Nov. 17 2009 07:08 PM

North County's Bull Taco is a seafood (and more) shack with a view

eats-prime

Photo by Dhanraj Emanuel

Bull Taco2050 S. Coast Highway 101 Encinitas760-436-6601

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Bull Taco is a restaurant in a residential neighborhood where nearby homes boast stunning, panoramic ocean views and easy beachfront access. The homes, though, are of the temporary variety-they're on wheels with names like Airstream and Winnebago. Bull Taco's bluff-top location is in a campground perched above San Elijo State Beach in Cardiff. And for surfers, campers and foodies alike, it's become a hit since opening in summer of last year.

Owners Greg Lukasiewicz and Laurel Manganelli meant to slow down and leave their restaurant days behind when they moved their family to Oceanside from the Pasadena area, where they'd been involved in numerous restaurant, most recently owning and operating a fancy fine-dining place. Manganelli's family owns the lease on two campground stores-one of them at San Elijo-and, eventually, Lukasiewicz wandered into the concession stand's small kitchen and started to experiment. The eatery that spawned from these cooking exercises has now become so popular that the family and their young, enthusiastic chefs are busy on their second Bull Taco, a sit-down restaurant in Oceanside at South Coast Highway and Cassidy Street, set to open in a few weeks.

Bull Taco's menu is inspired by the gourmet taco trend in Los Angeles; though, instead of Korean-barbecue tacos like those served by the now-famous Kogi Taco, Bull's signature fillings include shrimp curry and lobster with bacon and chorizo. It also delves deep into the exotic-after all, Lukasiewicz once dared to put black-bear ravioli on one of his previous restaurant menus. Depending on who's been on a shopping trip to Carlsbad's Tip Top Meats, they could return with all sorts of bizarre ingredients, some ingenious and some head-scratching. On one weekday lunch visit, the specials board offered tacos filled with everything from chicken hearts and calf's brain to smoked eel, conch and elk.

The street tacos are small, but two or three should sate a hungry person. They offer the standard carne asada, carnitas and chicken, plus a long list of fresh seafood, from fish to shellfish. Of everything I've tasted, the duck confit is the most delicious. Heated on the grill, the meat crisps and is rich enough to stand up to the tangy homemade salsa. I just wish the corn tortilla it's served on was thicker and more toothsome. But when piled generously into a torta sandwich, one of the best deals on the menu, the duck is juicy and moist in the way carnitas should be but rarely is.

The friendly guys working the grill are happy to cook up whatever interesting bits they have, which is how I ended up with an escargot taco. The snail filling looks like the black of huitlacoche, a corn fungus and traditional Mexican ingredient, and tastes a bit like it, too, with a mildly musky flavor. Though I'm usually a fan of pork and seafood combinations, the smoke, salt and spice of the LBC taco (lobster, bacon and chorizo) overwhelms the sweetness of the shellfish. And I have yet to try the tacos made with tiny fresh abalone (the shell is included as a souvenir) or foie gras, mostly because of their $10 price tags.

Specials change regularly, depending on the whim of the owner or chef. Local lobster has been available, and whole fried fish. Even more common concession-stand items like macaroni and cheese and burgers sometimes make the list. But it's the more far-out foods, and that incomparable ocean view, that people are flocking here for-in fact, Bull Taco was recently visited by a yet-to-air, weird and wacky food program from the Discovery Channel.   

Write candicew@sdcitybeat.com and editor@sdcitybeat.com.

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