It’s 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday evening and already the line stretches to the back of the restaurant and spills out in front of the entrance doors. And frequenting this eatery almost weekly, I can testify that this cue-forming phenomenon is not out of the norm. There’s just something about Urban Plates that the people of North County have taken a liking to, and being one of these loyal patrons myself, I can tell you that with fresh and local ingredients, a rustic and welcoming atmosphere, and budget-friendly menu items, harboring a love for this restaurant is not a difficult task.
Nestled in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center in Carmel Valley, Urban Plates’s philosophy on food can be summed up in a simple sentence, “farm to plate and won’t break the bank.” The chefs at UP (as it is often referred to) use natural and organic products whenever possible and most of the produce is hand delivered by local farms and producers. With menu items such as Sesame Kale, Quinoa and Edamame, and Organic Carrots and Ginger Soup (which I might add is vegan, gluten free and dairy free!), Urban Plates offers an accessible and delicious approach to healthy dining. In addition to dozens of vegetarian and vegan-friendly dishes, they offer more traditional fare as well -everything from BBQ Turkey Meatloaf and Grilled Urban Steak to Macaroni and Cheese and a variety of Pizzettes (flat bread pizzas). There is literally something for every taste bud, and with so many tantalizing options, deciding on your entree can be quite an arduous task!
Besides the use of organic and local ingredients, the atmopshere at Urban Plates also sets it apart from your average eatery. It is set-up like a cafeteria; patrons are immediately handed a stainless steel paper-lined tray and are encouraged to visit one of the designated stations to order their meals. The open kitchen adds to the experience as guests are able to observe their food being made as they order and all of the items are beautifully displayed behind glass planes which only serves to enhance the sensory experience. There are four main stations -the salad station, sandwich station, hand carved plates station, and finally the braises, stews, and hot sides station. After your plate is prepared before you, you move down the line to the registers where friendly staff are there to greet you and offer you a beverage from their extensive array of libations. Cleverly displayed behind the registers lies a wall of wine bottles; yes, in addition to natural sodas, organic juices, teas, and coffees, Urban Plates also offers a variety of local and regional wines.
Finally, in keeping with the rustic approach to dining, the interior of the restaurant itself is quite charming. With an assortment of circular, square, and rectangular tables, the seating arrangements lend themselves to dining parties of all sizes. A quick glance around the interior and it’s not difficult to conclude that UP attracts a cornucopia of patrons -from a group of girlfriends who have made a dinner date to catch up on life and a family of four looking for a satisfying meal after a long day of school, work, and sports practice, to a young couple on a their first date and business partners enjoying a working lunch, this affordable restaurant has gained the loyalty of all walks of life. And rightly so, with most plates priced at $10, Urban Plates is accessible to everyone, no matter their budget. And if you choose to forgo dining in, UP also offers orders to-go so you can enjoy your healthy meal in the comfort of your own home.
So the next time you’re looking for a little something different-a fun atmosphere in which to enjoy fresh and local flavor combinations with family, friends, colleagues, or significant others, look UP -to Urban Plates in Carmel Valley. And don’t worry about the line, not only does it move quickly, the cuisine that awaits you on the other side is well worth the wait.
12857 El Camino Real
San Diego, CA 92130
Sunday -Thursday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.