Two artisan, farm-to-table restaurant chains that have recently entered the San Diego market have opened new locations in North County this week at two fledgling shopping centers.
North Italia opened its second San Diego County location Wednesday in the One Paseo mixed-use development in Del Mar, and Mendocino Farms will open its third county location at 11 a.m. today in the Square at Bressi Ranch center in Carlsbad. Both of these high-profile shopping centers are still in the final construction phases.
Studio City-based Mendocino Farms, which specializes in gourmet sandwiches, entered the San Diego market in 2016 with a location in La Jolla, followed by Del Mar. The 3,000-square-foot, fast-casual Carlsbad location is the 27th for the 14-year-old company co-founded by UC San Diego alumnus Ellen Chen and her husband, Mario Del Pero, a USC grad. A fourth local location is planned in downtown San Diego in 2020. The company will open its first location outside San Diego next month in foodie-rich Houston, with plans for broad expansion in Texas in the next several years.
The Carlsbad location has a children’s play area, outdoor foosball and corn hole games, and a dozen mostly local beers on tap. Del Pero said each location is individually designed to cater to the needs of the neighborhood it serves. Two of its newest locations are in iconic buildings, like the 1880s-era San Francisco mercantile exchange and a vintage McDonald’s location in Studio City.
Chen describes the menu as “approachably adventurous,” with both traditional options and a host of cutting-edge ingredients and vegan and vegetarian options. The restaurants serve sandwiches and salads priced from $9.75 to $13.35, featuring house-made dressings, sauces, slaws and pickled vegetables. Four years ago, Whole Foods bought a stake in Mendocino Farms. All of the ingredients the restaurants serve meet Whole Foods market quality standards.
“We’re Whole Foods quality at Panera prices,” Del Pero said in an interview with Chen at the new location on Tuesday.
The couple, who live in Studio City with their two children, work closely with California and Oregon farmers to develop their menu, which changes with the seasons every three months. The Save Drake Farm’s Salad was created to provide a stable market for the struggling Chino dairy’s goat cheese. Last fall’s Spanish pork bocadilla sandwich was also developed to provide a market for 24 unsold pigs at Oregon’s Pachamama Farms. And in a nod to his childhood hometown of Yuba City, Del Pero crated the Peachy Keen Chicken Club sandwich, which features a sweet mustard made with peaches from Yuba City’s Twin Peaks Agriculture, owned by Del Pero’s childhood friend Anthony Laney.
Mendocino Farms is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. It’s located in the Square at Bressi Ranch, 2674 Gateway Road, Suite 185, Carlsbad, mendocinofarms.com/carlsbad/
North Italia opened its first San Diego County location last November in the Fashion Valley shopping center.
The Fashion Valley location has an upscale look in keeping with that mall, but the new Del Mar location has a homey country feel, with a large family-friendly dining patio in keeping with the open-air style of the One Paseo development.
North Italia, created by Phoenix-based Fox Restaurant Concepts, has 23 locations nationwide. Like all of its sister restaurants, the 5,110-square-foot Del Mar location has a large, glass-walled kitchen where diners can see the kitchen staff hand-making pastas, pizzas and other items from scratch daily.
North Italia serves lunch dinner and weekend brunch and offers a weekday happy hour. The menu varies slightly by location. Small plates including calamari, meatballs and the house specialty white truffle garlic bread range from $5 to $15. Entree salads are $11 to $16. Wood-fired pizzas are $14.50 to $18. Italian sandwiches are $14.50 to $15.50. And pasta and protein entrees, like the squid ink mafaldine and house specialty Bolognese are $18 to $23.
The restaurant has a full bar, serving Italian-inspired cocktails and margaritas, and wines and beers from both Italy and California.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Happy hour is 3 to 6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.
North Italia, One Paseo, 3715 Caminito Court, Suite 680, San Diego. (858) 252-7720, northitaliarestaurant.com.