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The Hangover Bowl is Hawaiian-style ramen goodness at Kai Ola. Photo by David Boylan
ColumnsLick the Plate

Lick the Plate: Good things from 2019

It was a fun year of Lick the Plate in The Coast News and celebrating 10 years writing this column was right up there at the top of good things that happened in 2019. There is so much going on in the North County culinary scene that it can be difficult sometimes to cover all the latest and greatest while showing some love to establishments that have stood the test of time and deserve another look, but I do my best.

With that, I’m going to start in Del Mar and work my way up the coast with good things that stuck out this year. Rediscovering Milton’s Deli in Del Mar and their amazing corned beef sandwich and sizable menu full of goodness was a reminder that we can get real, big city quality deli food close to home. There is a lot to love about Milton’s and this is just a gentle reminder to folks that deli food done right is something that should be included in your restaurant mix.

I’ll move up the coast now to Encinitas, which had an explosion of high-quality new restaurants but I’m going to start with another old school favorite I revisited in the Encinitas Café. It’s diner food done right and provides a very healthy balance to all the trendy joints that are now surrounding it on Coast Highway. The headline on this column was “Why the Encinitas Café matters more than ever.” Give it a read and you will get what I’m talking about.

Speaking of trendy places next door, Death by Tequila screams trendy and if it was not so freaking good it would be easy to mock … starting with the name. But alas, chef-owner Angelo Sosa has created a menu that is a reflection of his world-class resume and skill.  Go early or be ready for a loud, raucous scene but the food is so good who cares if you can’t hear your dining companions?

Not even a block away is the new Puffer Malarkey Collective venture called Herb & Sea headed up by executive chef/partner Sara Harris. Ironically, both Angelo Sosa and Brian Malarkey will be back on “Top Chef” this season. Bravo announced recently that the 17th season of the show will debut March 19 with “Top Chef: All Stars LA” with 15 finalists, front-runners and fan favorites competing again. But back to my good things list and Herb & Sea is one of them. It’s stylish and delicious with service to match.

Up Coast Highway just a bit are two very good things from the past year including Chiko and Buona Forchetta. Chiko is not packing them in like Buona Forchetta but they should be. Asian fusion sometimes draws shrugs from uniformed foodies who have not had it done right and I’m not sure why, it’s a great way to eat and Chiko does it right. Get to this place please, it’s a treat and has something for everyone. And as far as Buona Forchetta well OMG, is the place never not busy? I don’t even think about going there between 6 and 9 p.m. most nights but alas, I will agree with the masses, it’s a very good thing that happened in my 2019 — yes, I know it was open in 2018. 

Up the road just a bit Leucadia way is the super sexy Valentina. It’s like Moto Deli’s beautiful older sister took over the main house and bumped little brother up the road to the smaller guesthouse — Moto Deli’s new home just north of Leucadia Boulevard. It was a solid move by owner Mario Warman and now we have the best of both worlds. Both are very good things that have made me happy this year.

Jumping up to Carlsbad and in the not so new but new to me category was Taste of the Himalaya’s that exposed me to some fabulous new flavors. The new Carlsbad Ranch Market in Vista is a really cool combo market and restaurant that I wish I had daily access to for killer lunches. Wood Ranch BBQ in Bressi Ranch was another unexpected treat. It has really solid barbecue in an unexpected location.

The end of the road northbound had me enjoying several good things in Oceanside in 2019 including Blade 1936 which I absolutely adore. I also had the opportunity to participate in an Oceanside Wine Society event at Privateer which was as much fun as I’ve had at a wine dinner.

I’ll leave you with a very good thing that I’ve had over and over in 2019 and have officially added it to my area repeat soup list. It’s the Hangover Bowl at Kai Ola in Leucadia and it is healing. I’ve only been hung over for it on one of several occasions and yes, it does the trick for that for sure, but it’s also just like comfort food with a twist should you be fighting a cold or there is a chill in the air. It’s Hawaiian-style ramen served in a rich shrimp broth with shrimp tempura, poached egg, shrimp and veggie won tons, cha shu fish cake, bok choy and green onion and I’m pretty sure there was some pork belly in there.

So yes, it’s been another very good year of Licking the Plate in The Coast News. Here is to a fabulous 2020!


David Boylan January 5, 2020 at 9:43 am

M Krauss,
Thanks for your feedback and suggestions they are always welcome and well taken. Obviously the dining scene in North County does not compare to the major markets you mentioned. Memorable meals are all relative to the dining experiences of the individual. That said, the area has made great strides and I try to highlight those along with some of the old standby’s in a manner unique to Lick the Plate. And as far as the Hangover Bowl at Kai Ola, I would never compare it to anything in Japan, but as a local option I’m standing by my opinion that it does the trick when hot, flavorful bowl is in order and I need to diversify from the solid Mexican chicken soup we have in the area. Feel free to give me a call should you wish to discuss your other points. 858.395.6905
David Boylan

M Krauss December 28, 2019 at 9:50 am

While we appreciate the boosterism for North County food, I would appreciate more specifics about flavor, sourcing, approach, and technique, not just what the author particularly liked. The “story” behind restaurants and chefs is important.

You missed some restaurants that I think are more worthy of year end lauding. In Encinitas: Q’ero – authentic and delicious – should be on this list. Go for the Calamari a la Diablada. Himalayan Kitchen should be right behind it. I love their Navratan korma, a specialty. Cafe 2051 deserves a mention and attention, as the owners are from Emilia-Romagna and cook excellent breakfast and lunches from that region, all made fresh and by hand. It is true regional Italian cooking in an area where all the regions of Italy tend to get mashed together and with American Italian dishes (like spaghetti and meatballs and pasta alla vodka). Hyuga Sushi in San Marcos – the chef is a properly trained Japanese sushi chef. It is a hole in the wall, but his “American style” rolls are to die for, and his traditional sushi is properly prepared. With sushi, it is all about the rice and the balance of flavors. We drive 20 -25 minutes to eat there rather than go to more nearby “sushi” restaurants where the preparers don’t know what the techniques like katsuramuki is, let alone use it in sushi preparation. Kuro-san, the owner at Hyuga, uses it, and other traditional techniques every, single day while innovating for the American palate. The Albacore Special Roll, as prepared by Kuro-san is on my list of last meals. His mastery of the fundamentals of sushi make his innovations memorable.

From this picture, this “hangover” bowl would not be the cure I would recommend. Having spent years of my life in Japan, this is not appealing. Sorry.

While we are happy that you are enjoying these restaurants so much, I would appreciate more information toward chef history, training (other than competing on the Food Network!), preparation, approach, etc. I find corporate restaurants… well, corporate. Restaurants like Buona Forchetta are good, but not memorable. What self respecting Italian would allow their patrons to pick their pasta shape? It makes me hesitate to eat there again.

As a serious cook and traveler, I have to admit I find these columns a bit wanting. The food in North County has improved greatly in the 25 years I have lived here, but I cannot for the life of me, given the resources in this city, understand why the food nearly everywhere in San Diego, compared to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, and NYC, is not memorable. Don’t even get me started on the quality of restaurants in Tokyo and London, which are amazing. All of these places have memorable-go-back-to-them-again-and-again restaurants. San Diego is still on its way up. Granted, the comparison to American cities is more apt, but my point is that people don’t travel here for the food because there is nothing to really to write home about….yet. I am hopeful that someday this area will catch up.

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