Ready to know more about San Diego?


FIRST LOOK: Mak Mak Organic

Chef James Limjoco’s fast-casual concept brings Asian street cuisine’s nuanced flavors to Oceanside
Photo Credit: Ryker Photography

“We’re not Pei Wei… but we’re not not [Pei Wei],” James Limjoco says of the fast food chain. He’s trying to contextualize Mak Mak Organic, his new fast-casual, Asian street food restaurant opening in Oceanside.

Breeze into Mak Mak Organic, with its floor-to-high-ceilinged roll-up window and ambitious, flavor-monsoon of a menu rooted in traditional dishes, and one gets the sense that the restaurant could be something else altogether.

For starters, there’s the ambience: The sunshine-filled eating place feels airy yet anchored by soothing, coastal-inspired hues. An ocean-teal, pattern-tiled bar and sunset orange stools face a lineup of housemade, fruit–infused seltzers and kombuchas on tap. Those same colors saturate a hand-painted scene of a woman looking toward a Pacific sunset. Limjoco commissioned the 9.5-foot-tall piece from a street artist he met in Krabi, a coastal town in southern Thailand.

In the kitchen, there’s a corner dedicated to hand-pinched, veggie- and meat-filled dumplings, from circular Korean mandu to Japanese gyoza with a crispy skirt. There will be an abundance of chilis, fish sauce, and fermented soybean paste. At least six rice cookers will supply the glutinous counterpart to khao man gai, a traditional Thai dish. It’s basically chicken and rice, served in a banana leaf.

“But it’s really hard to execute,” Limjoco says. It requires precision, from seasoning and poaching the bird just right without drying it out to preparing the accompanying sauce and palate-cleansing pickled daikon. Mak Mak Organic’s version comes with garlic-ginger, coconut, or plain Jasmine rice and includes sides of chicken bone broth and Mak Mak sauce—at once salty, sweet, sour, spicy, refreshing. “You’ll wanna be draped in it,” Limjoco says of the garlicky, gingery, vinegary, soy-and-chili-based condiment.

For Limjoco, Mak Mak Organic represents the Everest of creative expression he has craved since his divorce—and since the last of his Sublime restaurants shuttered. Founded in 2008 in 4S Ranch, Sublime was his first concept, “a home run swing I was going to take anyway,” Limjoco reflects. The last Sublime location, in San Marcos, closed in 2021 due to leasing challenges.

Mak Mak Organics

Mak Mak Organics

Photo Credit: Ryker Photography

Before that, Limjoco worked in finance—a choice he committed to after accepting that his dream to open a jazz club wasn’t the most practical path if he wanted to support a family. “Jazz was not the way,” he says. “The artists that people were paying money for were few and far between, and they were playing bigger halls.”

Amid the more recent endings, Limjoco sprinted—passport in hand—toward new adventures. He hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, skied the High Sierra, packed his kids up and took them rock climbing. He befriended locals in Thailand, including Gater, a sober bar owner with a tenderness that belied a looming figure. Gater would escort him by motorcycle throughout Chiang Mai for a crash course on all things khao man gai. Limjoco’s exploits shaped the soul of Mak Mak Organic: a restaurant that combines his passion for hospitality with his globetrotting lifestyle.

Limjoco is obsessed with Mak Mak Organic’s complex flavors, like the minty, umami-sweet-and-spicy profile of the restaurant’s Vietnamese-style fried chicken wing. But will Oceanside—a city of taco shops and beachside cafes—spring for them, too? Will guests celebrate or reject sometimes-polarizing ingredients like pungent fish sauce and unapologetically fiery Thai chilies? “I love it, but do other people love it?” Limjoco wonders aloud.

He hopes guests will embrace Mak Mak Organic as they’ve done predecessors like Dija Mara and Matsu, and that the global textures and flavors that inspired him during his travels will translate in Oceanside. He could have easily opened another comfort-food-and-craft-beer-heavy Sublime restaurant. Mac and cheese and alcohol are recession-proof, Limjoco says. It got him through the early aughts.

But this time, aside from toning down the heat (for now), “I’m going full-fledged with these funky, nuanced flavors,” Limjoco says. Mak Mak Organic’s soft opening is March 20, with a limited menu and hours to start.

By Ligaya Malones

Ligaya Malones grew up in Kaua’i, Hawai’i and is a San Diego-based writer covering the intersection of food, travel, and culture. Her work has appeared in publications including Food52, Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, and Salt & Wind Travel.

Share this post

Contact Us

1230 Columbia Street, Suite 800,

San Diego, CA