Encinitas Café — classic old school diner comfort food and more

The Encinitas Café is just one of those places I love to be. Whether it’s for breakfast, lunch or dinner, I like to bring a couple newspapers, take my time, and just soak in the friendly service and retro vibe. The thing about the café is that their retro vibe is real, not conceived in some corporate headquarters then spread out nationally with a “feeling good in the neighborhood” ad campaign slapped on it. As hard as they try, those TJ McFriday’s type chains will never be able to duplicate the feel of the Encinitas Café.
OK, I’ll get off my high horse now. The café has always been my first choice for a business breakfast or lunch and it was there that the concept for the original marching surfboard brigade was hatched. Its location in the heart of downtown Encinitas, indoor and sidewalk seating, and great people watching just adds to its list of endearing attributes. And I’ve not even mentioned the food yet.
Breakfast rocks at the café, especially on the weekends. It’s a full-service breakfast menu with 13 omelets options, egg and pancake combo specials, scrambles, eggs Benedict and cereals. They have added a few options lately with a machaca and eggs special; Irish special with steel cut oats, walnuts, raisins, brown sugar and milk; and an acai bowl special in case you have a noneater in tow. Sorry, no offense to the healthy minded, and I will have a bowl of that occasionally but really, that’s not what I’m eating at the Encinitas Café. I must point out that they are also offering mimosas at the café now. That could make for a fun Saturday or Sunday morning. I’ve never had a problem getting a burger for breakfast either, and we all know there are times when that can hit the spot. The only thing more than $10 on the breakfast menu is the steak and eggs at $11.99.
Lunch has always been my favorite at the café. Either with a friend, on a business lunch, or solo with a Wednesday NY Times food section. Favorites include the 12 varieties of burgers, hot open faced sandwiches, the classic BLT, egg or tuna salad, or my absolute favorite, the French dip. Make sure to order the roast beef sliced thin on the French dip and some horseradish to mix into your au jus. All the grilled sandwiches are solid as well with the Rueben being my go-to corned beef around here after the demise of Herschel’s. Some new additions include fish tacos with beans, which pleasantly surprised my dining companion at lunch today. I must also give props to the soups at the café. All lunches come with your choice of soup, salad, onion rings, potato salad or slaw. The minestrone I had with my French dip was a hearty bowl that was almost a meal unto itself. A full selection of salads and homemade chili are options as well. Nothing at lunch is more than $12 and most options are under $10.
Dinner at the café is like a trip back to the Midwest with fresh roasted turkey, chicken fried steak, liver and onions, meatloaf, sirloin steak and salmon among the choices. I’ve tried the turkey, chicken fried steak, and meatloaf and have never been disappointed. Daily specials go all over the map but most are along the lines of comfort food specials that we all need on a regular basis. And let me clarify, I’m not talking about some hipster gourmet treatment of comfort food classics. These are the real deal and do not stray too far from what you had growing up. All the dinners are under $14, I like that.
They keep dessert simple at the café with fresh baked pie, tapioca pudding, ice cream and a chocolate sundae. The malts, shakes, and floats are the real deal and oh so good. As an added bonus, they offer beer and wine.
I can’t say enough about the staff at the café. It’s a great mix of experience and fresh faces but all quick on their feet, smiling, and will give you their honest opinion on the food. The Encinitas Café is an Encinitas treasure. If you have not been, I would highly recommend it. Find them online at encinitascafe.com or on Coast Highway 101 between D and E.

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