in a renovated outdoor patio called Harumama.
If you are not familiar with the adorable steamed buns they are quite the rage and actually delicious. Guys, just put your manly egos aside when embarking on a trip to Harumama as these are very tasty and there are plenty of other options on the menu. The buns feature cartoon-y characters like pandas, pigs and Haru Kitty and are filled with pork, BBQ beef, chicken, purple potato and Nutella as a fun dessert option.
Down Encinitas way I celebrated five years with Solterra, made a long overdue visit to the Greek American Restaurant, discovered fabulous Filipino food at Carin de Ria in downtown Encinitas and rediscovered the newish and bustling Roxy.
Traveling south of the border I had one of the best meals of my life at Deckman’s in Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico.
My “where the locals eat” columns had a musical angle with local band Dorothy & Bill and the uber talented Dehger family of Encinitas.
Over the past month there has been a plethora of restaurant openings in North County that I will cover in the upcoming weeks. You can also hear Lick the Plate on the radio on San Diego’s Sports Leader The Mighty 1090 starting at 7 and 10 p.m. Jan 7.
Wishing you all a delicious 2019 full of culinary delights!