I’m sure I’ve mentioned this somewhere in a past column whenever a chopped salad would pop up (way too infrequently) on a local menu, how big a fan I am of them. There is something completely different about the chopped salad experience versus a traditional leafy green experience.
And I don’t want to downplay the traditional, Caesar, or even wedge salads as they have their time and place, but the chopped salad, prepared by someone more skilled than me, makes for a perfect lunchtime and, in some cases, dinner experience.
All that said, I was driving down El Camino Real in Encinitas recently when I noticed a sign I did not recognize in the strip mall that houses the Verizon store. It was for “Chop Stop” and while my first thoughts went to some type of meat experience, I quickly realized this was the franchise I’ve been dreaming of, a chopped salad focused, get it made fresh while you wait, healthy yet satisfying, and by no means pretentious restaurant.
I managed to catch the owner, Richard Rees, at the Chop Stop on my first visit and he gave me the backstory on how he “had to have this franchise.”
His parents had started a 7-Eleven store in Carlsbad in 1974. It was a family affair and in 2001, he purchased the store from his parents. Always the entrepreneur, he came across the Chop Stop and made the drive to Rancho Cucamonga where the first franchise started and was sold on the concept.
He eventually connected with CEO Mark Kulkis and loved everything about him and his staff. In January 2019, they signed their franchise agreement. The process to open a location took a year and a half but they are in the perfect location for it and have all their kids and their friends working there. I could sense his enthusiasm for the concept and based on the steady stream of customers on my several visits, it appears to have fulfilled a need in the area.
So, on to the goods, the chopped salads or “chops” as they call them, along with the Chouerrito offerings. I had to go with the Chop Stop Classic to start, which combines garbanzo beans, salami, tomato, cucumber, sunflower seeds, roasted chicken with balsamic vinaigrette chopped with the house mix of iceberg lettuce and spinach. It was the perfect chopped salad and a sizable portion at that! You can also request a light-dressing toss or have it put in a container to add at your leisure.
I had my eye on the Kale Chop during my first visit and knew that would be my follow-up choice … an even healthier version of the Chop Stop Classic. That mix of goodness includes hard-boiled egg, carrots, tomato, dried cranberries, feta cheese and roasted chicken with Italian dressing. This one might have to be my go-to moving forward as my hunger felt satisfied along with my sense of feeling pretty good about what I just ate.
Other chops include an Asian Chop, Caesar Chop, Greek Chop, Tuna Salad Chop, Santa Fe Chop, BBQ Chop, Viva Mexico Chop, Cobb Chop, Roasted Garlic Chop, and a Chef’s Chop. So basically, they have just about every salad out there represented in chopped form.
And just in case one of those does not suit your fancy, you can create your own chop by picking a green or a grain that would include romaine, spinach, iceberg, kale and quinoa. Then pick any six out of like 40+ toppings … I lost count, but there is something for everyone, trust me. Then a similarly extensive dressing menu to top it off. I have a feeling I would have to do some research and planning if this was the route I was going to take.
And then there are the Chopurritos, which are warm, and start with a base of cilantro lime rice and seasoned black or white beans then a similar mix of combinations. You can also enjoy it wrapped in a whole-wheat tortilla. I did try one and while it was quite nice, chopped salads will be my call moving forward. Warm pretzel sticks and soup are also available.
So now we have one more dining option on El Camino Real, but one that is definitely unique, healthy, quick, satisfying and delicious. It will be added to my regular mix for sure. Oh, and they are open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., which means you can satisfy that chopped salad craving later than at most restaurants in Encinitas.
Find them at 285 N. El Camino Real, Suite B-2, Encinitas. 760-456-5211 or www.chopstop.com