Nearly every visit to downtown Oceanside adjacent to the pier has revealed a new hotel or condo project and yet another fabulous dining option.
The hotel discovery this time around was Mission Pacific (More on that in a future column, but in the meantime, check out the rooftop bar). But my focus this week is on the Lab Collaborative, an American-style bistro with craft cocktails and an eclectic, seasonal menu with a test kitchen for area chefs and bartenders.
A fun coffee shop called Jet Fuel Roasters and Coffee is attached to the restaurant for an additional bonus. It’s a great-looking space with an outside patio area perfect for the “people watching” part of the Oceanside experience.
The menu is the work of executive chef Ramiro Guerra and is served in a 4,300-square-foot, full-service restaurant with an open kitchen showcasing his culinary team while also functioning as a kitchen for area chefs and bartenders to produce quarterly menus.
In addition to Guerra, the management team is comprised of Ivan Castillo, Eddie Navarro, Mikayla Torres, Jack Everett and Raschelle Everett, most of whom are Oceanside locals with a combined 120 years of experience working together in San Diego area restaurants.
Guerra’s style is the culmination of years of eclectic culinary experiences starting with fine-tuning his culinary skills at the Western Culinary Institute in Oregon. The road to Guerra’s current position includes a stint as corporate executive chef at Genentech, culinary teacher at Palomar College and executive kitchen manager at BJ’s Restaurants.
Most recently, Guerra was executive chef and brand builder at Belching Beaver, where he was responsible for everything on the menu, introducing diners to Picanha, a Brazilian steak experience typically found in traditional churrascarias.
Guerra’s diverse background combined with the freedom to source local food when possible is the foundation of his menu at Lab Collaborative where the path from farm to table is direct and uncomplicated — better food, chosen with care, fresh and local and supporting the passion and livelihoods of regional vendors.
For the radio portion of Lick the Plate (visit The Coast News “Podcast” tab on the home page), I had the opportunity to sit down with Guerra and managing owner Jack Everett and got to know much more about these two passionate culinary professionals and what makes them tick.
It’s so cool to see guys like this, and their entire management team that has been in the business so long working for others, come together in collaboration like this that reflects their combined influences and unique skill sets that they bring to the table.
The bar program at Lab Collaborative also features the same high level of execution. The artisan bartenders are as inventive as every other member of their team and their cocktail list and an inviting bar area might be a good place to work up an appetite with a drink. I also found the wine list to be quite nice and included Pinot Gris, a versatile dry white wine that has become one of my favorites.
The menu, which is broken up into sections that play into the “lab” concept includes an “Experimental” section offering appetizers, “Clinical Trials” for lighter fare, “Case Studies” with fabulous burgers and sandwiches and “TLC Approved” for main courses.
I’m a sucker for a soft pretzel, especially when paired with artisanal sausage, beer cheese and onions so that’s what we started with. It was a huge plate and provided for some splendid late-night munchies the following night.
We also tried the Bourbon Maple Brussels Sprouts with blue cheese and bacon and wow, so good. The offerings on the lighter side included a classic wedge salad, steak salad and a very nice-looking Curry Spice Chicken Salad, to name a few.
We also split a Birria Sandwich, a first for me, as I’ve only had it served in a burrito or taco. I will admit that serving this slow-cooked beefy goodness with grilled peppers, onions and Swiss cheese on a hoagie roll with a side of consommé for dipping was sandwich perfection. The burger, fried chicken sandwich and Philly cheesesteak all looked like future visit choices.
Main courses looked equally appealing, such as Red Wine Braised Beef Cheeks, Achiote Pork Shank, 18oz Ribeye, Fried Chicken and Citrus Cilantro Halibut.
We finished the meal with the best piece of carrot cake I’ve had in a long time. The Lab Collaborative menu is mid-range in price with most dishes in the $15 to $30 range.
And given the new, post-pandemic reality for restaurants, high cost of ingredients and a tight labor market, please take that into consideration when dining out these days.
It’s a tough, low-margin business and given all those factors and the quality of the ingredients here, those prices are not out of line.
The Lab Collaborative is now open daily from 11 a.m.-10 p.m. at 201 N. Cleveland St. in Pierside North, Oceanside. Find them at www.thelabcollaborative.com