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SETS husband and wife owners Kevin and Lan Egan. Courtesy photo
Columns Food & Wine Lick the Plate

Sets Kitchen and Bar dazzles in San Elijo Hills

To be honest I never really knew much about San Elijo Hills other than driving through it a few times on my way to San Marcos. A little research got me educated on this master-planned community with stellar views that was designed to offer small-town charm along with all of the conveniences and amenities that come with living near a city.

Residents also enjoy access to extensive hiking trails, shopping, dining options, as well as schools consistently rated highly. Basically, they have everything covered one would find in any small town except it all feels brand new and it is very clean. I should also note the westward views are amazing and they are within a short drive to all the surf breaks found in coastal North County.

The dining options were what I was interested in and those are plentiful as well, with over a dozen options including Sets Kitchen & Bar, which was my destination. Given the name, I immediately associated it with surfing given the “sets” we desire as surfers. It could also apply to the killer sunsets that are very visible from most of San Elijo Hills.

Alas, it actually stands for “San Elijo Town Square” but given the surfing-themed décor of the restaurant, I think they are going with that version for now.

Burger and tots at Sets Kitchen and Bar in San Elijo. Photo via Facebook/Sets
Burger and tots at Sets Kitchen and Bar in San Elijo. Photo via Facebook/Sets

Sets offers a nicely designed space with an open, airy feel with a spacious outdoor patio and it’s tastefully decorated. It feels like the place that locals would gravitate to, where adults can feel at home with or without kids in tow.

Owner Kevin Egan is a Carlsbad native who started as a dishwasher at 15 and has owned a similar concept for the past 15 years in Vail, Colorado. He put it best when he said, “I wanted to create a place where families are comfortable going multiple times a week. I have a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters, so I created an environment that we as a family would go to and enjoy regularly. Sets is a family focused, locals driven, sports influenced concept.”

OK, back to the menu. Egan described it as “Americana Eclectic,” which is a new one for me but I like it as it really opens up what a creative kitchen can create … a little bit of everything. I’m totally fine with that as long as the quality is there, and it is for sure at SETS with Executive Chef Chris McLane at the helm.

Before I got into the food I noticed the very creative cocktail menu. Sets is the only full-service restaurant and bar in San Elijo, so they have made it diverse and well rounded. These specialty cocktails give you plenty of options. The R & R with vodka and lavender syrup is their most popular drink but the Smokey Marg with mezcal, Aperol Spritz and one I will be back for, the Ranch Water with Corralejo Reposado Tequila, fresh lime juice, Topo Chico and lime wedge, all sound super refreshing.

The wine list was equally impressive, and I went with an A to Z dry riesling from Oregon that is a great example of them stepping out of the chardonnay and sauvignon blanc box. Not that there is anything wrong with those wines, but if you have an eclectic menu, your wine list should have a bit of that going as well, and it does.

I asked Kevin what dishes he would recommend, and he gave me a long list, so I opted for the Mussels Madness that have an amazing broth and plenty of bread to soak it up with. I also almost never order chicken at restaurants, but he suggested their Golden Piccata, a Sets twist on the traditional dish with airline chicken, angel hair pasta, caper butter sauce, artichoke, broccoli, cherry tomato and garlic toast and it was fabulous.

On the savory side of the menu, Kevin also mentioned their homemade pretzels, Bison Burger, and Braised Short Rib as favorites. As I mentioned, it’s an eclectic menu, which translates into something for everyone. There is a kids menu and a full list of salads, burgers and sandwiches. Brunch on weekends is now happening.

I was told to leave room for dessert, specifically their B and T’s Sweet Treats, named after Kevin’s daughters. These are like churros with cinnamon sugar, crème anglaise vanilla ice cream and strawberries — and they are amazing.

And while Sets Kitchen & Bar caters to San Elijo Hill residents, it should definitely be on the list of folks who live in surrounding communities. Check it out for sunsets, cocktails and fabulous food. And keep an eye on their website and social media for seasonal menu and hours of operation changes.

Find them at www.setskitchenandbar.com or 1612 San Elijo Road, San Marcos. 442.515.3327

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