Clockwise from top left: Saigon-style banh mi sandwich with marinated pork from Banh Mi Paris Sandwiches; VenTiki’s B.I.R.D. Ration Kit and a to-go mason jar of Blue Hawaiian; grilled oysters on the half shell, “Jolly style,” from Jolly Oyster; Lucky Thai’s Pad Thai with shrimp, spicy eggplant with tofu and ribeye green curry. All photos by N. Lackey Shaffer

by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

We’re used to eating well in Ventura County. Even after everything came to a screeching halt in March, there were plenty of options for those times when you just couldn’t tolerate cooking. You just had to bring it home with you, for the most part. We take a look at some of our favorite meals over the last few months.

New Kids on the Block

Spare some sympathy for the restaurants that opened in 2020 — either right before COVID-19 hit, or in the midst of the shutdown. A few of these brave souls managed to make a decent go of it. Banh Mi Paris Sandwiches in Ventura gives soup and sandwiches a Vietnamese twist, with delicious banh mi and equally good pho. In Oxnard, Southern food fans can look to Cajun Country Cafe for New Orleans-inspired specialties like Po’Boy sandwiches (the shrimp is excellent — and filling), rich barbecue, crispy hush puppies and collard greens. Both do plenty of business with carryout and GrubHub can deliver.

Tipples To Go

One of the best things to come out of the stay-at-home order was permission from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control for bars and restaurants to offer yummy cocktails for carryout. VenTiki was one of the first to set customers up with liquid stress relief, via its QuaranTiki Trifecta, Zombia Apocalypse, and the special B.I.R.D. Ration Kit, which featured different drinks every week. Azu in Ojai has always been known for its craft cocktails made with house-infused booze and mixers and local ingredients — and the tasty goodness of Orchard Margaritas, Quarantinis and the like were easy to enjoy at home. Local breweries Institution Ale, Leashless Brewing and Poseidon Brewing gave us something to write home about (and take home with us): fruit-forward brews that were perfect for summertime sipping.

Delivering the Goods

From March until May, takeout and delivery was the name of the game for local eateries. Special to-go menus, like Social Tap’s Family Meal Deals (which included an entree plus sides), made it easy to feed four people on the cheap — and bringing it curbside meant low-contact pickup, too. Kitanoya, in Oxnard’s Seabridge neighborhood, is available through GrubHub, meaning you can get rockin’ ramen delivered right to your door. The sushi and tempura are good, too, but the soup is superior and perfect for this time of year. Boar’s Breath Grill has more than just great burgers and sandwiches. Lasagna, gyros, homemade potato chips . . . lots to love at this Port Hueneme gastropub, which has become a family favorite. It delivers to nearby Naval Base Ventura County; the rest of us can let GrubHub do the driving. Lucky Thai in Pierpont operates its own delivery service (for a fee) and has lots of interesting options outside of the typical Thai standards — be sure to check out the ribeye green curry and the satay.

The Great Outdoors

Restaurant owners finally got a break — for a while, at least — in May, when outdoor dining onsite was allowed after months of takeout only. Notable eats on the patio included a very tasty breakfast from the Galloping Hen in Midtown Ventura — a decades-old restaurant that was always a rather quiet spot. It seemed to gain new life post-pandemic, when it took over the adjacent sidewalk with charming tables separated from each other with plastic sheeting; the place was suddenly packed every weekend. Oxnard’s Pacific Cafe, in an industrial park off Rose Avenue, used up some of its parking lot to serve outdoor customers, who could order fantastic fish tacos, wonderful sandwiches, and melt-in-your-mouth crepes off the same menu. Breakfast and Bloody Marys with a view of Ventura Harbor were a highlight at The Greek, while the Jolly Oyster’s fresh shellfish on the beach made for a unique, and delicious, dining experience. 

With the COVID surge re-closing all on-site dining — outdoors or otherwise — the Ventura County restaurant scene is once again in dire straits. It would be a shame for so many of our favorite eateries to close before we can get back to our usual order of business. There’s lots of delicious eats available for takeout, and if you can spare the dimes, a to-go order will fill your belly and fill the coffers of local restaurants — making for a brighter 2021 all around.