What Makes Carlsbad a North County San Diego Gem?
Seven miles of gorgeous coastline, world-class resorts and a charming, walkable downtown area brimming with shops, pubs and restaurants. Many establishments take advantage of San Diego’s mild warm weather by offering indoor-outdoor seating. Ethnic and regional food choices are plentiful from simple street tacos to more sophisticated surf and turf. Here are my latest top ten dining picks for Carlsbad in alphabetical order.
Ten Carlsbad Restaurants Not to Miss
1. Bistro West
Bistro West’s seasonally crafted menu revolves around the herbs, fruits and vegetables that the nearby West Farm grows for the restaurant. Taking farm-to-table and creativity to the next level, chef John Miller’s dishes span the globe.
Flavorful French onion soup, Italian calamari fritti and Chinese Shanghai-style braised short rib are examples of international bites while burgers, chicken pot pie and buffalo style wings represent American comfort food classics.
Contemporary design elements in the dining room and separate bar are warm and welcoming. Locals in the know frequent the happy hour.
Rustic materials combined with camping elements such as the copper bar, corrugated metal ceiling, fire pits, carved mountain mural and 12-foot tipi transform this former garage into a hipster hangout. Chef Andrew Bachelier’s menu centers around wood fired fare cooked over a custom grill that’s the epicenter of his glass-enclosed kitchen.
The Duck Liver Pâté with grilled date, Broccoli with candied peanut and Smoked ½ Chicken with panzanella salad are popular. Original craft cocktails at Campfire are equally inventive. Charred Corn (tequila, charcoal, lime and salt) anyone?
3. Chandler’s Restaurant & Lounge
Guests enjoy spectacular ocean views from Chandler’s location across the street from South Carlsbad State Beach. The dining room and breezy outdoor glass-walled patio have a seaside chic vibe. Chef Teri McIllwain takes a healthy approach to California coastal cuisine by focusing on seasonal ingredients big on flavor to minimize the use of heavy sauces and butter.
Great examples are the Ahi Quinoa Poke with wasabi yogurt, Burrata & Vine Ripened Heirlooms with balsamic reduction and the Lobster & Shrimp Tacos with chipotle slaw. Chandler’s is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and weekend brunch.
4. The Compass
This fun festive pub located upstairs at the Village Faire Shopping Center emphasizes all things craft: beers, cocktails and bites. The décor at The Compass is decidedly casual with red vinyl booths, wood accents and chalkboard menus.
Happy hour runs 4pm-6pm daily with $2 off wines, cocktails and craft beers plus food specials like Bacon Wrapped Corn Dogs, Loaded Potato Skins and Truffle Pomme Frites. Regular menu items speak gastropub glam with dishes such as Kobe Reuben Sliders, Hamachi Crudo and Cast Iron Baked Macaroni & Cheese.
5. Green Dragon Tavern & Museum
Inspired by the original tavern that served as a meeting place during revolutionary times, Green Dragon is a tavern, dining room, museum, event space, coffee house and bookstore all rolled into one. Colonial style furnishings and wood paneling contribute to the interior’s old style East coast feel.
Chef Gregory Krol is a master at classic New England style cuisine like clam chowder, crab cakes and lobster rolls. Examples of variations with a regional twist are South Western crab cakes and California style lobster rolls with mango, avocado, bacon and lemon-anchovy aioli. Don’t miss checking out the fabulous collection of revolutionary war relics in the adjacent museum.
6. Land & Water Company
Chef/owner Rob Ruiz received international recognition for his work towards improving the sustainability of seafood consumed worldwide. At Land & Water, he sources organic produce from local farms, natural meats that are hormone and antibiotic-free and 100% sustainable seafood. Even juices and mixes are made daily in-house.
The California, French, Hawaiian, Japanese inspired menu includes everything from Butter Butter Salad to Banh Mi Sandwhiches to Pork Bourguignon. Yet the super fresh sashimi, nigiri and sushi rolls are the main attraction at this Carlsbad institution located in a former Queen Anne home/historic landmark.
7. Paon Restaurant & Wine Bar
Old school ambiance prevails in the dining room while the terra cotta pot filled patio has a European chic feel. The menu is decidedly French with specialties such as escargot, pan roasted pheasant and scallops with ragout.
Paon’s pastas are exceptional such as the Organic Butternut Squash Ravioli with buerre noisette, sage, Parmigiano-Reggiano and wine sauce.
The extensive wine list encompasses top vintages from California, Europe and beyond. Weekly wine flights highlight these different regions.
8. Spirito’s Italian Diner
Located in the corner of a strip mall, this no frills pizza joint was appropriately featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The Spirito Family prepares traditional Italian food with flair. Everything is made from scratch: pizza dough, ravioli, meatballs, garlic dressing and more.
Ask about Spiroto’s daily pasta specials. Excellent standard menu items are the Tuscan Bean Salad and Chicken Parmesan. Also, try the thin crust Artichoke Bianco Pizza studded with big chunks of artichoke, Gorgonzola, mozzarella, olive oil and garlic.
Located at the Sheraton Carlsbad Resort & Spa, this upscale spot boasts sweeping coastal views from its modern dining room and outdoor patio. The farm-fresh menu is diverse and eclectic at Twenty/20. Options are Baja Fish Tacos, Mushroom Risotto and Duck Confit to name a few.
Dishes are executed with panache incorporating quality ingredients like grass-fed beef, Temecula Honey, Cypress Grove Goat Cheese and Nueske Bacon. The restaurant offers an impressive international wine list and full bar.
10. Vigilucci’s Cucina Italiana
If you’re looking for authentic Italian in the heart of the village, then Vigilucci’s is the place to go. White tablecloths, candlelight and chandeliers infuse the dining room with a touch of class. The elaborate menu covers all the classics.
Tasty starters are bruschetta, carpaccio and calamari. Out of the extensive selection of homemade pastas, two of owner Roberto Vigilucci’s favorites are Pappardelle con Funghi e Capesante (mushrooms, and diver scallops in a truffle, brandy cream sauce) and Spaghetti Polpette (prime beef meatballs in tomato sauce).
And his Secondi Piatti picks include the Ossobuco and Cioppino. The impressive wine list showcases Italian varietals from every top winemaking region in Italy.
Have you tried any of these top ten dining picks for Carlsbad? If so, leave a comment with your impression for our readers.