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ColumnsFood & WineLick the Plate

Lick the Plate: Modern Baja cuisine at Death by Tequila

Above: The stellar The Hawaiian Ahi Crudo in coconut kaffir lime broth. Photo by Cole Ferguson

There has been a lot of buzz around Death by Tequila since they opened in downtown Encinitas. If you’ve not read about them, maybe you heard the sounds of a packed house walking by on just about any night of the week.

Yes, it tends to be a bit loud, but that’s just part of the experience and with the quality of food coming out of the kitchen just enjoy the food, nod, and smile at your dining companion. Actually I went on a Tuesday evening and the volume was manageable and the pace a bit more relaxed.

The stellar Baja-inspired menu was created by Executive Chef Angelo Sosa, whose culinary resume is quite impressive. I also had a chance to record an interview with him for Lick the Plate on 100.7 San Diego and found him to be approachable, funny and full of surprises.

That interview can be found on or search Lick the Plate San Diego on SoundCloud.

Angelo’s story is worth telling, as it’s a good one.  He was born in Durham, Connecticut, to a Dominican father and an Italian mother who believed meals were serious affairs leading him to pursue a career in the culinary industry. He told me about growing up in the kitchen helping his dad and feeling the inspiration early to make it a career.

After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America with high honors his career led him to some of the most respected restaurants in the country including the Stonehenge Restaurant & Inn and Acqua under the renowned Christian Bertrand.

Bertrand introduced Sosa to his future mentor, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, where he spent four years with Jean-George Restaurants and was promoted to executive sous chef. In 2005, Sosa became the executive chef at Yumcha in the West Village, where his interpretation of modern Chinese cuisine put gained him more accolades.

High-profile consulting gigs followed including Stephen Starr’s Buddakan and Morimoto in New York then working with another mentor, Alain Ducasse, spending 18 months at Ducasse restaurants in Paris and Monaco.

Executive Chef Angelo Sosa and Chef de Cuisine Scott Gestring of Death by Tequila in Encinitas. Photo by David Boylan

In 2010 his celebrity chef status was launched on as a Season 7 “Chef-testant” on Bravo’s hit reality show, “Top Chef.” Finishing as runner-up, he was immediately asked to compete again on “Top Chef All-Stars.” Since then, Sosa has appeared frequently on television in such shows as “Knife Fight,” finishing as season runner-up, “Beat Bobby Flay,” “Iron Chef America,” “Chopped,” as a judge, and NBC’s “Today” show.

In 2012, Sosa opened Añejo in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen. The success of Añejo, including a “Michelin Recommended” accolade, led to Sosa opening a second downtown location, Añejo Tribeca; and Abajo.

Encinitas drew Angelo west where he connected with husband and wife restaurateurs Chad and Jessica Mestler and Death By Tequila was launched. After spending some time with Angelo during our interview and learning of his interest in meditation, I could see why Encinitas appealed to him.

Given that culinary history and with his very solid Chef de Cuisine Scott Gestring I had high expectations going in to my first meal at Death by Tequila and was not disappointed. We started with the Tres Amigos Guac flight with traditional guac, poblano pepita and pineapple chipotle versions. They were all guacamole elevated to a higher level and the pineapple version was an unexpected delight.

Ceviche and Crudu came next and the Shrimp & White Fish with Meyer lemon, tomato, Serrano, cucumber and pineapple was delicious but packed an unexpected heat that distracted a bit from the other flavors. The Hawaiian Ahi Crudo is the dish that has been getting a lot of love from area writers and for good reason.

The beautiful ahi sits in a pool of coconut kaffir lime broth with jicama, chile oil, cilantro and dill and it all works together beautifully. It’s one of the best things I’ve eaten in a long time.

My entrée was another fabulous dish — the Bomba Chicken. The chicken was perfectly cooked, very moist and sat on a bed of sugar snap pea and celery salad with a blood orange vinaigrette and fresh chile.

The Tequila Flan is another dish that has been getting widespread acclaim and that did not disappoint either. Manchego cheese is grated over it at the table and oh boy is it good.

Of course with a name like Death by Tequila they are going to have a quality selection of cocktails that include it. Like their menu, their crafty cocktails are inspired by Baja, local ingredients and the seasons and are designed to add a new element to every dish.

This place is worth experiencing for sure, brunch was added recently and includes a DJ and even more Baja inspired goodness. Get their whole story, location and more at