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Fabulous Sesame dumplings at Mak Mak Organic. Photo by Kimberly Moto
Fabulous Sesame dumplings at Mak Mak Organic. Photo by Kimberly Motos
ColumnsFood & WineLick the Plate

Mak Mak Organic elevates Asian street food in Oceanside

Over the years as a food columnist, I’ve been lucky enough to cover several consecutive restaurants that blew me away with their concept, preparation, flavors, uniqueness and passion. Recently, Manna in Leucadia covered all those points (and then some), and Oceanside’s Mak Mak Organic, offering Asian street food dishes, follows suit this week with another stellar culinary experience.

I’m going to give some love to the chef, concept, menu and space, then save some room for the detailed preparation of one of their dishes that is worth sharing, as I feel it’s important to convey the passion and preparation involved.

Chef-owner James Limjoco has been on the culinary scene in San Diego since 2008 when he opened Sublime Pizza in 4S Ranch in 2008, followed by Sublime Tavern in 2013 and Sublime North Park in 2015.

His focus was on high-quality, well-executed comfort food — these scratch kitchens made their own bread, ground their own meats and used local farms for produce. Limjoco’s restaurants focused on craft beer and were well known for having one of the best tap lists in the county.

As you can tell, Limjoco was taking culinary steps not usually associated with a tavern focusing on pizza.

Mak Mak was born from a love for another form of comfort food, but that of iconic dishes from different parts of Asia. Limjoco’s extensive travels took him to Vietnam, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines to learn about these iconic dishes.

Limjoco was blown away by how eager people were to share their knowledge during his travels. He became aware of the precision and detail that goes into these dishes and immersed himself in the processes. And while I’ve never experienced the comfort food of Asia firsthand, I feel like I have sampled a very accurate representation of it at Mak Mak.

The amazing Khao Mun Ghai with Mak Mak sauce. Photo by Kimberly Moto
The amazing Khao Mun Ghai with Mak Mak sauce. Photo by Kimberly Motos

This truly is a “dream restaurant” for restaurateur Limjoco, one he describes as “a fast-casual hangout that pairs Southeast and East Asian cuisine with seltzer, wine and local beers on tap in an airy downtown Oceanside eatery.”

Limjoco’s take on recipes from around the region share space on the scratch menu with highlights including savory Khao Mun Ghai (described in detail below), plant-based Mapo Tofu, handmade dumplings, lumpia, crispy fried chicken in different preparations that celebrate the dish in each region along with a featured full Thai chicken wing.

Plant-based options are available for a delicious, health-focused comfort food experience using recipes perfected after his deep dive into each culture. Rounding out this flavor wonderland are freshly pickled herbs, splendid sauces, and protein options, including hormone-free chicken and tofu made in-house and served with chicken broth-infused garlic rice, coconut or white rice.

The unique flavors at Mak Mak are not limited to the edibles,  beverages are also done with a personal flair with Limjoco’s very own beverage brand Wyld Ventures, which presents both a hard and non-alcoholic line of fresh, effervescent drinks highlighting macerated seasonal fruits, with an emphasis on the tropical.

Wine and local beers on tap create a drink menu to complement the distinctly zesty spices of Asia found on the menu.

OK, as promised, here is a detailed description of the making of the Khao Mun Ghai dish. When I initially saw poached chicken, I was initially thinking it would be some bland preparation and was a bit skeptical. Oh boy, was I misguided! This preparation takes chicken to a whole new level. This is straight from the chef  (slightly edited):

“First, we exfoliate the skin with salt to clean the skin and give it a nice sheen,” Limjoco said. “Then it is time to massage the bird and stretch out its legs and wings. This is meant to loosen up the muscles and leads to a more tender bite. We set up an immersion circulator in our poaching liquid that is set for 185 degrees. The poaching liquid consists of bones of the birds from the previous days, garlic, ginger, onions, carrots, scallions, and pandan leaves.

The stylish interior surroundings at Mak Mak Organic in Oceanside. Photo by Kimberly Moto
The stylish interior surroundings at Mak Mak Organic in Oceanside. Photo by Kimberly Motos

“We dip the bird 5 times in the liquid in order to ensure that the center of the bird gets the same temperature as the outside of the bird. It then sets in the poaching liquid for a specific amount of time as the regulator broth temperature continues to circle in and around it. It is removed and plunged into an ice bath to stop the cooking process, hung on hooks, then covered in sesame oil and let it rest.

“There is a very specific way the bird is cut in order to preserve all the juices, including separating the bird at its joints rather than cutting through the meat. The bones are saved for the following day’s broth. We take a portion of the previous day’s broth to start the new broth, which creates an incredible depth of flavor.”

“The literal meaning of Khao Mun Ghai is ‘Oiled Rice Chicken,’ so naturally, the rice is an important part of the dish,” Limjoco continued. “We take the excess skin from the birds and render all the fat out, then with this fat, we fry garlic and ginger until fragrant and golden brown, then mix this into the Jasmine rice until all grains are covered in the oil.

“The broth that is used to poach the chicken is then added to the rice and steamed. The dish is served with poached chicken, garlic ginger rice, and a cup of broth and a sauce called Mak Mak sauce. This dish was the impetus for creating this restaurant concept. The texture and moistness of the chicken are what got me so infatuated with the dish, and I spent many months traveling around Thailand and Singapore trying this dish from many vendors. I came back three times, spending a month each time. After countless attempts and refining many techniques, I believe we have a product that even those in Thailand and Singapore would be proud of.”

Wow. That is some serious technique and passion for a process, and trust me on the result. I can’t heap enough praise on what Limjoco and his team are doing at Mak Mak Organic. Besides the above-mentioned delight, everything I tasted on the menu made me want more. Get to Oceanside for this one, please. You won’t regret it.

Mak Mak Organic is located at 121 North Cleveland Street in Oceanside, Monday through Sunday from 11:30 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.

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