SETS Kitchen & Bar dazzles in San Elijo Hills

To be honest, I never really knew much about the San Elijo Hills other than crossing it a few times on my way to San Marcos. A little research enabled me to learn about this planned community with stellar views that was designed to offer small town charm along with all the amenities and conveniences that come with living near a town.

Residents also enjoy access to extensive hiking trails, shops, restaurants and consistently rated schools. Basically they have everything you can find in any small town except everything looks new and it is very clean. I should also note that the views to the west are incredible and are within a short drive of all the surf spots found in the North Coast County.

The dining options were what interested me and they are also plentiful, with over a dozen options including SETS Kitchen & Bar which was my destination. Considering the name, I immediately associated it with surfing given the “sets” that we want as surfers. This could also apply to the killer sunsets which are very visible from most of the hills of San Elijo.

The Mussels Madness, which is part of the “Americana Eclectic” menu at SETS Kitchen & Bar. Photo by David Boylan

Alas, that actually means “San Elijo Town Square,” but given the restaurant’s surf-themed decor, I think they’re going for that version for now.

SETS offers a well-designed space with an open and airy feel with a large outdoor patio and it is tastefully decorated. It’s like the place where locals gravitate, where adults can feel at home with or without children.

Owner Kevin Egan is a Carlsbad native who started out as a dishwasher at 15 and has owned a similar concept for the past 15 years in Vail, Colorado. He expressed it better when he said, “I wanted to create a place where families feel comfortable going several times a week. I have a wonderful wife and two beautiful daughters, so I created an environment that we go to as a family and enjoy it on a regular basis. SETS is a family-oriented, locals-oriented and sport-influenced concept.

Okay, back to the menu. Egan described it as “Americana Eclectic,” which is new to me, but I like it because it really opens up what a creative kitchen can create… a bit of everything. That’s fine with me as long as the quality is there, and that’s for sure at SETS with Executive Chef Chris McLane at the helm.

Before going into the food, I noticed the very creative cocktail menu. SETS is the only full service restaurant and bar in San Elijo, so they made it diverse and well balanced. These specialty cocktails give you plenty of options. R&R with vodka and lavender syrup is their most popular drink, but the Smokey Marg with mezcal, Aperol Spritz and one I’ll be back for, Ranch Water with Corralejo Reposado Tequila, fresh lime juice, Topo Chico and lime wedge, all super refreshing.

The wine list was equally impressive, and I opted for a dry A-Z Oregon Riesling which is a great example of their out of the box chardonnay and sauvignon blanc. Not that there is anything wrong with these wines, but if you have an eclectic menu, your wine list should have a bit of it as well, and it does.

I asked Kevin what dishes he would recommend, and he gave me a long list, so I went for the Mussels Madness which has amazing broth and lots of bread to soak in. I hardly ever order chicken in restaurants, but he suggested their Golden Piccata, a variation of the traditional dish with line chicken, angel hair pasta, caper butter sauce, artichokes, broccoli, cherry tomatoes and garlic toast and it was fabulous.

On the savory side of the menu, Kevin also mentioned their homemade pretzels, Bison Burger and Braised Short Rib as favorites. As I mentioned, it’s an eclectic menu, which translates into something for everyone. There’s a kids’ menu and a full list of salads, burgers, and sandwiches. The weekend brunch is happening now.

I was told to leave room for dessert, especially their B and T treats, named after Kevin’s daughters. They’re like churros with cinnamon sugar, vanilla custard, and strawberries – and they’re amazing.

And while SETS Kitchen & Bar caters to residents of San Elijo Hill, it should definitely be on the list of people who live in the surrounding communities. Check it out for the sunsets, cocktails, and fabulous food. And keep an eye on their website and social media for seasonal menu changes and opening hours.

Find them on www.setskitchenandbar.com or 1612 San Elijo Road, San Marcos. 442.515.3327

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