Yu Me Ya gets high marks for food and atmosphere. Photo by David Rolland.
Two years ago, we started a new tradition with our annual food issue. We called it "Food chain." It works like this: We ask a restaurateur to tell us about a restaurant in town that she or he really likes, then we go to that restaurant and ask someone there to pick the next restaurant. And on and on it goes. The idea is to clue you in to where the people in business like to go for a bite to eat. Last year, our final pick was Crescent Heights, selected by Jayne Battle of Jaynes Gastropub. Well, the food business is a cruel bitch, and she sent Crescent Heights to Restaurant Heaven. So we went back to Battle for another selection. And her choice is
Yu Me Ya
Jayne Battle, owner of Jaynes Gastropub, says: "Yu Me Ya, known to Encinitas locals as The Sake House,' has become a personal favorite of mine in recent years. This restaurant is 100-percent family-run by Osaka, Japan, natives. The mother and father cook in the kitchen, and the daughters run the front of house. The food is incredibly fresh with small plates, sushi and even Kobe beef Shabu Shabu during the winter months by reservation. You really feel like you are eating in someone's home, so I strongly recommend letting the house course out your meal for you, including the sake. There are no televisions to be found. Instead there is an endless flow of interesting stories surrounding the dishes, including why they chose a sake for you, in particular. Who knows, you might be channeling a 12th-century samurai? This is a very sincere restaurant and a true expression of one family's love of food, drink and their homeland. If you live in North County, I'm sure this is on your rotation already, but for those who don't, like myself, this is well worth the drive." Yu Me Ya, 1246 N Coast Hwy. 101, Encinitas. 760-633-4288.
El Agave Tequileria
Yuka Nakai of Yu Me Ya, says: "I enjoy going out to try different restaurants on my one day off a week. It's very rare I find one I love. My favorite so far is El Agave in Old Town. It reminds me of being in Mexico. They have every type of Tequila and then some. You can sit at the bar and taste all the goods. It's very refreshing to chase your shot with an orange. The food is really high-end Mexican food. They have many different types of mole, which is really rare compared to any other Mexican restaurant. The atmosphere is very nice as well." El Agave Tequileria, 2304 San Diego Ave., Old Town. www.elagave.com.
Alberto Mondragon, general manager of El Agave, says: "The atmosphere of [Costa Brava] is very Spanish-the way the restaurant is set up, the music. The sangria is excellent. A lot of places make it too sweet; this is really good sangria. Also, the products that they use are good quality, because they have the deli next to the restaurant, like cheese, ham, the sausage-they're excellent quality. Also the wine, they have a really good wine list. They have some of the best wines from Spain. The food-the flavor is very authentic. A lot of restaurants, they make it too bland. This one has all the spices that they use in Spain-the traditional spices." Costa Brava, 1653 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach. www.sdcostabrava.com.
Javier Gonzalez, owner of Costa Brava, says: "I love [Mamma Mia]. Family-owned, it just has great Italian food. My kids love it over there, very family-oriented type of place. The tiramisu is pretty wonderful. Their gnocci is really good, homemade stuff. Just their homey feeling-it's pretty loud because they're very Italian, and I think I just get a kick out of the cultural experience. I've known those guys for many years. We talked about how we would open a restaurant one day, and both of us are doing it, you know, so I feel pretty proud when I go over there." Mamma Mia, 1932 Balboa Ave., Pacific Beach. www.mammamiaitalianrestaurant.com.
Chronic Smoothies and Blazin Grill
Francesco Mezzetti, owner of Mamma Mia, says: "The food [at Chronic Smoothies and Blazin Grill] is very fresh. Very good. Made with products you can only get at that location. Sandwiches, burgers, pizza-everything is very good. The people are so nice. The owners, everybody, are very nice, very friendly. Chronic Smoothies and Blazin Grill together are cute. They're very comfy." Chronic Smoothies and Blazin Grill, 865 Turquoise St., Pacific Beach. www.theblazingrill.com.