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Escondido dining: A deluxe burger at Burger Bench on Grand Avenue in Escondido. Photo via Facebook/Burger Bench
A deluxe burger at Burger Bench on Grand Avenue in Escondido. Photo via Facebook/Burger Bench
CitiesColumnsEscondidoFood & WineLick the Plate

Exploring the Escondido dining scene

Admittedly, I’ve been somewhat negligent in exploring the inland reaches of The Coast News distribution — namely Escondido and the surrounding areas. I wrote features on the late-great Wooden Spoon, the fabulous venture from chef-owner Jesse Paul and Vintana and the ultra-slick restaurant bar that sits on top of a Lexus dealership, but outside of those, I’ve not experienced much.

I thought it was time to consult with some foodie friends that call Escondido home and compile a list of both restaurants and wineries to experience myself and share with readers.

But first I wanted to learn a bit more about the history of Escondido and how it came to be. Turns out it was discovered by Juan Bautista de Anza, a Spanish explorer in 1776. The city then became part of the Rancho Rincon del Diablo (or Devil’s Corner) land grant bestowed to Juan Bautista Alvarado in 1843 by Mexican Governor Manuel Micheltoren.

In 1886, the Escondido Land and Town Company acquired the land, laid out the town site, and divided the valley into small farms suitable for grapes or citrus. The city was officially incorporated in 1888 making it one of the oldest cities in San Diego County so there is definitely some history going on. The city’s boundaries cover 37 square miles, so it is a bit spread out and geographically diverse with a population around 150,000.

My restaurant research turned up more than I expected and given the plethora of vineyards in the area, I had to limit the list. Let’s just say there is a lot more going on in Escondido than coastal folks might know.

The downtown area is super charming and home to some of the better dining in the area with the farm to table Bellamy’s being the one that was suggested the most. It’s fine dining in a non-stuffy environment and deserves to be at the top of the Escondido dining list.

Other downtown spots on Grand Avenue include Burger Bench with a nice variety of burgers, sandwiches and salads. H Brothers serving up what they describe as “North American comfort food.”

And what downtown area would be complete without a traditional Italian joint? Joe’s Italian Dinners fills that spot with an Italian owner and all your Italian favorites with very reasonable pricing, unlike some of our coast options. Plan 9 Alehouse and Filippi’s Pizza Grotto are also on the Grand Avenue strip.

Solid options abound outside of the downtown area including the popular Brigantine that brings its coastal vibe and menu to Escondido and the trendy non-traditional Craft and Taco Lounge. Ali Baba has also been getting rave reviews for their hearty, healthy plates of Mediterranean cuisine.

I was also surprised to find that the vegan lifestyle has spread inland in the form of Phatties Vegan Mexican that has developed a loyal following. Traditional Mexican taco shops and restaurant abound with Mi Guadalajara being the name that came up most amongst my trusted resources.

Wineries also abound in Escondido and The Coast News’ trusted wine columnist Frank Mangio (Taste of Wine) has covered many of them in detail. I counted 20-plus and many of them do offer food or have food trucks on-site to go with your tasting.

Escondido wineries that were mentioned the most included Orfila, Cordiano, Espinosa and Deer Park that also includes an auto museum. Being from Detroit, I had to investigate this a little closer as it’s a random combination.

As they describe it, the world-renowned Deer Park Auto Museum “tells the story of Americana, centered around a century of automobile production that changed our nation, starting with the carriages of the 1800s through the muscle cars of the 1970s. Featured in the over three buildings of the collection are Studebakers, Packard’s, Pierce Arrow, and countless others.

Laugh at the three-wheeled Messerschmitt auto, Mad Man Muntz mobile, ill-fated toilet seat Edsel and the unsafe at any speed Corvair. For real speed, see the Parnelli Jones Indy race car. And they don’t stop at cars. The museum also includes a Barbie Doll collection, vintage radios, TVs, appliances and entertainment displays.

So you can make a day of it in Escondido by doing some wine tasting, visiting an eclectic museum, and finish it off at one of many solid restaurants. It’s definitely an area worth exploring.