Friends, The Food Chain is being held together not with sturdy metal, but, instead, a single frayed thread. It's a precarious situation, one that I don't fully understand.
The chain began in 2008, when I asked my friend Neal Wasserman at Nine-Ten restaurant to recommend one of his favorite eateries and write 100 words or so about it. Then I went to that restaurant and asked the owner to pick the next link on the chain, which carried on unbroken in each of our annual Food issues thereafter.
We believe it to be a popular feature, but it's been incomprehensibly difficult to get some restaurants to play ball, despite the no-lose publicity benefit to them. This year was the worst: The owner of one restaurant, Izakaya Masa in Mission Hills, finally coughed up a name but refused to tells us why he likes it. Repeated phone messages to another one, Robbie's / Vigilucci's in Leucadia, clearly explaining the feature, went unreturned. Sad.
Let's not allow that to dampen our enthusiasm for those who cooperate, and we had a few this year who did. We'll start the recommendation from with the final link in last year's chain, Market in Del Mar, which was recommended by Matt Othick of Crust Pizzeria:
John Thompson, chef de cuisine of Market, says: "For those of us working in the industry, it's always difficult to find a late-night spot to get good food after you get off work. Izakaya Masa in Mission Hills is open until 1 a.m. It's off the beaten path, authentic and totally affordable. They have a delicious array of Japanese-style tapas, sushi and noodles. I like the clay pot and dumplings. Their draft beer is ice cold, which is always nice after working all night in a hot kitchen." Izakaya Masa, 928 Fort Stockton Drive in Mission Hills.
The owner of Izakaya Masa chooses Brooklyn Girl but says nothing, so I'll pick up the slack: "One of my favorite meals is a burger and a bourbon cocktail, and Brooklyn Girl doesn't disappoint. The burger is delightfully seasoned and the Old Fashioned cocktail well mixed. She who dines regularly with me loves the All Kale Caesar salad with a side of the Baja roast edcorn, made with cilantro, Cotija cheese and lime. The high ceiling contributes to a lively, boisterous atmosphere, the bar seating is convivial and the décor is whimsical, including an elaborate chalkboard at the building's north end, which doubles as fine art." Brooklyn Girl, 4033 Goldfinch St. in Mission Hills.
Michael McGeath, co-owner of Brooklyn Girl, says: "As a restaurateur who's pretty much tied to his own restaurant, it can be difficult to find the time to travel south. Fortunately, we found El Callejon in Encinitas, and it's become our favorite go-to place on our day off. My wife and I have our favorite dishes and rarely stray from them. For me, it's the Carnitas Plate, with chunks of tender marinated pork served with Mexican rice, frijoles, rajas and guacamole. My wife is partial to a special shrimp dish they do, the Camarones al Chipotle—giant shrimp cooked in a silky chipotle-pepper sauce. She usually has enough left over for a snack the next day. We've had the same server almost every time, Antonio, and he's a real pro. He brings us a special margarita to start, and we are in heaven." El Callejon, 345 S. Coast Hwy. 101 in Encinitas
Robbie's Restaurant / Vigilucci's
Bernard Jourdain, owner of El Callejon, says: "I like to go frequently to these restaurants for many reasons: The menu is great with many different selections, from Italian to great steaks, great hamburgers and anything else you can think of. The ambiance is always great, with live music and good entertainment. The selection of wines is amazing, and the other great thing is that they have a Vigilucci's restaurant in the same building, which has the greatest pizzas that you can eat. I really recommend this restaurant to go and try." Robbie's / Vigilucci's, 530 N. Coast Hwy. 101 in Encinitas.
Dear Robbie's / Vigilucci's: If we call you next spring, please call us back—The Food Chain's future depends on it. Your pal, Dave.