3001 University Avenue, North Park
David and I finally made it to Encontro, in that magical empty hour between lunch and dinner. The restaurant is positioned at the corner of University Avenue and 30th Street, which puts it right in the center of the busiest intersection in North Park.
Upon approaching the counter and taking my first glance at the extensive, build-your-own style menu, I was immediately overwhelmed and glad that there was no one behind me. I stood off to the side as I took in the options, away from the woman waiting behind the register with a patient smile.
I settled on the Spinach & Bacon Salad ($11) with added chicken ($5). It’s a giant serving and was brought to our seats — at the inside/outside bar that overlooks the sidewalk — in what looked like a silver mixing bowl. And it was delicious. The golden tomatoes were ripe, the baby spinach was fresh, and the avocado and egg zest were mixed well with the applewood bacon. It was tossed in a shallot bacon vinaigrette. Most impressive was the quality of the chicken — tender, juicy, flavorful. It’s so rare to dine out and receive chicken that is not just a little overcooked, but this was perfect.
We had to order the brussels sprouts ($6), particularly because David needed to know how they tasted with apple-cider vinegar. They were also fried crisp, with more of that applewood bacon and capers and served in a bowl almost as big as the one holding my salad. Our verdict: yum. David made a mental note to try this preparation at home.
David was drawn to the Mary’s Chicken Sandwich ($10) — those free-range birds are David’s go-to brand when he cooks chicken at home. This version — a large breast tucked inside two halves of a ciabatta bun with parmigiano-reggiano, heirloom tomato, white balsamic vinaigrette, and basil aioli — had him smiling as he chewed.
We also had the Butter Biscuits ($3) with Cheddar, chives, buttermilk, and honey butter. The portions on everything else were generous and we were already taking leftovers home, so we added the biscuits to a box to enjoy later. And enjoy them we did. Sweet and sticky on the outside, rich and savory on the inside…I’m glad we didn’t start with them, because we would have finished them off and then been too full to taste the rest.
The place is always packed when we drive by, but now that I know there’s a mid-afternoon lull in the crowd I look forward to returning soon and further exploring the vast menu.