Two Glorious Days Dining in Oceanside
by Susan Montgomery
I only live about an hour from Oceanside, California, and in the past I have enjoyed strolling on this beach town’s iconic wooden pier, but until I went on a recent guided tour sponsored by Visit Oceanside, I wasn’t really aware of all this charming seaside town has to offer and I was especially impressed by its innovative restaurants.
Oceanside is located close to downtown San Diego and is an easy drive from Los Angeles and Orange County. Known for its casual, beachy lifestyle and idyllic weather, Oceanside is a wonderful destination for families, adventuresome travelers, and couples looking for a romantic getaway. While the gorgeous beaches have always attracted visitors, it’s only recently that Oceanside has started establishing a notable reputation for its inspiring cuisine and become a destination for foodies too.
Where to stay:
I stayed at the upscale Wyndham Oceanside Pier Resort in a lovely, well-appointed suite with fabulous ocean views. This is actually a timeshare resort, but rooms are also available for non-timeshare guests. The lobby is modern, nicely decorated, and comfortable, as was my room. An alluring outdoor pool and sauna are among the many amenities at this hotel, and spa services are available. Others in our group stayed at Marriott’s Springhill Suites Oceanside and they were equally pleased with their accommodations. Both hotels are ideally located right on the beach but also within easy walking distance of downtown Oceanside.
The Culinary Scene:
We learned that Oceanside has a developing culinary scene with a farm-to-table emphasis. There is appealing cuisine available for every palate and budget. We loved touring the Cyclops Farms, where its personable founder, Luke Girling, guided us around this certified, organic plot of land that produces wonderful produce for many area restaurants and also has a popular farm stand on Saturdays that offers an abundance of tantalizing vegetables, fruit and flowers. Just standing in the midst of this bountiful garden makes you feel healthier.
Every Thursday evening in the heart of downtown Oceanside, as the sun sets, more than 80 food vendors set up shop with a great variety of tempting dishes. These international vendors offer a range of specialties from Indonesian to Japanese and Polish to French. We were fortunate to try an array of delicious, beautifully presented dishes from such generous vendors as Atsukos, serving gorgeous Japanese cakes, and Flamin’ Salmon serving (you guessed it) delicious salmon grilled on an outdoor spit (photo below).
A variety of other vendors shared delectable dishes with us, such as Garlic Noodles, Belgium Street Fries, Wicked Maine Lobster, Taste of Poland, Beignet Belly, Olivia’s Kitchen and Awafee. The lively market encompasses several blocks and includes rocking live music and other attractions such as craft shops, pony rides, and even bungee jumping (which I did not attempt). The Sunset Market is held every Thursday night all year long from 5 to 9 p.m. I personally think this market is a "must" when you visit Oceanside. Just plan to launch your glorious Oceanside weekend on Thursday night at the Sunset Market.
Urge Oceanside & 101 Proof Speakeasy were among my favorite stops in Oceanside. We first visited Urge Gastropub and Whiskey Bank where we enjoyed one of the tasty handcrafted beers brewed onsite by Mason Ale Works. We met the enthusiastic brewers who produce the beer and learned that, surprisingly, their beers are aged in wine barrels. We admired the expansive wall of hundreds of the world’s best whiskeys and wished we had time to stop and sip a while. I imagined how much my bourbon connoisseur son would love this enticing selection of his favorite spirits. The setting is inviting and casual—the ideal place to spend a few relaxed hours with friends. Beer is used in many of the dishes served at Urge, which specializes in pairing beer with food.
We then trotted around to the side of this former bank building and entered 101 Proof Speakeasy, which is “secretly” housed in the former bank vault. The low lighting and intimate ambiance harked back to the heyday of speakeasys, where the rat pack might have hidden away during prohibition. We admired the stylish décor, especially the floor made of inlaid pennies. Because there are only 35 seats in this cozy space, reservations are necessary for entrance. And the “Rules of the House” are strictly enforced such as requiring dressy, not-too-casual, attire and no use of cell phones. The speakeasy specializes in finely crafted classic cocktails (with an emphasis on Old Fashioneds) and some tempting original creations. The bartender mixed two special cocktails for us, the flaming “Boom Tiki Tiki,” made of ten different ingredients, and “Mixed Berry Smash,” consisting of a mixture of Woodford Reserve bourbon, simple syrup, orange liqueur, and lemon juice topped by a blackberry. These drinks were as beautiful to see as to sip.
Both Urge Gastropub and 101 Proof offer an array of tempting menu items. Urge has an appealing, casual menu with such items as Beer Cheese Fries, Sesame Garlic Glazed Wings, and Blackened Steak Salad. The 101 Proof menu is small and gourmet. We tried several delectable, imaginative dishes, including Garlic Noodles with shrimp and snow peas, and also a luscious flaming Bananas Foster.
The Miller’s Table is a friendly, welcoming dining spot with a focus on fresh, seasonal dishes. The owner, Staci Miller, has created a convivial atmosphere where guests can sit around a big candle-lit community table and get to know each other while they dine. Dishes are served by the friendly staff members who prepared them. We tried several beautifully presented, savory dishes such as Italian Kissed Tuna served with preserved lemon, lettuce, tomato and black olive pesto, and also the absolutely delicious Autostrada di Giorno, a thin pressed meat and cheese sandwich. We also enjoyed house-made hummus in which we dipped Cyclops Farm baby fennel (photo right). And we relished the crispy, flavorful house-made potato chips. You can also order a picnic basket to take to the beach.
We liked LTH (Local Tap House) so much that we went back again a week later with our family. LTH serves more than 32 craft beers and ciders, most locally brewed, plus an inspired wine and cocktail list. The atmosphere is hip and casual with many high-seated tables and a long, welcoming bar. The food is innovative and satisfying. We met the chef, Daniel Pundik, who described his approach to presenting fresh ingredients in imaginative combinations. Among the many creative, delicious dishes we tried on our two visits were Ahi Tuna & Red Shrimp with Fried Rice, crispy Cali Cauliflower, Black and Blue Brussels Sprouts and a tasty House Made Quinoa Burger.
608 Oceanside is a new eatery with a contemporary vibe and refreshingly inventive dishes created by Chef William Eick. We tried a few of his tantalizing small plates and we were hooked. In particular, we loved the Braised Short Ribs with curry and mustard greens (photo right); Short Rib Carpaccio with house-made kimchee; and scrumptious Fried Chicken with cornbread and local honey. These dishes were pure comfort food but with surprising bold flavor combinations. The setting is relaxed and welcoming—another great place to meet friends for good conversation and great food.
What else to do:
While this article is focusing on food, rest assured that there is lots to do in Oceanside besides eat. You might want to visit the funky and fascinating California Surf Museum where you can see a pro surfer’s shark-bitten surfboard or embark on a whale watching cruise, as we did a few weeks later, on Oceanside Adventure’s new, comfortable Catamaran — and “yes” we did see whales and frolicking dolphins too. Oceanside is a great getaway for anyone living in Southern California or a destination worth a flight across the country.