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The North County coastline is home to sleepy beach towns, artsy enclaves, quaint villages and a thriving scene along Coast Highway where you’ll find everything from fish tacos to fine dining.
Journey north of downtown San Diego and you’ll find a string of charming beach communities worth exploring. To get the best experience, skip the freeway and venture along the historic Highway 101, where time seems to slow down and you’re free to wander among the funky little shops, old-time theatres and Victorian architecture. Along every mile of the journey, you’ll find no shortage of fine food to tempt your tastebuds. From Del Mar to Oceanside, here are some of our coastal favorites.
Casual gourmet eateries line Camino Del Mar, perfect for a stroll and bite in this quaint coastal Village. Ceviche fans should head directly to Café Secret, a Peruvian al fresco eatery for fresh fish, braised pork sandwiches and handmade empanadas plump with beef or chicken. The patio at Prepkitchen calls for white bean arugula salad and sizzling shrimp, while upstairs the covered balcony of Beesalt Balcony is a lofty perch for ocean views and tasty Greek cuisine like lamb gyros, spinach and phyllo and Baklava ice cream cake.
Over at Flower Hill Mall, Cucina Enoteca is packed full with imbibers and diners enjoying wood-fired pizzas, pastas and affordable wine in the 7000-square foot space, decked out with graffiti art, antique globes and faux antler chandeliers. Upstairs, the stylish covered deck has birdcages, swinging chairs and lounge areas. Across the way, Flower Child offers up healthy eats like Madras curry bowls, whole grain wraps and kale salads in a colorful setting.
Market Restaurant + Bar has triumphed over the years as a local’s favorite for innovative California seasonal fare. Executive Chef Carl Schroder masterfully composes dishes with bold flavors for his daily-changing menu. Standouts included crispy calamari with chardonnay-braised artichokes and artisanal chorizo, or sesame prawn-crusted halibut with miso-roasted asparagus. Ask the sommelier to pair wines from their Cali-centric, highly curated list of unusual finds.
At the Euro palace-styled Fairmont Grand Del Mar property, the AAA Five Diamond, and Forbes Five-Star Addison reigns supreme for fine dining. Experience the sublime talent of William Bradley, a three-time James Beard Award-nominated chef who masterly presents contemporary French cuisine. Expert service, erudite sommeliers and a wine cellar with more than 36,000 bottles add to the culinary magic here.
Solana beach town’s favorite eatery is Claire’s on Cedros, a cozy Leed-certified cottage with a dog friendly patio. Locals gather for freshly baked goods and divine breakfasts such as salmon cake Benedicts, short rib hash or caprese frittatas. Lunch means garden salads and plump gourmet sandwiches, while dinner celebrates fresh fish and sustainable meats with fresh veggies from San Diego’s farms. In Cardiff, it’s all about casual. Local favorite Seaside Market serves their famous Burgundy Pepper Tri Tip Sandwich while VGs Donuts has a line out the door most mornings—not to be missed are their maple bars.
It’s definitely worth the drive along the twisting country lanes to this historic village with its Spanish Revival-style architecture and natural splendor. Thyme in the Ranch offers walk-up breakfast and lunch in a cozy cottage. Fresh pastries, quiche, farm fresh salads and decadent desserts fill the menu. At The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe, Morada’s umbrella-dotted patio overlooks the sprawling croquet lawns and old-growth gardens, ideal for pan-roasted diver scallops with sweet corn risotto and a crisp chardonnay.
Nearby, at hacienda-style Rancho Valencia Resort, the stylish Pony Room hosts a treasure trove of tequilas, upscale bar food, and comfy fire pit settings, while the more formal Veladora is an eye-catching jewel with its Damien Hirst butterfly artwork and high design, and home to brilliant California coastal cuisine and an impressive wine cellar.
Coast Highway pulses with fun eating establishments. Start at Blue Ribbon Artisan Pizzeria for perfect, thin-crust wood-fired pies, craft beer and North County’s best dessert—salted caramel butterscotch pudding. Communal tables, craft cocktails, an exciting raw bar and innovative menu define Solace and The Moonlight Lounge. Try their grass-fed beef tartare, fried green tomatoes, or barbecue pork belly with corn spoon bread. Further north, FISH 101 is a casual low-fi eatery for fresh catch tacos, fish-n-chips, poke, po’boys and root beer floats. For authentic fresh poke, try The Lanai, a permanent food truck and garden patio with picnic tables.
For creative sustainable sushi, Japanese cuisine and a French twist, be sure to dine at Land & Water Company, set in a historic Queen Anne-style house circa 1887 in Carlsbad Village. Chef Robert Ruiz’s passion appears on the plate as his menu celebrates hyper-locally sourced meats, sustainable fish, organic fruits and vegetables. Try his exquisite Water Roll, a medley of spicy tuna, avo, red stone crab and layers of salmon or red snapper sashimi or his divine jidori chicken with bacon herb jus. A 1920s speakeasy can be found downstairs for gourmet pub fare and craft beers, while the outdoor patio is a beer and cigar grotto.
Down the road, bustling Pizza Port packs the house with families and craft beer connoisseurs happy together under one roof.
The eclectic Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen pays homage to its namesake meat with creative pork-centric dishes like bacon mac-n-cheese, cheddar bacon grits, prosciutto flatbread, and craft ale and honey braised pork belly. Keeping with the decadent theme, banana bread doughnuts come with brown bourbon glaze for dessert.
At Privateer Coal Fire Pizza garden-fresh organic ingredients grace the thin-crusted pies, and family style salads are perfect for sharing, while Miller’s Table offers up excellent wine flights, cheese and charcuterie boards, and gourmet crostini sandwiches.
Wrench and Rodent Seabasstropub may win for the craziest name but the sushi is sensational. Try their ceviche flights and The Hedgehog roll, crab and shrimp tempura with avocado nuggets, topped with seared yellowtail, roasted garlic and truffle oil.
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