March 14 2014 06:38 PM

Grilled cheese with apple and fig is a standout in Carlsbad

Photo by Jenny Montgomery

Is Carlsbad hip? I've never quite been able to figure it out. There are certainly spots of coolness, and although the village has the ubiquitous, never-changing tourist shops, there are interesting nooks around every corner with funky antiques, fresh art and tasty food. Café Topes occupies a busy corner (3091 Roosevelt St., find it on Facebook) one block off the main drag, with plenty of outdoor seating for watching the beach-bound go by and a great menu to fill your belly.

The interior, though clean and contemporary, with concrete floors and an order-at-the-counter efficiency, also has welcoming warmth. Simple, Pendleton-inspired pillows line the wall-length bench seat, and a gorgeous living wall of succulents is a design showstopper. With wide open doors and a large, sunny patio, Café Topes has a bustling and happy energy. It's open six days a week (sorry, Monday, you lose again) for breakfast and lunch, and although it's quite popular, there's always a place to rest your bones and have a nibble.

I continued my quest to eat every version of eggs Benedict on Earth by checking out Café Topes' classic presentation. The kitchen poached the eggs beautifully. They were a vision of warm, jiggly, sunny yolks that popped with one prick of my fork, slowly oozing onto the English muffin and surrounding potatoes. They also don't skimp on the creamy Hollandaise, thank you very much, and although I loved how much of it I got, it could have used a bit more flavor. Amp up the lemon, Café Topes, and I'll order that sauce by the pint. If you're not a traditionalist, try the Crack n' Benedict; a layer of burgundy tri-tip, cooked to order, beefs up the eggs and muffin.

I don't go in for baked-goods hyperbole. I stand by my opinion that since fewer people bother to bake at home, we're all wowed by anything semi-decent with a pantload of frosting. All that said, Café Topes does make a mean cinnamon roll, if a bit overhyped. The best I've ever had? No. I like my buns slightly underdone with a soft, gooey middle. This bun is well-cooked, cakey and quite delicious. It's ample and clearly made with love in the kitchen (not from anything artificial or frozen), and the frosting is classic, sweet and generously drizzled over the dough. If you're a lunatic, ask for it  "dirty" and they'll drown your bun in the sugary stuff. 

There are plenty of tasty lunch options, as well. Don't miss out on the grilled cheese with Brie, tart green apples and a sticky swipe of fig jam. The hamburgers are also a menu standout. I had a classic cheeseburger and fries and loved every bite. The hand-formed patties are as succulent as the plants on the wall, and the fries are hot and wonderfully seasoned. 

Whether or not the village of Carlsbad is hip, Café Topes is definitely a bustling spot of open-hearted coolness. This is no 'tude-filled hipster haven; it's a stylish eatery with great food, great service and a bright future.

Write to and Follow Jenny on Twitter @jennymontyinsd.


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