FOOD & DRINK
Best Bar Decor
This new spot is bringing a little bit of North Park to downtown. We love the funky, chic design, especially the antique bathtub that serves as a beer tub on weekends. There’s also a life-sized peacock on the wall near the bar. The bartenders have nicknamed him Freddy, and say he guards the top-shelf liquor. The menu offers a nice selection of craft beers and cocktails. Bonus: Live music on Wednesday and Thursday nights.
“Dave Was Here” sign at Counterpoint
Emblazoned below the loft is a tribute to owner Cam Fomby’s friend, lost during the war in Afghanistan. Daily, a beer is poured for Dave (higher octane on weekends, naturally) along with a tab started in his name—the last one to be closed at the end of the night.
Best Pairing of Learning and Libations
History Happy Hour
At the San Diego History Center’s Bottled & Kegged exhibit, your culture and history lesson comes with craft brew tasters and apps (August 30, September 27, November 1).
Best Morning Jolt
V12 at Café Moto
Cold-brewed for 12 hours in the science project-looking Kyoto Drip, the three-tier system concentrates caffeine up to one and a half times as much as a normal cup of joe. Not for beginners.
Best Breakfast-Dessert Mash-Up
Hot Waffle Ice Cream Sandwich at Lighthouse
This shop uses a special iron to create this frozen-hot treat—the waffles warm up, but the ice cream stays cool. Combine one of four waffle flavors (apple cinnamon, blueberry, chocolate, original) with any of Lighthouse’s 38 flavors. After all, they say breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
Best Beer Garden
Tiger! Tiger! Tavern
Its new outdoor space features long picnic tables, twinkly lights, and heat lamps perfect for cool nights. Enjoy the outdoor ambience, order a pitcher, and toast to summer.
Best Pre- and Post-Padres Drinks
the Blind Burro
At this open and friendly resto, it’s easy to down three $5 margaritas before a game. We’ve done it and we’re not sorry. What we’ve regretted not slowing down for are the jalapeño popper tacos and street corn off the cob, which is what we
usually have for lunch.
Best Ice Cream Sandwich
the baked bear
Homemade cookies, old-fashioned ice cream in a cute shop blocks from the beach? Sounds like a recipe for the perfect summer sweet treat.
Best Pecan Pie
Magnolia Tap & Kitchen
The new restaurant promises comfort food (and booze) with a nod toward lighter and localized options, but we’re glad chef Michael Edwards didn’t muck up a very traditional pecan pie with anything but the essential, classic, vanilla-spiked dollop of real whipped cream. It’s rich, buttery, and not too sweet. A perfect crunchy-chewy-smooth combo.
Best Redo of an Old Staple
Tom Ham’s Lighthouse
The $3.5 million remodel of this iconic waterfront restaurant got us rethinking our after-work hangout. We love that the much-bigger bar now overlooks the bay and downtown. We also love the 32 beers on tap, with Beacon No. 9 brewed by Ballast Point exclusively for Tom Ham’s. Happy hour, indeed!
Best Alternative to AC
Frozen Horchata at Puesto
The sweet and slushy cinnamon ice milk chills you from the inside out, like an ICEE, but without the Technicolor tongue. Oh, and by the way, did we mention Puesto lines its tacos with crispy griddled cheese? Vamos a La Jolla!
Best Thing to Happen to the Mall
True Food Kitchen
The summer menu at this health-conscious eatery features superfood-rich dishes and drinks like the chia seed-laced virgin pomegranate limeade and the summer market salad with blueberries and purslane—an ancient wild green.
Best Day to Do Happy Hour
We discovered many worthy local watering holes offer their happy hour specials all night long on Mondays: Cantina Mayahuel in Normal Heights; Miguel’s Cocina (six locations across the county); Hotel Indigo, downtown; The Brigantine (six locations across the county); and 710 Beach Club in Pacific Beach.
Best Downtown Happy Hour
This neat little place across from Horton Plaza serves $1 fresh-shucked oysters and half-priced yet generous-sized fish tacos at HH. We love the “community” feel of the place—you’ll see a group of banker boys doing fireball shots alongside kids nibbling on hush puppies. Side note: Also check out their brunch!
Best Reason to Pause the Paleo Diet
Fried Pizza Knots at Soda & Swine
With melted Parm and fried dough, dipped in marinara sauce, this savory doughnut’s superior to its cousin, the garlic knot, which can be tough and chewy, and its second cousin, the arancina, which is lumpy inside with last night’s risotto.
Best Non-Surfing Reason to Get Up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday
Early birds get the best selection at this downtown sweetery on B Street. A few favorites: blueberry with Meyer lemon glaze, salted caramel, blood orange.
Best Bar Bites
The grub at The Commons is uncommonly caloric. We love their balls-to-the-wall, tater-tot-tastic menu that includes 12 flavors of chicken wings, a hot dog called the Ron Burgandog, and the rarely-seen turkey Reuben.
Best Taco Turf War
South Beach Bar & Grille vs. Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
Two taco heavyweights are facing off at the base of Newport Avenue for the title of O.B.’s best fish taco. We think Oscar’s has the edge, but only South Beach serves booze (for now).
Best Bar Spin-Off
We fell for the original Regal Beagle in Mission Hills because the kitchen calls out food orders by giving each table a TV character. “Paging Mr. Roper, Jack Tripper, or Sam Malone!” The new NoCo location is just as good, with 25-cent mini corn dogs on Mondays, handmade sausages, and an ever-impressive list of craft beers on tap. And let’s face it: Who doesn’t want to be Jack Tripper or Sam Malone for the night?
Best Place to Eat a Hipster Breakfast
This coffee bar serves perfect pour-over, Aebleskivers on weekends, and you get a discount if you ride a bike there. The owners, transplants from SF, have added baked goods like vanilla bean custard turnovers, and they’re opening a more sidewalk café-style location in the East Village this summer. We’re excited for tables and free Wi-Fi.
Best Swig of Summer
Peach Basil Sangria at Queenstown Public House
Made with Pinot Grigio, Champagne, fresh peaches, and basil sprigs, this spritzy sipper screams summer and goes down scary easy. There are also two red sangria options for red wine
Best Alternative to Darts
Move over, darts. In a city with so many sunny days, why opt for darts in a dark bar when you could be outdoors playing bocce? The courts at the new Stone Brewing Co. are fancy, but for the winos, Wilson Creek Winery in Temecula also has a bocce ball court, and Frangipani Estate Winery lets you reserve a court with the purchase of wine. North County peeps can play at Solterra in Leucadia.
Best Wine Country Restaurant
Valle de Guadalupe
It’s not every day you get to eat on a celebrity chef’s own ranch, but for San Diegans, this experience is just a two-hour drive south. Javier Plascencia’s al fresco restaurant serves rustic Baja-med style fare cooked on a wood-fired grill. Order the tasting menu and prepare to be wowed by dishes like grilled octopus with ponzu, cilantro, and peanuts.
Best New CSA Box
Garden of Eden
While most community-supported agriculture programs come from only one farm, this option is a co-op and includes 26 different farmers and farms. With such variety, the odds of getting the best of the best go up dramatically.
Photo by John Dole
Best $5 Cocktails
At this chic bar, order one of five classic cocktails for $5 apiece at their 5-for-5 happy hour, which runs from noon to 6 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
Best Clever Menu
Written with an air of Tolstoy, this Russian menu reads more like a novel. “Salat Vesna: Salad made of fresh cabbage with berries, herbs, and serious love. This dish is as rare as chastity.”
Best Thing We’re Becoming Known For (Other Than Craft Beer)
Harney Sushi prints edible QR codes on rice paper that serve as ecological resumes of the sushi you’re about to eat, but it doesn’t stop there. The only sustainable fish hatchery on the West Coast is here in the city (the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute Marine Fish Hatchery).
Best Brewery Empire Expansion
Sure, everyone’s talking about Stone’s new Liberty Station location, but Ballast Point is quietly seeking craft beer domination, expanding its Home Brew Mart and announcing plans to open a brewhouse and tasting room in Little Italy. Need we mention Sculpin in cans!
Best Southern Fried Chicken Upgrade
Amaya La Jolla
For the ultimate haute low-country cuisine on posh Prospect Street, go for chef Camron Woods’ buttermilk-bathed fried quail that sits on smoky mac ’n’ cheese. Diet be damned.
Best Strip Mall on a Constant Refresh
Del Mar Highlands Town Center
The dining standards in 92130 (that’s Carmel Valley, not Del Mar) have skyrocketed. So goodbye, IHOP, and hello, Snooze. Sayonara, Burlap—this wholesome bedroom community did not embrace the dragon heads—and hola, Searsucker 2.0. We’ve also gladly welcomed Casa Sol y Mar, Rimel’s, Davanti Enoteca, Urban Plates, Counter Burger, Taverna Blu, and more. Keep it coming—our appetite is bottomless.
Best Omakase Deal
Gaijin Noodle + Sake House
Omakase means “chef’s choice!” Antonio Friscia curates courses like carnitas bao bao, oxtail noodles, Mexican white shrimp yakitori, and yellowtail poke. Sous chef Fern Tran rocks it on the binchotan white-charcoal grill, and drink maestro Lucien Conner composes Gaijin Slings and clever Kakigori—boozy shaved ice cocktails.