"Revitalization" might not be the right word when talking about the various interesting eateries popping up around Oceanside, but there's a brash energy to our county's northernmost beach town that's unlike its crunchier neighbors to the south.
One of the newer players in the food scene is Local Tap House Kitchen, and it's the hangout Oceanside needs. The simple, stucco bar and restaurant (308 S. Coast Hwy.) feels like it's been there for years, a place for both the transitory military community and the permanent residents in this colorful little town. It joyfully combines the creativity of a gastropub with the bros-in-flip-flops casualness of a beachside sports bar.
A quick perusal of the menu introduces you to creative flavors that go well with the now-mandatory wide selection of craft beer. There's a flair for clever bar food here.
If you can't make it to Quebec anytime soon, LTH will satisfy your craving for poutine, the French Canadian gut bomb of potatoes, gravy, and cheese curds. This version is an attempt at giving the down-and-dirty dish a classy makeover, with globs of goat cheese, rich shreds of braised short ribs and a perfectly sunny fried egg on top, spilling its golden goodness all over the place. The upgrades feel a little like adding a cummerbund to a tank top, but, somehow, it all works. This dish is over-the-top, naughty and completely awesome.
For a more balanced attempt at culinary magic, be sure to nibble on the Warm Brie Cheese Puffs. You've eaten a version of this at someone's aunt's Christmas party, but this plating is much more sophisticated. Puff pastry envelops chunks of almost-hot Brie in crispy, golf-ball-size bites. A thick, juicy spread of Bing cherry jam brightens the plate, and crunchy prosciutto "chips" add a great textural contrast. Bright and spicy habanero aioli could have been one flavor too many, but its punchy heat is a terrific exclamation point to this appetizer.
With all that cheese and gravy, I figured I should at least look at a salad. Oh, hey, one with fried tomatoes! I'll take that one. Butter lettuce gets some bulk with avocado and roasted corn, along with thin slices of radish and thick ones of jalapeños. The salad is lovely and fresh, although I found the fried tomatoes a bit under-seasoned and tasting as if they were fried in the morning and quickly reheated once I put in my order.
Hearty main courses are in abundance, from the omnipresent mac 'n' cheese (made with a blonde ale) to a veggie-friendly quinoa burger. Apparently, I didn't feel disgusting enough after the poutine, so I opted for the French dip, made with beer-braised short rib that's sandwiched with a thick layer of thin, fried onions. The au jus is made with stout, which adds a nice, bitter undertone, although it did veer a bit salty. Otherwise, this is a massive and tasty sandwich.
Much like Oceanside, Local Tap House feels easy and fun without any self-conscious attempt at being trendy.