New Restaurants in the Highlands

Pure Cupcakes

My journey as a cupcake connoisseur began at age seven, when I, flipping through channels on the hotel room TV, stumbled upon my first episode of “Cupcake Wars.” I was immediately smitten and continued a devoted binging of the series until its finale five years ago.

So, when I heard that a “Cupcakes Wars” champion was setting up shop down the street from TPHS, you could imagine my elation. After more than ten years at its quaint store in Pacific Beach, 2013 “Cupcake Wars” winners, PURE Cupcakes, relocated to the Del Mar Highlands Town Center in July 2023.

After perusing their decently diverse selection, I picked four different cupcakes to sample: Red Velvet ($3.75), Strawberries Galore ($4.75), Nanerfluff ($4.75) and Toasted Coconut ($5.25).

Beginning with the Red Velvet, I found the dense texture to be weighty and unappealing, though the luscious cream cheese frosting complemented the rich chocolate taste pleasantly. Even after the tiniest nibble, I already felt stuffed.

Next, as I bit into the Strawberries Galore, all I could hear was the voice of my beloved Florian Bellanger (the fiercely-French judge on “Cupcake Wars”) ringing through my head: “ze hrosting is too sveet.” Even for myself, someone with a terrible sweet tooth, I found the cake and buttercream overwhelmingly saccharine. I wish the strawberries themselves had been used more liberally; just a touch of freshness would have cut through the sugar and elevated the pastry to a completely different plane.

The Nanerfluff was a pleasant surprise, albeit the texture, which was similar to that of the others. It was redeemed by a complex flavor palette: an earthy banana cake, salted Reese’s peanut butter filling and an airy marshmallow buttercream.

I rounded out my tasting with one of their limited vegan and gluten-free options—the Toasted Coconut. I was wholly disappointed by both the sandy texture, as well as the grainy frosting that left a disagreeable aftertaste.

Perhaps my standards are too high, but overall, I found PURE Cupcakes to be merely average. There was nothing memorable, as the cakes were mostly indistinguishable from something you could buy next door at Ralphs. In my opinion, one can make a cupcake much fluffier and more flavorful at home.

Pressed Juicery

Having grown up in Carmel Valley since I was just four years old, my childhood exists in two categories: the Before and After of the modernization of the Del Mar Highlands Town Center.

Among many of the changes made in the shopping mall — from Christmas trees and igloos to the reconstruction of McDonald’s — comes a very fresh addition to the many restaurants in the area: Pressed Juicery.

For me, trying the new juicery was a family affair. Joined by my parents, I walked into the store, where I was met with a refreshing welcome and a feeling of calm.

Although the atmosphere of the store relaxed me, I couldn’t help but feel that it was somewhat barren. Sleek and clean, the shop’s only seating was four chairs alongside a counter nearest the main entrance window. If a larger group of customers were to try out the restaurant, there may be more of a problem, as the small restaurant did not have any outdoor seating; fortunately, my party only consisted of three. Despite this, the servers’ friendly and knowledgeable disposition added extra charm to counteract the seating arrangement within the secluded outlet.

Overall, the very wide variety of options to choose from stuck out to me. Ranging from soft serve to multi-day juice cleanses, the menu consisted of healthy and delicious alternatives to typically high-sugar treats. My family and I ended up ordering a large Superfood Acai Bowl ($11.95), Size 2 Freeze with toppings ($8.50), Dragon Fruit Hydration juice ($6.95) and the Greens Hydration juice ($6.95). As the largest item, the Superfood Acai Bowl consisted of acai, blueberries, coconut flakes, crunchy red raisins and sliced bananas. The entree was not only filling, but fresh in taste. Our second pick, the Freeze, came in a relatively small cup, swirled high with vanilla and chocolate plant-based soft serve and topped with almond butter, granola and strawberries. While I was hoping for a nice contrast between the two flavors, the vanilla and chocolate flavors both inhibited a light and creamy taste, with the vanilla somewhat watered down and milky and the chocolate tasting of hazelnut. Finally, the two drinks to accompany our meal were also very unalike. Just as the rose-colored Dragon Fruit Hydration tasted more of pink lemonade, the Hydration Greens was distinguished by its tangy cucumber flavor and dark green pigmentation.

Even though the smaller shop was easily overshadowed by its bustling and even newer neighbor, Sweetgreen, the fantastic service, serene atmosphere and hearty alternatives made Pressed a destination I am sure to return to.

Omomo Tea Shoppe

Oreo brulee green milk teas, avocado smoothies and tiramisu-topped lattes. Creations like these reward customers of Omomo Tea Shoppe who navigate the long line winding into the boba shop.

Omomo Tea Shoppe, which opened this summer in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center, offers high-quality specialty drinks with an emphasis on simple ingredients. Their menu consists of specialty drinks, milk teas, fruit teas and the Creamomo, a tea topped with cheese or tiramisu.

Although the long line might discourage some from trying this new spot, I was surprised by how fast it moved. When ordering, customers can select their ice and sugar levels. Several of the drink bases were previously prepared and refrigerated, contributing to the short wait time.

While Omomo’s specials set the tea shop apart from many others, I found some flavors and textures to be overwhelming. The base tea in the Camo Thai ($5.75) was enjoyable, but the addition of caramel brulee contradicted this flavor and overpowered the drink, a trend I also found in the Oreo Brulee Green Milk Tea ($6.50). Although I was let down by the first two, I was highly satisfied with the Taro Paste Fresh Milk ($5.75). The combination of taro paste with whipped milk created a light and subtly sweet concoction.

While the Watermelon Green Tea ($5.75), from the fruit tea selection, was refreshing and perfectly sweet, the Avocado Smash ($6.75) was a disappointment, especially since it was offered at Omomo’s highest price. Its texture and flavor reminded me of baby food; I was left craving a piece of bread or tortilla chips to accompany the “drink.”

The Angry Matcha ($6.25) and Black Jade Milk Tea ($5), while exceeding the Avocado Smash, were not revolutionary by any means either.

The Cocoa Latte ($6.00) ended my Omomo experience on a good note. The rich cocoa mixed with sweetened milk and cheese foam was neither too sweet nor too bitter, a refreshing anomaly in Omomo’s menu.

Overlooking the fact that relatively few drinks at Omomo impressed me, I was captivated by their tall and slim reusable and dishwasher-safe cups.

Whether to taste-test a tiramisu-topped tea or snag a reusable cup, Omomo Tea Shoppe is worth a visit. I recommend sticking with Omomo’s more basic drinks, With Omomo Tea Shoppe’s extensive menu and customization options, customers are sure to find a drink they love, although it might take a few attempts.

Xin Chao Eatery

If you have a sweet spot for the best Vietnamese delicacies in the area, but hate having to take the long trek down to Kearny Mesa to find them, then this new addition to the Del Mar Highlands Town Center is just for you!

Stepping into Xin Chào Vietnamese Eatery feels like crossing a threshold into the vibrant streets of Hanoi. The restaurant’s interior exudes a warm and rustic allure along with charming muted lighting and upbeat music. But the cozy atmosphere can be overwhelming during busy hours, as the tightly packed tables may leave some diners yearning for a bit more personal space.

The service at the restaurant is exemplary — the staff are well-versed on menu items and eager to assist with recommendations for those new to Vietnamese delicacies. While there might be occasional delays during rush hour, their attentiveness and hospitality make up for it.

From the distinctive sunset-orange Thai Tea ($6) to the aromatic Filet Mignon Pho ($17) and delicate Tofu Summer Rolls ($8), this restaurant invites diners to embark on a delightful journey through Vietnam’s diverse flavors and textures.

The Thai Tea’s tawny hue immediately signaled at the richness of its flavor, which did not disappoint. A perfect blend of strong black tea, sweet condensed milk and cardamom and star anise, this drink was balanced impeccably. Served over light ice, it provided a refreshing escape from the heat, making it a perfect refresher for a warm afternoon.

For a light appetizer, the Tofu Summer Rolls are a visual and textural masterpiece. The delicate rice paper envelopes fresh, crisp vegetables and silken tofu, creating an enchantment of flavors and sensations. The accompanying peanut dipping sauce does not disappoint, introducing a delightful nutty sweetness.

For aficionados of Vietnam’s iconic pho, Xin Chào offers a bowlful of comfort and contentment. The broth is a symphony of flavors — rich, fragrant and deeply satisfying. Thin slices of succulent beef are cooked to perfection, melting in your mouth with each bite.

From sipping on their piquant Thai Tea to savoring a steaming bowl of pho and relishing tofu summer rolls, this restaurant promises a memorable adventure for all self-acclaimed foodies.

If you are yearning for an authentic culinary adventure without leaving Del Mar, Xin Chào Vietnamese Eatery is an excellent choice. I promise: your taste buds will be sure to thank you for your voyage.

Sweetgreen

Welcome to an oasis where fast food is made healthy. Sweetgreen, a build-your-own salad chain, opened its third San Diego location in the Del Mar Highlands Town Center this summer. Founded in Washington D.C., this chain gained popularity in Los Angeles and is now making its mark on San Diego, to the excitement of locals.

While Sweetgreen aims to redefine fast food as fresh and nutritious, I was at first dubious of the chain, thinking it was nothing more than an overhyped, overpriced salad bar.

How good could a salad be? I could make the exact same thing at home without spending $20. Well, I was wrong, my friends. Yes, I can make a salad at home. Yes, it is probably overpriced. But it is the best salad you will ever have.

Not only are Sweetgreen’s salads delicious, but you can feel good eating them: Sweetgreen promises local, sustainable and fresh produce that builds “healthier communities by connecting people to real food,” according to their mission statement.

Furthermore, they claim to be committed to becoming carbon neutral by the end of 2027. They are a part of the Better Chicken Commitment, a science-based chicken welfare policy, which maintains a devotion to bettering animal welfare throughout the food industry.

Now, returning to the food, Sweetgreen supplies set menus with occasional limited-edition bowls. However, I recommend the customizable route. Your bowl starts with a base, then four free toppings, any other premium ingredients desired, and up to three tasty dressings. While employees will offer to mix your bowl, you’re guaranteed to see some topics fly out in the process, so I would not recommend it. Plus, half the fun of eating a salad is the obligatory shake of the bowl before diving in.

After sitting outside, I took the lid off of my bowl, a mouthwatering aroma unleashed into the air. My perfected order sat in front of me, consisting of arugula, shredded kale, quinoa, carrots, chickpeas, roasted sweet potatoes, tomatoes, hot roasted sweet potatoes, roasted tofu, warm portobello mix, crispy rice, miso sesame ginger dressing, and pesto vinaigrette ($18.45). Each ingredient compromised its own flavor in order to come together as one incredible tasteful explosion to the very last mouthful.

While it may sound dramatic, this salad changed me. As a vegetarian, no salad would ever be good enough again; I will never think more highly of another salad than of Sweetgreen’s. Sweetgreen is my Chick-fil-A and for all that it is worth, you heard it here, Sweetgreen is better.

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