One of the best kept secrets in North County is Pandora’s Pizza which quietly debuted on Dec. 15. The restaurant’s success is attributed as much to the fusion of personalities as it is to its ingredients which can be described as exotic and, at times, offbeat.
The creative genius behind the concept is Encinitas native Laurel Manganelli and husband Greg Lukasiewicz, who previously collaborated on several restaurant concepts in the L.A. area.
“We did food that had not been done in Los Angeles, the beginning of molecular gastronomy,” Lukasiewicz explained. “We experimented with things such as bleu cheese and peppercorn ice cream, Kalamata olive cake with tomato ice cream and foie gras souffles.”
The couple relocated to North County to raise their two daughters. Lukasiewicz assumed the role of stay-at-home dad while Manganelli ran the San Elijo Campgrounds Store.
“The kitchen at the store was vacant, so I decided to fire it up and make street tacos, an aspect of Los Angeles cuisine that I had spent most of my life eating with my Nicaraguan grandmother,” he said.
Thus, was born Bull Taco, a local phenom that eventually expanded to a second location in Oceanside.
“Bull Taco is ‘inauthentic’ Mexican and we wanted to bring that to pizza,” partner Craig Leslie explained. “Laurel developed the menu with a high-quality spirit, but we also wanted to provide other options so we included pizzas with traditional ingredients like pepperoni.”
“Inauthentic” Italian pizzas, listed in the “Out of the Box” section of the menu, include items such as Apollo pizza which pairs duck confit with wild mushroom, brie, cranberry, sage brown butter and chive.
“My favorite is Zeus (lobster, bacon, chorizo, cheddar, onion, cilantro, salsa, crème fraîche) which is Bull Taco's signature taco,” Lukasiewicz said. “Chef Laurel's favorite is the Athena (eggplant, goat cheese, sun dried tomato, basil, arugula, with balsamic reduction).”
“Inside the Box” pleasers include margherita, four cheese, Hawaiian and barbecue chicken.
Traditional options run the gamut from bell pepper, mushroom and onion to prosciutto, shrimp and basil chiffonade.
Also on the menu are appetizers, bruschetta and salads. Fruit pizza is among the dessert offerings.
Whenever possible, the restaurant offers local seafood and locally-grown produce, including organic, depending on availability.
Lukasiewicz says they’ve kept the business quiet till now, so they can fine tune the operation.
“Soon, there will be a Pandora-Bull Taco blog which will display some of our insanities with food,” he said. “A recent example was last week, when we went to the desert to try to find (unsuccessfully) rattlesnakes to put on tacos with the new ‘world's hottest chili’ which we will call ‘Venom.’ We also went to TJ last week to seek the best ceviches to inspire us.”
Seating capacity is approximately 40 in the main dining room, 15 in the upstairs lounge, and up to 30 in the patio lounge when it opens. Lukasiewicz describes the décor as “fantasy-dollhouse-hunting lodge.”
Look for more adventures, including wine tastings as springtime nears and new locations to sprout up beginning with Oceanside.
Pandora Pizza is located at 828 N. Hwy. 101, Leucadia. Hours of operation are Monday through Thursday, 4 to 9 p.m.; Friday 4 to 10 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information, visit pandoraspizzapie.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (760) 230-2323.