I’ll admit that I don’t venture up north to Carlsbad very often. I tend to stay in my central San Diego bubble until I hear about something that’s worth sitting in San Diego County Fair & Del Mar Racetrack traffic to visit. But I recently made the trip up to “The Village by the Sea” to have a pool day at Omni La Costa Resort & Spa, and boy was it worth the 30-mile drive. The expansive property includes 600 rooms (including suites and villas), eight swimming pools, two golf courses, 17 tennis courts, 100,000 square feet of indoor/outdoor event space, a luxury spa, and the world headquarters of The Chopra Center (yes, Deepak Chopra’s sanctuary – it’s on my bucketlist). Since “adults-only” always sounds appealing to a single like me, I dropped my towel at the Edge pool that has an up-close view of the golf courses. The pool and infinity jacuzzis are the epitome of vacation mode and relaxation, while the music keeps you bobbing in your lounger.
Now through the end of August, Omni La Costa’s pool menu highlights maple flavors in several dishes and cocktails. On the lighter side (you’re in a swimsuit after all), the tropical fruit tray comes with maple and vanilla yogurt dips, while the more ample chicken sandwich is braised with dark maple and topped with chipotle and caramelized onions. I usually keep my expectations low with poolside food, but was totally wowed by everything I tasted at Omni La Costa.
I enjoyed sipping on a strawberry birch margarita (tequila, amber maple syrup, strawberry syrup, fresh strawberries and lime) and a refreshing double grapefruit greyhound (ruby red grapefruit vodka, maple syrup, Aperol, fresh grapefruit and lemon juices). Nothing tastes more like summer than a fruity cocktail by the pool. And since the maple flavors aren’t overpowering, you can try several items containing that tasty sap rich with antioxidants. For the ultimate luxury experience, reserve a private cabana at the pool for full-service ordering.
Once you’ve worked up an appetite again from all that splishing and splashing in the sun, make it a full day of Carlsbad adventures by stopping by my new favorite North County eatery, Notorious Burgers. The first thing you’ll notice about Notorious Burgers is that it’s a popular favorite among the locals. I feel like so many San Diego bars and restaurants have tried to be the place “where everybody knows your name,” but this is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone be successful in creating that type of friendly, familial environment. Owners Julie and Brian Gruber (Brian is also the executive chef) know every patron sitting in the dining room and perched against the bar, while other employees chat with regulars on a first-name basis. I can certainly see why people would want to be part of this welcoming environment, but it’s not just about that—the food is equally impressive.
Notorious Burgers has a huge mobster-themed menu, with burgers as the main star. Be sure to ask for craft beer pairing recommendations with each course, or try a flight of beers from their list of about 30 on tap.
For a lighter appetizer, start with the Folies Caulis – roasted cauliflower with garlic, charred green onions, bacon, walnuts, browned butter and Parmesan dust, or try the Hoke Poke Tacos with tuna poke, yuzu guacamole, Sriracha aioli and crispy wontons (one of my personal favorites). For something hardier, order the Flying Pigs chicken wings or Curds and Ale cheese curds. For something green, opt for the He Got Toasted salad with couscous, quinoa, kale, kalamata olives, garbanzo beans, cucumbers, tomatoes, feta and mint – topped off with your favorite protein. When it comes to selecting a burger, you’re going to have a hard time deciding.
I’m a sucker for anything spicy, and love an over-easy egg spilling onto my burger, so for me the Capone Burger is a no-brainer. It has ground chuck, habanero jack cheese, crispy onions, a pan-fried egg, avocado mash and Sriracha aioli. You’re going to need a knife and two hands to take on this delicious beast. But don’t get so full that you don’t leave room for dessert, because the Butterscotch Bomb Pudding is, well, the bomb. The house-made butterscotch bread pudding has cold pudding and a salted caramel drizzle for a decadent end to any meal. But if that’s not enough, ask for a beer float with vanilla ice cream (I got mine with Fall Brewing’s 2AM Bike Ride vanilla coffee stout).
Speaking of beer, check out Notorious Burgers’ tremendous happy hour specials that change daily. The restaurant is collaborating with The Lost Abbey for a five-course beer-pairing dinner on Aug. 3 at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are available for $60/person.