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A celebration of music and food at Le Papagayo

David Boylan

Le Papagayo
Le Papagayo regular performer John Bennett with one of their classic cocktails and mussels. Photo courtesy Le Papagayo

When walking or driving by Le Papagayo on just about any night of the week, it’s hard not to feel the energy coming from this Leucadia hotspot. That energy is made up of almost always a full house of folks there eating, drinking, and taking in the live music happening nightly. It all creates a buzz that evokes a tropical tourist destination with just the right touch of Leucadia cool as to not cross over into the dreaded cheesy touristy vibe. Its location in the heart of Leucadia surrounded by cool shops with great people watching make the wait for a table when there is one a pleasure.

The crowd is always a healthy mix of locals at the bar, couples, girls night out, families, and first dates. There are a few different sections with the bar area where the band is playing being the most lively. At certain times, depending on what band is playing, it can be a bit loud but who needs conversation with killer live music, drinks and good food? There is also a nice patio on the sidewalk that I would consider the best seating in the house as you have the music, the open air, and the people watching. There are also dining rooms down below, and an expansive outdoor deck. So basically they have a location for just about every scenario so if it’s a band you are really into, you may want to request to be in a room that has sightlines to them.

Just as it was with Calypso back in the day, it’s the music at Le Papagayo that takes it to another level and makes it such a fun place. It’s such an intimate space that it feel’s like you are in a friends living room…albeit one packed with attractive folks of all ages. There have been so many times that I’ve been out for a walk or bike ride in Leucadia and had to stop on the sidewalk to hear one of wide variety of musical acts they book. Many of them I’ve gotten to know over the years and two in particular I’ve developed a special relationship with. I’ll start with John Bennett & Jim Volkert whose California tinged classic rock provides a perfect backdrop to a wonderful evening of music and food. We share a mutual love of the band Wilco and it seems just about every time I see them, they will bust into a Wilco tune. Thanks for that guys. Another favorite is Semisi whose island grooves have been entertaining North County audiences for years. He participated in a Taste of Leucadia Lick the Plate on KPRI show I produced and came up with an amazing 60-second jingle about Le Papagayo that could easily double as a radio campaign for the restaurant. It’s tough to find a band playing there that does not provide a soundtrack for a fun evening. They book blues, acoustic folk, jazz, flamenco, classic country and gypsy jazz to name a few. I’ve always enjoyed just popping in, finding a single seat at the bar, grabbing a drink and an appetizer and soaking in the atmosphere. It should be noted that they host live music seven nights a week.

Le Papagayo is open from 7:30 am – 11pm daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu offers something for everyone and they describe it as a unique fusion of Mediterranean and Latin American cuisine. Breakfast has a full list of omelets, scrambles, waffles, pancakes, Benedicts, acai bowls, juevos rancheros, shrimp and grits, oatmeal and a hearty breakfast burrito.
The lunch menu is extensive and the salads and basic burgers I’ve tried have all been solid. They have a large selection of sandwiches including a Cuban that I will have to try soon. Another item on my list is what they call the Luxury California Burrito with filet mignon, avocado, truffle fries, salsa fresca and crème fraiche…a post surf burrito if there ever was one.

Enjoy some great food and drink specials during happy hour, available from 5:00-6:30pm every day. On Tuesdays, happy hour runs all night long. A recent dinner there started with their classic Carlsbad mussels with a garlic and chardonnay broth, chicken wings, and the Shanghai style ribs. I would recommend all of those along with a wet nap. The lamb chops and herb-crusted halibut did not disappoint and the banana bread pudding was solid.

Le Papagayo recently changed ownership and while they have made some subtle menu changes and upgraded the service a bit, they have kept all that have made it a fun night out intact. Darrin Campbell and his son Darrin Jr. are the new owners now with manager Jose Forgiarini still on board running the day to day.

Find them at 1002 N Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, 760.944.8252 or www.lepapagayoleucadia.com

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