The road from Rancho Santa Fe to Long Beach has plenty of foodie variations depending on the point of departure.
There are plenty of freeways to take, starting with the 5, then heading into the 710, 110, and 405. North of here, it’s a better idea to stick to 5 and 405, since that leads one through Little Saigon, Long Beach, and frankly, far better options. For the most part, this guide will keep close to the highway so one reaches the destination in semi-timely fashion. No need to make dinner plans upon arrival in the City of Angels considering how much eating will happen en route.
Starting with Chino Farm just down Del Dios Highway, through Solana Beach and Cardiff before turning north towards Willie Morris’ home.
Rancho Santa Fe
If the Chino family ever decided to sell their farm, which resides amidst grand gated Rancho Santa Fe homes, they’d no doubt earn a fortune. Instead, Makoto Chino, son of current patriarch Tom and a UCLA law school grad, will take over the family business that his grandfather Junzo Chino established. Wolfgang Puck, Jonathan Waxman, and Alice Waters are longtime proponents, and luminaries still make public appearances at the farm.
The Vegetable Shop, Chino’s farm stand, grows pristine specimens of produce like strawberries and tomatoes. Also find more esoteric fruits and vegetables like star-shaped Chinese winged beans, French black turnips, and golden snow peas. Grab a healthy snack or stock up on edible souvenirs to cook upon arrival. 6123 Calzada Del Bosque, Rancho Santa Fe, 858.756.3184, www.chinofamilyfarm.com
Hide Away Café
On a side street near the Solana Beach train station, ivy-covered walls leads to a tiny patio with sea blue Tommy Bahama umbrellas and dining room with a mural depicting nearby cliffs and crashing waves. Hide Away Café debuted in 1984 and continues to dole out comfort food at breakfast and lunch. Their potato pancake is the perfect foil to bacon and eggs, with crispy shredded potato bolstered with onion, scallion, and Parmesan cheese.
House-baked breads include pumpkin, banana, apple sauce, or cranberry, and don’t get me started on the fruit and cream cheese Danish. This behemoth is served warm, with crusty edges and icing and thick edges similar to an old fashioned donut. Choose between blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, or apple. 150 S. Acaia Ave., Solana Beach, 858.755.3388, www.hideawaycafesb.com
VG Donut & Bakery
The Mettee family has made sure that VG Donut & Bakery remains “Very Good” in a Cardiff-by-the-Sea strip mall since 1969. The aqua façade and donuts themselves are decidedly old school, which is refreshing in this era of over-the-top, Instagram-inspired monstrosities. Raised, maple-glazed rings feature great ratio and chew. Their cinnamon crumb coated caked donut is nice and soft, and judiciously sweet. Raised and glazed twists are also tantalizing, as is the gooey spiral-shaped cinnamon roll that they call a “flower.” 106 Aberdeen Dr., Cardiff, 760.753.2400, www.vgbakery.com
Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon
Elizabeth Harris ran with a Wild West theme at Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon next to Sunshine Gardens Nursery in Encinitas. Pass by wagon wheels, grab a horseshoe-branded chair, and revel in a blackboard menu with over 20 savory and sweet pies. In season, lattice topped strawberry rhubarb pie is a sweet tart masterpiece. Year-round, Grandma Lucy’s chicken pie showcases juicy chicken and vegetables in light gravy beneath Parmesan herb crust that’s accented with rosemary. “Eat-yer-greens” pie arrives in a buttery crust branded with BPW, loaded with kale, spinach, mushrooms, Fontina, mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmesan cheeses. 155 Quail Gardens Dr., Encinitas, 760.230.6781, www.bettyspiewhole.com
Break of Dawn
Five days a week, Break of Dawn specializes in elaborate brunch dishes in in Laguna Hills. Chef-owner Dee Nguyen moved the restaurant across Oakbrook Village in 2014 and further dialed up already grand ambitions. Now composed plates include smoked salmon on a crispy oatmeal pancake with herb poached eggs, cucumber, fennel, and preserved kumquat. Looking for something on the sweet side? Consider French toast crème brûlée with Mexican chocolate and chocolate-soy caramel sauce. Track Break of Dawn’s Facebook feed for BoD pop-ups, no-holds-barred tasting dinners built around themes like “Raw,” “Pinoy Summer,” and “Joseon: The Land of Morning Calm.” 24291 Avenida De La Carlota, Laguna Hills, 949.587.9418, www.breakofdawnrestaurant.com
Taco Maria is better known at The OC Mix, but Noah Blom and wife-partner Marin carved out a delicious niche for in the Costa Mesa complex with Arc, which focuses on wood-fired cooking. Restaurant Marin is their latest concept, a chic diner that serves three meals daily and features indulgent takes on American comfort foods.
Dine set to French accordion music in a blue cushioned patio booth or grab a blue plastic table indoors. Fire again plays a key role in cooking thanks to an oven that burns orange wood and a grill that feasts on almond wood. Breakfast brings luxe dishes like crab cake Benedict and duck hash browns. Later in the day, find buttery lobster rolls piled with shrimp and a downright architectural chicken pot pie. Don’t leave without dessert, whether it’s supple donut holes served with whipped cream and quad-berry jam, or a towering slice of cake. 3321 Hyland Ave., Costa Mesa, 949.402.3974, www.restaurantmarin.com
Kim Hong Eggrolls
Kim Nguyen has stuffed, rolled, and fried egg rolls on Little Saigon’s west side for the past 16 years. The current Kim Hong Eggrolls location contains just three faux wood tables and houses fridges bursting with 100-packs. Icons on a wall-mounted menu decode egg rolls, which cost $1 each, with a $10 minimum. Cha Gio Dac Biet = crab + chicken + shrimp. Cha Gio Tom Cua Canada = crab + pork + shrimp. No matter what, crisp coats with good give yield peppery fillings that also include carrot flecks and glass noodles. Dip into sweet chile sauce. Call ahead, since they fry egg rolls to order, to save time. 14115 Goldenwest St., Westminster, 714.895.0030
Bigmista’s Morning Wood OR Bigmista’s Barbecue & Sammich Shop
Neil Strawder and wife Phyllis have two Long Beach options within range of the 405. Morning Wood is a “smoky breakfast and lunch joint” that includes pig candy pancakes and Aaron’s fattie Benedict with biscuits, fried egg, smoked “fattie” gravy and bacon. For lunch and dinner, their nearby “sammich” shop serves BBQ “on bread, in a bowl, or just in your face.” Meats include peppery pulled pork, rosy spare ribs, and delectable rib tips. The standard sauce has plenty of kick, but if craving spice, tell them, “Drop it like it’s hot.” 4331 E. Carson St., Long Beach, 562.452.7300, www.bigmista.com/morning-wood.