North County is leaning hard into its potential as San Diego’s “second city.” From casual to fancy kitchens, its dining scene is pushing boundaries—all north of the 56.
Most notably, the region is officially the land of three Michelin stars (an elusive feat, and Addison did it). It’s also a nucleus of zero-waste, plant-forward dining thanks to The Plot in Oceanside, which is expanding to the city’s pier, Carlsbad, and Orange County.
Photo Credit: Eric Wolfinger
O’side’s casual eats scene is heating up, too, from Allmine’s San Marzano tomato–based pizzas, shared plates, and natural wine; to Mak Mak Organic’s Southeast Asian street food like Filipino lumpia and fresh fruit–puree seltzers in flavors such as lychee-guava; to Ryes and Grind’s babka French toast and pastrami-loaded latkes.
Photo Credit: Becka Vance Photography
Oceanside is also home to Michelin star–chasing contenders tweezing up some of the county’s ﬁnest dining. We highlighted them in last year’s North County issue, and chef William Eick’s Matsu and chef Roberto Alcocer’s Valle are still hot reservations.
One burrough south, in Carlsbad, Park Hyatt Aviara Resort’s $50 million renovation includes the debut of Ponto Lago, a white tablecloth experience featuring red oak–grilled dishes and specials like whole grilled lobsters. Before the pandemic, heavy metal–loving top chef Christopher Carriker won an episode of Chopped. Also in Carlsbad, Same Same oﬀers jungle vibes and smoked brisket banh mi on Prager Bros. baguettes, and Yelp crowned the ramen restaurant Gonzo! a top place to eat in the country.
Chefs and restaurateurs are also considering the value of relocating, opening, or expanding to the suburbs. In San Marcos, Buona Forchetta and Maya’s Cookies’ chewy vegan treats opened locations in the growing North City development. On San Marcos Boulevard, Inland Tavern’s new executive chef Corey Muirhead, who has cheﬀed in Dija Mara’s and Hoxton Manor’s kitchens, recently introduced new lunch and dinner menus. Temaki in Encinitas is a sleek hand roll sushi bar. It’s wedged itself between lively watering holes, coﬀee shops, taco joints, and a new wine shop (Little Victory) on South Coast Highway.
In Solana Beach, Vino Carta wine shop hosts two culinary couples doing sweet justice to local produce and ingredients. Early in the week, have a mostly plant-forward dinner by chef Juan González and partner Megan Strom of Mesa Agrícola. They initially oﬀered outdoor pop-up dinners around North County, including Encinitas’ Coastal Roots Farm. Try the cubed patatas bravas with roasted garlic aioli and salsa brava and the tuna tlayuda with yellowtail and crispy leeks.
Other days, Elliott and Kelly Townsend of Long Story Short cook up whatever earthy gems they find on weekly visits to Chino Farm in Rancho Santa Fe, which recently introduced Aisu Creamery, ice cream pints featuring the farm’s famous produce. Occasionally, Long Story Short does themed dinner menus, including an izakaya (Japanese pub) inspired night featuring items like a ﬂuﬀy pancake with shredded cabbage and octopus, a riﬀ on an Osaka specialty, okonomiyaki.
A handful of North County’s newest restaurants have also set up shop within the region’s newest or heavily renovated hotels. Packed into the ten-room Brick Hotel in downtown Oceanside, Q&A restaurant on the ground ﬂoor draws from chef Quintonn Austin’s New Orleans background, including a seafood crepe and gumbo. At its rooftop (one of only a few in the area, the other is atop Mission Paciﬁc Hotel), Cococabana serves Scotch bonnet pepper bloody marys during weekend brunch with ocean views.
In Rancho Bernardo, Burma Place makes a tasty lunch stop after hiking Iron Mountain or Potato Chip Rock. Order traditional Burmese dishes like lahpet thoke (tea leaf salad) made crunchy with a smattering of sunﬂower and sesame seeds, peanuts, fried beans, and garlic; and nan gyi thoke, a round rice noodle salad with tender chicken cooked in brothy curry. Avant, Rancho Bernardo Inn’s Baja-French restaurant, welcomes back Sergio Jimenez, this time as chef de cuisine.
Looping back toward the coast again, Del Mar Highlands Town Center and One Paseo’s dining options seem to have outpaced the number of retail shops, while Market Restaurant and Bar recently debuted a remodeled dining room, with stone and walnut tabletops and velvet chairs and drapery.