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Top 10 Restos of 2012

Troy Johnson picks the best


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(page 2 of 2)

Solace & The Moonlight Lounge

6. Solace & The Moonlight Lounge

Chef Matt Gordon’s offshoot of his North Park success story, Urban Solace, doesn’t skip a beat. The Pacific Station location may not have ocean views, but the reclaimed-wood and eco-built vibe is palpable. The food is a little fancier than Gordon’s North Park fare, with Jidori chicken liver pâté spiced with apple, Armagnac, and nutmeg, for example. There’s a yellowtail tartare with a little serrano pepper heat, a nod to the coastal environs. And the sautéed farro with seasonal veggies and Parmesan comes off like a toothier, excellent risotto. As at his other resto, there’s no corn syrup in anything. It’s like a healthier, Pilates-friendly version of what made Gordon a local star. 25 East E Street, Encinitas

Que Huong

7. Que Huong

Nothing says hospitality like crime bars on the front windows. But inside, Que Huong is the freshest, most flavorful, and generously portioned Vietnamese cuisine I’ve found. Bargain-hunting Asian foodies will be disappointed, because this is priced as it should be—like top-notch cuisine. The green papaya salad comes with a bucket of shrimp. The curry doesn’t skimp on the coconut cream (are you here to exercise or eat, anyway?)—whether with frog legs, goat, or plain ol’ chicken. These guys never saw a protein they didn’t want to tenderize. Go ahead and try the boar in lemongrass, chiles, and dill. Almost tastes like Mexico City, Hanoi-style. 4134 University Avenue, City Heights

Vivace at Park Hyatt

8. Vivace @ Park Hyatt

A good brunch is often summed up in one word: “Bottomless.” Vivace’s Pranzo is not that brunch. Its power is not in day-after booze or a bazillion-item dining orgy. A few simple stations do a few simple things very well. Carlsbad oysters shucked in front of you. Charcuterie and cheese spilling over another station. Fresh mozzarella and buffala made to order, sprinkled with fantastic olive oil and sea salt. And then a few menu items, like wood-roasted Jidori chicken with fruit mostardo and Wagyu flat iron in red wine reduction. In the airy, sunny space, it feels like what brunch should be: gustatory revival. 7100 Aviara Resort Drive, Carlsbad

Haggo's Organic Taco

9. Haggo’s Organic Taco

It’s less of a restaurant than a trailer in a sliver of dirt in the back of a parking lot. The sort of place where Nicolas Cage would’ve lived during his Raising Arizona days. But there’s local art on the fence; all of the foliage is edible and will eventually go into your lunch; and last I was there, they were halfway through finishing their aquaculture with tilapia. James Haggard is a castoff from Rancho Valencia resort. He wasn’t the big-name chef; dude just liked organic tacos. He buys limited amounts of fresh fish so he never has to freeze it, all of which goes into the daily specials. Everything is locally grown, organic, sustainable, blah blah blah—it’s just real food done by someone who gives a damn. And it’s only open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. every day, with zero indoor seating. The super-ethical, super-unpretentious taco joint couldn’t embody more the spirit of its host town, one of the last funky beach towns in Southern California. North Coast Highway 101, Encinitas

Carnitas' Snack Shack

10. Carnitas’ Snack Shack

Hanis Cavin, swine enthusiast and former Kensington Grill chef, went out on his own with this glorified lemonade stand where he serves pork, pork, and more pork. (He owns a miniature pet pig, the shack’s namesake, which is either honorable or sociopathic.) Want a slab of pork belly without having to fuss with reservations or stainable linen? Gnaw his giant slab, though you may want to wipe off a bit of the glaze. But it’s the steak sammie—top-notch prime beef with pickled serrano peppers, jack cheese, and chipotle aioli—that takes top honors. Take your buddy from Philadelphia and maybe he’ll stop whining about missing Geno’s. 2632 University Avenue, North Park

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