What 2017 lacked in genuinely original cuisine it made up for with commitment and style. Well-established restaurateurs branched out to offer diners something new, while new eateries followed a well-worn path, giving the public more of what they already craved, with perhaps a bit of a twist to keep things interesting. In a year of delicious dining, here are some of the standouts.
Two longtime favorites opened new locations in Camarillo this year, with impressive results.
Old-school Italian joint Verona Trattoria, opened by Pomposo Perez in the 1990s, closed in February. Two gentlemen of Verona, Julio and Jerry Perez (sons of the founder) started a new chapter with Julian’s Restaurant and Bar. The
new place is in the same neighborhood and the Verona sign adorns the back room, but the Julian’s menu mixes South of the Border and California fare along with Italian favorites. More modern décor and a splashy new bar have made this one of the hottest spots in Old Town.
Over on Carmen Drive, Nikos and Marika Sklavenitis, owners of Breakfast Cafe, took over the adjoining building to open a second eatery that pays homage to their heritage. Greek Cuisine is exactly that: great gyros, delicious dolmas, fabulous feta-laced salads, delectable dips and the warmest, fluffiest pita to go with them.
This home of healthy eating, farm-to-table dining and haute cuisine continued to give more of the same in 2017.
Our reviewer found food at The Oaks at Ojai to be fresh, inventive and based as much on local ingredients as possible — with fat, calories and nutrients taken carefully into account. And of course, between gourmet courses, guests have the option to feed their inner athletes with yoga, Zumba, pilates and other fitness activities.
Meat is totally 2016 at Hip Vegan, possibly the county’s only establishment that is entirely free of animal products. But with such culinary flair, they’ll never
be missed. Faux-bacon made from coconut, quasi-cheese made from cashews, jackfruit cooked to a meatlike consistency and other plant-based ingredients are so expertly prepared that every meal is a revelation. If all food were this good, the world would be a dramatically different place.
Also new in 2017: The Nest, Ojai Harvest
It was all about the seafood this year in Oxnard, befitting VC’s own “Hollywood by the Sea.” Two fish markets, offering fresh-off-the-boat items, also provide delicious, if simple, options for those who stick around to eat.
The longstanding Fishermen’s Catch, appropriately located in Fisherman’s Wharf, is an uber-casual spot where you’ll find succulent lobster rolls, stellar calamari and breaded and fried versions of most anything caught in a net. The selection varies by season and availability, of course, which is part of the fun.
Oxnard’s industrial zone is home to a wholesale fish market . . . and now an excellent restaurant as well, specializing in sustainably sourced and wild-caught
seafood. Kanaloa Seafood Market and Kitchen has a menu more high-end than one would expect from an order-at-the-counter spot that takes up space in a warehouse. Korean fish tacos, salmon burgers, out-of-this-world clam chowder and more await customers willing to forgo table service and fancy digs. If it’s flavor and guilt-free dining you’re after, dig in.
Also new in 2017: The Annex, Body Fuel Bistro, Copper Blues, Ragin’ Pot.
Things were relatively quiet, diningwise, in Santa Paula in 2017. But a few establishments did pique our interest.
Rabalais continues to deliver bon temps through its Southern-style and Cajun
cuisine: wonderful beignets, hearty po’boys, spicy jambalaya and fried green tomatoes. Save some room for dessert, because a glance at the pastry counter in the cafe’s bakery side is “an almost religious experience.”
La Familia Diaz, well-loved for eight decades, is under new ownership. Now called Chapala, the establishment’s décor has remained mostly the same, but the menu got a slight revamp, with a little less pork and a lot more seafood. While the chile verde remains a standout, the seafood soup (siete mares, or seven seas) is a new and exciting culinary adventure.
Fine wine and craft brews are no stranger to Ventura, but Cork has brought the trend to Midtown. This 21+ establishment boasts a wide array of wines from across the globe and 12 taps offering everything from light lagers to pungent IPAs to hearty porters. Most items on the menu are meant to be shared, and include a wonderful earthy hummus, tasty flatbreads and fresh salads.
For something a little different, try your meal with a side of drama at Wicked’s
Brew. The dapper spot near Surf Brewery features flamboyant décor, live harp music and servers who, during “witching hour,” double as stars in oddball shenanigans that fall somewhere between performance art and dinner theater. Not your typical dining experience, to be sure, but if you’re prepared to indulge the whimsy, you’ll be entertained . . . and well-nourished by the unquestionably excellent food.
Also new in 2017: BierBrats, Cafe Ficelle, Caribbean Haven, Casa Bella, Cask Alehouse, Harvest Cafe, Las Delicias de Abuelita, Limón y Sal, Orozco’s, Sea Ranger.