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The Karaage Sando features butterflied chicken thigh, Togarashi mayo and cabbage on house-made milk bread at Naegi in South Oceanside. Photo by Leo Cabal
The Karaage Sando features butterflied chicken thigh, Togarashi mayo and cabbage on house-made milk bread at Naegi in South Oceanside. Photo by Leo Cabal
Columns Food & Wine Lick the Plate

Fast, casual Japanese delights at Naegi in Oceanside

I don’t keep track of chef appearances in Lick the Plate, but I’d venture to guess that William Eick is near the top of the list. And for good reason, he continues to evolve as a chef and now restaurateur, and everything he’s done has been more than worthy of putting out there via this platform.

First, a quick refresher as Eick is still a young guy with his culinary road beginning 13 years ago at Tomiko in Encinitas, whose Japanese/Sushi menu had an impact. What the heck is up with that long-shuttered restaurant anyway?

As William told me in our last feature, Tomiko is where he fell in love with the flavor profiles of Japanese food. Bistro West, Georges at the Cove, Real Bar and Bistro were next on his culinary path, followed by his first foray as a restaurateur in 608, then moving to Mission Ave Bar and Grill before opening his critically acclaimed Matsu, which is still the pinnacle of fine dining in Oceanside.

At Matsu, the concept of Naegi was born and began as a pop-up and popular food truck, evolving into the sit-down restaurant that opened on Sept. 7 in South Oceanside. Eick managed to make Naegi happen with help from investors and a crowdfund with restaurant team members and staff.

Naegi’s primary menu remains with its focus on karaage sandwiches, and all of the tasty recipes on the menu are original and created by Eick. The menu features three delicious signature sandos that are available year-round: Karaage Sando (karaage chicken, Togarashi mayo, cabbage), Tofu Karaage (mustard, BBQ sauce, cabbage) and the fabulous Ebi Filet-O (Thousand Island dressing, cabbage).

Ebi Filet-O, a panko-crusted shrimp patty sandwich served with Thousand Island dressing and cabbage on house-made milk bread. Photo by Leo Cabal
Ebi Filet-O sandwich features a panko-crusted shrimp patty, Thousand Island dressing and cabbage on house-made milk bread. Photo by Leo Cabal

In case you were wondering (as was I) what karaage is, the difference between fried chicken and karaage comes down to whether you season the flour or the meat. If the chicken meat is seasoned first, then coated with flour, it’s karaage, and if the chicken is coated with seasoned flour, it’s fried chicken. And, of course, the seasonings vary wildly as well.

I will add that Eick uses a butterflied chicken thigh as the foundation of his Karaage Sando with Togarashi Mayo and cabbage on his also made in-house Hokkaido Milk Bread, which is another Eick side business supplying a growing number of restaurants throughout San Diego.

I’ll save the details on that for another column, as I could see his bread business taking on a life of its own and securing some serious regional or possibly national distribution. I’ve mentioned before that thighs are my favorite part of the chicken, and I love that’s what he chose for this masterpiece of a sandwich…or “sando,” as the Japanese call it.

A close second is the Ebi Filet-O sando, featuring a panko-crusted shrimp patty with Thousand Island,  cabbage and, again, served on the fantastic milk bread.  This is truly a fish sandwich for the ages!

I also tried the Egg Salad sando, and well, maybe the bar had been elevated to high from the Karaage and Ebi Fillet, but it did not take me to the higher level I was expecting. Not that there was anything wrong with it as it was a satisfying lunch, it just didn’t blow me away.

I’ve not made my way through the entire sando offerings, but as mentioned, they offer a Tofu Karaage, Kanikama (imitation crab) and a rotating daily special.

Naegi also offers some solid sides to complement their outstanding roster of sandwiches. The Japanese-style potato salad is substantial and a hearty helping. I loved the vinegar Cucumber Salad, and the Green Bean Shirae with sesame tofu dressing was healthy and flavorful.

The Japanese fried chicken and sandos are crafted from ingredients purchased locally or imported directly from Japan. Imported ingredients include Shio Koji, Okinawan brown sugar, Shichimi Togarashi, and more. And, of course, all the sandos are made with milk bread spun in-house daily by Eick’s local milk bread company, Hokkaido. Fresh and delicious milk bread is available in loaves or buns at the restaurant.

Naegi features indoor seating with a clean, modern feel and an outdoor patio for guests to choose from to enhance their dining experience. It’s a one-of-a-kind dining experience in the area and worth the trip to South Oceanside.

Keep an eye on the menu, as I’m sure the creative and innovative chef Eick will be fine-tuning it and offering up some seasonal surprises as the restaurant evolves.

Hours are  11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily and are located at 1902 S Coast Hwy, Oceanside. www.eatatnaegi.com

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