Best of San Diego: Food & Drink
Romesco | Photo: Dhanraj Emanuel
Specialty Popsicle / Viva Pops
The goat cheese strawberry balsamic popsicle is a rich, slightly tangy, and berry sweet creamsicle unlike anything you’ll find in your grocer’s freezer aisle. Should you want to try it, just remember to look low: Viva Pops’ goat cheese popsicles are listed on the bottom right of the chalkboard menu behind the register.
3330 Adams Avenue, Normal Heights
Vegan Donuts / Donut Panic
At this Mission Gorge donut dispensary located inside Sunshine Donuts, former Sipz baker Linda Dami puts out trays of doughy vegan-friendly treats at least once a week, but takes special orders, too. Flavors include chocolate hazelnut, lemon lavender, Earl Gray, rose cardamom, cinnamon sugar, raspberry-filled, and vegan Bavarian creme.
6171 Mission Gorge Road, Grantville
Breakfast Sandwich / Sea & Smoke
Del Mar’s popular American brasserie fills made-from-scratch cinnamon rolls with three slices of ham topped with melted Cheddar cheese, two pieces of black-pepper-and-brown-sugar bacon, and a fried egg. Matt Gordon’s unique culinary creation (aka our new favorite wake-up call) is served with a ramekin of maple syrup.
2690 Via De La Valle, Del Mar
Curry Noodles / Koon Thai
Khao soi is a Northern Thai dish featuring a nest of crispy egg noodles served in a nutty curry soup and dressed with chicken, pickled cabbage, shallots, lime, and chili in oil. Carefully toss the contents together and then try to stop yourself from eating the two-meal serving in one sitting.
3860 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa
Toffee / Sweet Bricks
Butter toffee studded with Oreo cookies, sandwiched between a top layer of white chocolate and an oreo cookie crust, makes the cookies ’n’ cream toffee triply delicious.
920 E Street, downtown
Beer Bread / 100 Wines
This hefty hunk of cornbread hopped up with Manzanita Brown Ale, rosemary, Cheddar, and a sprinkle of smoked paprika is meant for sharing (and great with beer).
1027 University Avenue, Hillcrest
Juice Bar/ Stehly Farms Market
Part indoor farmers market, part fresh juicery, the cozy new Stehly’s branch has a jam-packed juice menu with more than 30 blends to choose from, all incorporating the market’s organic produce.
2967 Beech Street, South Park
Ice Cream Flavor / Betty’s Pie Whole
Mississippi Mud Pie: Brownies, house-made marshmallow, shortbread crust, and butterscotch are swirled into rich chocolate ice cream in this totally over-the-top treat.
155 Quail Gardens Drive, Encinitas
Oyster Bar / Ironside Fish & Oyster
Most of us had a feeling there was a hole in the downtown-adjacent dining scene for the right oyster bar merchant. We just didn’t know how big that need was. Ironside Fish & Oyster can barely keep up with the action. With eight or so varieties always on the menu and served over a refrigerated-metal bar so that your plate stays cold, its oyster bar is one of the most in-demand seats in town. The Kumamotos live up to their name, but it’s the super clean-tasting Vancouver Island oyster called Kusshi that slayed everyone at our table. Go early if you want a seat.
1654 India Street, Little Italy
Cocktail Class / Spirit Society at Polite Provisions
This hip Normal Heights spot is ground zero for the local craft cocktail movement. And humble drinkers can be part of the action. Learn from the best bartenders in town, as you muddle, stir, garnish, and consume—all in the name of higher education. Then, take home your skills and impress your friends. Cheers! Up next: Ryan Fitzgerald teaches a class on agave spirits (August 11). Reservations recommended.
4696 30th Street, Normal Heights
Tapas / Romesco
A good thing got even better when renowned cross-border gastronome Javier Plascencia added an extensive menu of small plates like crab- and lobster-stuffed piquillos rellenos, octopus tostadas, and huitlacoche quesadillas, all offered in the dining room of a laid-back enclave that brings a welcome new dimension to one of San Diego’s best eateries.
4346 Bonita Road, Chula Vista
Craft Cocktail Caterer / Please & Thank You Liquor Bar
Launched this past March, the mobile bar service brings Craft & Commerce-quality cocktails and Mad Men style to your venue of choice. That’s because the menu is guided by Nate Stanton of Consortium Holdings, operated in partnership with Juan Miron and Kevin Ho of MIHO fame, and served up in chic barware curated by Farra Miron of The Hostess Haven.
Food Neighborhood / La Mesa
Between the new Bo-Beau, quaint Next Door Wine Bar, cozy new pub The Hills, old-school Brigantine, Kalina (borscht, anyone?), tucked-away Vine Cottage, and DIY grill Riviera Supper Club, there's never been so many spots to eat out east of I-15.
Bacon / Cafe La Rue
It’s just a pile of housemade bacon. It doesn’t even really fit the cast-iron skillet right. But the pork pile is smoked with perfect restraint and—oh dang—what is that butter dip on the side? It’s gold. A religious awakening of sorts. Ingredient-wise, it’s an emulsion of butter and maple syrup, with chiles and sage. Dip the bacon in that and—well, you’ve got dietary suicide, and one of the best bites you’ll have all year.
1132 Prospect Street, La Jolla
Margarita / Cantina Mayahuel
We’ve championed their carnitas, their shrimp tacos with pineapple salsa, their worth-it $7 guacamole, and their “hidden” location in Normal Heights, but this year we’re craving the margaritas. They come simple, served one of two ways: regular or blood orange. Both are spectacular, as is the selection of about a zillion tequilas, if you prefer to sip straight-up.
2934 Adams Avenue, North Park
Ballpark Eats / Lucha Libre
Petco Park added rockstars to the lineup of game-day food and drinks this year (hello, Stone Brewing Co. and Rimel’s!). Lucha Libre tops the list with its crispy cheese-lined tacos (yes, they did it before Puesto) and surf and turf combos. Bon appétit and play ball!
100 Park Boulevard, East Village
Farm / Suzie’s Farm
From summer strawberry picking to October pumpkin fests to those candlelit long-table-in-the-field communal dinners, to the best CSA box around, they might as well start leasing little plots of land. Because we'd like to move in.
2570 Sunset Avenue, Imperial Beach
Carne Asada Fries / Lolita’s
Two things are key to good carne asada fries (aside from good salty carne): thin fries and properly placed cheese (the melted Cheddar-style right on the fries, and the fresher, queso fresco-style on top of the sour cream and guac). No salsa on the fries. Only on the side. Know who gets this? Lolita’s. They do it right every time.
7305 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa; 202 Park Boulevard, East Village
Eggs Benedict / Acme Southern Kitchen
Their version is a low country riff on the brunch classic, with one damn delicious tasso gravy (the same gravy is also in the similarly excellent shrimp and grits on the brunch menu). That’s it. All you need to know. Oh, and that this cool steel-and-brick restaurant is the Southern charm of Terryl Gavre (Bankers Hill Bar + Restaurant, Café 222).
901 E Street, downtown
Coffee and Beer Cafe / Young Hickory
Between the Bird Rock coffee and its wide selection of craft beer cans—not to mention acai bowls, gourmet sandwiches, and hipster-cool Young Hickory-branded products—this North Park café is a one-stop shop for bevvies of all kinds.
4096 30th Street, North Park
Honey Toast / Up2You Cafe
This Kearny Mesa mecca of sweets serves up a slab of Japanese-style white bread that’s cut into a three-by-three grid, toasted, and brushed with butter and honey. For extra flair, eaters can opt to have the golden top slathered with Nutella, custard, peanut butter, strawberry jam, almond butter, apple butter, or dulce de leche.
7770 Vickers Street, Kearny Mesa
Sandwich / Supernatural Sandwiches
It has been a farmers market staple for the last couple years, and now they have opened a tiny storefront in Miramar for their “sea to sandwich” concept. The idea is pretty simple, and totally unique. Buy some of the best seafood (a lot of it from Catalina Offshore), add some pan-Asian influences (gochujang hot sauce, etc.), and put the whole deal on a sandwich. The Siren is especially good, with super-garlicky shrimp and garlic-chive aioli on buttered toast. Warning: It’d be wise to cancel any one-on-one business presentations for the rest of the day, on account of the hot garlic wind coming from your mouth.
7094 Miramar Road, Mira Mesa
Osso Bucco / Cucina Enoteca
Tracy Borkum’s new outpost in Del Mar looks remarkable down to the last detail, whether it’s the driving range buckets used as light fixtures or the curtains of plastic horse figurines ascending the stairs. Exec chef Joe Magnanelli sometimes gets lost among Urban Kitchen Group’s eye candy, as do the chefs de cuisine helping him on the front lines. So we'd like to point everyone to Andrew Bachelier's osso bucco. A generous round of Berkshire pork is served with black truffle, leek mashed potato, and sausage made with Italy’s bitter Chinotto orange, plus arugula for a little piquant green offset.
2730 Via de la Valle, Flower Hill Promenade
Juniper & Ivy
Biscuit / Juniper & Ivy
He’s known for modernist cuisine, but one of Georgia transplant Richard Blais’ best dishes at his new Little Italy outpost is one of the simplest. Dotted with smoked butter and served golden brown and piping hot in a personal-sized cast-iron dish, it’s the menu’s tasty, down-home, self-rising flour-dusted black sheep.
2228 Kettner Boulevard, Little Italy
Salt & Clever
Mac and Cheese / Salt & Cleaver
This indulgent dish of tender noodles bathed in silky aged white Cheddar sauce with crunchy garlic gremolata and grilled bread is the reason drawstring pants and after-dinner naps were invented.
3805 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest
Authentic South African / Cape Town Pub
Durban-born Graham Perkett merged his Deli-SA with this latest venture on Miramar Road, a casual café-deli with cricket games on the TVs, a Nelson Mandela portrait in the corner, and a mural of Table Mountain. A regular crowd of Saffas eat bunny chow, bobotie, boerewors, and savory pies. CapeTown Pub, which bills itself “South African fusion,” is about as SA as SD gets.
7580 Miramar Road, Miramar
Happy Hour Food / Cusp
Donald Lockhart’s ever-changing assortment of whimsical small plates, like buffalo chicken deviled eggs, pasta nachos, and spicy pepper bacon, are the perfect pairing for a stiff drink and stunning sunset view. Bonus: They’re $5 apiece.
7955 La Jolla Shores Drive, La Jolla
Still the Best
721 Ninth Avenue, East Village
640 Tenth Avenue, East Village
VGs Donut & Bakery
106 Aberdeen Drive, Cardiff
Tacos el Gordo
689 H Street, Chula Vista
4677 30th Street, University Heights
2910 Cañon Street, Point Loma
Joes on the Nose
Little Italy Mercato, Hillcrest Farmers Market joesonthenose.com
Tommy Gomes at Catalina Offshore Products
5202 Lovelock Street, Linda Vista
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