By David Nelson / Photos by Jeff “Turbo” Corrigan
Lucky you! You got to spend a gloriously sunny day at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club and won enough bucks to treat the crew to a great meal. Nice. No trouble finding the right place to celebrate in an area that has catered to exuberant racing fans since the 1930s.
If you’ve dressed for the occasion (hey, it happens), there are swanked-out eateries where you’ll fit in like a pony prancing into the Winner’s Circle. Not feeling snazzy and all that jazz, no problemo-all the same places will make you every bit as welcome. On the menu: wildly creative cocktails; sky’s-the-limit wine lists; the finest meats, seafood and produce creatively prepared by some of Southern California’s top chefs.
Gambling’s for the track, not dinner, so don’t risk it on a long shot. Saddle up to one of these safe bets instead.
Del Mar Rendezvous
Del Mar Plaza?1555 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar
This cozy little place on the street level of upscale Del Mar Plaza is in fact the perfect post-track rendezvous, both for the intimate atmosphere and for Chinese cuisine that unquestionably is the best on the North County coast. Some of the fare is cross-cultural, like such “tapas” as rare seared ahi drizzled with a dazzlingly flavorful sauce, but the traditional chow is even better. And if you savor hot-n-sour soup, get it here. Crisp fried noodle cakes topped with succulent stir-fries, richly portioned meat and seafood dishes and a full menu of expertly prepared, gluten-free dishes all delight.
Recipe for a memorable day: eight races at Del Mar, a lively Italian dinner at Mia Francesca and then a flick steps away at the ultra-luxe Cinepolis theater. Buon apetito! We’re talking true Italian dishes like gutsy tomato, onion and blue cheese salad; quattro stagione pizza crowned with an egg; and spaghetti sautéed with ham and garlic in perky lemon sauce. Pastas delight with bright flavors and colors.
550 Via De La Valle, Solana Beach
It’s no accident that Red Tracton’s is across the street from the track. Built for high rollers and big winners, Tracton’s serves the best and lots of it, highlighted by colossal Australian lobster tails drenched with garlic butter. Add spritz to the ritz by dining in the candle-lit bar where track types talk horses and civilians sip frosty Martinis to live piano. Nothing nouvelle about this 1940s throwback, just amazing food like the Sinatra-style New York sirloin, sautéed walleye pike amandine and pork back ribs so succulent they melt on the tongue.
L’Auberge Del Mar
1540 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar
Del Mar doesn’t get much more glamorous than the elegant L’Auberge Del Mar, but by design, the Kitchen 1540 restaurant is very much a blue jeans kind of place. Not that you won’t be welcomed in Armani, but a casual mood rules in the sophisticated dining room, where chef Scott Thomas Dolbee excites with dishes like the “heirloom tomato array,” a summery salad garnished with lobster and grapefruit sorbet. Main events, big deals: Douglas fir smoke-flavored venison; the
“bbq pig roast” with leg, shoulder, belly and
cracklings; iron jaw snapper with warm spinach salad.
Del Mar Highlands Shopping Center
12995 El Camino Real, Del Mar
Chase the races with social dining and Brian Malarkey’s “Asian Cowboy” cuisine. Burlap invokes the East with an outdoor koi pond and a Chinese dragon circling above the bar. Chef Anthony Sinisay injects bold flavors into specialties like Sloppy Nicko (grilled char su pork, spicy slaw, steamed buns and jalapenos) and Filipino-style mussels in broth so good you’ll want a straw. Hit the trifecta by adding halibut with coconut lobster sauce and green papaya salad.
Pacifica Del Mar
Del Mar Plaza
1555 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar
Hard to believe this vastly popular favorite is more than 20 years old, but chef Tommy DiMella strives daily to create flavors so fresh that they taste like tomorrow. Wonderfully near the track and just plain wonderful, Pacifica is another place where you’d best reserve ahead to avoid disappointment. The exquisite coastal views from the sheltered terrace and the smooth, professional service never disappoint. DiMella’s menu includes fine meats but focuses on seafood: baked Pacific oysters, grilled shrimp with minted Thai vinaigrette, local clams steamed in white wine scented with chorizo and sweet onions. It’s all memorable.
3263 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar
Undergoing a full remodel-slated to reopen before opening day on July 18
Overlooking the west end of the track, The Brigantine sits like a giant skybox above the action. Jammed after the races, it’s a destination to reach with reservations made a day or two ahead, ensuring access to sizable drinks poured by bartenders who know what they’re doing, oysters that taste like they were just mined from the sea (which they were), other fresh-as-can-be seafood options and steaks that would make Bing Crosby sing.
Flavor Del Mar
Del Mar Plaza
1555 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar
Tuna crisps with red onion; scallops ceviche with racy serrano peppers, lime and tomato; chicken-coconut soup with lemongrass, ginger, cilantro and chile oil-the flavors are as bright as the sunlight that floods this terrace restaurant high above a sweeping coastal view that tricks you into thinking you’re dining on the Riviera. Chef Brian Redzikowski justifies Flavor’s name with powerhouse entrees like a bouillabaisse based on lobster and prosciutto, ingredients that pair like a daily double win at the track.
437 S. Highway 101, Solana Beach
Just around the bend from the track in laidback Solana Beach, wine-themed Crush welcomes with a living room-like dining area, a library of choice vintage books displayed around the restaurant and an Italian-accented menu that hits all the right notes. “Mom’s meatballs” are just that, a tasty, homestyle snack in a heady roasted tomato sauce. A “gremolata” of roasted sweet corn fancies up the day’s fish, fennel scents accent shellfish-rich cioppino, and while many local kitchens give chicken the bird, Crush serves an admirable, truffle-roasted specialty with herb-flavored gnocchi and Parmesan cream.
3702 Via De La Valle, Del Mar
Chef Carl Schroeder prefers his kitchen to the spotlight, but his reputation is national, as it should be. Among the first to preach local, farm-to-table cooking, Schroeder builds handsome plates, served by cheerful staffers in an atmosphere that pretty much percolates during racing season. Don’t stroll in without reservations, because you might miss out on marvels like crispy duck confit with organic figs and suave Penacorada blue cheese, colorful baby beet and citrus salad, and a spicy “roast” of Maine scallops and crayfish with an andouille sausage-corn saute and jalapeño butter.