When I moved to the Encinitas area 20 years ago, Cardiff was where I landed and my “bubble” for my first year in the area — bubble translating into the neighborhood where I spent most of my weekends, as everything I needed was there.
Seaside Market, the “beautiful people market” as I called it, was my go-to for groceries, and there was Duke’s Cardiff Office and The Shanty for my evening social activities. Both being of the dive bar variety that I prefer and had grown up frequenting in the Detroit area, they were both unpretentious and a little rough around the edges.
I leaned towards The Shanty for reasons I can’t recall but I do have memories of fun nights there.
Fast forward 20 years and my current bubble is Leucadia with local dive bar O’Hurley’s located right down the street. This is the place with the classic neon sign that misspells “Cocktails” as “Cocktials.” Who missed that detail?
Anyway, my point is, my Cardiff trips have been few and far between since the bubble shift, until recently when several readers pointed out that The Shanty added a very nice outdoor deck and several rotating food vendors, including Échale Taqueria and SOCAL Southern BBQ from Christian Schilling.
I made my way down to The Shanty for a recent Friday Happy hour and the joint was jumping, inside and out. Échale was highly recommended so after a couple of hard kombuchas, I introduced myself to the guys running it, Sean Yontz and Jon Rhinerson.
Come to find out, both these guys have extensive food and beverage industry experience that is worth sharing before I get into the grub.
Yontz was born in East Los Angeles and raised in Denver and credits his parents and Hispanic heritage for his passion for traditional Mexican fare. He began his culinary career over 18 years ago at the Rattlesnake Club in Denver under culinary icon Jimmy Schmidt.
From there, Sean went on to become sous chef at Cliff Young’s, one of Denver’s premier restaurants at the time. His culinary road from there included Maya, Tamayo and the Helicon Restaurant Group. He followed that with his own ventures, including Vega, in Denver.
He moved back to Los Angeles four years ago and that’s where he connected with Rhinerson, and the concept for Échale was born.
Rhinerson was born in Boston to an artist mother and entrepreneur father. He received his BA at the University of Rhode Island and went into advertising in Santa Monica. Not big on corporate culture, he quit his job and started working at The Abbey heading up the bar program, developing what would become one of L.A.’s most prolific martini menus.
After some time managing the bar there, he started a clothing business that counted many notable celebrities as customers. More high-profile restaurant and bar gigs followed along with more celebrity interaction as a private chef in Beverly Hills.
My point is, there is some serious culinary and food and beverage experience happening in the parking lot at The Shanty. I had a feeling upon meeting these guys, just by their style, that there was a backstory worth digging into. And for the sake of word count limits, I just scratched the surface of what these two have accomplished in the culinary world.
Échale was originally intended to be a full-on restaurant but the pandemic threw a wrench into those plans and The Shanty provided the perfect location to make it happen without the overhead of a brick and mortar for the time being.
Échale is truly a chef-driven, ever-changing menu, not afraid, as Rhinerson put it, to go “highbrow to lowbrow” on the same night. That mantra is exemplified by offering line-caught bluefin for toro sashimi and braised lamb shoulder and pork butt on the same menu.
A recent menu offered four dishes that included Coctel de Mariscos Mixto (mixed seafood cocktail) of shrimp, octopus, clams, mahi-mahi, tomato, onion, serrano, cucumber, jicama, avocado and tostadas. Chicken Tinga Tacos, Lamb Barbacoa Tacos and Carnitas Tacos rounded out the menu.
The night I visited there was also a vendor offering samples of a hard Yerba Mate called “Yerbuzz” and they have other vendors rotating through. The outdoor location offers great people-watching in Cardiff and of course, you can pop into the dark and divey inside of The Shanty if the sun gets too hot.
And keep an eye on Échale as I would bet that a restaurant is in their future. The best way to follow them is on Instagram @echale.taqueria.