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The amazing Sopa Pescado Del Norte at Q’ero. Photo by David Boylan
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Lick the Plate: Celebrating 20 years of Q’ero in Encinitas

Q’ero resides along that stretch of Coast Highway 101 in downtown Encinitas that I hope stays as much as it is as possible. To know that establishments like Q’ero, The Daily Double or Saloon as we all call it, Kim’s Alterations, 101 Diner and the watch repair shop are still thriving there makes me feel somewhat connected to the Encinitas I knew when I arrived just over 20 years ago. That coincidentally is when Amici, as Q’ero was originally called came on the scene, April 20, 2000. That longevity in itself is worthy of celebration and the fact that they are even more relevant than ever to our dining scene makes me smile.

I said it best in 2009 when I first wrote about Q’ero in this very column, and those words still ring true so here is a brief sampling. I’m not one to run around proclaiming things or establishments as the best of anything, but in the case of Q’ero, I have no hesitation whatsoever. I don’t have any fancy market research behind this decision, it was made quite simply after one of the most complete dining experiences I’ve had in a long time. My criteria was simple. Q’ero has a combination of a great location, elegance, sex appeal, warm design, a unique menu inspired by the cuisine of Peru and South America, fresh ingredients, an attentive and educated staff, vibrant and appreciative clientele, and most of all, a passion for what they do that is evident in every aspect of this restaurant. I’ll repeat that part about passion for what they do, as that is what elevates Q’ero to another level.”

Even with all the competition surrounding it these days, Q’ero has the longevity arrow in its quiver that the others lack and it’s sexier than ever. I should also mention that as of this writing, owner Monica Szepesy is enjoying a much-deserved trip to visit family in Peru. It was that trip, and the fact that I got wind that her 18-year-old son Nico was running the restaurant that I thought it would make for a great Lick the Plate on 101.5 KGB radio interview and a The Coast News revisit column to go with it. I had Monica on Lick the Plate back when we were on KPRI and we had a hoot over my kitchen table talking food, restaurants, music and Peruvian cuisine of which I was very unfamiliar with at the time.

Speaking of the food and the Q’ero experience, it has always gone very well with a movie at the La Paloma Theatre, either before or after dinner. Both places have a lot of history and it is a short stroll up Coast Highway 101.

It’s almost impossible to start off at Q’ero without their famous Empanadas. With six varieties to choose from including several vegetarian options, there is one for everyone. My favorite is the Saltena de Carne with it’s ground beef, potatoes, onions and spices. It’s like a mini, more exotic version of the pasty I grew up with in Michigan.

Ceviche is the next logical choice and you really can’t go wrong with any of the four choices. We split the Camaron that has poached shrimp, cucumbers, jicama, cherry tomatoes, red onion, Aji, and cilantro. It’s such a light and refreshing dish and a perfect segue to the main courses. My dining companion Brooks Venters went with the spectacular Sopa Pescado Del Norte or Fisherman’s Stew as the waiter described it. It was a special so I can’t promise that it will be on the menu every time but oh boy was it good. It was more of a very hearty and flavorful soup than a stew and came with a big mound of sticky white rice perfect for immersing in the very pleasurable broth. I negotiated my way into several tastes and honestly it was the best seafood dish I’ve had in a while.

Not to downplay my Lomo Saltado, which was the “turf” portion of our surf and turf entrée selections. Its flank steak morsels are sautéed in an Aji Colorado sauce with fries, rice or quinoa. I went with the rice and had I not been so distracted with the Sopa Pescado I would have been quite content with it. Our server paired a very nice dry white wine that I requested and that worked throughout the courses. I should point out that there are several signature dishes that show up on certain days like the Tallarines Y Pastas on Tuesday, the Seco de Cordero (lamb shank) on Wednesdays and Fridays and Pernil de Chancho (pork shank) on Thursday and Saturday.

But please, and I’m quite serious about this, leave room for the Tres Leches because they make the best version of it I’ve ever had at Q’ero. I guess you could share it but it’s light enough that I prefer the whole piece to myself.

That’s my update on Q’ero. It’s better than ever and I should mention that you can order online for carry out which may be the only option by the time you are reading this. Do me a favor though and make this one of the places you support with carry out throughout these crazy times.

Find them at 564 S Coast Highway 101, Encinitas or