Sublime Ale House founder launches Southeast Asian street food concept: Mak Mak Organic

Menu items at newly opened Mak Mak Organic, a Southeast Asian street food restaurant in Oceanside.
Menu items at newly opened Mak Mak Organic, a Southeast Asian street food restaurant in downtown Oceanside.
(Courtesy of Kimberly Motos)

For 13 years, Carlsbad restaurateur James Limjoco was the chef-owner of Sublime Ale House, a beer-centric restaurant company that was famed for his secret-recipe lineup of 12 varieties of mac ‘n’ cheese with fresh-made béchamel sauce.

But there was one problem. Limjoco is lactose intolerant and doesn’t like beer, so he couldn’t enjoy the fruits of his labor. When the lease on the San Marcos Sublime restaurant expired in 2021, Limjoco decided to start over by cooking the food that he craves: Southeast Asian street food.

“Because of my Filipino heritage, I love to serve people. In our culture, the way that you make people feel at home is with food,” he said. “That’s why I served comfort food at Sublime Ale House. But as much as I loved that ... I’m more of a street food kind of guy — the kind of food that has stood the test of time for hundreds of years.”

James Limjoco, founder of Mak Mak Organic
(Courtesy of Brook Larios)

The result of Limjoco’s nearly 18 months of traveling, tasting, experimenting and recipe-testing finally opened Thursday in downtown Oceanside: Mak Mak Organic. The 60-seat, fast-casual restaurant specializes in khao man gai, a Thai variety of Hainanese chicken, a popular poached-chicken-and-seasoned-rice dish served at street carts and public markets throughout Southeast Asia. “Mak Mak” is a Thai superlative meaning “very very” (“aroi mak mak” means “very, very delicious”).

Mak Mak serves only organic PatureBird free-range chicken as well as house-made tofu and regionally grown organic vegetables. Diners can choose their marinated proteins — poached chicken, fried chicken or fried tofu — which are dusted with potato and corn starch, then caramelized over high heat in sauces like garlic honey soy, Gochujang sweet and spicy, ginger scallion sesame oil and house Mak Mak sauce. The entrées are served with choice of seasoned rice (garlic ginger, coconut or jasmine) and a cup of house-made chicken or vegetable broth on a fragrant banana leaf.

The menu also features housemade chicken and vegetable gyoza (dumplings), chicken wings, lumpia (Filipino spring rolls), a vegan tofu bowl, salads and desserts. To drink there are kombuchas, hard seltzer cocktails made with fresh tropical fruit purées, wines and beer.

The interior of Mak Mak Organic in Oceanside.
The interior of Mak Mak Organic in Oceanside. Besides food and drinks, Mak Mak also sells branded active lifestyle clothing and other items.
(Courtesy of Kimberly Motos)

Raised in Northern California’s Daly City, Limjoco was working as a wholesale account executive at JPMorgan Chase in 2007 when he realized he wanted to change careers: “I felt like I was making rich people richer and I didn’t feel whole. I wanted to do something altruistic and decided the best way was to feed people.”

So he cashed out his investments — fortunately just before the 2008 stock market crash — and opened his first Sublime Pizza restaurant in 4S Ranch. Its specialty was the mac ‘n’ cheese recipe he’d developed while working on the line in a New Orleans restaurant kitchen during his college days. Later, he relocated the business to San Marcos Restaurant Row and renamed it Sublime Ale House.

When the pandemic shuttered sit-down restaurants in 2020, Limjoco noticed that people began cooking at home with more organic, healthy and high-quality ingredients. He thought Mak Mak Organic would be a better bet for post-pandemic diners than Sublime’s heavier American comfort food (though he says Sublime could return someday).

For research last year, Limjoco spent 3-1/2 months traveling in Thailand, as well as Taiwan and South Korea, where he said he sampled close to 300 different varieties of khao man gai, which he said varies from village to village in ingredients, preparations and sauces. His final Mak Mak menu is the result of testing at home more than 50 varieties of each dish.

During his travels in Thailand, Limjoco came across an apparel firm whose products he loved, so he’s now importing Mak Mak-brand loungewear, bags and backpacks for sale in the restaurant. He hopes the Oceanside location is the first Mak Mak of many.

“The idea for the place is East meets West,” he said. “We’re sitting two blocks from the beach, and when we put up the big garage doors you can smell the ocean. The food and drinks we make and the clothing are all about the healthy, active lifestyle.”

Mak Mak Organic

Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily

Where: 121 N. Cleveland St., Oceanside