It's surprising how some of the best places are hiding in plain sight, treasured by local devotees, but unknown to the rest of us.
1140 Camino del Mar
Take the charming cafe on Camino Del Mar whose name is actually Secret. Owned by a young Peruvian couple who left the corporate world to pursue
their shared joy
of cooking, it's
the perfect place
to sample a Peruvian sandwich or empanada. But it's also a top spot for morning coffee and a freshly baked carrot/raisin/walnut/
If Bratzo and Daniella Basagoitia have a secret, it's homemade food plus hospitality.
"We're here all the time, doing what we love," Daniella said. "We want to feel like we're hosting at home, giving personal attention to our guests."
Their regular customers seem to feel the same way.
"They have such joie de vivre," said Susan Astarita, who lives just a few blocks away. "They try to make you comfortable and give you what you like."
Another Secret fan, Shaun Singer, agrees.
"It's good food and the atmosphere's mellow. And I always look forward to eating here on weekends when they have dinner specials and live music. It's really a great addition to Del Mar."
2050 S. Coast Highway 101
San Elijo Campground, Cardiff
For top-quality eating at fast-food prices, Bull Taco is a one-of-a-kind place — and that's no bull.
Plates and utensils are plastic, napkins are brown paper towels, the seating is basic and the service is self, but there's a million-dollar view from each table and the offerings are near-haute cuisine.
Not all of them, actually. You could order nachos or a giant burrito and think it's just a campground taco stand.
But look closely at the Daily Specials, and you'll find tacos with oysters,
foie gras or duck confit, and that's just for starters.
La Jolla-born chef David Volk calls his creations "Recession Gourmet," and delights in creating delicious dishes for locals. At 24, he's already built an impressive resume, including several years at Blanca in Solana Beach, working with his mentor, super-chef Wade Hagemen.
Now Volk gets to cook what he wants, still using the best ingredients, and only works 10 hours a day, instead of 14.
If you're an adventurous eater, ask about the tongue and tails — delicate medallions of pork tongue or rich bits of oxtail, each braised for hours, and served on tacos, of course.
But it isn't all tacos. There may also be platters of the freshest sashimi, enhanced by a tasty blood orange ponzu.
"This is my new favorite place," said my husband, digging into a broiled yellowtail collar, with Spanish barbecue sauce.
"Best meal in North County," said Barry Grimes, who works nearby, and comes in for lunch every day.
For extra-special specials, come on Mondays or weekends. Make it a sunny day, for the whole sea-view experience — wet weather means eating inside the camp store.
Next month, BT will open a flashier Oceanside venue.
But why wait? Eat here now.