Sunday, April 6, 2014

Best Meals in North County San Diego

So...I'm just going to pretend this blog hasn't been idle for NINE MONTHS. Everyone good with that? Excellent, moving right along...

Today, I want to focus on some of my favorite restaurants and bars in North County...and more specifically, my favorite snacks/meals at each place that I think deserve mention in the blogosphere (does a blog that sits idle for nine months still qualify as "in the blogosphere"? Or do I have to re-apply for admission?). Anyway, I feel like a lot of times you get great recommendations for restaurants to try, but you don't always get tips on what to order. 


You will notice that two of my go-to places - Roberto's and Pizza Port - are not listed on this post, as I have given both of these establishments ample lip service on this blog over the years. But fear not, a California Burrito from 'Berto's or a half-Carlsbad, half-Monterey pizza from Port still top the list of must-haves when in North County.

No more disclaimers...let's do this.


CE Burger (Cucina Enoteca)
Menu - braised short rib + fiscalini cheddar + honey mustard aioli + truffle fries
I list this first because I went there last night and it spurred this idea. First off, if you have not been to this place yet, put it on your list. It is a very unique place, with modern (and somewhat bizarre) decor and excellent food. They pour a mean cocktail, and they have some great deals, including half off all pizzas during Happy Hour on Thursdays (I recommend the pancetta and brussels sprout leaf pizza). Anyway, this burger is outrageously rich and decadent. The short rib adds some amazing salty-goodness to this already perfectly-cooked patty, and the honey-mustard aioli gives a great zingy bite to the burger. Oh, and don't let your wife near the truffle fries. Trust me.

Pan-Roasted Brussels Sprouts (Priority Public House)
Menu - Brussels Sprouts, Caramelized Onion, Hickory Smoked Bacon
I know brussels are starting to be a trendy food, and I have fully embraced it. I used to think I didn't like brussels spouts until Mrs. Livin the Dream convinced me to give them a try. Since then we always look for good sprouts on a menu, and this relatively new Leucadia gastropub nails 'em. They roast and serve them in a small cast-iron skillet, and the addition of the onion and bacon just makes them insanely tasty. Yum-yum in my tum-tum.

Pineapple Fried Rice (Bangkok Bay)
Menu - Shrimp, chicken, pineapple, cashew nuts, mixed with egg and curry powder
The reason this makes the list? It was so good that, without my begging, Mrs. Livin the Dream went home and tried to re-create it. While hers was good, it will never match the taste of an authentic Thai place that probably uses more oil than we'd like to know. This is one of those bites that has many different ingredients, but somehow seems like one perfect taste. If you search for them, you can find each individual flavor, but what makes this so spectacular is the perfect combination of sweet/salty, soft/crunchy, and spicy/tame. Very few dishes have the same effect on me as this perfectly balanced entree.

Cilantro and Chipotle Beef Medallions (El Callejon)
Menu - Beef medallions topped with melted cheese in a cilantro or chipotle sauce
You will notice the odd use of italics in the name of this meal. When you order, they give you the option of the cilantro or chipotle sauce...and herein lies the secret. These two sauces are both outrageously good - packed with flavor. After waffling for what seemed like an eternity a year ago, the waiter told me I could have the plate split in half, with both sauces cut right down the middle. "I CAN?!" OMG, OMG. Yes, that meal deserves an "OMG". The beef medallions are super tender, and they bring hot tortillas and rice to make some phenomenal tacos if you prefer that route. But I would drink this sauce like a smoothie. The cilantro sauce has a tangy spiced flavor, and the chipotle sauce is creamy with a touch of heat. And if you haven't been to this place yet, you are missing one of the stiffest, tastiest margaritas in San Diego. Trust me, I'm a self-proclaimed expert.

Cheddar & Chive Biscuits (Solace and the Moonlight)
Menu - Warm cheddar and chive biscuits w/Orange Honey Butter, Smoke Tomato Jam
This one excites me the most on this list. In addition to having a great cocktail menu and unique high-end entrees, Solace might have the most ridiculously addicting, mouth-watering, guilty-pleasure appetizer in North County - the cheddar biscuits. On their own, the biscuits are peal-apart perfection, with a slightly flaky outside, but an incredibly teddy-bear soft fluffy inside. But the kicker to this meal are the spreads that come with. The smoked tomato jam (which they also put on their amazing burger) is an insane combination of sweet and tart, with an overarching smoky tone. And then that sweet/salty orange honey butter is otherworldly. You know an appetizer is good when Mrs. Livin the Dream says "We're definitely getting the biscuits"...on the car ride to the restaurant.

Shrimp & Grits (Union Kitchen & Tap)
Menu - Andouille, roasted tomato, cheese grits
My wife will tell you I love this meal a little too much. Obviously I love all the meals on this list, but this is one of the few meals that I always seem to have a "moment" with. We're talking all peripheral noise and nonsense vanish (which is no easy feat at a trendy place like Union). Julie knows to not even talk when I take the first bite. First off, the sausage has some great spicy heat to it. The roasted tomato really forms the main flavor profile of this dish, with the tart tomato juice cutting the meat and grits. But without question, the best part of this meal is the cheddar grits. Good grits are not a slam dunk, but Union throws them down like Lebron James. They are the right thickness, right texture, and incredibly flavorful on their own. As I type this, it may be time for date night at Union soon. But Mrs. Livin the Dream might not be invited...just me and my shrimp and grits.

Pastrami Burger (Bier Garden)
Menu - swiss, sauerkraut, caramelized onions, BG secret sauce
Full disclosure - I have never ordered this burger for myself, but it is my wife's favorite thing on the menu, and I think I agree with her now. The pastrami alone is fantastic and could be a stand-alone meal, but thrown on top of a burger patty with all of these other ingredients of's absurdly delicious. We're talking saliva floodgates people. Combine this with a great beer from a diverse selection, and your stomach owes you a high-five.

Breakfast Tacos (Bull Taco)
Menu - Eggs, bacon, chorizo, cheddar, onion/cilantro, Tater Tots, Sriracha Sour Cream
Oh my goodness, oh my goodness. Shout out to my boy Peter for exposing me to these tiny wonders of the world. I have eaten many-a-meal at Cardiff's hidden gem, but had never thought to try their breakfast. And breakfast tacos are actually a relatively new concept for me...but that is a thing of the past. The sriracha sour cream is intoxicating, the chorizo is outrageous, but the key are those tots. I have trouble describing this one because it's such a unique flavor for breakfast. The tacos are incredibly savory. The only down-side to this meal is that you only get two of them (I wish it was ten).

So there you have it. I may have forgot a meal or two, but hey, I gotta post something nine months from now, right?