By Kelley Carlson
Urban Plates, whose motto is “farm to plate and won’t break the bank,” offers a wealth of culinary choices in a vibrant atmosphere. Zac Lennox, executive chef and general manager, noted that the restaurant — often referred to as UP — has elements similar to an open-air market, with fresh, organic food bought from local farmers. And just about everything is made from scratch.
“Young and old, (Urban Plates) appeals to everybody,” Lennox said. “We want the kids to be healthy, and the older people want to stay healthy.”
Upon entering the establishment, customers stand in line and select a “station” from which to choose their meal — from soups and salads to entrees and braises -- and watch its preparation. The food goes directly to the patron’s plate; then it’s time to pay, sit down and enjoy.
Dishes, which change seasonally, are priced at $10, although they can be upgraded with sides and a la carte items.
Stop at the Mix UP station for a salad such as the Raw Kale, topped with dried cranberry, tofu, toasted almonds, mandarin orange sections, pickled red onions and champagne orange vinaigrette.
Pile UP features sandwiches such as BBQ Turkey Meatloaf on grilled ciabatta.
Down the line is Carve UP, where customers can order free-range chicken, hormone-free turkey, and the Grilled Marinated Wild Ono, soaked in cilantro-ginger. There is also the 4 UP, a choice of any four sides. These options range from the house-made Organic Stuffing to Quinoa and Edamame. Vegan and gluten-free items are available.
At Stir UP, guests will find braises served over rice. Among them is the Vegetarian Curry, with carrots, zucchini, tofu and garlic simmered with ginger, onions and red peppers in a curry coconut sauce.
Finally, there are soups, including Roasted Organic Butternut Squash, and several types of Urban Pizzettes.
There are about a half-dozen menu selections for kids, priced at $5. The entrees consist of a choice of sandwiches, salad or pizza.
Before paying at the register, customers won’t be able to miss seeing the desserts — the Gluten-Free Chocolate Flourless Cake and the Ginger Peach Tart may be among the delectables on display.
There are also several types of cookies — the Cowgirl contains oatmeal, currents, sunflower seeds and dried cranberries -- and handmade chips.
Don’t forget a beverage; there is wine, beer on tap, and organic sodas made with cane sugar and syrups that don’t contain red dye No. 5. Urban Plates also makes its own Organic Lemonade, and Green Tea that is sweetened with agave.
If you’re unsure of what to order, Lennox suggested figuring out what your favorite meal was that mom made. “I’d guess somewhere in here, you’d find an iteration of it,” he said.
After receiving the food, the next step is to find a seat, whether it’s in the main dining room, or on one of several patios. The main area has an urban warehouse feel, with recycled wood, large windows, and stamped iron chairs from the late 1950s. Drought-tolerant plants and flowers decorate some of the furniture, including a community table.
An eight-seat fire-pit table is the prominent feature on the front patio. Across the way, a green awning with the “UP” logo provides shade for customers.
Lennox said that the flow of guests going through the line, sitting and eating “turns like a wheel,” so turnaround is quick.
The beginning of the week, at opening, tends to be slow, but by Wednesday, it’s busy right off the bat, according to Lennox. He added that there’s often a little lull between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m.
Patrons who don’t want to sit have the option of walk-through takeout, walk-up takeout through phone orders, and curbside service. These customers may order “take-away” family meals for four, which come with a protein, salad, sides and bread for $35.
Lennox said Urban Plates’ Del Mar Highlands location would be the flagship site, as more are being planned. “We want a fun place for people, but not artificial fun,” he said. “A good, wholesome experience is what we’re after -- not just food, but the whole thing.”
Address: 12857 El Camino Real, Del Mar Heights
The Vibe: Energetic, Casual
Signature Dishes: Grilled Urban Steak Salad, BBQ Turkey Meatloaf, Macaroni and Cheese, Organic Mashed Potatoes, Hormone Free Turkey Noodle Soup, Raw Kale Salad, Asian Chicken Salad, House Roasted Hormone Free Turkey Breast and Cranberry Sandwich
Open Since: 2011
Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Patio Seating: Yes
Take Out: Yes
Happy Hour: No
each week you'll find a recipe from the featured restaurant below. Click to read how to prepare Urban Plates' TURKEY SALAD