I was driving north on Coast Highway 101 in through Encinitas recently, and when I hit Swami’s, the change that is taking place on the stretch of road to Encinitas Boulevard really sunk in. There were beautiful new buildings in various stages of construction that made it feel like our more upscale neighbors to the south. Banks, investment firms, boutiques and of course a plethora of new restaurants.
As a 20-year resident, I don’t really qualify as a “local-local” status of those that grew up here, but I feel like I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed the downtown area transforming into a much different place than it was when I arrived. I often wonder why it took it so long for big money and the businesses that cater to that crowd to discover this prime piece of the world. I feel lucky for the time I’ve had here enjoying the somewhat sleepy nature and old school vibe of the area while it lasted. It’s interesting because Royal Oak, the town in Michigan I grew up in is experiencing the exact same transformation.
This is not a column to protest change, or to wax poetic on “the good old days” as there are still pieces of the past around that drew me to Encinitas in the first place. One of those is the Encinitas Café, the oasis of old-school goodness smack dab in the middle of downtown and surrounded on all sides by the changes I speak of.
I’ve written about the Encinitas Café a few years back, but as I was eating there recently on a quiet Tuesday evening after a movie at La Paloma, I felt the need to remind folks that this place needs to be included on their regular stops for breakfast, lunch or dinner. And speaking of the La Paloma, the Encinitas Café is the perfect place to go after a movie to enjoy a spirited debate on it over a beer or glass of wine and some comfort food…in an environment where you can actually hear your dining companion.
Breakfast and lunch at the Encinitas Café often include a lot of folks who appear to be regulars and many of whom are the local-locals I spoke of earlier that have been in the area forever and who know the Café is the real deal. There is also a good chance you will find owner Debbie Zinniger chatting those folks up. Debbie was working as a waitress in the 1980’s when the restaurant abruptly closed. She realized the importance of the restaurant to the community way back then and took a leap of faith to buy it and has not looked back. Many of the servers at Encinitas Café have been there a while as well and if they have not, they still exude that friendly diner vibe that makes everyone feel like a local.
The Encinitas Café is also a place I have no problem going to solo. In fact, I somewhat enjoy bellying up to the counter on a diner stool and enjoying a good read over a patty melt, bowl of soup, a soda and a chocolate malt for dessert. Other favorites of mine include just about any burger, the soup and salad combo with tuna fish on white bread, the French dip, one of the many fine salads, or just about anything on their breakfast menu which is served all day. Being a big fan of quiche, I was pleasantly surprised to find their version really solid.
And of course they have some fun desserts including malts and shakes made with the retro immersion blenders, root beer floats, chocolate sundae, tapioca pudding, fresh baked pies, chocolate cake, and fresh baked pecan cookies.
The Encinitas Café is a place to go to forget about your diet du jour and indulge a bit. But if you happen to be in the company of someone who does not indulge, first sell them on the history of this place, then assure them they do have some healthy options on the menu.
This is by no means a knock against the trendy and in many cases delicious new eateries that are taking over Encinitas, it’s just an appeal to please support places like the Encinitas Café that are part of the original essence of the our area. They deserve your attention and not just on weekends.
Find them at 531 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas, or www.encinitascafe.com
Photo Caption: Encinitas Café owner Debbie Zinniger flanked by servers Jen Acosta and Erica Soto. Photo David Boylan