We’re not going to classify the culinary explosion in Oceanside as “emerging” any longer. That’s because, unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand in a beach south of the merge, you know it’s been rockin’ for several years now. We’ve seen more and more notable foodies spending time at tables up in Oceanside and they all seem agree:
The Oceanside food scene is legit.
If, for some reason, you’re still not familiar with what’s what and who’s who, we’re going to catch you up to speed and give you a few places awesome places to start with.
First up, the gastropub that started it all…
1. The Flying Pig
Back in 2011, remodeling was being done on a small square building in South O. Tucked away between a greasy spoon, a yoga studio, and some auto mechanic shops, locals began taking guesses as to what was going in. The giant wings painted on the outside of the building had most folks scratching their heads. Is it a motorcycle shop? A dive bar? A dive bar for bikers??? Then the doors opened and word quickly got out that the small little “shop” was actually a great place to get an amazing dinner. The staff admits that at least twice a day, diners come in expecting to eat at a barbecue joint. (Understandable with the name, which was actually an offhand joke about pigs flying if the place was successful.)
What they do serve up at The Flying Pig is an inventive menu of dishes that are inspired by the flavors of Italy. Nearly everything on the menu is made fresh in-house. You can almost taste the labor of love in every bite. Sauces incorporate more than the usual ingredients. For instance, the bolognese is made with bone marrow and chicken liver that will stir the desire in you to lick the bowl. If you haven’t been in a while, now’s the time to go back for a visit, as they just changed up their menu. The antipasto is presented so beautifully. The pastas, perfect for family-style meals, are incredibly inventive. And just when you think it can’t get any better, you bite into the decadent brandied cherries on top of the spumoni and just die of happiness.
Originally named “608 Mission,” but now simply 608, this restaurant is one of the top hot spots mentioned when asking those in the know where to go in Oceanside. There was a ton of buzz around San Diego when young Chef Willy Eick decided to strike out up north. Since then, he and his creations have proven worthy of all the buzz. In a shoebox of a location in the newly revamped area of Mission off Coast Highway, Chef Eick combines classic comfort foods with a little bit of Mexico and Asia. Basically, 608 elegantly serves up essential San Diego flavors in a cool, cozy environment.
The menu highlights the chef’s favorite: Braised Short Ribs. They’re slow cooked to perfection, then glazed in a sticky, sweet, savory, slightly spicy soy, ginger, chili glaze. It’s okay… you can lick your fingers. We totally understand. The local’s favorite, according to 608, is the Butter Poached Lobster served in a pozole with corn, beans, and avocado. They’ve recently added a tasting menu, as well. So if you’re feeling adventurous or indecisive, you can go along on a culinary exploration with the chef.
3 & 4. Wrench and Rodent AND Whet Noodle
The two are inextricable. Here’s the story… It was a sad sad day when The Fish Joint on Coast Highway closed. We LOVED that place. So when Chef Davin Waite, arguably the most colorful of all the Oceanside chefs, opened a tiny sushi bar in the back of what was once Bull Taco, we breathed a collective sigh of relief. Wrench & Rodent Seabasstropub was a small enough risk that allowed Chef Waite the freedom to go crazy with his creations, like Kentucky Fried Tuna Heads. Seriously. Soon enough, people from all over Southern California were coming in to taste.
Then the Bull Taco people decided to relocate, so Chef and Mrs. Waite decided to take over the 100 seat space. That’s how the Whet Noodle was born. Whet Noodle, a Japanese izakaya (pub) that serves up non-traditional ramen dishes, small plates, and daily specials operates side by side with the sushi bar Waite now affectionately refers to as “The Rodent.”
Known for “nose-to-tail” dining, a style of cooking that uses all of the fish or animal (including organs, bones, and skin) Waite makes dishes from items that other people regularly throw away. Waite is also an outspoken advocate for sustainability, carefully selecting the highest quality food and produce, including fish from Catalina Offshore, of course.
5. Local Tap House
Drive by Local Tap House and you’ll always see people poring out the doors and windows. There’s never not a crowd at LTH. Yes, the beer is great, but the food… the food is amazing! But is it really “local”? Yes. Yes, it is.
Owner and North County San Diego native, born and raised, Gabe Hogan, is a passionate restaurateur who calls Oceanside the “Last Great Surfing Frontier.” He feels, as many of us here do, that Oceanside is not yet over developed and still maintains its gritty coastal character. Hogan set out to create a bar-like atmosphere with chef-inspired cuisine that would be a gathering place for Oceanside’s active and creative lifestyle to thrive.
Hogan brought in Chef Daniel Pundik, a Florida native who matches Hogan’s passion for fresh food in a comfortable setting, to captain the kitchen. Daniel has definitely put LTH on the foodie map. The diversity on the menu will leave even the pickiest eater in your crew (there’s always one) happy that they decided to come along. Portions are fairly large, so you’re going to want to come with some backup. Diners can choose from “meat and potato” style standards, as well as more adventurous fare.
The eclectic menu includes items like Slow Cooked Short Rib and Pumpkin Gnocchi, Lobster Pot Pie, Seared Scallops with Coconut Curry Udon Noodles, and Calamari and Agave Bacon Tacos. LTH is open for Brunch, Lunch, and Dinner, so if you’re kitchen suddenly breaks down, you know where to go for a good home-cooked meal.
There’s a rumor going around that LTH is expanding. We’ll keep our ears open for the details…
What are your favorite Oceanside eateries that we have to try RIGHT NOW?
Image Credit: San Diego Union Tribune