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The Lab Collaborative basks in Oceanside’s attentions

Locals doing business in the shadow of the Top Gun house

A fried chicken sandwich with bourbon and habanero sauce
A fried chicken sandwich with bourbon and habanero sauce

If you’ve paid attention to travel media in the past year, you might have noticed a newfound appreciation for that three-mile stretch of surf and sand called Oceanside. Never mind those singing its praises are quick to qualify the “blue collar” beach town as “under the radar,” or to count being “a Quick Train Ride from L.A.” among its attributes. What matters is, travel writers for the likes of Travel + Leisure and Los Angeles Times are taking notice.

Place

The Lab Collaborative

201 North Cleveland Street suite 109, Oceanside

The coverage is likely owed to a spate of new and newly renovated hotels that have invested dearly in tapping Oside’s surf city potential. One of these, the pier-adjacent Mission Pacific Hotel, has gone so far as to install the so-called Top Gun house onto its property. That is, this Hyatt resort physically transported the entire beach cottage — which had become a local landmark after appearing in the original, 1986 Tom Cruise film — and plopped it down beside one of two hotel restaurants. A few weeks ago, it was repurposed as a shop that sells hand pies.

But I am not writing about the Top Gun pie shop today. Though hospitality money pouring into Oceanside may have prompted the new publicity, travel writers have rightly zeroed in on a food and beverage culture that has absolutely blossomed in recent years. More than hotel construction, it’s a spate of inspired establishments that has truly transformed the city from a military town with excellent beaches, to a sojourn destination.

The Jet Fuel coffee counter, within The Lab Collaborative

In that regard, a combination bar, restaurant, and coffee shop led by a group of those aforementioned blue collar locals has elected to join the fray. Just across the train tracks from the beachfront resorts, The Lab Collaborative serves an all-day menu of entrees, salads, hot sandwiches, craft cocktails, locally brewed beer, and locally roasted coffee. Early press highlights the claim its ownership and leadership team combine for well over a century of experience within the service industry.

Which isn’t to say these are old folks, there are just a bunch of ‘em. Each of a half dozen individuals add their respective expertise, whether it be to cooking, ingredient sourcing, mixology, or caffeination.

Seafood linguini, with mussels, shrimp, and local fish

They’ve built out a relatively large corner property, with a prominent island bar in a dining room that sprawls onto a spacious patio. It feels custom-tailored for a sunny weekend hang or a splashy night out, but already when it opened for lunch on a weekday, I found a robust team covering the venue’s discrete duties: pushing cocktails, pulling espresso drinks at the on-site coffee bar (branded as Jet Fuel Coffee Co.), recommending dishes, or cooking them in a kitchen visible through a bank of large windows.

Main entrees range from wine-braised beef cheeks and achiote-rubbed pork belly, to seafood linguini with shrimp, mussels, and local-catch fish. These aren’t designated as dinner items — in fact they’re available for lunch. But there are separate menu sections offering more down-to-earth, such as salads and hot sandwiches, including a burger, Philly cheesesteak, and a birria melt.

While the slew of chatty managers and staffers, hustling about, lended the vibe of a locals hangout, the polish of the place, and its tourist-friendly proximity to the pier, suggest a presentation of local lifestyle, geared toward out-of-towners. Indeed, a massive video wall in one corner showed a promotional video for the Lab Collaborative. The video cuts from surfers on local waves, to time-lapse sequences of the busy restaurant, in-service, to shots of principals and partners, smiling and laughing, cooking or mixing cocktails in slow motion. The constantly running loop makes locals the stars of their own show, rather than some building used as a movie location once.

The interior of Lab Collective, including a video wall with promotional video on loop

In a way, I suppose the place reflects a tension between that old blue collar notion of Oceanside, and its looming role as a “tourist hotspot.” Main entrees hover around the $30 range, while salads, and sandwiches stick closer to $20. On the one hand, there’s elevated entrees balanced by vegan alternatives. On the other, a heaping fried chicken sandwich served on a plate of bourbon habanero sauce is a top seller. Dubbed Oside or No Side, I take it the dish is named after a locals rallying cry. But there’s an apparent double meaning: the $21 sandwich actually doesn’t include a side dish. So a chicken sandwich, fries, and beer gets you over 30 bucks, before tip. For that kind of money, elsewhere in Oceanside, you can get a fried chicken sandwich topped with caviar.

Yes, we can thank inflation, rising ingredients costs, and service workers earning closer to their worth (and by the looks of it, patronizing this establishment supports a good number). But it comes off less like a place longtime Osiders might flock to, than a way local workers can get a cut of Oceanside’s newfound destination status.

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A fried chicken sandwich with bourbon and habanero sauce
A fried chicken sandwich with bourbon and habanero sauce

If you’ve paid attention to travel media in the past year, you might have noticed a newfound appreciation for that three-mile stretch of surf and sand called Oceanside. Never mind those singing its praises are quick to qualify the “blue collar” beach town as “under the radar,” or to count being “a Quick Train Ride from L.A.” among its attributes. What matters is, travel writers for the likes of Travel + Leisure and Los Angeles Times are taking notice.

Place

The Lab Collaborative

201 North Cleveland Street suite 109, Oceanside

The coverage is likely owed to a spate of new and newly renovated hotels that have invested dearly in tapping Oside’s surf city potential. One of these, the pier-adjacent Mission Pacific Hotel, has gone so far as to install the so-called Top Gun house onto its property. That is, this Hyatt resort physically transported the entire beach cottage — which had become a local landmark after appearing in the original, 1986 Tom Cruise film — and plopped it down beside one of two hotel restaurants. A few weeks ago, it was repurposed as a shop that sells hand pies.

But I am not writing about the Top Gun pie shop today. Though hospitality money pouring into Oceanside may have prompted the new publicity, travel writers have rightly zeroed in on a food and beverage culture that has absolutely blossomed in recent years. More than hotel construction, it’s a spate of inspired establishments that has truly transformed the city from a military town with excellent beaches, to a sojourn destination.

The Jet Fuel coffee counter, within The Lab Collaborative

In that regard, a combination bar, restaurant, and coffee shop led by a group of those aforementioned blue collar locals has elected to join the fray. Just across the train tracks from the beachfront resorts, The Lab Collaborative serves an all-day menu of entrees, salads, hot sandwiches, craft cocktails, locally brewed beer, and locally roasted coffee. Early press highlights the claim its ownership and leadership team combine for well over a century of experience within the service industry.

Which isn’t to say these are old folks, there are just a bunch of ‘em. Each of a half dozen individuals add their respective expertise, whether it be to cooking, ingredient sourcing, mixology, or caffeination.

Seafood linguini, with mussels, shrimp, and local fish

They’ve built out a relatively large corner property, with a prominent island bar in a dining room that sprawls onto a spacious patio. It feels custom-tailored for a sunny weekend hang or a splashy night out, but already when it opened for lunch on a weekday, I found a robust team covering the venue’s discrete duties: pushing cocktails, pulling espresso drinks at the on-site coffee bar (branded as Jet Fuel Coffee Co.), recommending dishes, or cooking them in a kitchen visible through a bank of large windows.

Main entrees range from wine-braised beef cheeks and achiote-rubbed pork belly, to seafood linguini with shrimp, mussels, and local-catch fish. These aren’t designated as dinner items — in fact they’re available for lunch. But there are separate menu sections offering more down-to-earth, such as salads and hot sandwiches, including a burger, Philly cheesesteak, and a birria melt.

While the slew of chatty managers and staffers, hustling about, lended the vibe of a locals hangout, the polish of the place, and its tourist-friendly proximity to the pier, suggest a presentation of local lifestyle, geared toward out-of-towners. Indeed, a massive video wall in one corner showed a promotional video for the Lab Collaborative. The video cuts from surfers on local waves, to time-lapse sequences of the busy restaurant, in-service, to shots of principals and partners, smiling and laughing, cooking or mixing cocktails in slow motion. The constantly running loop makes locals the stars of their own show, rather than some building used as a movie location once.

The interior of Lab Collective, including a video wall with promotional video on loop

In a way, I suppose the place reflects a tension between that old blue collar notion of Oceanside, and its looming role as a “tourist hotspot.” Main entrees hover around the $30 range, while salads, and sandwiches stick closer to $20. On the one hand, there’s elevated entrees balanced by vegan alternatives. On the other, a heaping fried chicken sandwich served on a plate of bourbon habanero sauce is a top seller. Dubbed Oside or No Side, I take it the dish is named after a locals rallying cry. But there’s an apparent double meaning: the $21 sandwich actually doesn’t include a side dish. So a chicken sandwich, fries, and beer gets you over 30 bucks, before tip. For that kind of money, elsewhere in Oceanside, you can get a fried chicken sandwich topped with caviar.

Yes, we can thank inflation, rising ingredients costs, and service workers earning closer to their worth (and by the looks of it, patronizing this establishment supports a good number). But it comes off less like a place longtime Osiders might flock to, than a way local workers can get a cut of Oceanside’s newfound destination status.

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