After I celebrated my 300th Lick the Plate column in 2015, I lost track of the exact count but it’s up around 450 now. I will definitely have to throw some kind of party at 500 so I will keep you posted on that. This reflection did get me thinking about the questions that folks ask me on a regular basis and one of the most common is what are my favorite restaurants in North County.”
Given the quantity I’ve explored over the past nine years, and the constant search for new content for this column, listing favorites is tough. I put it into the context of places that created a lasting positive impression that I make it a point to revisit after the initial story.
My original list was more than 50 and that included some that I would like to go back to but have not had the chance so I narrowed it down to those that I have actually made a return trip to.
Irina’s in Oceanside for her amazing homemade German food is now a required monthly visit. Kai Ola in Leucadia for their super fresh sushi, inventive rolls and unique twist on a Hawaiian plate lunch has me coming back on a regular basis.
Trimble’s Pizza that is of the frozen variety and can be found in your favorite North County bars is as good or better than a lot of restaurant pizza in the area. I get mine at Bar Leucadian regularly.
Frazier Farms continues to be my go-to lunch spot in Oceanside for their killer sandwiches and salad bar, depending on how healthy I am feeling. The meat counter and European deli at Tip-Top in Carlsbad is still bringing me back often. It’s a great place to fill my pantry with cool euro-goodies that can’t be found in other markets. The original Lanai Island Grinds in Leucadia has been a regular occurrence as it’s just such a cool place and the food is always solid.
And while I’m still not clear on the four concepts within one location at Open House, any confusion is offset by the food that has me thinking about the menu often. I prefer sitting at the bar and starting things off with one of their fabulous cocktails then going to town on the amazing menu.
Rosanna’s Pasta in Encinitas is almost a weekly occurrence, just trust me on this one. If Haggo’s had more evening hours I would be back there more often. James does things right and well; you can’t fault the guy for wanting a life outside of his restaurant.
Revolution Roasters provides my coffee beans weekly. Some of the best coffee I’ve had is coming out of this Leucadia roaster. Solterra Winery & Kitchen is still one of the coolest places to hang out in coastal North County and I’m a big fan of their sparkling rose.
On the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, I’ve been back to Koko Beach in Carlsbad a couple of times for the late night kitchen and prime rib. Moto Deli and chef Andy Halvorson continue to impress and their real Buffalo style chicken wings are the best I’ve had.
The San Dieguito American Legion Post 416 has some great dinners coming out of their kitchen on a regular basis and besides that it’s just a non-pretentious place to hang, hear a good band with affordable drinks.
On the other end of the spectrum, A.R. Valentien at the Lodge at Torrey Pines is still a world-class dining experience. Garden State Bagels is as close as I can come to the real deal so I’m back there often. I also have a weekly chicken soup habit at La Especial Norte, enough said.
KC’s Tandoor in Encinitas has lured me back a few times for carryout with their curry and Indian burrito. Gordy’s Bakery is my first choice for morning pastries and coffee and one of these years he will deliver on a Michigan-style pasty for me and I will love him forever. Actually I will anyway as he is just such a cool guy.
If you ever complain about the sample options at some of the Taste of Leuadia stops, you must not have tried Captain Keno’s. Ribs, chicken and several sides are served in abundance and honestly I don’t think they are checking credentials. It’s just that kind of place and why I keep going back.
Birdseye Kitchen is a delight, Claire’s on Cedros always delivers, Solace & Moonlight Lounge is just such a sexy place with fabulous cocktails and bonus of fried chicken on Sunday and the French Corner has baguette sandwiches that remind me of France.
When it comes to my most frequently revisited it is pretty much evenly split between The Pannikin for their quiche, Juanita’s for fish tacos, any burrito and now soup, Blue Ribbon for My Father’s Pizza, Fish 101 for oysters and really anything on their menu, and the Leucadia Farmers Market which includes several stellar Sunday lunch options including the Gyro stand and Bottaro Wood Fired Pizza.
Of course I could ramble on here but given space constraints, I’d say that’s a solid list. Feel free to shoot me an email should you have any questions at
Lick the Plate has interviewed over 700 chefs, restaurateurs, growers, brewers and culinary personalities over the past 10 years as a column in The Coast News and in Edible San Diego. He can be heard on KSON, FM94/9 and Sunny98.1. More at www.lick-the-plate.com