by Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer

nshaffer@timespublications.com 

There was more than takeout on the menu this year. Ventura County diners were thrilled to make reservations at their favorite restaurants once indoor dining resumed, and many of the usual food and drink festivals came back as well. The Avenue celebrated Taco Week, seafood establishments celebrated National Clam Chowder Day, and several new eateries left favorable impressions on the local dining scene. Here’s what made us say “yum” in 2021.

Tacos Tacos Tacos

Carnitas (top), al pastor and carne asada tacos served with savory rice and refried beans from Tacos Mi Pueblo. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer

Lots of Mexican food was covered in In Good Taste this year. And why not? When you have so many fabulous options, you might as well take advantage of them. Among our favorites were Ventura’s Taqueria Cuernavaca (particularly beloved for its tasty breakfasts), Oxnard’s Tacos Mi Pueblo (heavenly meats served on homemade tortillas) and Marina Cafe at Lake Casitas (surprisingly good, homemade Mexican food, plus a stellar view). We also gave a shout-out to Westside Ventura’s first-ever Avenue Taco Week, which took place in September, and reviewed Ventura Harbor’s Baja Bay Surf N Taco, which got new owners in 2021 and quickly made a name for itself with amazing fish tacos, delicious agua frescas and more.

Morning Glory

Frontside Cafe’s avocado toast. Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer

Starting the day off with a good breakfast is an ever-popular reason to go out to eat. Even when restrictions were in place, good weather allowed us to enjoy our morning meals on sunny patios while keeping risks to a minimum. Thus, breakfast and brunch were some of our favorite 2021 meals. One of the newest members of the breakfast club was Frontside Cafe, which opened at the end of 2020 and made quite a splash with its mix of yummy baked goods, hearty Australian-inspired fare and avocado toast as artfully composed as a still life painting. But mostly it was longstanding institutions that deeply satisfied. We loved Golden Egg Cafe’s veggie-heavy Benedict, crispy chilaquiles and great mimosa deals . . . but the divine cinnamon roll and charming porch really elevated this spot. Local favorite Eggs ’n’ Things (around since 1974, several locations in Ventura County) is beloved for a reason: hearty and delicious egg dishes (don’t miss the chile verde!), fluffy Belgian waffles, golden brown French toast and buttery, delicate Swedish pancakes — a not-to-be-missed specialty of the house.

Party Time

Fun in the sun was back in 2021 with Surf ’n’ Suds at San Buenaventura Beach on Oct. 9. Photo courtesy Surf ’n’ Suds Beer Festival.

In Good Taste wasn’t all restaurant reviews in 2021. We threw some love towards local organizations and communities that put on food-focused events, too. We encouraged everyone to support locally owned restaurants during Oxnard Restaurant Week in January, and Conejo Valley Restaurant Week in February . . . with a shout out to some of our favorite spots for clam chowder on Feb. 25, National Clam Chowder Day (who knew?). In May, Andres Nuño, organizer of the annual Surf ’n’ Suds Beer Festival, held a virtual beer tasting that included information (no samples!) on cannabis as well, dubbing the event Surf ’n’ Suds (+Buds). He followed that up in October with a live festival, held once again at San Buenaventura State Beach. We put the spotlight on the 20th Annual Thousand Oaks Rotary Wine and Beer Festival in August.

Fresh Faces

Burnin’ Mouth chicken “sando.” Photo by N. Lackey Shaffer

There were several new (or new-ish) restaurants to explore in 2021. We sampled and enjoyed hearty savory pies from the Raven Tavern in Oxnard, but found the grown-up grilled cheese sandwich to be out of this world. When Burnin’ Mouth (also in Oxnard) became the local source for Nashville hot chicken, we discovered agony and ecstasy in equal measure with its spicy yet mouthwatering “sandos.” Old Town Camarillo got a fabulous pizza option thanks to Freda’s Woodfired Kitchen and gourmet ice cream courtesy of Rori’s Artisanal Creamery — both located at The Mark — while Downtown Ventura got a snazzy new gastropub in The Six Chow House. Vegans countywide rejoiced at the opening of the punked-up Fatty Vegan in Ventura, but those meatless creations are good enough to satisfy even the finickiest carnivore. Bamboo Room (Westlake), Bank of Italy Cocktail Trust (Ventura) and the new bar at Rabalais’ Bistro (Santa Paula) all brought delicious and distinctive libations to the fore.

We hope you enjoyed feasting, festing, snacking and drinking your way through 2021 as much as we did. As ever, there was a lot on the menu, with freshness and flavor to spare. Good times and good eats.