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The amazing Avocado and Quinoa Superfood Ensalada at Mendocino Farms. Courtesy photo/Mendocino Farms
The amazing Avocado and Quinoa Superfood Ensalada at Mendocino Farms. Courtesy photo/Mendocino Farms
ColumnsFood & WineLick the Plate

Lunchtime bliss at Mendocino Farms

Living in the land of culinary abundance as we do in North County, options for a healthy, delicious and satisfying yet not food coma-inducing lunch can still be a challenge. Yes, this is a high-class problem, and honestly, the further you go towards the coast, the easier this becomes.

I’ve been driving by Mendocino Farms on my occasional visits to the abundant chain stores along El Camino Real, and the name itself kept capturing my attention. It sounded like a blissful, idyllic place; in reality, the actual coastal town in Northern California appears to be just that.

When researching the history of the now extensive chain founded in 2003 by co-founders (and husband-and-wife team) Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen, there is no reference to having roots in or anything to do with Mendocino, California.

Mendocino Farms opened its first store in the Bunker Hill area of downtown Los Angeles and has expanded to 54 locations in several states, with Whole Foods being an early investor. The restaurant chain does claim partnerships with “some of the best farmers and food artisans in the region,” so it’s not a complete marketing concoction.

Honestly, given Mendo’s delicious and creative offerings, I’m not giving their lack of association with the actual place much concern.

The amazing Avocado and Quinoa Superfood Ensalada at Mendocino Farms. Photo by David Boylan
The amazing Avocado and Quinoa Superfood Ensalada at Mendocino Farms. Photo by David Boylan

I think so highly of this place that if I were forced to choose one restaurant that I had to eat lunch at, say, five days a week, I would select Mendocino Farms for the rest of my working life. I would not complain about anything on this menu and devour everything with pleasure and enthusiasm.

Being a huge fan of lunch salads that are satisfying, delicious and inventive at a reasonable price, I’d have to say that their Avocado & Quinoa Superfood Ensalada is among the best I’ve had anywhere. The combination of chopped romaine, curly kale, quinoa and millet superfood krunchies (amazing), succotash with roasted corn, black beans and jicama, red onions, cilantro, cotija cheese, grape tomatoes, chipotle vinaigrette and most beautifully sliced avocado ever on the top.

Customers can also add shaved roasted chicken breast. It’s a beauty of a salad and even better to devour. And at $12.35 an incredible value. Seriously, folks, this salad would fetch $20-plus in most restaurants.

There are five more salads that I would gladly add to my weekly mix in my fictitious, self-imposed, five-day-per-week Mendocino Farms lifetime lunch scenario. The Thai Mango, Pink Lady Beets & Goat Cheese, Modern Caesar, Mama Chen’s Chinese Chicken, and the Mediterranean Crunch Salad from the limited-time Chefs Creations portion of the menu.

So, I’ve established that the salads are world-class and affordable. Yet, the stellar sandwich selection has put Mendocino Farms right up there in the rarified air of local favorites like Moto Deli and Wise Ox, though in the more gentrified, suburban category.

I’ve had the Peruvian Steak with spicy aji Amarillo marinated steak with Oaxacan cheese, herb aioli, red onions, tomatoes and shredded romaine on a toasted potato roll, and I loved it. I will admit I was sucked in by the Italian Roast Beef when they mentioned it having Chicago-style giardiniera to go with the shaved roast beef, sliced mozzarella and sweet onion.

But alas, it was just a tease, albeit a very edible tease, in the form of a solid roast beef sandwich that delighted me but was not even close to a Chicago-style Italian Beef. I’ll stick to Besta Wan for that fix! Again, it is a high-class problem.

Fried Chicken sandwiches are everywhere, and the Not So Fried Chicken version is a decent entry. It’s a shaved, roasted breast topped with Mendo’s krispies, herb aioli, mustard pickle slaw and a side of either tangy mustard barbeque sauce or mustard pickle remoulade, and it’s a good thing.

I’ve sampled about half of the sandwich menu and would have to list my favorites as The Farm Club, Turkey Avo Salsa Verde, Chimichurri Steak & Bacon and the Chicken Parm Dip. Again, I would not complain about having to eat any sandwich on this menu, and I did not see one over $14, and they offer a gluten-free bread option that I will be trying.

A great way to experience their sandwich-induced bliss is to do the half-sandwich combo with one of their equally impressive sides. Deli sides include Dan Dan Noodle Salad, Pickles and Dill Potato Salad, Basil Pesto Shells, Spicy Curried Couscous and Kale and Apple Rainbow salad, plus Roasted Tomato-Basil Soup (always nice for dipping) and a Greek Lemon Chicken and Farro Soup.

All the salads and soups are somewhat seasonal, along with the Chef’s Creations, so keep that in mind. A full kids menu also looks to be a few notches above standard kids’ fare. I should also mention that while I’ve been focusing on lunch here, they are open until 9 p.m., seven days per week, so all this goodness can also be done for dinner.

Check them out at www.mendocinofarms.com, as they have a few locations around San Diego.

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