Music inspires the menu, decor at Solana’ Beach’s Wild Note Cafe

By Kelley Carlson

Going to a show at the Belly Up Tavern? A stop at the Wild Note Cafe next door may help set the tone for the evening.

The 60-seat, bistro-style restaurant — open daily for lunch and dinner — is tucked in among the shops, boutiques and galleries of the Cedros Avenue Design District.

As expected, the cafe’s main theme is music, and it’s reflected in much of the decor. A sculpted metal trumpet player hovers over the patio doors, where tiny, silver music notes add a bit of sparkle on the glass. Guitars, drums and various other instruments are displayed high above the semicircular bar that’s part of the indoor dining area; on the opposite side of the room, carved wooden band figures play underneath an American flag.

A number of images hang on the cafe’s golden-hued walls, including pictures of the legendary BB King, San Diego rock band Switchfoot and Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction, taken by local photographer Aaron Chang. Other works of art reflect scenes of San Diego and Baja California, such as an oil painting by deceased artist Kenneth Dale Draper that depicts Hussong’s Cantina in Ensenada, Mexico.

While cafe guests don’t necessarily hear songs emanating from the Belly Up next door, they can listen to pop, indie rock and reggae tracks played inside the restaurant. Music videos are often shown on the TV centered over the bar, along with sports programming.

The chef is Israel “Izzy” Balderas, and the sous chef is Jorge Benitez. The cuisine served at Wild Note Cafe can be described as “Pacific coastal with Mexican fusion.” For example, there are Shrimp Enchiladas with Spanish rice and refried pinto beans, and Lobster Dumplings with a port wine sauce. There’s also the Ahi Sashimi Grade Salad, containing organic greens, fresh seaweed, papaya, crispy wontons, cucumber and champagne vinaigrette; and the Dijon-Herb Crusted Salmon, with Israeli couscous, broccolini and lemon-tarragon buerre blanc.

Burgers and sandwiches are included among the offerings, as well as a variety of gourmet sliders — Jalapeño Turkey Burger, Fried Chicken Tender, Filet Mignon and Seared Ahi.

The children’s menu consists of pasta with Parmesan, chicken tenders, grilled cheese, a burger and a quesadilla.

Patrons who leave room for dessert will find options such as the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Pie and the Peach-Berry Puff Pastry.

According to Beth Bennett, director of marketing and events at the Belly Up and Wild Note Cafe, everything is house-made except the herb bread and butter, which is provided by O’Brien’s Bakery in Del Mar.

“We use the freshest ingredients locally when we can,” she said.

Bennett recommends that customers “crack a bottle of wine and try a variety of offerings.”

“From the starters, if you like seafood, there are plenty of options,” she said. “Maybe sit on the patio, watch the people go by.”

The lunch crowd tends to be Cedros shoppers and beachgoers, while dinner tends to be “very show-driven,” Bennett said. Reservations are highly recommended on nights of popular concerts. But there’s a perk for Wild Note patrons: There is a side entrance to the Belly Up through the cafe, where the line is often shorter, Bennett said.

Wild Note Cafe

Address: 143 S. Cedros, Solana Beach

The Vibe: Casual, Relaxed

Signature Dishes: Lobster Dumplings, Pan Seared Seabass, Shrimp Tacos, Grilled Filet Medallions

Open Since: 1998

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday-Saturday



(858) 720-9000

Reservations: Recommended

Patio Seating: Yes

Take Out: Yes

Happy Hour: No

On The Menu Recipe

Each week you’ll find a recipe from the featured restaurant online at Just click Get The Recipe at the bottom of the story. This week: Wild Note’s Shrimp Dumplings