Each month we ask one of our favorite San Diegans the question:
If you only had 24 hours to show a friend the best that urban San Diego has to offer, where would you take them?
Work: All over
How Long: San Diego native
My list of preferred eateries and drinkeries is vast. So when it comes to deciding where to take friends, I allow for flexibility depending on their current mood, so I can tack whichever way the wind blows. When friends or family visit from afar, I have options on hand for every step of the day. Too many options can be overwhelming, so I try keep the choices to no more than three, à la those Choose Your Own Adventure books.
When I play tour guide, you can expect a lot of walking, so it’s important to get an energizing breakfast. For this I look to the classics, one of which is Park House Eatery. There’s a great patio where you can easily watch the dog walkers passing by, and the gathering crowd waiting to get a seat (we’d be there before the masses, of course). Park House Eatery was doing avocado toast long before it was a thing; I discovered it here over ten years ago. But my favorite life-giving dish is the pan-fried linguini and egg, with chunks of ripe Roma tomatoes, feta cheese, and a generous drizzle of Sriracha along the edge of the bowl.
If my friend is looking for more of a scene, along with a similar guarantee of great food and strong coffee, The Mission in North Park is my other go-to. I’d push for everyone at the table to order something savory, such as the Zen Breakfast with scrambled egg whites (or whole eggs if you prefer), braised tofu, brown rice, grilled zucchini and squash, or the Roast Beef Hash and Eggs with grilled Meyer’s Ranch natural beef, horseradish cream, rosemary potatoes, and scrambled eggs. We’d also get one of The Mission’s famously delicious and large pancakes (with strawberry, banana, and added granola) to share and satisfy everyone’s sweet tooth.
For lunch, I’d first insist we go down to Harbor Drive, to the new Carnitas’ Snack Shack on the Embarcadero. Not only is the Shack a San Diego must-visit (usually at the original North Park location), but here we can sit outside and revel in San Diego’s waterfront, from the historical Star of India, to the modern yachts and harbor cruise ships. If, like me, you happen to play Pokemon Go, this is a sweet spot for bunch of rare captures. But pocket monsters aside, I wouldn’t let you leave without tasting the nationally famous Triple Threat Pork Sandwich, with pork loin schnitzel, pulled pork, and bacon.
If my guest is not up for the crowded harbor area, we’d move further inland to Tajima in East Village, the hippest and most urban of all the Tajima locations. Here we’d share an appetizer of karaage (fried chicken bites), and I would recommend the Spicy Sesame Ramen with chicken chasu, because that’s how my ramen rolls. And for those guests visiting from Mexican food-deprived regions of the country (no taco bowls here!) any one of America’s Finest City’s myriad Mexican food joints would satisfy the culinary tourist, but at the top of my list (for lunch, mind you, because for dinner it would be Cantina Mayahuel or Ortega’s) is El Zarape, but only the original one on Park Boulevard in University Heights.
We don’t get to dinner without first doing happy hour somewhere. Bali Hai is a little off the beaten path, but the view of the bay is expansive and the $5 mai tais are punch-you-in-the-face strong.
For dinner, it’s all about the atmosphere (because it’s a given I’d only take you places where the food is awesome). For great craft cocktails, perfect share plates and a sort-of scene, but not too scene-y, we’d hit up Madison on Park. The Heirloom Salad (with watermelon, feta, and soppressata) is mouthwatering, and this is one of the few restaurants where I get excited about ordering hummus. The Skirt Steak, and the baked brie with apricot habanero honey are also fantastic.
For a super casual, friends and family Italian neighborhood feel, we’d pull up a table outside at Buona Forchetta. We’d share the Roman style artichoke hearts, but don’t touch my pizza. If I don’t finish it, I’m taking it home, this stuff’s too good not to hoard. We’d get a carafe of house red wine, which is an incredible deal for a light and drinkable, but still plenty flavorful red. However, if my guest prefers French food to Italian, and a place that’s a bit more quiet and intimate, we’d head to La Bonne Table for their excellent French fare. In this small cottage on the corner of a busy intersection in Hillcrest, we’ll find perfectly presented ripe French cheeses, a terrific Duck Confit on lentils, and the best iteration of Trout Almandine you’ve ever tasted, often accompanied by murmurings in French from nearby tables, as this chef/owner draws those seeking an authentic French dining experience.
For after-dinner drinks… who am I kidding? We’ve been drinking since lunch, at least, but still. Starlite is my bar of choice, my Cheers, the place I go when I seek comfort, familiarity, and a chill vibe. It helps that the cocktails are always on point (as is the food — this place is also home to my favorite burger, but we’ve been eating all day, so for now we’ll just drink). It’s not on the menu anymore, but if you order the Holly Golightly, they’ll know what you mean: it’s a Manhattan with a splash of maple liqueur, and it’s heavenly. Other favorites are the Kentucky Colonel, and just about anything new on the cocktail menu, because the mixologists are always shaking things up, both literally and figuratively.
Wait! We’re not done yet… if we managed to drink for hours, and we get to the point where we’re hungry again, I will drag you around the corner and up the hill to the Asian Bistro, which is open LATE. Like until 3am late. But you won’t find drunkards stumbling in for standard drunk food at this authentic Thai-centric restaurant (they’re all at the 24-hour taco joints). You’ll find fresh, carefully crafted food all the way up until closing time, the kind that makes you promise to go back another time, maybe even during the day, which I’ll encourage you to do, so you can verify for yourself that it wasn’t just OMGNOM because you were buzzed. It’s just always that good.
Now get some sleep. Wait until you see what I suggest we do tomorrow.