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Restaurants in North County San Diego

I have been spending a week in Carlsbad for the last 10 years. I am looking for new, great restaurants to add to the below repertoire...which are getting old.

Cafe Japengo
Mille Fleurs
Pacifica Del Mar


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  1. "La Bonne Bouffe" in Encinitas in very nice; rustic country setting, but located in a strip mall. The cassoulet is great.

    I have to take exception to "Tapenade" in La Jolla being listed as a great restaurant. Based upon the wonderful tapenade that was served at the bar, we decided to have the tasting menu with the appropriate wines. EVERY dish was too salty; we returned every one of them.

    With a seafood special Pamplemousse Grill served us tennis ball texture lobster.

    If you want to go to a really great restaurant go to "Basilic" on Balboa Island. It's a small restaurant, but the food is really wonderfu.

    The restaurant at the Auberge Del Mar is really nice.

    2 Replies
    1. re: souschef

      I've been to Basilic. What a great restaurant! Though it's in Newport Beach, not Carlsbad - a bit of a drive.

      1. re: souschef

        Had dinner a couple months ago @ Pamplemousse; both our seafood & game came out very nicely.

        For lobster, we like to go to Rimel's Rotisserie (http://www.rimels.com/) which is a very casual small restaurant in La Jolla.

      2. too salty?

        i havent been to tapenade in years but it was once one of my rare once a year treats to dine at.

        perhaps a case of basking in their own glory and the consequent decrease in quality.

        can you go more in depth?

        1 Reply
        1. re: kare_raisu

          As I said, each and every dish was far too salty, and went back almost untouched. We identified it to the waiter in each case. Finally on the 3rd or 4th course we just sat back with our cutlery down, and the maitre d' walked by and asked if everything was okay. We told him it was not, and we wanted to teminate the meal there. I think they charged us for the wine and a drink before - we came out of there $120 poorer, and hungry! I sent a note to the chef, who responded with a $50 gift certificate. I was unwilling to give them a second chance at my cost (dinner is considerably more than $50 there), so sent it back. It was a HUGE letdown after the promise of the wonderful tapenade. In retrospect I should have kept the gift certificate and used it to drink a few glasses of Champagne at the bar without eating anything, to make a point, but I live in Eastern Canada, so getting there is not that easy. When that happened the exchange rate was high, so I really got stung.

        2. Souschef, I really hope it was a one time bad experience. I frequent Tapenade and have never had a bad experience (Boar Ragu wasn't gamey enough, but that not really a bad experience). Give it a try on Thurdays, happy hour till 9:00 pm, %50 food at bar, and live music.

          1 Reply
          1. re: stevuchan

            I would have understood one salty dish, but EVERY one? A one-time bad experience is tolerable with just one dish, but not with every one. And of course to add insult to injury I was charged $120.

          2. Arterra in Del Mar was/is very good, at least when Carl Schroeder and Bradley Ogden were running it. Both recently left and I have not been back to see if they've maintained their quality. It was one of our favorite places.

            George's on the Cove (downstairs dining only) has excellent food, easily on par, w/ Tapenade (I have NOT had a bad dining experience there) and I think better than Mille Fleurs.

            Nine-Ten in La Jolla also has excellent food.

            If you want great steak, Donovan's in UTC is the place to go.

            Sushi on the Rock in La Jolla and Carlsbad has good, trendy style sushi.

            Blanca in Solana Beach just opened up. Have only been once. I would put it a level below all your favorites but it otherwise pretty good. My only problem with the dinner we had was that the filet mignon was overcooked, tough and below room temp by the time it hit the table. The appetizers, desserts and everyone else's entrees were good. I'm hoping my filet snafu was a "new restaraunt" mistake and am willing to give it another try.

            1. For casual dining I love Fidel's in Solana Beach. Their fajitas are great, especially with the chile peppers and green onions. For sushi Station Sushi in Solana Beach has very good specialty rolls. For finer dining Arterra continues to be good, at least last month. And for Vietnamese Le Bambou in Del Mar is excellent and very reasonable with a tranquil environment.

              1. For wonderful brioche go to Champagne Cafe next to Auberge Del Mar. They also make a good Millefeuille (which they call "Napoleon" for some reason; I always thought a Napoleon was layered but round).

                1. I highly recommend both restaurants at the Four Seasons Aviara in La Costa/Carlsbad

                  1. I have to disagree w/ Le Bambou. It is quite Americanized. I have had much better Vietnamese food. If you want better Vietnamese, Phoung Trang on Convoy does a much better job for less money.

                    1. The Brigatine in Del Mar overlooks the race track. There are a couple of choices for dining-a quiet dining room overlooking the gardens or the bar area with an outside deck. The bar offers a limited late night menu.

                      The fish tacos are great!

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: charlotteowens

                        I thought the Brigatine in Del Mar was just average. Wahoo's serves fish taco that are on par with B's.

                        1. re: OCAnn

                          I agree with you about Brigatine. I have been numerous times and have yet to have more than an average meal. I have returned because it is "acceptable" but the view is good and the ambience is lively.

                        2. Just went to Parallel 33 last night for the first time. It was the hot spot a few years back and we avoided. But it seemed the right time and it was. Chicken-ginger potstickers were fresh and exceptional; the dumpling was light and fluffy and the flavors distinct. The Flat Iron steak with kalamata olives and mashed potatoes was terrific. The Chicken with green olives and garlic was special.

                          You also might want to try Ristorante i Trulli in Encinitas and La Parioli in Solana Beach.

                          With all due respect to the person who wrote about Fidels fajitas: There are about 20 better mexican places in a 10 mile radius...El Nopalito, Filiberto's, Jorge's, Yellow Coyote, etc....

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: Victor Lieberman

                            I think the idea behind Parallel 33 is good but the work by their kitchen isn't as good as in other restaurant on their level. If I compare them with Region or Cafe Cerise which are in the price range, Parallel 33 is not even close to their level of cooking. The starters at Parallel 33 were very good, main courses were average, dessert were below average and coffee was really bad (cappuccino with out microfoam for example).

                            1. re: honkman

                              Sorry to disagree Honkman, but every meal I've ever eaten at Parallel 33 has been heads and shoulders above anything I've put in my mouth at Region. The concepts are way different and I'm not sure you can compare them, it's kind of like comparing mangos and papayas. While I usually agree with much of what you write, on this one we may have to agree to disagree. If I were given a choice between eating at Parallel 33 or Region, I'd pick Parallel 33 without hesitation. I don't dislike Region at all and understand the point of their restaurant, unfortunately, their execution isn't alway on target for me. As always eating is a very personal thing guided by one's taste buds. Your perferrence is for Region, mine Parallel 33.

                            2. re: Victor Lieberman

                              Agreed. Fidel's is one of the most overrated restaurants I have ever eaten at.

                            3. I have of course no problem with different opinions. That is the fun of food. Different people have different taste (and sometimes also the luck to be on the right day at the right restaurant) and with this board we have a chance to discuss about it.

                              1. I have been eating at Cuvee in Del Mar more than at Pamplemousse. You make a right at the Carmel Valley Road exit. They have a wine tasting party on the last Friday of the month (call first!).

                                There is a $20 buffet at Onami in the mall at 78 and El Camino Real.

                                1. I was a huge fan of Meritage in Encinitas' Lumberyard mall. That was at least two years ago since I went and am curious how it is faring. They had a great wine menu and lovely food but I live in NoCal now and don't know what's happened...

                                  1. Champagne's Bakery is no longer at L'auberge Del Mar. That space is currently under construction to house the hotel's new gym.

                                    While in Del Mar last week, I thought about giving Arterra (which I have liked) another try to see how they're doing with the new chef. When I called to find out if Bradley Ogden was indeed out of the picture there, the person I spoke with said they didn't know. This put me off, so we skipped it and had a good light lunch at A.R. Valentien (The Lodge at Torry Pines)on the patio overlooking the pool.

                                    You might want to check out their Artisan Table on Thursday nights at 7. The chef presents a different 4-course menu each week served family style at a long table on the patio, which includes specially selected wines. The setting, overlooking the pool, golf course and ocean in the distance is beautiful and relaxing. This would be a great idea for a group of friends to get together (or make new friends there).

                                    For dinner, we ended up at J. Taylor's at L'auberge Del Mar and enjoyed Paul McCabe's cooking very much. The tasty amuse of thin sliced veal, creamed baby haricots vert and marinated shallot topped with a slice of truffle got our attention. My Chino Farms Vegetable Salad was packed with beautiful small greens and veggies. Wild King Salmon presented on a base of fresh pureed sweet corn, sauteed chanterelles with a foie gras emulsion worked very well. Good duck with fresh blackberry sauce, too. Lavendar panna cotta with clementine sauce and a chocolate volcano cake that oozed white chocolate, with a side of coffee gelato were a nice ending, but a little on the sweet side for me. French press coffee could have used a darker roast, but otherwise ok. The patio is especially nice in summer with its gardens and waterfalls.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: Moka

                                      FYI, Brad Ogden did renew his contract for Arterra with the Marriott.

                                      I've always enjoyed Paul McCabe's cookin; that salmon dish you described sounds heavenly.

                                    2. Had dinner last night at the Marine Room. I think that's one of the most underrated restaurants in San Diego. Had a delicious venison tenderloin with truffled potato pie. My girl had rack of lamb with herbed goat cheese bread pudding (amazing).

                                      Never once had a mediocre meal there, and the setting and ambience can't be beat.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Josh

                                        I absolutely agree. Next month there should be a high tide dinner. You should have taken your girlfriend then. Impressive and romantic :-D

                                      2. I live in North Coastal County ans still like Meritage. It has reasonable prtions, good service and very good food. My only complaint is that the menu does not change very often. I like the prime rib pork chop.

                                        Arterra is my favorite in the area, although it's proces are suited best to a special occassion. For casual dining Fidels is great and a bargain, as well. I think their fajitas are the best around.

                                        1. Thanks for those tidbits, DiningDiva. Do you know anything more about Arterra's new chef? I'll keep it at the top of my list to try again next time around.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Moka

                                            The former sous-chef is the new chef of Arterra

                                            1. re: honkman

                                              I guess the place should be in pretty good hands. I wouldn't expect the food to change too much...at least not right away, but who knows? Maybe someone will check it out and report back soon. Thanks for the info, honkman!

                                          2. So far we've liked Beach Grass Cafe and Bety's Tacos in Encinitas, Pannikin Cafe for dessert and coffee; Pacifica Breeze Cafe in Del Mar; Pronto's Market, The Grand Deli has good breakfasts and complimentary champagne on weekends you can make your own mimosas with, Fish House Vera Cruz has good fresh fish in Carlsbad; Thai Garden and Ocean Thai in Oceanside.
                                            Haven't tried too much in the way of formal dining yet.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: snort

                                              i second the veracruz nomination.

                                            2. My parents really like Tommy V's in La Costa. I haven't been there myself, but they both enjoy it. In fact they are recently divorced, and we joke about who is going to get to still go there in the settlement. I know what a sad thing to joke about...but what can ya do?!? =0)

                                              1. I am with you on Beach Grass and Bety's Taco's. Have you tried St. Tropez in the Lumberyard for breakfast and lunch. Their roasted red potatoes with breaksfast beat all. For dinner, I know it isn't coastal but Market Street Cafe and Bakery in San Marcos is a real find. It is co-owned by Chef Micael Zonfrilli from L'Auberge and we find it a delight. The wine list is well priced and on Tuesdays (all evening) it is 1/2 price by the glass and bottle. Dining is casual but the service is excellent.

                                                1. I have to agree with DiningDiva and Jos--the Marine Room needs to be re-reviewed by San Diego. In the last two decades it was horrible and received an appropriate bad name, but now it has some very nicely prepared and straight forward dishes. I ate there earlier this summer and it was terrific.

                                                  As for AR Valentin we were only impressed with the entrees and the Chef’s muse of pate on bruschetta. The salads were completely overwhelmed by olive oil. I had the avocado salad and my friend had the greens both from Chino Farms. I had the lamb chops which were good but not cooked to my preference, they were very rare and I asked for medium. My friend had the steak and loved it—cooked to perfection. We both enjoyed the risotto. The lemon bar with cherries dessert was way too sweet. The service was amazing though; very attentive and unobtrusive. I would give it another chance but on this quiet Friday early evening it seems it should have been better (meaning the kitchen was not rushed).

                                                  I have not been to Le Bonne Bouffe lately but in the late 80s it was fantastic! They had the best rack of lamb (and a real rack not chops like most restaurants do these days, sigh) in the County. I will have to put it on my Food Friday list. Thanks Souschef!

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: FoodieFridays

                                                    Interesting observation about the olive oil. I noticed the same thing at Region. Greasy salad sucks.

                                                  2. Here are a few suggestions that are somewhat similar to your favorites. I haven't tried all of them personally, but they come highly recommended.

                                                    Jack's La Jolla (either the Grille or Fine Dining)
                                                    The Winesellar Brasserie in Sorrento Valley/La Mesa
                                                    910 in La Jolla
                                                    Red Dahlia in La Costa
                                                    Modus in Bankers Hill
                                                    1500 Ocean in Coronado.
                                                    Parallel 33 in Mission Hills
                                                    Cafe Cerise Downtown


                                                    1. Savory in ENcinitas is wonderful. The location will seem odd at first, but the decor is brilliant, and the food is terrific.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: parade2day

                                                        Firefly, in the same strip mall as Savory, is a favorite of ours. Great food and a knowledgeable and friendly staff. Both Firefly and Savory are great and it makes for a tough decision when we're in the area.

                                                      2. Like others I'd definitely recommend George's at the Cove (they've also remodeled). Jacks should be on par as well.