New casual dining treasures in North County

If you've already blown your New Year's resolution diet, four new North County comfort food outlets will ease the pain. Here's a recap.

Burger Bench

Derek Loranger said there must've been a "hamburger-size hole" in Escondido before he and his family opened Burger Bench last December, because the fast-casual restaurant has become a runaway success.

Loranger said he and his wife, Hoa, kicked around the idea of opening their own "burger shack" in the style of Carpinteria's The Spot for 10 years, but didn't take the leap until he got laid off from his tech job in Santa Barbara in April 2014.

That's when the Lorangers and Hoa's sister and brother-in-law, Han Duong and Mark Dinh, decided to move together to San Diego to open a restaurant. After an extensive search, the couples bought a historic 1924 brick building on Grand Avenue and spent nearly a year revamping the property.

Chef Ferdinand "Fred" Vitale, formerly of Portino's in Valley Center, has created a farm-to-table menu of gourmet burgers, sandwiches, soups, sides and salads featuring all-local ingredients, including chorizo from Kennedy's Karne and buns from O'Brien's bakery in Escondido, as well as 20 all-San Diego beers on tap.

The signature dish is the $9 Bench Burger, a tender ground chuck burger on a toasted brioche bun with thick-cut smoked maple bacon, blue and Monterey Jack cheese, grilled mushrooms and onions, arugula and house hickory BBQ sauce (made with local honey).

Still to come this spring, old-fashioned milk shakes, a line of house desserts, as well as more grilled cheese sandwich options.

"We're extremely happy," Loranger said. "Escondido has almost overwhelmed us with how much they appreciate us."

Burger Bench, 237 E. Grand Ave., Escondido. (760) 294-2001, burgerbench.com

Moto Deli

Although its Leucadia brick-and-mortar store won't open for another month, Moto Deli is off and running with a just-launched food truck serving up its signature gourmet sandwiches.

Moto Deli was supposed to open in January in the old 1927-era shop once home to Sub Palace. But construction delays led co-owners Mario Warman and chef Alex Carballo (formerly of URBN and Stone Brewing) to push ahead instead with the mobile side of their business.

Carballo's artisan sandwiches feature ingredients all made in-house daily, including bread, roasted meats, charcuterie and condiments. Signature sandwiches include the Bahn Moto (with pork belly, cinnamon pate, house ham, pickled veggies and moto spread on a torpedo roll) and the Turketta (porchetta-style roast turkey breast with red onion, bacon, house mustard and more on squaw bread).

The shop, now set for an April opening, will have a motorcycle theme, which is Warman's passion. Until then, Carballo is serving sandwiches from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays out front.

Moto Deli, 810 North Coast Highway 101, Encinitas. (760) 943-6686, motodeli.com

TJ Tacos

San Diego taco aficionados say the county's very best are made by Tacos El Gordo, a Tijuana-based chain with locations in Chula Vista and Otay. Now, North County taco-lovers can avoid the drive by visiting this fast-food eatery with a near-identical menu in Escondido.

Since it opened in February, long lines have formed for the no-frills outlet's mostly $2 street tacos with choice of adobada (spiced pork), cabeza (beef head), carne asada (beef), tripa (tripe), lengua (tongue) and more served on fresh-made tortillas.

TJ Tacos, 802 E. Valley Parkway, Escondido. (760) 294-7511.

Source: DiscoverSD

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