Took me a while. I’d love to say I’ve been eating takeout every night, crafting bad art from an obscenity of to-go boxes. But that’d be a lie. I’m not above lying, but I’ve been huddling indoors, scrolling pandemic news and shower crying like the rest of us. I’ve been cooking and cooking and cooking, but mostly doing dishes. But recently I ramped up my takeout orders because our local shops need the help, and this interview with a virologist made me feel safe doing it. A recent report from the Independent Restaurant Coalition predicted that 85 percent of indie restaurants will go out of business because of the economic fallout. Eighty. Five. Percent. That’s not going to work for me, personally. I enjoy happiness, and indie restaurants are at least one of the active ingredients in my happiness. So here’s a list of my favorite takeout right this week.
Prosciutto and Caramelized Apple Tortellini @ Hanna’s Gourmet
Hanna Tesfamichael’s little bistro has been a staple of University Heights for years. She’s been closed since the start of the pandemic, but just reopened for takeout after some begging and pleading by regulars. She’s originally from Ethiopia, which was the world’s Grand Central for the spice trade, and you can taste the gamut of herbs and spices in her cooking. Definitely try the prosciutto and caramelized apple tortellini in a béchamel sauce, or her famous carrot cake.
Panang Curry @ Soi 30th
A popular Thai street food shop from North Park just opened a tiny outpost in Ocean Beach, and it’s a welcome one for locals unwilling to go over the hill into Point Loma for Supannee. (OB locals rarely like going over hills, nor leaving the OB bubble, for that matter.) Their selection of grilled meats with Thai chile sauce are excellent, but it’s that panang curry that really announces their presence in the beach town.
Oxtail Pho @ Pho Ca Dao
Pho Ca Dao is a San Diego success story, starting as a small shop and now expanding to multiple locations. Each one of them has a patio for safe on-site dining, or you can get pho to go. They’ve got 15 different types of pho with a broth that’s drunk with the flavorful ghosts of long-simmered bones. A personal favorite is the braised oxtail and rare steak (nothing beats oxtail for that richly complex beef umami).
Sweet Corn & Basil Empanada @ Empanada Kitchen
Nothing disappoints me as universally as empanadas. The dough is often overfried, flaky, and dry, like beach sand made into food. Empanada Kitchen makes hands down the best empanadas I’ve tasted in the city, baked to perfection so that they’re silky smooth and caramelized on the inside, vaguely chewy dough like a bagel inside. The fillings here don’t disappoint, from the traditional minced and spiced lamb to the surprisingly delicious and nearly dessert-like sweet corn and basil with a hint of nutmeg in the béchamel. Absolutely get a full jar of their housemade chimichurri to splash on everything you make during your quarantine cookathons.
Octopus Taco @ TJ Oyster Bar
If the fish taco is San Diego’s signature food, TJ Oyster Bar is how it’s done by real cooks with roots in Baja, where the concept started. Two things I always order here—smoked tuna fries (think of carne asada fries, except with deeply delicious smoked tuna instead of marinated steak, then loaded with crema, pico de gallo, everything) and that octopus taco, one of my favorite tacos in town.