Five or ten years ago, the idea of heading to Oceanside for a nice dinner and drinks would have been met with shrugs, if not scoffs. The waterfront military enclave was home to little more than a handful of quirky dives and late-night Randoberto’s, and locals would inevitably find themselves heading south for a night on the town. Then, in mid-2011, all that began to change.
“Roddy [Browning] over at the Flying Pig, was the first to take the leap, if you will,” says Chef Michael Brown of Barrel Republic self-serve tap house and the nascent Jalisco Cantina. “He’s the one who started putting Oceanside on the map. Then, because of the price of real estate, Oceanside became somewhat attractive, and obviously an easier market to get into than Carlsbad, Encinitas, or Del Mar. So all of a sudden, people who wanted to take a risk in the restaurant business started moving into the Oceanside area and growing the scene.”
With the help of the MainStreet Oceanside business association, the Oceanside Chamber of Commerce, and a small surge of enterprising restauranteurs, the homegrown culinary inkling sprouted into a bustling scene.
“MainStreet did a good job of getting us all in touch with each other and we all started doing these food festivals together,” Chef Michael says. “So pretty soon, after four, five, six of them, you get to know everybody. We all have different businesses. Down the street you have LTH [Local Tap House]. They do a lot more entrees and whatnot than we do here at the Barrel. Breakwater is brewing their own beer and making pizza. Further down the way, Wrench & Rodent’s doing sushi, Flying Pig is doing fresh pasta. None of us are stepping on each other’s toes with business, so it created this camaraderie where we end up working together and sharing employees. We all text each other. We all go to meetings together. Whenever we have problems, we all reach out to each other. I can pick up the phone and call any of the 15 Chefs or owners in this area and ask about an employee or ask about how their weekend was or get information on what’s going on in or around the Oceanside area. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.”
And Chef Michael has seen a lot. Jalisco Cantina, opened mid-September sharing a split-kitchen with Barrel Republic, is his 29th endeavor nationwide and is owned by Barrel Republic proprietor David Pike. The cozy, 1,250-square-foot cantina specializes in about 40 tequilas and mezcals served in shots, flights, cocktails (accompanying novelties such as elderflower foam and activated charcoal), and infusions. Between the clever menu, a hammered copper bartop imported from Mexico, rollup windows, and confidential yet carefree ambiance, it’s easy to see Jalisco Cantina becoming a staple of downtown Oceanside’s foodie and mixology circuits.
“We set out to do craft cocktails with a tequila focus, looking for a little different Mexican fare,” Chef Michael says. “We did draw three dishes directly out of the Jalisco region, which is the region where agave [the plant that tequila is distilled from] is grown. We’re still developing the cocktails, but some of the standouts currently are an Elote Frappe which is a corn water that’s paired with a smoky mescal. Then we created this Cilantro Smash. We’re making a lime cilantro simple syrup and working it into a margarita. Food-wise, we’re doing tacos, like a lot of San Diego. What makes ours different is that we’re utilizing sous-vide, so our carnitas and birria are doing a two-to-three -day marinade sous-vide with orange, cinnamon stick, and cumin, and is then crisped up in a pan to serve. We’ve got a chile relleno topped with a sunny side up egg so the egg just runs all throughout the relleno. Much like the Barrel Republic, we run a fresh food, scratch kitchen. Jalisco Cantina does have a freezer, but that’s only for our chili pecan-infused ice cream and our shrimp.”
On Saturday, October 7 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., Jalisco Cantina and Barrel Republic will be participating in A Taste of Oceanside along with over 30 other dining and drinking establishments. The event draws upwards of 800 visitors to nibble and sip their way across town with the help of two trolleys and specials such as Barrel Republic’s smoked shrimp chowder and neighboring Southern BBQ joint That Boy Good’s shrimp remoulade.
The North County Food Bank will be joining A Taste of Oceanside as the event’s nonprofit partner. We will be accepting food donations at check-in located at Oceanside City Hall, 300 North Coast Highway. In addition, $2 from every ticket sold will be donated to the North County Food Bank. Each $2 donation will provide 10 meals to North County residents in need, thanks to the Food Bank’s highly efficient food procurement and distribution model. The North County Food Bank, based in San Marcos, provides food assistance to working-poor families, fixed-income seniors, low-income military families, and children living in poverty in communities throughout North County. Stop by and say hello before your taste!