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The gray yet vibrant Hoxton Manor

Contemporary Southeast Asian bursts with flavor in North Park

Smoked pork belly one of many distinct flavors in this Hoxton Manor entree
Smoked pork belly one of many distinct flavors in this Hoxton Manor entree

Out in search of a romantic dinner, we approached a rather nondescript, gray storefront on University Avenue. The place didn’t even have a sign up — were it not for a handful of diners enjoying drinks at its sidewalk-facing bar, we might wonder whether it were truly open for business. A mostly concrete interior kept up the venue’s gray motif, which threatened to put a damper on any romantic vibe. And it might have, except Hoxton Manor serves the best food going in North Park right now.

Place

Hoxton Manor

3131 University Ave, San Diego

I don’t mean to bash atmosphere. Thanks in part to a pair of brooding, humanistic metal pipe sculptures, I’d call it more moody than depressing. I simply can’t recall a physical restaurant space standing in such stark contrast to its cuisine. Hoxton Manor specializes in Southeast Asian fare, particularly the peninsula home to Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. And if there’s one word to describe characteristics common to foods from that region, it would be vibrant. They’re cuisines built around the freshness of aromatic herbs, or a distinctive embrace of pungency, or acidity.

That said, Hoxton Manor doesn’t rely on a lot of the better-known dishes associated with these cultures; I found no fragrant phố broth, nor sour and spicy larb. Instead, there are shareable plates including palm sugar glazed brisket ($38), snake bean with Thai sausage ($17), and wild squid fried rice ($19).

A dull storefront belies the food served within.

We enjoyed a sort of crispy Vietnamese crepe ($17) stuffed with shredded Berkshire pork, topped with a pile of mint and pea sprouts, dressed with nuoc cham and a heavy dusting of spice including turmeric powder. While Hoxton’s grayness might invoke the dreary pallor of a sodden London day, dishes like this bombard the palate with a bright array of potent, yet complementary flavors. They all but induce a spontaneous bout of synesthesia: you may not see many colors, but you practically taste them.

A somehow brooding metal pipe sculpture

The lead chef behind Hoxton Manor is the same one who launched Oceanside’s excellent Dija Mara a few years back — Ryan Costanza — and fellow fans may enjoy a few similarities. For one, there’s a diligent focus on creative cocktails and wines, though these lists stick primarily to gin cocktails and natural wines. And though the color schemes differ, there’s a corresponding minimalism to their somewhat boxy dining rooms, each given some bounce with slick, almost dancey soundtracks.

Leafy herbs and turmeric powder add jolts of color and flavor to this Vietnamese inspired pork crepe.

And though Dija Mara finds inspiration from Indonesian cooking traditions, there’s something familiar to the food too. I don’t mean a noticeable overlap in flavor or technique, but more the way every plate feels as though it’s been deliberately conceived: no ingredient seems out of place or frivolous, and no dish feels lacking.

Phuket au poivre ribeye skewers, just off the charcoal grill

It’s evident in larger entrees, such as smoked pork belly cubes, flavored with black vinegar, topped with toasted peanuts, served with a spicy and sour papaya salad, plus large rice crisps coated in green thanks to powdered algae. I expected the pork belly to dominate the dish, per usual, but here it’s subsumed by the dish as a whole, one strong component working in balance with the rest.

The same can be said about the simplest items on the Hoxton Manor menu, an assortment of charcoal-grilled skewers including curried prawns ($19), tamarind and lemongrass oyster mushrooms ($13), and ribeye Phuket au poivre ($16), which gives traditional French pepper sauce an almost Pad Thai treatment. Hot off the grill, such things are a joy to eat, adding unexpected flavors without obscuring the obvious quality of ingredient proteins.

There’s maybe one key difference to my appreciation of Hoxton Manor compared to its Oceanside predecessor. Along with (I assume) many San Diegans, Dija Mara provided my first introduction to Indonesian cuisine, igniting a new curiosity, bordering on infatuation. Walking into Hoxton Manor, I felt no stranger to Southeast Asian cuisine. But by the time I walked out, I realized how much I’ve yet to understand. The pricey, some might say elevated menu may keep me from returning often, but the experience will renew my appreciation for the authentic Southeast Asian establishments that call San Diego home.

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Smoked pork belly one of many distinct flavors in this Hoxton Manor entree
Smoked pork belly one of many distinct flavors in this Hoxton Manor entree

Out in search of a romantic dinner, we approached a rather nondescript, gray storefront on University Avenue. The place didn’t even have a sign up — were it not for a handful of diners enjoying drinks at its sidewalk-facing bar, we might wonder whether it were truly open for business. A mostly concrete interior kept up the venue’s gray motif, which threatened to put a damper on any romantic vibe. And it might have, except Hoxton Manor serves the best food going in North Park right now.

Place

Hoxton Manor

3131 University Ave, San Diego

I don’t mean to bash atmosphere. Thanks in part to a pair of brooding, humanistic metal pipe sculptures, I’d call it more moody than depressing. I simply can’t recall a physical restaurant space standing in such stark contrast to its cuisine. Hoxton Manor specializes in Southeast Asian fare, particularly the peninsula home to Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. And if there’s one word to describe characteristics common to foods from that region, it would be vibrant. They’re cuisines built around the freshness of aromatic herbs, or a distinctive embrace of pungency, or acidity.

That said, Hoxton Manor doesn’t rely on a lot of the better-known dishes associated with these cultures; I found no fragrant phố broth, nor sour and spicy larb. Instead, there are shareable plates including palm sugar glazed brisket ($38), snake bean with Thai sausage ($17), and wild squid fried rice ($19).

A dull storefront belies the food served within.

We enjoyed a sort of crispy Vietnamese crepe ($17) stuffed with shredded Berkshire pork, topped with a pile of mint and pea sprouts, dressed with nuoc cham and a heavy dusting of spice including turmeric powder. While Hoxton’s grayness might invoke the dreary pallor of a sodden London day, dishes like this bombard the palate with a bright array of potent, yet complementary flavors. They all but induce a spontaneous bout of synesthesia: you may not see many colors, but you practically taste them.

A somehow brooding metal pipe sculpture

The lead chef behind Hoxton Manor is the same one who launched Oceanside’s excellent Dija Mara a few years back — Ryan Costanza — and fellow fans may enjoy a few similarities. For one, there’s a diligent focus on creative cocktails and wines, though these lists stick primarily to gin cocktails and natural wines. And though the color schemes differ, there’s a corresponding minimalism to their somewhat boxy dining rooms, each given some bounce with slick, almost dancey soundtracks.

Leafy herbs and turmeric powder add jolts of color and flavor to this Vietnamese inspired pork crepe.

And though Dija Mara finds inspiration from Indonesian cooking traditions, there’s something familiar to the food too. I don’t mean a noticeable overlap in flavor or technique, but more the way every plate feels as though it’s been deliberately conceived: no ingredient seems out of place or frivolous, and no dish feels lacking.

Phuket au poivre ribeye skewers, just off the charcoal grill

It’s evident in larger entrees, such as smoked pork belly cubes, flavored with black vinegar, topped with toasted peanuts, served with a spicy and sour papaya salad, plus large rice crisps coated in green thanks to powdered algae. I expected the pork belly to dominate the dish, per usual, but here it’s subsumed by the dish as a whole, one strong component working in balance with the rest.

The same can be said about the simplest items on the Hoxton Manor menu, an assortment of charcoal-grilled skewers including curried prawns ($19), tamarind and lemongrass oyster mushrooms ($13), and ribeye Phuket au poivre ($16), which gives traditional French pepper sauce an almost Pad Thai treatment. Hot off the grill, such things are a joy to eat, adding unexpected flavors without obscuring the obvious quality of ingredient proteins.

There’s maybe one key difference to my appreciation of Hoxton Manor compared to its Oceanside predecessor. Along with (I assume) many San Diegans, Dija Mara provided my first introduction to Indonesian cuisine, igniting a new curiosity, bordering on infatuation. Walking into Hoxton Manor, I felt no stranger to Southeast Asian cuisine. But by the time I walked out, I realized how much I’ve yet to understand. The pricey, some might say elevated menu may keep me from returning often, but the experience will renew my appreciation for the authentic Southeast Asian establishments that call San Diego home.

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