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Eating Adventures in Ojai and Beyond

Just moved to Ojai from Encinitas (Northern San Diego County) and have been sampling a few of the local restaurants. I thought I would share.

The Farmer and the Cook - Well, this place is awesome, imho. It is a 100 percent organic grocery store and cafe. A lot of their produce is farmed by the owners themselves. The salad bar is delicious. I had some of the best beets ever. The produce amazingly fresh, the salad dressings wonderful. They have a good bakery, with more healthful desserts and treats. I especially liked the herb scone (tasted like stuffing) and their bread. On Friday, Sat, & Sun nights they have a full scale restaurant set-up, often with live music. The sense of community there is great as well. The cafe and restaurant are vegetarian. I had the nutloaf with mashed potatoes and shitake gravy. Oh yummy!

Papa Lennon's - A fairly new eatery, from what I understand, they serve paninis, pizza, salads, and pasta. I had the rosemary chicken panini, my sweetie had the bbq chicken pizza. Both were really good. The side salad was delicious. Gelato for dessert. Affordable, family owned, with a really nice outdoor space. I want to go back for the pasta and the chicken with brie panini.

Bonnie Lu's Country Cafe - We went in for dinner. They only do dinner on Thurs, Fri, & Sat right now. Breakfast and lunch every day but Wed (closed all day Wed). I had the blue plate special. That night it was tri-tip (cooked to order - medium rare), roasted veggies with roasted garlic, & rosemary potatoes. All that for $5.95. I laughed out loud when the check came. It was really yummy as well. My favorite combo - yummy and affordable. The restaurant has that down-home feel to it. My sweetie had the spinach & mushroom lasagna - also fab with a salad - home made blue cheese dressings. And the pie rocked. We got the bumble-berry ( a combo berry and apple pie) warm with ice cream.

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Farmer & the Cook Market & Cafe
339 W El Roblar Dr, Ojai, CA 93023

Papa Lennons
515 W El Roblar Dr, Ojai, CA 93023

Bonnie Lu's Country Cafe
328 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023

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  1. We went to the Farmer's Market today in Ojai. We were very happy with the selection, lots of organic, and a few of the farms price their items really generously.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Enorah

      Try Suzanne's for lunch and reserve out on the patio. Wonderful butter

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      Suzanne's Cuisine
      502 W Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA 93023

      1. re: noshie

        Butter!

        That's a magic word in our house

        Will do

        1. re: noshie

          I'm curious if Enorah ever made it so Suzanne's for a meal and what he/she thought. A very pretty setting, the only place recommended by the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa to its visitors who want to eat off the property, and expensive, I saved dining at the spot until I had my own special guests to take somewhere when they came to the area. Whoa was me, and I was so embarassed to have taken my people there. A beautiful but hot afternoon and an entirely empty patio at the restaurant, and the person handling the seating wouldn't allow our well dressed party of four to eat on the gorgeous patio under the fan---they said the table was reserved---so we ate in the heat and watched as the fan-assisted table remained empty (as did most of the others on the patio) for the entire 2 plus hours we were there. My chicken dish was tasteless, undercooked, no spices; my friend's omlette was tasteless, no spices; the other friends salad looked good but she was underwhelmed. The bill HUGE. I've been back and sampled other things, and found a tuna sandwich passable---but in a foody challenged town, its sad when the "best" restaurant is so overpriced and average---not to mention the strange"reservation" service. I don't remember the butter---but then again, if that was the recommendation as the best item on the menu, I might have known better than to go there.

      2. So, I had some less than great Mexican food in Ojai last night. looking for suggestions regarding Mexican, Sushi, & Thai.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Enorah

          On your way into Ojai there is a liquor store called Red Barn. You would never suspect it driving by but In the back of the store there is a tiny little taco shop.

          They cook the meat on the outdoor grill you see in front of the store.
          Some of the meat like the carne asada and chicken tends to be dry so I order the al pastor. On weekends they are suppose to have barbacoa but I've never tried it.

          It's nothing earth shattering but it's not that bad either. Living in Ojai your going to get tired of Jim and Robs fresh grill after a while. The people who work there are very nice and the prices are right.

          I may be wrong but I believe Exotic Thai is your only choice for Thai food in Ojai.
          Again not earth shattering but pretty standard and for sushi Hakane is a lot better then what they are passing for sushi at Sea Fresh seafood.

          Here's a tip if you cook as well. Heading towards Boccalis Pizza at the East end of town make a left turn onto Reeves road. Follow this down a short distance until you see a little vegetable stand at the end of a drive way on your right side. It's an honor stand, they put stuff out on a table from their garden and you pay what you like. The produce and amount varies depending on the time of the year.

          1. re: burntwater

            Just drove by that produce stand yesterday and wondered what the what was.

            Thanks!

          2. re: Enorah

            One more thing if you need beer or wine duck into the Ojai beverage company and they should have you covered. They have tastings in the back and a decent tap list for micro brews with usually a few Belgians in the mix.

            1. re: Enorah

              I think you're doomed to a drive to Ventura or Santa Barbara for any of those, unfortunately.

              Santa Barbara has plenty of good options for all 3 -- a quick search on the California board should give you a long list of ideas.

              Ventura has Taqueria Tepatitlan on Ventura Avenue for Mexican, Sushi Marina downtown, and Sawasdee Thai on Johnson.

            2. Continuing on

              We ate dinner at The Deer Lodge the other night. I had the carne asada. Really good. Nice cut of meat, cooked to order (medium rare) - delicious. My sweetie has the bbq half chicken which he loved. I got the garlic mashed potatoes, which were good, but I must go back for fried chicken and mashed sweet potatoes. Oh, and if you wanted, you can get all kinds of meat there for dinner - deer, elk, boar, kangaroo, etc

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              Deer Pass Lodge
              2261 Maricopa Hwy, Ojai, CA 93023

              7 Replies
              1. re: Enorah

                You guys are eating your way through Ojai and Minors Oaks.

                We have a different name for Deer lodge because there was a time when all the servers seemed to be well endowed.(smile) Lots of meat but I would avoid the pork chops.

                You my like the World Cafe if you haven't been there yet.

                1. re: burntwater

                  World Cafe

                  Thanks

                  We'll check it out

                  1. re: Enorah

                    It's actually called World flavor cafe.
                    I usually order the Dosas.

                    You should also pick up a copy of Edible Ojai when you see one.
                    Another local gem is at Westridge market. They make these incredible chicken sausages. The tall guy in the meat department is the owner and a really nice guy.

                  2. re: burntwater

                    Ate at World Cafe last time I was in Ojai, had the vegetable stew. YUMMY!!! The service was great, everything was fragrant and the spices layered perfectly. I will go back next time I am there for biz.

                    1. re: Minimang

                      I think World Cafe closed down, and I'm sorry if it did as I never made it in there. I heard things were fragrant and well spiced. . . an unusual phenomenon for Ojai. I must look to see if it is still there. It seems that places that are actually using fresh and innovative food and spices don't last long in Ojai.

                      1. re: foodaspoetry

                        Yes unfortunately World Cafe is no longer.

                  3. re: Enorah

                    Went back to the Deer Lodge for the fried chicken. Best fried chicken I have had in many years. Also got to meet the head chef. Seems as if they are going through some changes there right now. Hopefully the food will stay great.

                  4. Brent's Deli in Westlake Village was one we went to last week. Since moving from Chicago to California over 4 and a half years ago, we have not had a really good deli meal. Good luck finding Matzo Ball soup in Sonoma County.

                    So, Brent's was a real treat. My sweetie almost cried as he ate the cabbage soup. The corned beef was delicious, as was the chopped liver, rye bread, bagel chips, and on and on and on (we got some take-out, too).

                    Going to have to make a pilgrimage there every now and again, for sure.

                    1. Ate with 3 friends at the Farmer and the Cook last night. The cook must have had the night off.

                      We ordered guacamole and their fresh-cooked chips. The guacamole was a diced up non-Haas avocado with pico de gallo mixed in. The chips were greasy, hard and/or rubbery, though fresh - a sign of being cooked in oil that was too cool. Same with their homemade jalapeno poppers - a good idea, yet cooked in oil that was not hot enough.

                      The "enchilada" was flavor free, and the pizza we ordered was fairly flavorless too. It was billed as having caramelized onions - and in my book, sauteed onoins are not "caramelized. "

                      They did have an excellent sangria with berries in it, and the chocolate cake was good, too.

                      It just makes me sad, though. They have an excellent little spot and excellent ingredients and ideas, just so poorly executed as to make me never want to go back. It is places like this that give natural, vegetarian and vegan food a bad name.

                      2 apps, 2 mains, 2 sangrias, chocolate cake with ice cream $57. Not expensive but I wouldn't go back except maybe for sangria and music.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Snackish

                        We ate there last night as well but had the polar opposite experience. We had a really yummy meal. I love The Farmer and The Cook. I am in there multiple times a week (it is walking distance from our home), and I am grateful that such a place exists here in our neck of the woods.

                        1. re: Enorah

                          I, too, had a great meal at the Farmer and the Cook the other night. In particular, those jalapeno poppers are amazing -- easily the best I have ever had, and not at all greasy. The salads were wonderful as usual, and my enchiladas great -- the chard added an appropriately earthy flavor that melded well with an intense enchilada sauce (a ranchera sauce, if I recall correctly). This is as good as it gets, far more flavorful than enchiladas I've had elsewhere. Though my experience (and prior experiences) contradicts virtually all that Snackish experienced, I do think the chips could be a bit better (though the guacamole is great -- fresh, light, and perfectly seasoned).

                          In general terms, the Latin menu is fabulous. The Colombian beans are especially great, and something that isn't available any place else. I can't think of a better place to eat in Ojai/Meiners Oaks, or in Ventura County more generally. Frankly it's up with the best Latin places I've ever eaten at anywhere, and that's without noting that the food is organic and mostly (or is it entirely? not sure) vegetarian. Healthy food isn't supposed to be bursting with flavor this way, is it?

                        2. re: Snackish

                          Being quite familiar with Ojai food scene, the flavor free/problematic review of Snackish is more in line with my experience at Farmer and the Cook. I think Enorah isn't quite as picky, and lucky for her if she'll be in Ojai for any length of time.

                        3. I thought the tamale place was very good.

                          1. We had lunch at Vesta right in town last week. I had a salad and my sweetie a panini and we shared the sweet potato fries. We really liked it. We dined on the patio in the back of the restaurant in the center of the arcade.

                            We felt like it was really good food and affordable. They are open until 6pm right now.

                            -----
                            Vesta Home & Hearth
                            242 E Ojai Ave, Ojai, CA

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Enorah

                              We went to the annual Taste of Ojai last Sunday for the first time, gifted to us by a friend. It started at 2pm and was to go untili 6pm. It was expensive at $65.00 a person and by the time we got there at 4pm, many of handful of restaurants participating were already out of food so no tastes left. There was plenty of wine, but no bottled or other water ---no soda, no water, not one bottle---to drink and it was only 4pm. So, very few "tastes," no water but plenty of wine. The scene of the event had been moved from its usual beautiful setting in the beautiful old herb garden of the Ojai Valley Inn and Spa to a strange place in the middle of the Inn's golf course, on a nearly 100 degree day the guests were situated in the middle of a fairway with no shade, no trees, without the usual vine covered arbor with a view of the Highway and an earful of noisy traffic. Interesting choice to move the event, especially as we drove past the usual spot which was empty---so it wasn't like there was a conflict of some other wedding or other event. Lots of wine, and for those with food left, a really average or below average "taste" except for Vesta---which served vegetable and chicken panini's with sweet potato fries. Not spectacular, but well spiced, interesting choice of ingredients, nice bread and nice toasting and easily the best "taste" served. The owner of Vespa was very nice. . . .if only we weren't parched and dying for some water in the middle of a golfcourse, we would have had seconds. But, we will dine at Vespa when we are in town, and it was a nice surprise that Vespa's food was as good as it was.

                            2. We ate at Om Fusion of Thai in Oak View last night. This is going to be a regular spot for us, I am sure of it. The food was great and very reasonably priced. They have a dinner special - soup or salad, fried wonton, thai eggroll, choice of entree with beef, chicken, pork, or tofu for $9.95 ($12.95 if you want shrimp). Many choices as far as the entrees go. I had the basil mint leaves with beef, my sweetie had the ginger root with chicken. Very good food, really nice and friendly owner who took it over about 15 months ago.

                              The restaurant was packed when we were there, it is smallish inside, open kitchen in the back, seating for maybe 30 people total or something like that.

                              Same special deal for lunch, but with lunch prices (can not remember exactly what they were)

                              The menu itself is extensive, many dishes beyond what are offered on the dinner specials page.

                              Loved it!

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: Enorah

                                Had another great meal at Om Fusion of Thai tonight.

                                Found out that they deliver as well. :)

                              2. I went to Azu two years ago, and found the decor weird, the crowd a bit too loud, the food pretty good. However, the gelato was frickin' awesome. I still dream about the Thai coconut.

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: nomnomnoms

                                  Azu is always really crowded, and I keep trying different things there figuring I am just ordering wrong. I've concluded it is average but there are simply no decent places to eat and so. . .people go there as there's not much choice. I've had a tasteless tomato soap, an uninspired salad, and most of the not that many entrees. Nothing to write about. The decor and the crowd is generally weird, it IS loud, but I never have tried the gelato. Now, I will!!!

                                  1. re: foodaspoetry

                                    Azu is very inconsistant to say the least.

                                    I have the feeling the head chefs have changed a few times over the years.

                                    The gelato is inspired by Scoops in LA.

                                    A relatively new place for good bakery items is Knead which is right next to Azu.

                                    1. re: burntwater

                                      Don't think much of the new bakery. . .tried it all when they were selling at the Ojai Farmers Market. . . too expensive. . .the sweets not really that sweet. . .the former bakery on the premises, The Oak Tree Bakery was quite good IMO, but alas, that didn't last long, I was sorry to see it go. I don't give Knead much more time either. . .