The 2018 restaurant scene was full of adventure, with new flavors, interesting takes on familiar dishes and classic fare elevated to new heights. Our reviewers traversed the county, checking out the latest restaurants and revisiting old favorites to see if they stood the test of time. No matter where we went, we found something delicious. These were some of the standouts from our In Good Taste reviews of 2018.
You can count on most restaurants in Southern California to offer something more substantial than a salad to their vegetarian and vegan customers. But a few Ventura County establishments went the extra mile, catering exclusively to meat-free diners.
SeaGlass by Mama — yes, one of the many Thai joints run by the venerable “Mama” aka Vorado “Pam” Boonklong — had it easy: Just take the most popular items off the menus of Rice by Mama and Kao Ramen by Mama, delete all the meat options and serve. Like its predecessors, SeaGlass’ flavors are fresh and inventive, and the mix of curries, noodles and fried tofu delights are delicious enough to please even a committed carnivore. 583 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-667-8776
Head into Midtown Ventura for the “healthy, soul-cleansing” fare of Ambrosia by Caffrodite. Like SeaGlass, Ambrosia is also an offshoot of a local favorite (coffee shop Caffrodite, which closed last year), and it is likewise strictly vegetarian. Heritage grains, roasted vegetables, fresh greens, nut cheeses and meat substitutes such as BAKon are combined to create a universe of satisfying meals with out-of-this-world flavor. 1987 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-628-9289, caffrodite.com
While there are plenty of animal products being served at The Annex at The Collection, there are enough options here to custom-create a vegetarians smorgasbord. Head over to “Flavortown” for tofu and vegetable pho at Love Pho, house-made veggie sausage at Seoul Sausage, the Israeli-inspired sabbich at Scratch, fresh fruit smoothies and granola at The Blend Superfood Bar, and other meat-free selections at the food hall’s numerous eateries. 2761 Park View Court, Oxnard, thecollectionrp.com/the_annex
Pub Grub Ahoy
It just wouldn’t be Ventura County if there weren’t a whole bunch of gastropubs welcoming diners with their casual vibe, dozens of craft brews on tap and bar-food-gone-upscale on the menu. Having said that . . . there were a few local standouts we sampled this year.
Tap’d in Downtown Ventura could be described as “an Apple store, except this Genius Bar offers beer.” The open plan and pay-by-the-ounce taps, as well as more unusual offerings such as ketchup chips and Quebec flatbread interspersed with the mouthwatering burgers, make Tap’d a standout even in this pub grub-saturated community. 546 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-667-8771, tapdventura.com
The Thousand Oaks area adds to its own gastropub rep with Finney’s Crafthouse and Kitchen, where dogs are allowed on the patio and kids are allowed everywhere. Their booze-loving parents sip craft cocktails and top-notch brews while everyone checks out the latest game on one of the many HDTVs. And for eats, there are items such as the chicken and waffle bites, amazing burgers and fries, crispy Brussels sprouts and minibratwurst — all expertly prepared and served with delectable sauces. Keep an eye out for the newest Finney’s, rumored to be opening in Downtown Ventura this summer. 982 S. Westlake Blvd., Westlake Village, 805-230-9950, www.finneyscrafthouse.com
Passport to Flavor
Burgers and pizza are fine indeed, but for those who crave something a bit further afield, our restaurant reviewers found plenty of establishments with international flair.
Sura Modern Korean is like a trip to Seoul without leaving the county. From rich, savory muno balls to the pot sticker-like mandu to deep-fried chicken and tender bulgogi to comforting noodle soups, Sura offers the best of Korean comfort food. Many items are available as “lunchboxes” that come with phenomenal soups and a whole bunch of tastebud-tantalizing sides. Not cheap . . . but worth it. 1213 S. Victoria Ave., Oxnard, 805-984-6936, www.surausa.com
Prefer curry to kimchi? Head on over to Bollywood in Simi Valley, where you’ll find the usual suspects — tandoori chicken, tikka masala and biryani — alongside more obscure dishes such as the bhindi masala (curried okra) and Peshwari naan (stuffed with raisins and cashews). Order any and all with confidence because every dish is handled and prepared with care. 1368 Madera Road, Simi Valley, 805-791-3535, www.bollywoodindiankitchen.com
AND if you’re feeling pasta more than papadams, then you’ll go crazy for The Mad Rose. This Italian eatery near the movie theater in Downtown Ventura aims “to bring the lighter, healthier side of Italian food to the table.” Standouts included mushroom risotto, caprese salad with salmon, eggplant melanzane and the lemon sorbet, beautifully presented as a whole lemon stuffed with the icy dessert. Prices are reasonable, and the Mad Rose offers fantastic happy hour deals, too, so if you can’t afford the plane fare to Italy, you’ve got a solid alternative. 543 E. Main St., Ventura, 805-628-3913, themadrose.com
Satisfying Side Trips
Less easily categorized (at least based on this classification) but still noteworthy.
Xielo Artisan Desserts
Don’t let the name fool you. Artisan? Absolutely. But this “bakery and creperie the size of a jewel box within a small section of the historic Woolworth’s building” offers delicacies both savory and sweet. Crepes stuffed with corn, cheese and chiles . . . or Nutella bananas and strawberries . . . will satisfy any appetite. Those in need of liquid nourishment can depend on sweet-spicy Mexican hot chocolate or delicious cafe de olla. And don’t forget to grab a box of Mexican pastries and cookies to go! One of Oxnard’s — and Ventura County’s — most precious culinary gems. 212 W. Fourth St., Oxnard, 805-240-1122, www.xielodesserts.com
Waterside Restaurant and Wine Bar
Around for years but recently under new ownership, Waterside has a fresh take on surf and turf that you don’t want to miss. Spicy diablo shrimp, chicken salad sandwich with homemade potato chips, sand dabs in a lemon caper sauce, fingerlicking good pork ribs — by land or sea, Waterside is the place you want to be. Views of Channel Islands Harbor don’t hurt, either. 3500 Harbor Blvd., Oxnard, 805-985-4677, www.thewatersiderestaurantandwinebar.com
Gargantua at Beacon Coffee Company
One of the region’s best farm-to-cup coffee companies, Beacon recently got into the dining game as well with Gargantua, Chef Nick Barainca’s inventive farm-to-table restaurant operating inside of Beacon’s Ojai location. Locally sourced, masterfully prepared, artfully presented and exquisitely delicious to boot, Gargantua is the very definition of gourmet. 211 W. Ojai Ave., Ojai, 805-248-7054, www.beaconcoffee.com