Before I moved to San Diego, a friend told me to check out Oceanside. I’d never heard of this city he described as “a quintessential SoCal beach town,” but I figured I could trust a born-and-raised Southern Californian. “Just go check it out,” he said. “I know you’ll like it.”
Now I see why. From dreamy beaches, sun-washed streets and a historic arts and culture scene, Oceanside oozes classic SoCal charm and a palpable laid-back vibe. One of its more recent crowning attributes is its growing food scene.
Over the last few years, the city has emerged as a San Diego County food mecca. And it boasts more than just a myriad of taco shops and places to grab a cheap beer. Today, a growing mix of restaurants, breweries and coffee shops pepper Oceanside’s coastal highway. The emphasis on locally sourced ingredients, eclectic flavors and high-quality casual dining draws a crowd from all over San Diego, Orange County and even LA.
If “high-quality casual” is Oceanside’s culinary calling card, Carte Blanche Bistro & Bar is the embodiment of it. For the last few years, brothers Ryan and Brandon Ross and their father, Chuck Ross, were looking for the right spot to open a restaurant, with their sights set on fresh construction in North County where they could get creative and build from the ground up. When they found their spot, Chuck gave them “carte blanche” to create their original vision, and Carte Blanche Bistro & Bar came to life.
Situated at the entrance of the city’s iconic pier, Carte Blanche puts a unique French twist on Mexican cuisine (and sometimes vice versa). This concept is echoed in the restaurant’s decor too, which is some cross between a posh Mexican cantina and a French farmhouse. The white walls are splashed with vibrant, simply sketched cacti, flowers, suns, and the occasional goose. I guessed that the goose was merely a nod to French cuisine, but Brandon told me its more interesting origins. The brothers commissioned well-known muralist, Eric Junker, to create Carte Blanche’s mural art, which depicts an epic tale Eric created especially for the restaurant. The goose, so it goes, traveled from the desert in the east and across Carlsbad’s famous flower fields, ending at the pier in Oceanside where he threw a handful of flowers into the ocean. Sentimentalist that I am, this instantly adds to Carte Blanche’s charm.
Just beyond the front doors, an elegant couch-lined lounge area borders a 12-person bar, flanked by two additional seating areas with communal and individual dining tables and booths. Beyond that, the interior morphs into the exterior, with a bright patio that spreads out onto the side of the building. It has a lively yet relaxed atmosphere — the kind of place where guests want to linger and savor.