Just when I think I've hit every little nook and cranny worth trying on the Encinitas stretch of the Coast Highway, a really obvious "I've been waiting for you!" contender pops onto my radar. Counter Culture (190 N. Coast Hwy. 101) is a small lunch-and-breakfast outpost connected with HapiFish, a bright and bustling sushi joint. The building is a cheery bungalow, a fun counterpoint to its Highway 101 next-door neighbor, the crazy pirate outpost known as Cap'n Keno's. HapiFish is for sushi and socializing in the evenings, but for daytime eats, hit up Counter Culture.
The restaurant says it serves lunch and "breakie," which I guess is what we're calling breakfast now? (In the future, would you guys run these terms by me first? Thanks.) I'm a tough-to-please grouch when it comes to lunch, but I loved popping into Counter Culture to find fun sandwich and salad options. The bento lunches are a great idea when you're looking to get something tasty and filling to go. And being so close to the ocean, I'd recommend playing hookie and heading to Swami's with one of these little lunch treats.
People keep telling me this recent heat isn't going to last. I'd like to believe them, but the part of my weak, SoCal-native brain that understands the concept of changing seasons has melted. I'm trying to pretend there's a chill in the air and nothing says "cozy, fall eating" better than the perfect combination of grilled cheese and tomato soup. Counter Culture's Grilled Cheese Bento is a delightful version of everyone's favorite classic. Buttery slices of sourdough are lightly grilled, heating up three kinds of gooey cheese. The greasy richness of the cheese is kept from being too cloying by fresh bits of basil mixed throughout.
The tomato soup is hot, creamy and bright, with small chunks of tomato providing bursts of juiciness. There's a bit of a kick to the soup, enough to provide a pleasant contrast to the soft, decadent comfort of gooey cheese.
If you're just looking for a filling sammie, go for The BF. Ciabatta-wrapped chunks of grilled steak make for a hearty meal, along with tomatoes, provolone, some wasabi aioli for eye-watering zing and crispy fried onions, a fun twist on the standard raw slices.
I dig the casual feel of Counter Culture, a beach-industrial vibe that fits the laid-back bustle of Encinitas. I'm looking forward to checking out the "breakie" options some morning, particularly the eggs benedict, complete with lobster and jalapeño hollandaise. (I also saw plenty of lighter options, like acai bowls and make-your-own parfaits.)
Counter Culture is a groovy little joint with a sleepy vibe—HapiFish seems to be where things really come alive. But I'm too hot to socialize. Give me easy parking and a quick and filling bite that I can take down to the sand; Counter Culture fulfills that need. Just don't make me call it "lunchie."