5 to try: New North County restaurants for Mexican, Mediterranean and more

We took a taste of some recently opened spots in Carlsbad, San Marcos and Vista


A sampling of five restaurants and culinary shops that have recently opened. Enjoy!


Casero Taqueria

One of the best patios dining spots in North County arrived July 4 with the opening of Craig Applegateand Clayton Wheeler’s Casero Taqueria in Carlsbad, a passion project for the longtime business partners.

The sun-soaked eatery, perched on a canyonside plateau with a view, is a fast-casual restaurant serving family-style and a la carte fresh Mexican food and a full-service indoor-outdoor bar specializing in tequilas and mezcals, locally brewed Mexican lagers, margaritas and cocktails.

Like at Crack Shack, diners order at an outdoor walk-up cashier station, then get a number and choose an indoor or outdoor table (hint: head for the patio).

Chef Julio Castillo leads the team in the glass-walled exhibition kitchen that includes a tortilleria, where hand-pressed corn tortillas are made fresh all day. Taco filling options include carne asada, carnitas, pollo asada, al pastor (pork), birria (goat) and line-caught fish, shrimp and veggies. Everything’s made in-house, portions are hearty, service is speedy and prices are fair.

What to order: Tacos can be ordered a la carte, but instead go for the family-style dinners, priced from $24.50 to $32 (depending on protein). Diners get a pound of protein with fresh-made tortillas, beans, rice, salsa and guacamole. Although pitched as serving up to four diners, it’s more like a big meal for two or a decent-size meal for three. The carnitas tacos are delicious, the pollo asada has a nice char-grilled flavor and the carne asada is tender. The chicken salad is generously laden with pollo and the margaritas are strong.

The Square at Bressi Ranch, 2675 Gateway Drive, Suite 195, Carlsbad. (760) 405-4195.


D’Liteful Chocolat Patisserie and Chocolatier

A variety of fresh-baked fruit-flavored macarons for sale at newly opened D'Liteful Chocolat Patisserie & Chocolatier in Lake San Marcos.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

On June 11, Dayleen Coleman opened this petite patisserie in the Shops at Lake San Marcos. Classically trained at Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in London, Coleman’s bakery skills are top notch.

The shop sells chocolates and truffles, single-serving chilled fruit and dessert tarts, opera and black forest cakes, crème brûlées, macarons, made-to-order crepes and cookies and brownies. She also offers two-hour chocolate- and macaron-making workshops customized for children and adults, ranging from $45 to $60.

What to order: Don’t miss the heavenly lemon meringue tart; it’s not too tangy or too sweet. The gluten-free brownies are baked to perfection. The shop specialty is macaron cookies that come in a variety of unusual flavors, including rose, violet, cassis, matcha and Earl Grey tea. My favorites are the orange, lemon and lime.

1030 La Bonita Drive, Suite 200, San Marcos. (760) 653-3029.


My Yard Live

The smoked beef brisket at My Yard Live in San Marcos.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

My Yard Live aims to be all things to all people. Open since July 1, the 17,000-square-foot family playground in an old Hometown Buffet is a combination restaurant, 20-barrel brewery, indoor/outdoor bar, children’s playground, arcade and concert venue.

While many other restaurants have introduced arcade games and outdoor play yards, My Yard Live takes the concept to the extreme with a large fenced outdoor playground for children with picnic tables where parents can sip beer and order meals family-style.

The all-American backyard barbecue-style menu was developed by 30-year veteran chef David Chennelle. Diners can order house-smoked brisket by the half-pound, ribs by the half or full rack, sausages by the link, and chicken tenders by the pound, as well as smoked turkey legs, burgers, hot dogs, fish sandwiches and sides. House specialties are a whole beer-can-style chicken, smoked salmon, smoked 2-pound turkey leg, smoked jackfruit and whole Bahamian-style red snapper.

What to order: The brisket is the star attraction at My Yard Live. It’s smoky, fork-tender and juicy, with a barbecue sauce that’s not too sweet. The vegan jackfruit sandwich also has a nice smoke to it but could use a little more seasoning. A tasty surprise is the cacciucco, a richly flavored fish stew native to Peru, where Chennelle grew up.

288 Rancheros Drive, San Marcos. (760) 798-0779.


Shaks Mediterranean Bistro

The lamb kabob plate at Shaks Mediterranean Bistro in Vista.
(Pam Kragen/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

In 2015, Eddy Shakarjian was forced to close his 27-year-old Armenian Cafe in Carlsbad to make way for a long-planned hotel project. But the Shakarjian family is back with a new restaurant, Shaks Mediterranean Bistro in Vista, which offers many of the same dishes that made the Armenian Cafe a popular locals hangout.

The Shakarjians did a classy renovation of the former Vista Village Cafe space and its shaded patio is much improved.

Just like at the Armenian Cafe, the Shaks menu specializes in kabob plates, soups, salads and baklava desserts. But at Shaks, there are more Lebanese dishes, like mezza, which is the Lebanese version of tapas. And instead of the pita sandwiches that Armenian Cafe served, there are now a handful of hamburgers.

Entrees begin with a cup of thick lemon orzo soup and are served with both rice and spicy garlic dip. Portions are generous in every way, but the pita bread, which comes to the table in a small portion, are cut into small strips that are too tiny to do much with.

What to order: Start with the baba ghannouj eggplant dip, which is creamy and flavorful. Then try the beef or the lamb kabob. Both are crusted with herbs and spices before they’re char-broiled, adding a nice layer of flavor that holds the juices inside.

406 Main St., Vista. (760) 720-2233.


Toast Gastrobrunch

Kanafeh, a Middle Eastern-inspired sweet breakfast dish, is the specialty of the house at Toast Gastrobrunch in Carlsbad.
Kanafeh, a Middle Eastern-inspired sweet breakfast dish, is the specialty of the house at Toast Gastrobrunch in Carlsbad.
(Pam Kragen/San Diego U-T)

Restaurateur Sami Ladeki, of Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza fame, jumped on the brunch train this year with the opening of Toast Gastrobrunch in Carlsbad.

With a full bar, Toast offers a very boozy brunch, but chef Alfie Szeprethy has worked hard to push the menu outside the boundaries of what other brunch spots around town are making. Yes, there are red velvet pancakes and toasts galore, but Szeprethy’s fine-dining background shows in the quality of housemade ingredients and its one-of-a-kind international dishes.

The colorfully decorated restaurant took over the freeway-facing space formerly occupied by Ladeki’s short-lived Peruvian concept, Pisco. The place has been hopping ever since, so arrive early to avoid a wait on weekend mornings.

What to order: If you don’t mind a sweet breakfast, order the kanafeh, a Middle Eastern grilled-cheese style dish made with baked shredded phyllo dough, butter, ricotta and mozzarella cheese, orange flower water, simple syrup and chopped pistachios. For hearty eaters, try the Eggs in Purgatory, a sourdough bread bowl twist on the Moroccan shakshouka eggs-and-tomato skillet dish. You’ll be full all day.

5970 Avenida Encinas, Carlsbad. (760) 438-1212.