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A Poke Bowl at Fish 101 is quite possibly the perfect lunch. Courtesy photo/Fish 101
A Poke Bowl at Fish 101 is quite possibly the perfect lunch. Courtesy photo/Fish 101
Columns Food & Wine Lick the Plate

Lick the Plate favorites: Fish 101, Valentina, Moto Deli and more

It has come to my attention lately that I could eat out for every single meal just in the areas I cover for The Coast News and be more than happy with the variety.

There are weeks before travel where that actually happens, and it got me thinking about some of those favorite meals and drinks that I can’t get enough of lately.  There are some good ones on this list and some that show a sign of me becoming more accepting of culinary trends I once scoffed at.

I might as well start with the becoming-less-jaded  me, actually realizing the benefits of what I’m calling a “gluten aware” diet can produce. This is by no means me abandoning the breads, bagels and such that deliver such crusty and chewy goodness from said gluten — just the realization that avoiding it during breakfast and lunch a few days a week can actually help me maintain more energy and shed a few pounds.

My go-to spot for sandwiches that deliver solid lunchtime satisfaction is Nectarine Grove in Leucadia. Any of their sandwiches or burgers will do the job, but the Avocado + Turkey with Diestel turkey, greens, herb aioli, red onion, tomatoes on a paleo baguette with a side salad or fries is my go-to.

On that same stretch of Coast Highway in Leucadia are a solid half-dozen other joints that have offerings I can’t get enough of.  I’ll start at Queenstage on the south end where anything on their breakfast menu is stellar, but the Mr. Ham Toast with brioche, Black Forest ham, Gruyere, Dijon and a perfectly poached egg has become a weekly delight.

Also, note to self and readers, Moto Deli is now next door and has a new Cheesesteak and Hot Chicken Sandwich made with a chicken thigh. I’ll be back shortly to give those a try.

And speaking of breakfast, let’s not forget the quiche at both Pannikin and French Corner, much different styles but still my favorite quiche anywhere.

Moving on up the road to the newish location of the Hamburger Hut where their Fishburger has become a regular indulgence. Don’t let the name confuse you, this is not ground-up fish, it’s chunks of local Yellowtail on a hamburger bun with all the fixings you would find on a burger.

If you have an appetite, get a Fishburger and one of their solid single burgers and go to town in a surfy-turfy kind of way. Oh, and don’t forget their cocktails that are fun and a great way to begin your visit to the Hut.

Right up the street, Valentina has, hands down, the best treatment of octopus I’ve ever experienced with their Pulpo Carpaccio. I could go deep into the preparation of this magical dish but just trust me on this one. It is the most tender, melt-in-your mouth octopus you will ever put in your mouth.

I’ve also become a once-a-week Fish 101 Poke Bowl devotee as I would consider it the mix of ruby red poke, avocado, brown rice, seaweed salad and the chipotle crema to be the perfect lunch. And yes, it’s gluten free!

I’ve also expanded my chicken soup horizons, especially on Monday when La Especial Norte is closed and will head into Encinitas to Raul’s Shack. It’s a very similar style to Norte but has a smoky flavor to it that adds a whole other dimension.

I find myself at either one of these places weekly and I’ve found that if you have a gas stove, it adds another dimension to the flour tortillas to give them a little char on the burners.

My research lunches for the recently featured Naegi in Oceanside have put them on the list of regular stops. I can’t get their Karaage Chicken Sando out of my head.  Another Oceanside regular stop and long-timer on my frequent list is the deli counter sandwiches at Frazier Farms. Besides having some serious sandwich options, it’s just a great store to peruse their offerings and people watch.

I’m also a fan of the Hawaiian-inspired menu at Switchboard in Oceanside and have been popping in regularly for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  And speaking of dinner and heading inland a bit to Vista, the BBQ at When Pigs Fly has become my jam for North County BBQ. As you may have gathered from recent columns on BBQ, I’m a bit of a snob and purist and these guys are doing it right.

Given that I’m running out of space here, I’ll wrap this up with one new discovery from the always fabulous Trader Joe’s wine selection. I’m a big fan of dry riesling and their Emma Reichart at around $6 per bottle is a super versatile sipper that is quite pleasant.

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