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The Best of San Diego 2010

The Faces & Places of San Diego You Need to Know. Now.




Pancakes: Claire's on Cedros

What's more seductive than a steaming stack of pancakes, laced with cinnamon, slathered with butter and moistened with maple syrup? The Clairecakes (whole-grain or cinnamon) at Claire's on Cedros are a morning must-have in Solana Beach. Everything on the menu is made from scratch, from the gluten-free French toast to the frittata with homemade ricotta. 858-259-8597, clairesoncedros.com.

Peanut Butter Milkshake: Beef 'n' Bun Whistlestop

El Cajon's Beef 'n' Bun Whistlestop offers lots of reasons to drop by, like delicious monster burgers, but the peanut butter milkshake (or peanut butter and chocolate) draws the crowd at this anti – burger chain. No matter where you are in the county, this creamy shake that tastes like peanut-butter cups is worth the drive. 619-465-0767.

Coconut Cupcakes: Azucar

A Cuban bakery must bake Cuban cupcakes, right? Not quite. Vivian Hernandez-Jackson specializes in more traditional Cuban sandwiches at her quaint Ocean Beach bakery, but it's her all-American version of the coconut cupcake that's earned her star status among sweet-toothed locals. Light, fluffy and one of only two flavors baked fresh daily (other flavors, such as her famous Key lime, are available by special order), Azucar's coconut cuties provide yet another reason to visit O.B. 619-523-2020, iloveazucar.com.

Cheese Bar: Bice

If the phrase "cheese wheel" makes your heart sing and your mouth water, elegant Italian eatery Bice is where to pull up a chair in the Gaslamp. Servers at the low-slung, eight-seat cheese bar happily pair jams and honeys with slices and chunks from an enviable assemblage of formaggi, even adding dabs of education about a cheese's origins. 619-239-2423, bicesandiego.com.

Flat-Out Indulgence: Urban Solace's Duckaroni

Don't be fooled by the mac-and-cheese side dish on Urban Solace's bill of comfort-food fare. While wonderful in its own way, it's nothing like the full-on serving of duckaroni —redolent of garlic and scallions, laced with blue cheese, laden with duck confit —that will have you flying back to North Park for another rendezvous with this purely indulgent pasta. 619-295-6464, urbansolace.net.

Best Reason to Start Liking Liberty Station Again: Con Pane's Cinnamon Rolls

Complain all you want about traffic, crowds or the layout of this behemoth Point Loma center. But if you opt to skip a visit, just know that you're missing some of the city's finest cinnamon rolls at Con Pane Rustic Breads & Café, now proudly residing at Liberty Station. 619-224-4344.

Banh Mi: Cali Baguette Express

It's about time San Diego got in on the banh mi craze. For only $3, the Vietnamese sandwich on a French roll with meat, cilantro and Asian mayonnaise simply can't be done better than at Cali Baguette Express. Did we mention the drive-thru? You'll find locations in the College area and Mira Mesa, but here's hoping for sandwich-empire expansion countywide to rival the ubiquitous burrito. 619-286-8888 (Rolando) or 858-695-8888 (Mira Mesa).

Bagel: Sun Flour Bagel

Tucked into a Vons strip mall, Sun Flour Bagel is owned by the Numata family, who learned to bake bagels in Japan and now offer more than 20 varieties in their La Costa shop. But if you visit on Wednesdays, Saturdays or Sundays, you'll discover traditional Japanese bread and pastries called okazu-pan and kahshi-pan. Try the melon, green tea cream or red bean paste-filled buns. And if you want the bread, get there early: They make only about 20 preservative-free white loaves per day, and they go fast. 760-929-8047.

Charcuterie:Quality Social

Since the chef's got a pig tattooed on his arm, you might surmise he takes pork seriously. He spreads the love to other meats, too. Recent Chicago import Jared Van Camp cures, smokes, salts and whips up patés and potted rillette, mortadella, salumi, pastrami and many more meaty delights at his casual Gaslamp corner bar, Quality Social. 619-501-PORK (7675), qualitysocial.com.

Power Lunch Spot: Café Chloe

We're still obsessed with splitting the pancetta-laced macaroni gratin with anyone who will listen, but this year we have an entirely different reason to call out Café Chloe: power lunches. Its East Village location outside the bustle of Broadway and its well-priced lunch menu (fresh soup-of-the-day and a salad for less than $10) have everyone from PR executives to real estate agents and downtown developers sealing their deals over lavender lemonade on the patio. Now if only they would open a second location uptown . . . 619-232-3242, cafechloe.com.

Salads: Tender Greens

If you are what you eat, then one of these nine hand-tossed salads is just the right choice. Made fresh to order and right before your eyes with locally grown produce, these plates are piled high with as much nutrition as flavor. The chicken Caesar salad is delicious, but
the real treats are the grilled flatiron steak and the vegetarian Mediterranean spinach medley. 619-226-6254, tendergreensfood.com.

Alternative to Whole Foods: Jimbo's Naturally

A grownup hippie's haven, with locations in Carlsbad, Carmel Valley, Escondido and 4S Ranch, Jimbo's Naturally is a culinary extravaganza of healthy alternatives. The upscale grocery is stocked with a wide selection of organic and locally grown fruits, greens and other goodies, such as soy-free cheese and gluten-free muffins. In-store events showcase experts who teach topics such as nutritional management or ways to improve digestion. jimbos.com.

Vegetarian Street Food: Alchemy

Okay, it's not exactly on the street; it's served indoors. Alchemy's fresh focus on street foods from around the world includes samosas stuffed with red potatoes and spring peas and sided with mint chutney, as well as tostones —a Puerto Rican snack of fried green plantains with extra-virgin olive oil infused by garlic and red chile. Though the South Park bistro also serves fish and meats, the vegetarian/vegan selections stand out. 619-255-0616, alchemysandiego.com.

Corner Table: Zia's Bistro

We would be lying if we said we didn't choose Happy Hour spots based on their degree of good people-watching. That's why we love Zia's Bistro in Little Italy, tucked in Piazza Basilone and offering a Happy Hour deal of $3 wine and $8 pizza. Zia's corner table is the perfect way to get your people-watching fix. The table at the crux of the patio also has a great view down Fir Street and out to the bay. 619-234-1344, ziasbistro.com.

Romantic Spot Other than Café Chloe: Jayne's Gastropub

Can splitting a burger be romantic? Get excited, guys, because we think the Jayne's Burger absolutely counts as a romantic dinner at Normal Heights' sweet bistro. It's a gorgeous Niman Ranch burger, topped with cheese and pickled red onions; peppery fries are on the side with ketchup in a neat silver bowl. The dining room is intimate; the patio twinkles with strung lights, and the expert servers are dressed up even though most patrons come dressed down. It's romance, San Diego style. 619-563-1011, jaynesgastropub.com.

Meal Worth Going into Debt: Addison

With marble columns, sweeping archways and ornate fireplaces, it's easy to suspect that the sky-high price of Addison's $140 Carte Blanche tasting menu is due at least in part to the decadent décor. But one glance into the pristine kitchen chef William Bradley runs with precision, or one taste of the braised le boeuf taquine with onion mille-feuille and prosciutto di San Daniele, and it becomes crystal-clear that at Addison, the splurge is all about the food. And you get what you pay for. 858-314-1920, addisondelmar.com.

Fish Taco of the Moment: Cantina Mayahuel

Just when we think we've finally found our favorite fish taco of all time, a new one pops up. It's one of the joys of eating around this fine city. One of our editors recently moved to Normal Heights and fell hard for the ancho chili sauce and diced pineapple garnish on the mahimahi taco at Cantina Mayahuel. Try it on a Monday, when Happy Hour runs all night and three tacos are just $5. 619-283-6292, cantinamayahuel.com.

Tuna Sandwich: Extraordinary Desserts

Forget about the chocolate layer cakes. Get over the goldleaf. Skip the Viennese coffee. Next time you go to Extraordinary Desserts' sweet, sleek café in Little Italy, try the tuna sandwich. Imported Italian tuna drips with good olive oil between toasted, chewy Bread & Cie levain. A thick slab of white Cheddar melts just slightly and sticks to a tangy smear of garlic aioli and artichoke truffle tapenade. Organic greens balance it all with crunch and spunk. To. Die. For. 619-294-7001, extraordinarydesserts.com.

"Happy Cow" Butcher: Homegrown Meats

When there's an "about our cows" section on a butcher shop's Web site, you can be sure the beef is given top billing. Homegrown Meats owner and La Jolla native Matt Rimel raises his herds in the grassy hills of Palomar Mountain without hormones, antibiotics or corn feeding. No wonder his La Jolla shop draws carnivores in droves for the high-quality grass-fed beef hotdogs, tri-tip, carne asada, rib-eyes and more. 858-454-6328, homegrownmeats.com.

Place to Get Your Goat On: El Take It Easy

It might just be time to get into goat meat. It's already what's for dinner in countries like Greece and India; now Jay Porter is bringing the affordable, healthy, nutritious protein to San Diego at his new, no-phone North Park eatery, El Take It Easy. As the restaurant's name suggests, the goat sliders here aren't a serious, fancy dish worthy of food-blog photography. They're more simple, earthy, toasty, comforting and delicious. For 10 bucks. And we dig 'em. eltakeiteasy.com.

New View:Glass Door

Sunset, midday, breakfast time —at any hour, Little Italy's Glass Door, atop recently arrived Porto Vista Hotel, serves harbor views to help you fall (further) in love with San Diego. The sight of the Star of India is almost a side dish itself. 619-544-0164, glassdoorsd.com.

View Made Better: Bali Hai

Any place with a waterfront window has a good chance of wowing the crowds. But Bali Hai took its good thing and made it better with a remodel to reframe its skyline view from Shelter Island. The updated island-style fare from new chef Chris Powell adds its own signature to the pretty picture. 619-222-1181, balihairestaurant.com.

Artichoke Dip: Red Door

Step into the Red Door for the best artichoke dip in town. We love the big, chunky artichoke bottoms and the fact that you can taste the spinach and the melted goat cheese. In fact, we're always amazed if we even bother with the salty pita chips rather than spoon the dip straight into our mouths. 619-295-6000, thereddoorsd.com.

Sweet-Potato Fries: Neighborhood

Many restaurants now have sweet-potato fries on their menu, but we went searching for the best. We found 'em in the East Village at Neighborhood, which has been serving its version since 2007. Thin and crispy but not too crunchy, these fries are the best because of their tart, tangy garnish: Goldmine Shaft cheese crumbles and peppered malt mignonette on the side. 619-446-0002, neighborhoodsd.com.

Local Chocolatier: Jack Fisher

A-list pastry chef Jack Fisher (of Addison, Nine-Ten and Jack's La Jolla fame) recently launched his own line of exotic chocolates, poised to cure a whole new world of cravings. Curry-spiced milk chocolate, rosewater white chocolate and imported Madagascar dark chocolate are just a few of our favorite flavor concoctions from Fisher so far. They're pricey ($2.75 for a two-biter, sold at Venissimo Cheese shops), but they're also customizable for your company, brand, wedding or special event. jfconfections.com.

Special Sauce: Small Bar's Horsey Sauce

There's no G-Love needed at Small Bar in University Heights —the special horsey sauce stands all on its own. Cool sour cream with a kick of horseradish in the background, it's the perfect dipper for fried shrimp or kosher corn dogs. Or both. We also love a side of the beer-cheese soup for dipping with the shoestring fries. 619-795-7998, smallbarsd.com.

Restaurant Rivalry: Cucina Urbana vs. Bencotto

Maybe it's not a war per se, but these two newer spots are definitely battling it out in our hearts for the best Italian food under $20. Cucina's rustic rigatoni Bolognese is earthy, hearty and Italian-grandmother good, but Bencotto's signature pink pancetta sauce over puffy gnocchi is as close to perfection in a pasta bowl as we've ever tasted. The winner? We'll keep eating them both, and let you know —if we ever decide. 619-239-2222, cucinaurbana.com, 619-450-4786, lovebencotto.com.

Other Top Chef Restaurant: R Gang

Roasted corn and fennel risotto with seared scallops and chili oil. Tempura jalapeños on a burger. Tater tots with house-made chipotle ranch sauce. S'mores casserole. What we love most about Rich Sweeney's new Hillcrest restaurant is that it doesn't matter one bit that he was on Top Chef. (Or that he's on this month's cover.) The food is comforting, approachable, fun and stands on its own. 619-677-2845, rgangeatery.com.


Brewery Tour: Stone

Stone Brewing guide Ken Wright can convince you that beer is a health food on a 45-minute tour of this beer-lover's heaven in Escondido. Guests learn about the brewing process and craft-beer culture. Tastings of barrel-aged brews such as Stone Levitation and Sublimely Self-Righteous Ale are offered along the way, free of charge (just like the tours). 760-471-4999, stonebrew.com.

Drinking Game: The Tipsy Crow

During Happy Hour, work-related concerns supposedly cease to exist. But at the Gaslamp's Tipsy Crow, drinking is business. Like the stock market, each alcohol's price is affected by how many other guests are ordering it or how many you "invest in" yourself (hiccup!). Bears and bulls become beers and booze. Television monitors refresh every five minutes with price changes and daily highs and lows for each spirit, so buy low! 619-338-9300, thetipsycrow.com.

Sunday Funday: Groove 24/7 at The Pearl Hotel

It's not P.B. And it's definitely not the biceps-and-bikinis show at Hard Rock Hotel. For us, though, Pearl Hotel does Sundays right with its Groove 24/7 brunch. With endless mimosas, a swimming pool, Ping-Pong and board games, you won't want to leave the retro-chic environs. Drink up every last drop of fun from the weekend before Monday comes! 877-PEARL-SD, thepearlsd.com.


Hipster Parent Scene: Station Tavern & Burgers

For kids, summer equals endless playtime. For adults, endless kid-time. Luckily for the ever-hip parents of South Park, Station Tavern & Burgers is as kid-friendly as it is accommodating to adults. Kids keep busy in the well-groomed gravel play lot, complete with interactive wooden trolley car, while parents munch burgers and tater tots and sip craft brews on the patio's picnic benches. See, 30th Street and kids do go together. 619-255-0657, stationtavern.com.

Wild Ride: Wild Animal Park's Flightline

Make like a raptor and glide over roaming rhinoceros and graceful giraffes. Flightline, the new zip-line ride at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Park, lets you soar over the Asia and Africa field exhibits. Harnessed guests travel up to 50 miles per hour along a 3,677-foot-long cable through the Escondido park's desert landscape. 760-747-8702, sandiegozoo.org.

Offbeat Tour: Haunted San Diego Ghost Tours

Costumed "ghost hosts" invite groups of the living onto their "coffin-on-wheels" Ghost Bus for 10 ghost stories rife with corny, tongue-in-cheek jokes during a driving/walking tour of San Diego's ghastly locales. Ghost hunters need not attend, since the chance of encountering an actual spirit isn't any higher than at, say, the grocery store, but memorable ghouls are brought to life through the exuberant tales of the expert storytellers. 877-6-HAUNTED, hauntedsandiegotours.com.

Anticipated Museum Exhibit: "Viva la Revolución: A Dialogue with the Urban Landscape"

For the first time in history, the majority of the world's population lives in urban communities. Our own urban art museum celebrates that reality with "Viva La Revolucion," featuring 20 artists from eight countries whose work is displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego's galleries and locations throughout downtown. Guest curator Pedro Alonzo has had us buzzing ever since the gallery closed for installation this past spring. 858-454-3541, mcasd.org.

Music Place to Splurge on Seats: Anthology

Little Italy's Anthology Supper Club is an intimate venue with high-caliber acoustics that penetrate every corner of the building. The sound is impressive, even by the impossible standards of local music snobs. There's nary a bad seat in the house, which more than justifies the price of admission for a concert (tickets can reach upward of $45). Then there's the food. A posh night at Anthology would not be complete without indulging in chef Eric Bauer's seriously sophisticated cuisine. Exquisite on all counts. 619-595-0300, anthologysd.com.

Music Place to Stand Shoulder-to-Shoulder:The Tower Bar

In City Heights, The Tower Bar is a structural landmark and a musical institution. Even if its storied charms were removed —the popcorn, the "Pabst Smears," the soft-core porn, the tangy eau du Tower —it would live on, unfazed, via the eclectic, ragtag Tower groupies who carry on the grand tradition of inhaling cheap, stiff drinks to timeless music. It's bound to be crowded during live bills, so get ready for some serious shoulder-rubbing. 619-284-0158, thetowerbar.com.

Place to Take the In-Laws: C Level

The airport? Just kidding. Maybe. But if you really do want them to stay —or to send them off in style —a stop at nearby C Level is just the ticket. On Harbor Island, Deborah Scott's patio adjunct to pricier Island Prime seats guests on the breezy deck to drink in the bay views, the sherried lobster bisque and the $5 Happy Hour specials. 619-298-6802, islandprime.com.

Hidden Gem of Balboa Park: Flight Path Café

Overlooking downtown and the airport, the Flight Path Café makes for a great layover. Never heard of it? We hadn't either, until recently. It's on the back patio of the Air & Space Museum and serves freshly grilled burgers, sandwiches and snacks. Some of the best views in the park, too. sandiegoairandspace.org/visit/flightpathcafe.php.

Way to Pretend You're Rich: Mission Hills Open Houses

Head for the hills —Mission Hills, that is. On weekends, the open houses near Fort Stockton Drive, Goldfinch Street and neighboring slopes and canyons present the opportunity to imagine yourself a resident of the architecturally diverse 'hood Forbes Magazine named No. 5 of "America's Most Overpriced ZIP Codes" in 2008. Then the recession hit, prices began dropping, and the (comparative) bargains appeared in real estate listings. You still may not be able to afford your very own Craftsman or Spanish Revival or Tudor here, but you can tour and dream of putting on the ritzy.

Local Commune: SD Space 4 Art

SD Space 4 Art, a new space where disparate local artists design and create through the invaluable exchange of progressive ideas, comprises 30 affordable work studios and five work/live studios. Tenants work as a collective to keep costs low and are planning a permanent facility for other emerging artists in the surrounding community. Spaces are all currently rented, but aspiring creative neighbors can fill out an application for the wait list at sdspace4art.org.

Booze-Free Fun in North Park: Queen Bees Art& Cultural Center

North Park may be at the head of San Diego's craft-beer scene, but it's also an arts community. Queen Bees brings the focus back to art, with all-ages events like concerts, cultural dance nights, burlesque, open-mike nights, local jewelry and art shows —and often a combination of all of these. The space itself is impressive and open, reconfigured to complement each event. 619-255-5147, queenbeessd.com.

Underrated Wildlife Experience: Chula Vista Nature Center

Where the Wild Things Are comes to life at this nonprofit nature preserve, nestled on the Sweetwater Marsh National Wildlife Refuge. A small but dedicated group of staff and volunteers offers a uniquely hands-on and intimate experience for visitors, including opportunities to pet rays and see wildlife up close. Prescheduled birdwatching excursions and guided tours of native animal habitats are also available. 619-409-5900, chulavistanaturecenter.org.


Local Sports Team: Lincoln High School Boys' Basketball

The Lincoln High Hornets stung opponents into submission throughout the season, finishing with a 24-game winning streak capped by a 74-59 win over St. Francis of Mountain View in the CIF State Division II championship game. And with six of the top eight players returning next year, look for Lincoln's dominance to continue into 2011. lincolnhighsd.net.

Athlete: Shawn White

Carlsbad's most famous snowboarder reached stratospheric heights out of Vancouver's Olympic halfpipe and in the media when he claimed his second successive gold medal and became a household name in 2010. Get used to him: At 23, White will likely dominate for years to come, as he's literally head and shoulders above the competition. shaunwhite.com.

New Import: Roxana Velásquez Martinez del Campo

Meet Roxana Velásquez Martínez del Campo, new director of the San Diego Museum of Art —and the first female appointed to this post in SDMA's 85-year history. Born in Chicago but raised in Mexico, she was director of Mexico City's impressive Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes. With 20 years of experience under her belt, Velásquez says her priority is to communicate the relevance of culture and art to the broadest audiences. 619-232-7931, sdmart.org.

Job (Other than Ours): Kyle Hall

Man's new best friend arrived in San Diego this summer, in the form of a smart, snarky 200-word e-mail newsletter called Thrillist, aimed squarely at guys. From a secret sneaker shop with code-word access to a backroom bartender who brews his own moonshine, it's Kyle Hall's job to find the city's hidden gems and blast them out daily to the 10,000 subscribers already signed up. thrillist.com.

Comic Book Artist: Jim Lee

Step aside, Brooklyn. San Diego's talent pool is more vast than people realize. Korean-born Jim Lee, one of the finer comic-book artists alive and recently appointed copublisher of industry giant DC Comics, resides in La Jolla with his wife, Michelle, and three kids. He doesn't have to travel far for Comic-Con each year. Lee's style is versatile (he's worked on everything from X-Men to Batman and Superman), and no matter the chaos and carnage he's illustrating, it's always beautiful.

Couture Connoisseur: Rebekah Sager

Who's that local designer who just landed a new show on Bravo? Where is the best shoe boutique in Bird Rock? Where do I find local jewelry designers' wares? For these and all other style, shopping and fashion questions, we call Rebekah Sager (one of this month's cover models). She knows everyone in the local fashion scene, she's been to all the boutiques, and no, we won't publish her phone number. No need to call, though —she blogs it all at sandiego.com. And you might just see her in our pages soon, too.


Louboutin Healers: Cinderella Shoe Clinic

When blue becomes the new black and your perfect shoes don't match, take them to Cinderella Shoe Clinic. The Old World shop caters to La Jolla's well-heeled trotters. They can mend those Jimmy Choo pumps, repair the zipper on a Gucci handbag or put an extra notch on a prince's belt. 858-454-0806.

Best Paper Store: India Ink

There's even more paper to love at India Ink's new, larger location in Hillcrest. More soft leather-bound journals, more handmade greeting cards and custom invitations, lots more gifts and specialty items. Sweet chenille baby blankets, vintage aprons, fountain pens and more. The best place for a little bit of everything. 619-233-4203, indiainkpapers.typepad.com.

Vintage Furniture with Vintage Prices: Nest

The 21st century can be cruel for vintage-furniture lovers, as rare finds often come with extortionate prices. Golden Hill's Nest has changed all that. No consignment-shop junk and no laughable price tags for some of the swankiest mid-century modern furniture around. The perfect supplier for those who want a piece (or two) of Mad Men in their own nest. 619-756-7491, nestvintage.com.

Place to Find a Hipper Version of Everything: Ducky Waddle's

Bibliophiles and fans of all things eclectic —including books, photographs and art that fell through the cracks of large-scale chains —will want to make a pilgrimage to Ducky Waddle's Emporium. If culling through bookshelves of rarities isn't for you, the Encinitas book dealer also hosts monthly poetry readings, art shows and concerts. 760-632-0488, duckywaddles.com.

Dog Walker: See Spot Sit

If Ron Burgundy had his pick, this is where Baxter would go when he was out with the Channel 4 evening news team. We love See Spot Sit because it's hip to the latest communication channels: Owner Carrie will post a video on your Facebook page or text a quick pic to you of your pooch while you're away. She'll even stay at your house so Fido doesn't have to howl in an unfamiliar kennel. 619-884-2645, seespotsitsandiego.com.

Nursery School: City Farmers Nursery Classes

You might call it higher learning for urban homesteaders. City Farmers Nursery teaches a staggering variety of classes, from raising tilapia to composting, from storing your harvest to making soups. And they're free. Think of it as Harvard for the locavores and do-it-yourselfers —without the tuition. The City Heights nursery's plants and garden supplies are top-notch as well. 619-284-6358, cityfarmersnursery.com.

Place to Keep Cuffs Intact: Kiki's Alterations

Need a little nip/tuck to look your best? Take your ill-fitting threads to Kiki's Alterations in La Jolla. The expert seamstress has a longtime reputation for fixing hems, reworking waistlines and rescuing brides with wedding-gown woes. Kiki even tackles bad alterations by less-skilled tailors. 858-456-7865.

Outdoor Spa Experience: Rancho Bernardo Inn

You know a hotel is serious about its spa when it builds its own saline pool. And installs a garden to grow herbs for treatments. And designs a stunning lounge. The outdoor spa at the Rancho Bernardo Inn takes up a large piece of real estate, but we're convinced it's worth it. Truly relaxing. 858-675-8500, ranchobernardoinn.com.


All-in-One Indulgence: L'Auberge Del Mar

It is impossible to overdo luxury, the French proverb says, and it's clear that L'Auberge was born from this mindset. Get pampered at this palatial Del Mar retreat's gorgeous spa, staycation overnight and wake up to ocean views, or simply make reservations at Kitchen 1540. Chef Paul McCabe's food is nationally recognized, and yet we still get to call him our local gem. Check him out on this month's cover. 800-245-9757, laubergedelmar.com.

Restoration: Cosmopolitan Hotel

There's a trick to making something old look new without taking away its historic flavor. Old Town's Cosmopolitan Hotel just may have pulled it off in bringing the former La Casa de Bandini back to life as a boutique hotel and restaurant that evokes the original Cosmopolitan stagecoach stop. And with Amy DiBiase (of Baleen and Roseville) in the kitchen, we're betting the food makes history. 619-708-1134, oldtowncosmopolitan.com, fiestadereyes.com.

Yoga Retreat: Ginseng Yoga

With all the designer yoga-wear, he's-so-hot instructors and packed early-morning classes, practicing yoga in San Diego can start to feel like a "scene" rather than a stress-reliever. Not at Ginseng Yoga. With simple studios, supportive instructors and a very casual South Park vibe, it feels old school. The way yogis intended yoga. We especially love the addition of Mommy & Me classes and relaxation massages. 619-338-YOGA, ginsengsandiego.com.

Free Workout: Mount Nebo

Who needs a step machine at the gym when La Mesa's Mount Nebo stairs burn calories so efficiently —and along the way, offer sweeping views well worth the cardio challenge? The eight sets of steps, placed for the ease of pedestrians climbing to a street above or below, provide a heart-pounding, hearty workout in the slope-filled Windsor Hills neighborhood, especially if you ascend all 533 stairs. cityoflamesa.com/index.aspx?NID=298.

SUP Spot: Bonita Cove

Stand-up paddle surfing's explosion in popularity (REI even has SUP classes) has been held in check by already-crowded surf spots in many areas. But not at Mission Bay's Bonita Cove, where SUPers have ample room to traverse flat water without fear of being hassled by big waves or congested lineups.

Up-and-Coming Neighborhood: Bay Park

Shimmery waterfront views. Sneaky-good bars and restaurants (have you noticed how crowded Bay Park Fish Company is at lunch?). Surprisingly affordable real estate. And it's good enough for local chef talents like Brian Malarkey and Deborah Scott to call home. We stopped overlooking Bay Park the more we found ourselves there. It's on the up! 

Macaroni gratin at Café Chloe

"My favorite is the Happy Vegan salad —so many great flavors and colors on one plate!" — Geneen Montgomery, advertising art director

Sangría: Wet Stone Wine Bar & Cafe

Who needs Spain when you can find great sangría in Bankers Hill? Wet Stone Wine Bar & Café mixes a mean white sangría with its own special twist we can't get enough of, even after two years of indulging. It includes lychee, a sweet, subtropical fruit that adds a surprising and refreshing kick. 619-255-2856.

Place to Ask Forgiveness: Brunch at George's

We suggest you beg pardon at George's at the Cove. If Trey Foshee's ever-fresh California cuisine doesn't smooth your path to redemption, the soothing sight of the Pacific ought to inspire peace. Smaller sin? Take the begging
upstairs to the Ocean Terrace. Either way, you're likely to be forgiven —at least long enough to enjoy the meal. 858-454-4244, georgesatthecove.com.

Best Restaurant Second Coming: El Camino

We were instantly hooked on El Camino's funky South Park taco shop when it opened in 2009, but it's the second location, in Little Italy, that convinced us bigger really is better. The larger patio, with arcade games and air hockey, gives everyone more room to mingle, and the bigger bar and dining room inside can accommodate more live music and local bands. Here's hoping owner Mauricio and the gang are aiming for El Camino No. 3 at the beach. 619-685-3881, elcaminosd.com.

The Best Food Trucks

Miho Gastrotruck: Two Linkery veterans teamed up to serve fresh, locally sourced, clever street foods like conchinita pibil tacos, banh mis, Cuban sandwiches and more. mihogastrotruck.com.

Joes on the Nose: Delicious hot and refreshingly cold espresso beverages, served from a big, orange, surfer-style truck. 858-373-8001, joesonthenose.com.

Tabe: Drawing on a unique blend of flavors —Mexican, Japanese, Pacific Islander —Tabe offers barbecued chicken, beef, spicy pork and beer-battered fish to add to its bowls, wraps and more. tabebbq.com,

Marisco's German Taco Truck: This truck produces some of the best tacos in town, from the battered fish (naturally) to the gobernador (shrimp, cheese and chiles).

Sweet Treats: This list wouldn't be complete without an ice cream truck, and Sweet Treats does it right by combining cool gourmet-brand sweets with nostalgic faves like sno-cones, drumsticks and ice-cream sandwiches. sweettreatstruck.com.

Kiwi Coach: Bareback Grill's mobile operation brings the best parts of the P.B. and downtown restaurants along for the ride, including organic burgers, chicken sandwiches, salads, fries and onion rings. barebackgrill.com/menu-mobile.php.

Dave de Jour: A former Navy SEAL, Dave isn't a guy to be taken lightly. Neither is his cooking, which includes shredded-beef Cubano sandwiches, mahi sliders, chicken skewers, mac-and-cheese on a stick and more. davedejour.com.

Place to Forget About a Bad Day: The Ould Sod

Normal Heights' The Ould Sod isn't a bar where you drown your sorrows —you leave them at the door. People inside wouldn't be able to comprehend your facial expression if you walked in with a frown. They live in the cozy world where live music, Irish traditions, free jukeboxes, good company, chatty bartenders, shamefully addictive karaoke and the best pour of Guinness in the city are part of their daily routine. See? Made you smile already. 619-284-6594, theouldsod.com.

Suburban Bars

  • Pal Joey's: Despite a relatively recent remodel, the Allied Gardens cocktail lounge keeps it real with so-tacky-it's-cool décor, stiff drinks, billiards and suburban cougars on the prowl. Bonus: P.J.'s waitresses are always on the spot with drink orders. 619-582-6699, paljoeysonline.com.
  • Dolce Pane e Vino: A new social hub of sleepy, aristocratic Rancho Santa Fe. Dolce's wine list is impressive, as is its menu of locally sourced foods. Check out the hot-air balloons from the patio. 858-832-1518, dolcepaneevino.com.
  • Phileas Fogg's: Named after a Jules Verne character, Fogg's offers a British-style pub in Sabre Springs —and hundreds of bottled beers from which to choose. The recent World Cup cemented this North County place's reputation as a solid soccer bar for those along I-15. 858-486-4442, phileasfoggs.com.
  • Eastlake Tavern + Bowl: It's a simple formula: Swanky bowling alleys, sports on TV screens and great bar food make for an outstanding bar in the 'burbs. 619-565-BOWL, bowlelt.com.
  • Hoffer's Cigar Bar: Cigars are in the name, and "fine craft beer" should be too. La Mesa's bedrock of great beer offers 24 taps of local and international suds. Oh, and one of the largest cigar selections in the county. 619-466-8282, hofferscigar.com.

Best Therapist: Garth Flood at Cowboy Star

In Cowboy Star's tiny cocktail bar in the East Village, top 'tender Garth Flood understands that we all have big problems from time to time. At least it seems that way. But with a few muddled cucumbers, an extra-deep pour of your favorite Cab-Franc, maybe some fries on the house, Flood's effortless, easy service always lightens the mood. We can vouch for the steaks here, too, but Flood is the reason we keep coming back. 619-450-5880, thecowboystar.com.

Summer Concert Series

  • Twilight in the Park (Spreckels Organ Pavillion): An end-of-the-day treat for museum-goers or a great reason to take an evening stroll in Balboa Park every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 6:15 through August 26. The International Organ Festival, Mondays at 7:30 through August 30, features organists from around the world. balboapark.org/calendar, sosorgan.com.
  • Carlsbad TGIF Jazz in the Parks (Calavera Hills Park): On August 20 at 6, the third and final installment in this summer-long concert series brings Carlsbad jazz-lovers to 21-acre Calavera Hills Park. carlsbadca.gov/services/departments/cultural/Pages/tgif-jazz.aspx.
  • Four O'Clock Fridays (Del Mar Racetrack): This annual concert series is free to race-goers, so feel free to bet carelessly. August 13 brings hometown buzz band The Soft Pack back to San Diego after their stint on the summer festival circuit. delmarscene.com.
  • El Cajon Concerts on the Green (Prescott Promenade): Perfect Friday-night fun in East County for families who like to boogie under the stars. downtownelcajon.com/event_cotg.shtml.
  • Summer in the Park (Trolley Barn Park): Uptown urbanites gather in droves for this family-friendly outdoor concert series on Friday nights in University Heights. normalheights.org/parks/trolleybarnpark/SIP2010.pdf.

Guerrilla Art: "Cardiff Kook" Couture

In 2007, a statue was created at Pacific Coast Highway and Manchester Avenue to immortalize Cardiff's surfing community. One problem:
Surfers panned it. The bronze Magic Carpet Ride strikes a pose more at home on the ballet floor than in the water. In response, playful locals regularly adorn the figure in seasonal outfits, from Halloween costumes to prom dresses.

Dog Day Afternoon: Fiesta Island
A social-networking site for canines, the southeast side of this manmade island is the perfect
place for dogs who like to dig, dive and dash about. Free of those pesky leashes, this pooch paradise is a great energy burner and easily accessible by car. There's no alcohol allowed on Fiesta Island and no restrooms are available, but picnickers —and pups —are welcome. sandiego.gov.

Best High School Band: Mariachi Chula Vista

Not many teenagers earn a mention in their local paper, let alone an extended front-page spread in the New York Times before they graduate from high school. Chula Vista High School's Mariachi Chula Vista has won numerous awards in national competitions and shared stages with the world's most esteemed mariachis since they formed in September 2001
under the direction of mariachi scholar Mark Fogelquist. mariachichulavista.org.

Local iPhone Apps

  • Dog Parks San Diego: Take your pooch somewhere new. Find pet-friendly parks, beaches and trails throughout the county, and get maps, contact info, hours of operation, amenities and more. If Buddy has to go now, interactive maps use GPS to pinpoint the nearest dog parks. Free.
  • King of Happy Hour: Never be thirsty again with more than 200 San Diego locations listed. Find a Happy Hour by neighborhood or your current GPS location, or browse the King's personal favorites. Besides times and deals, this 99-cent app even shows how many pool tables and TVs the bar boasts.
  • TransitGuru San Diego MTS: Whether you're a daily commuter or a special-event rider, this $1.99 app's for you. Check line schedules and routes, use the GPS to find a station near you, and browse nearby restaurant info from yelp.com. You can even set a timer in case you doze off mid-ride.
  • San Diego Symphony & Summer Pops: Symphony aficionados will love the calendar of events and information on featured composers and pieces. Use the "listen now" feature to stream hours of recordings, or follow links to buy select full albums. Free.
  • Swell Info: Check surf conditions all up and down the SoCal coast, as well as around the world. A seven-day forecast, convenient color graphics and easily navigable options make this $2.99 surf app superior.
  • Taphunter: With the free Taphunter, use a map, browse through a list or search by your current location to find a bar known for its craft brews on tap. Can't decide what to drink once you're there? Shake the phone, and Taphunter will recommend a brew from the list of taps at your location.

Local Bloggers

  • Sddialedin.com: Rosie never lets us down with this exhaustive weekly list of events and commentary, mainly centered on local music.
  • Sdurban.com: From city planning issues to simply enjoying the food, fun and culture of San Diego's inner-urban neighborhoods, Paul's blog is a must-read for city dwellers.
  • Sezio.org: This arts, music and culture blog is required reading for anyone in —or simply interested in —San Diego's youthful creative community.
  • Sandiegofoodstuff.com: Local, seasonal, organic and tasty: Caron's blog, catering to cooks and gourmands, is all about food finds around town. Watch for more of her writing in our pages soon.
  • Holidaymatinee.com: Local marketing wiz Dave Brown shares his fresh finds and coolly designed items —from clothes to coffee cups —along with music discoveries, artists, Web sites, happenings and more. This blog is where the cool kids are.
  • Lajollamom.com: A top "mom blog," detailing everything from Happy Hours to domesticity to things to do around town —from a mom's perspective, of course.
  • 30thstreet (the2line.blogspot.com), On Adams (onadams.blogspot.com): The T-zone formed by the intersection of 30th Street and Adams Avenue is a hotbed of hip, with new, independent, artsy businesses, restaurants and bars crammed into block after block of storefronts. Keep track of all the openings, closings and can't-miss events with these two neighborhood blogs.
  • Casing the Joint (thelinkery.com/blog): Jay Porter has been blogging for the love of locavores since 2005. From reports of a new organic winery or a quick spotlight on The Linkery's featured sausage, Jay's on the case.
  • CultureLust (kpbs.org/news/blogs/culture-lust): The perfect cheat sheet to check before any cocktail party. KPBS arts and culture producer Angela Carone (one of this month's cover models) tracks art, music, pop culture, books and anything that's interesting.
  • Gaslampball.com: This season largely apart, following the Padres requires a sense of humor. The Gaslampball guys provide it in spades in their comprehensive, constantly updated Friars coverage.
  • mmm-yoso!!! (mmm-yoso.typepad.com): From divine dim sum and crispy lo mein to the best shabu-shabu house, the gastro-blogger behind mmm-yoso chronicles the ins and outs of the county's best Asian comfort food with flair.
  • Credentialed (voiceofsandiego.org/credentialed): As photo-of-the-day blogs go, Voice of San Diego photojournalist Sam Hogson's is our favorite. Whether the subject is an embattled politician mugging at a press conference or a barnacled buoy bobbing in the bay, the daily caption contest's one-line quips —all submitted by local readers —are always good for a laugh.

Interactive Boutique: Mog & Rue

Mog & Rue owner Kristen Di Zinno's sweet Encinitas boutique offers style mavens more than just racks of party dresses and shelves stuffed with handbags. The native New Yorker, who describes her style as "East meets West," also hosts sewing classes, sketching lessons and draping workshops for would-be fashion designers looking to learn the basics of the biz. 760-635-2664, mogandrue.com.

Running Clubs

  • Hash House Harriers: The self-proclaimed "drinking club with a running problem" combines great people, good beer, exercise and an excellent time. The hare-and-hound runs (where the "hares" lead a trail for the "hounds" to follow) always end at a bar, but the camaraderie starts on the streets, often including semi-offensive nicknames or unusual outfits. A great excuse to exercise. sdh3.com.
  • The Running Club: Serious runners would agree there are few better ways to start a Saturday than with a beachside run and breakfast. The Running Club, which also meets during the week, welcomes runners of all ages and stages, promising "You will never run alone or be left behind!" runwithgreg.com.
  • Nite Moves: Each Wednesday evening, 5K races are followed by music, food, family, friends and a Firestone beer garden. It quenches both our hunger and our competitive side (the race is timed, and results are posted online). nitemovessd.com.
  • Chi Running: Posture, breathing, cadence and energy are all improved by adapting the techniques of t'ai chi to running, we're told, with claims of enhanced power, energy and grace. It's not as new-agey as it sounds. movewithnature.com, effortlessrunning.com.
  • Jogging Tours: You've been to the tourist traps, but have you ever jogged through them? Combining education and exercise, San Diego Jogging Tours gives us even more reasons to love our city. sandiegojoggingtours.com.
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