Braised Beef Noodle Soup @ Din Tai Fung
For this month’s review, I headed to the world-famous house of soup dumplings (xiao long bao, or XLB), Din Tai Fung, which recently landed at UTC Westfield. For research, I tried seven San Diego restaurants that were renowned for their XLB (you can see the results of our hunt in this story). DTF has some truly good food, but it wasn’t their XLB that blew me away. It was the other dishes, from the fried rice to the green beans, and especially this braised beef soup. This soup is everything a broth should be, the flavors developed so deeply that it could be consumed, happily on the edge of delirious pleasure, as merely a broth. But then you add the chunks of slow-cooked beef, thick noodles, and veggies, and this ranks alongside or above the best pho or ramen in the city.
4301 La Jolla Village Drive, UTC Westfield
Octopus Salad @ Biga
Arguably one of the best places in San Diego to get lunch, the made-fresh Italian restaurant specializes in sandwiches and salads. I’ve eaten through almost everything on the gluten-heavy part of the menu, so on this trip I tried the warm octopus salad. The key to octopus is tenderizing it properly, or it comes off freaky looking, like seafaring pencil erasers. Biga’s is perfectly tender, pieces of tentacle placed among a bed of arugula, smoked buffalo mozzarella, Calabrian chili aioli, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and a Meyer lemon vinaigrette. Honestly, octopus is one of those proteins that I usually order only when I trust the chef or restaurant, and Biga continues to earn that trust.
950 Sixth Avenue, Downtown
Smoked Carnitas Taco @ Lola 55
The sheer value of Lola 55 is shocking. The East Village fresh-taco concept has an accomplished chef behind the line in Andrew Bent, who spent time at Chez Panisse and Tender Greens. He’s using hyper-fresh, top-notch ingredients and ratcheting them up by braising, smoking, curing, pickling, you name it—and pricing them between $3.25 and $5! I’ve questioned whether they can survive on such low prices for such high quality, but owner Frank Vizcarra swears the numbers pan out (he’s one of the country’s top restaurant-business minds, so I believe him). For the carnitas, they’ve got pork shoulder confit, crisped maciza (lean, white pork), shaved tomatillo, avocado mousse, pickled red onion, and cilantro on a corn tortilla. If I lived in the East Village, I might eat here every day.
1290 F Street, Downtown