Smoked Wagyu Picanha Pho @ Shank & Bone
A lazy but appropriate description of pho would be “a far more interesting chicken noodle soup.” Shank & Bone owner Han Tran’s family has been involved with Vietnamese restaurants for years. For S&B, she merely cranked up the investment in food—such as using Snake River Farms meat and doubling the amount of bones that steep in the broth in their pho. Bones are the life force of soup. And so S&B’s Smoked Wagyu Picanha Pho is luscious with flavor and collagen, which apparently (according to Instagram) prevents your face from falling off.
The Vaquero @ Barrio Dogg
Calling this a hot dog is like calling chilaquiles “chips.” What an obscene and glorious gesture Barrio Dogg has thrown at the world: Start with hot dogs (good ones, 100 percent Brandt Angus beef) and then just unload a quinceañera buffet on them. They’re full Mexican feasts, with dogs of significant size shouldering the load. I drive there occasionally to stave off the pandemic sads, and the other night The Vaquero was everything the cold, rainy night called for: chile con carne, crisp melted cheese, jalapeño bits, red onion, salsa verde, sour cream, Cotija cheese, crunchy garlic, and cilantro. Get a fork ready.
Panang Curry @ Saffron Thai
Some people have religious texts. One of mine is The Elements of Life, the cookbook from Su-Mei Yu, founder and chef of Saffron. And the one recipe that I’ve cooked so much—and is so good that it’s keeping my family from begging me not to cook—is her panang curry. Coconut simmered with a bloom of ground ingredients like galangal, lemongrass, garlic, Thai chiles, coriander, cumin, you name it. A master and her dish.
Pink Sauce Pasta @ Bencotto Italian Kitchen
Good restaurants can flash moments of divinity—a dish here, a dessert there. Great restaurants are those that are consistently excellent over a long stretch of time. When it comes to Italian in San Diego, that’s Bencotto. Chef Fabrizio Cavallini and his team make the pasta fresh every single day, and the pink sauce pasta is their catnip. Tomatoes and cream and—the difference maker—ground pork belly, which is fattier and more luscious and good for your chakras no matter how misaligned or bent.
Clam Chowder @ Blue Water Seafood
If you know anything about the Braun brothers, who own Blue Water Grill, you know they were born and raised by parents, yes, but also by the sea. The top fishermen in Ocean Beach were their extended family. So hyper-fresh, high-quality fish was, and is, the whole idea behind their shop. So, get the sashimi. Order local tuna by the pound and grill it at home. But also, as the brutal 50-degree San Diego winter chills us to our super-sensitive bones, order a big cup of their clam chowder. Take it to the sea wall 100 feet from the shop and stare out at the gray ocean, moodily and contented.