Value is not easily defined, but when it comes to eating out, I think it is a simple ratio of quality to cost. Easy enough, but the notion of quality varies from diner to diner. How we find value in something is personal, subjective and often changes from night to night. That said, there are places I frequent on a regular basis that offer this simple value proposition that I thought would be worth sharing. Ultimately it’s your call, but I’m pretty sure you will not be disappointed with these.
Raul’s Shack on the corner of D Street and Coast Highway 101 in downtown Encinitas tops my list for their chicken and albondigas soups. Raul’s is what it says, a charming shack that delivers two of the better soup values anywhere. You can get a small soup and two flour or corn tortillas for $4 which is plenty for one person. Or, you can go big and get a large for only $6 which can be split easily or used for leftovers. That said, I’ve polished off the large many times myself and the $6 was still a value. The chicken soup is full of big chunks of chicken, cilantro, avocado, rice, and a mild or spicy broth. The albondigas is a chorizo and beef meatball filled delight. I like the hot flour tortillas that I tear up and immerse into the soup, giving it another dimension in texture.
Next up is the Sub Palace in Leucadia, a local, independent alternative to the chain sub shops that seem to be popping up in every other gas station. Sub Palace has a lineup of twelve inch subs ranging from $6.25 to $9.95 that are so loaded they can easily cover two meals, maybe three. My favorite is the Mama’s Italian with mortadella, salami, provolone and their house made pickle relish plus whatever other toppings you want.
I’ve written about D Street in Encinitas in the past and wanted to remind readers that they are still running their recession Mondays that offers most of the menu at half off. Get a New York strip steak for $12 or a full size pizza for $6. It’s solid bar food and an amazing value.
Speaking of pizza, the slices at Manhattan Giant are almost a meal in themselves for under $3. You can get an enormous 28”pizza for $24.99, a hearty meatball Parmesan sub for $6, and lasagna for $5.50.
While I just covered Seaside Market last week, this column would not be complete without reminding folks about the build-it-yourself breakfast bowl for $4.99. There is a plethora of fresh ingredients to choose from and they make it to order.
On the more gourmet side of the value proposition, Firefly Grill & Wine Bar does a weekly tasting menu that is a huge value for the quality. Here is an example of recent tasting menu detailing what you get for $45 without wine or $65 expertly paired with a different wine for every course. Start with warm prosciutto wrapped asparagus, roasted garlic, marinara, burrata cheese paired with a Tempranillo/Syrah blend. Then on to an herb marinated jumbo shrimp with marinated artichokes, roasted peppers, pickled onions, and pinenuts paired with a Domaine Mark Kreydenweiss Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France. Followed by a main course of garlic roasted pork loin, cauliflower white cheddar gratin, and glazed apples paired with an Earthquake Zinfandel from Lodi, and a dessert of handmade pineapple sorbet blackberries with lady fingers paired with a Quady Winery Orange Muscat. There is a ton of thought and preparation that goes into this weekly and while it’s not cheap, it’s a huge value and that’s what we are talking about here.
I surveyed some friends with young children for this article and several mentioned grazing cafeteria style at SoupPlantation as a personal and economic value. The experience is active for the kids, making their custom beverages and yogurt sundaes, and a family of four runs $25 with a coupon. One of the parents surveyed is a highly regarded chef who is surrounded by gourmet ingredients on a daily basis, but he knows value. I will be joining them on their next excursion.
The Big John breakfast at Tip-Top in Carlsbad with its all-you-can-eat sausage, bacon, or ham is a huge value at $7.98.
I’ll wrap this up with mention of Jamin’s grilled eggplant appetizer at Calypso Café for $9.45. It’s huge and can easily be ordered as an entrée and paired with live music seven nights per week, another great value.
I’d like to make this a regular feature so please feel free to email me with great values around town.