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?
Live: Serra Mesa Work: Normal Heights How Long: 3 years
First stop would be James Coffee in Little Italy for an almond milk latte. They have an awesome set up and I love the collaborative vibe with all of the local businesses under one roof. Walter & George is one of my favorite local brands and there is also a great little flower shop in the back with gorgeous blooms. If it’s a Saturday we might cruise the Farmer’s Market or head over to the Waterfront Park. I always take people to Liberty Station for a great day of strolling around. If it’s early enough I love to get croissants and coffee from Le Parfait Paris at Liberty Public Market. I used to live in St. Tropez and their bakery brings me back there. Outside, there are lots of lounge chairs for the mamas to relax while the twins play.
For lunch I love to head over to Station Tavern in South Park! They have a fantastic kids area to play in. We usually bring sand toys and trucks so they can just go nuts while we indulge in some burgers, fries and maybe a day drink. If we are up north for lunch instead, you can’t go wrong at Flower Hill Promenade. I think Mini Market has the best kids clothes, lots of local brands, and a play area out back before popping in to Flower Child for a healthy lunch for both the kids and me. Everything is plant based, but I’m a fan of the summer salad with butternut squash.
For dinner we love to head back over to Little Italy to Davanti Enoteca for a shared-style polenta board and the heavenly focaccia bread with ricotta and honey. If it’s a special occasion we might drive to La Jolla and grab some ceviche at George’s by the Cove while we sip cocktails and watch the sunset, followed by dinner at Brockton Villa. It’s so quaint and quintessential San Diego overlooking the water with the best steak and mussels.
How Long: 12 years
To show a guest what I love about San Diego, I’d have ‘em put on their flip-flops and start up the coast in Cardiff, where I moved shortly after arriving in San Diego 12 years ago. Our first stop would be a local institution: Pipes Café, a funky, laid-back, super-casual hangout that’s perfect for a sleepy Saturday morning. (How casual? Their motto is “No shirt, no shoes, no problem.”)
Pipes is where hungry surfers get their grinds after a long morning on the waves, so the portions are substantial. The atmosphere’s friendly and uber-chill, where your breakfast burrito or veggie scramble is served on paper plates. (Last time I checked, in keeping with their mellow, retro vibe, they were cash only.)
If Pipes is too crowded or we’re hankering for something a little more upscale, we’d walk around the corner to Pappalecco’s northern outpost for excellent coffee and Tuscan treats, like their eponymous dish of two eggs, mushrooms, potatoes, onions, cherry tomatoes on savory homemade bread. Either way, we’re just steps from the beach, which means we can also stroll past the famed Cardiff Kook statue, which pranksters may well have gussied up yet another costume, although no, I never had a part in doing such a thing. (Um, honest. No, really.)
Cruising back down the coast, we’d take a quick detour for further caffeination at the Cliffhanger Café at the Torrey Pines Gliderport. This tiny outdoor spot not only serves one of my favorite local coffees, Café Moto, but also affords the opportunity to sip while watching first-time fliers running headlong for a cliff before stepping into thin air and taking flight.
Then we’ll head inland to one of my favorite haunts, Mission Trails Regional Park, close to where I’ve lived for the last 5 years. If my guest has brought hiking shoes, we’ll climb to the top of Cowles Mountain for a 360-degree view of the city from its highest point, plus the mountains to the east, the Coronado Islands, TJ, and on a clear day, Catalina. Or we’ll take a more leisurely stroll starting at Old Mission Dam or behind the visitor center.
Having worked up our appetites, we’d decamp to The Purple Mint, It’s a quiet, family-owned spot in a shopping center on Mission Gorge Road featuring Asian fusion cuisine. It’s surely what they serve in vegetarian/vegan heaven. I keep trying lots of different things in multiple visits, and have never been disappointed. The yam and sweet potato curry was a revelation, and the eggplant and tofu delight addictive. Thanks to its abundance of faux meat dishes, the menu boasts more quotation marks than I’ve ever seen in one restaurant, framing words “salmon,” “beef,” “prawns,” and more – and it’s all delicious. Or just make a meal out of one of their smoothies with boba.
Next, we’ll visit San Diego’s other crown jewel, Balboa Park, and after a long afternoon there, stroll over to Azuki Sushi for the hamachi toro and a “by the border” roll, with spicy tuna, avocado topped with seared albacore, sliced jalapeno, signature ponzu, and spicy aioli, or an “r u kidding me,” with snow crab, diver scallops, tempura asparagus topped with seared tuna, white truffle oil, mixed greens, garlic ponzu, flash fried leeks. I’m partial to the delicately flavored Shiso Mojito, featuring shochu, shiso leaves, fresh lime juice, and soda.
Afterward, we’d head to the historic Lafayette Hotel on El Cajon and dig its mid-century charm. We’d drop into the hotel restaurant, Hope 46, to sample from a short but carefully selected list of local craft brews. Then we’d wander to the opposite end of the hotel, which houses the cabaret-style theater Finest City Improv (More drinks in the lobby are available from Nick the bartender – tell him I sentcha.)
In fact, it may well be a night when I’m performing with the musical improv team, Berserkus! What better way to end a perfect day than laughing yourself silly as funny songs and epic rap battles in a musical show that’s totally made up on the spot? (If Berserkus! isn’t performing there that night, we might be at Old Town Improv Company, in which case, I recommend tanking up on a pitcher of margaritas first at nearby Coyote Café or beers at Home & Away, one of the few sports bars you’ll ever find me in because the beers and fries are so darn good.)
Live: Kensington 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.
Live: North Park Work: North Park How Long: San Diego native
Good morning, you want to start your day off right?
Well, let’s head to our friends at Dark Horse Coffee for some excellent caffeinated pick you ups! Cold Brew on Nitro or some tasty hot pour overs.
With coffees in hand we can decide where to eat breakfast, but I’ll just let you know — bang for buck, Golden Hill Cafe has some of the best chilaquiles in all of San Diego. What are chilaquiles? Tasty tortillas cut up into pieces, crispy with some spicy red sauce and some eggs and beans on the plate! MAN, so good.
After we have full bellies and cracked out on coffee, we can head to Torrey Pines to walk some trails. It would be great to walk off all that morning awesome and see the beautiful sights of the San Diego coastline! Torrey Pines is sweet because there are many trails that can lead you up high for awesome vistas, or walk down along the beautiful beach. Ahhh, you smell that crisp ocean air?
It’s probably getting close to lunchtime…so I’d suggest we head down to Carnitas Snack Shack down in North Park for some excellent piggie yums! Their Steak Sandwich is one of my favorites, and their infamous Triple Threat Sandwich is not for the faint of heart. But, if you are up for a challenge… you got this!
Since we’re in North Park, we can hit up 30th street and walk around to all the Awesome that are breweries! We can walk to Mike Hess, grab a pint and play some darts! After I beat you in darts, we can cruise across the street to North Park Beer Co. and try out some of their tasty ales or lagers. We can then go to Rip Current or Fall Brewing. If you’re keeping up, we can Uber down to Hamilton’s Tavern in South Park and, depending on the day, watch a ballgame on the telly, play some pool or shuffleboard, and drink of their amazing offerings!
It’s probably getting to be late afternoon/early evening at this point so we can Uber to get a beautiful San Diego burrito! JV’s Mexican Food off Morena Blvd is one of my favorite spots of all time. I’ve been eating there for over 20 years and they have not let me down. We can get the burrito to go and wander over to Coronado Brewing tasting room off Knoxville Street and try one of San Diego’s oldest breweries!
You’ve just done San Diego proper!
Live: South Park Work: South Park How Long: 8 years
Let’s start where all living things start, breakfast. We will keep it basic, but still awesome! Tobey’s 19th Hole in South Park on the golf course. Sit on the patio. You can’t beat the view of downtown and this is going to give our friend a general idea of how perfect the weather is here. Yes, perfect.
Basic breakfast — it’s a diner so nothing is going to knock your socks off — but it’s good food. Get a coffee, a mimosa, eggs, bacon, O’briens potatoes and some toast, or maybe an omelet if you feel crafty that day. The quirky waitresses are a great way to get a couple laughs in to start out right. The golfers sprinting in and out to grab a 6sixer of Bud and a bag of chips for their upcoming 18 is also entertaining.
After we lick our plates clean, we ping the Uber over to Shelter Island for one of my favorite spots, a tiki fortress called Bali Hai. We walk in and you immediately feel good about the day. We order a Mai Tai (best you’ve had) and we chill at the bar. Every friend, family member, tourist I come across I tell about this can’t miss spot. Best view of the city — it’s like sitting with a moving picture frame in front of you. The boats, the clouds, the birds etc. It doesn’t get more awesome than drinking a tiki cocktail and sitting in this epic structure. Experienced Bali Hai’ers know you can walk out back with your drink and sit down by the water in the restaurant’s patio area, which is mostly used for weddings. Do this, but spend 15 minutes at the bar first.
After, if you can handle it (careful, strongest drinks ever), we will hop over to Fathom Bistro, Bait & Tackle on the pier for a quick beer while we take in another epic view of the San Diego bay. We sit outside, watching two fisherman buddies trying to convince one another they aren’t bored, that pier fishing is a fun hobby.
Our lunch appetites just kicked in, and we are obviously getting some seafood, because you’re in San Diego and that’s what you want. We zip over to Point Loma Seafoods where we will sit up above on the deck and wait for our number to be called for our food order. We both have lemonades and another beer in front of us. Once again, you are impressed by the view of the boats, the water, the birds and yes beautiful downtown San Diego. We order two sandwiches: one smoked fish, the other scallop. They both come covered in tarter sauce with plenty of lemon on the side. We split a side order of the bay shrimp in cocktail sauce. It’s all amazingly delicious and so far you aren’t surprised how awesome the day is going. You’re starting to have that feeling like you couldn’t be in better hands.
Now we have time to kill until dinner. Drinks are the only way to kill time when you’re a bartender so let’s go do that. We barrel roll our way over the hill down to Ocean Beach where we catch a Moscow Mule on another upper deck patio — a place called South Beach. It’s an awesome restaurant that overlooks the beach and the pier of one of my favorite beaches in San Diego. You’ll likely see a drum circle or a hula-hooper on your way in. We’ll walk around all the incense, clothing and tapestry shops for a minute and then pop over to Wonderland for yes, you guessed it, another great view and a cocktail.
Depending on how inebriated you are feeling, we walk down to the water and watch the surfers for a bit until you decide we are ready for the next beer. Pizza Port!! Great beer selection, lively place, one of San Diego’s awesome beer and pizza spots. While enjoying your beer, you’ll likely hear some stoner come over the PA system telling Amanda her beer buddies are ready and then telling a quick one liner joke. You’ll enjoy this. We will gulp up the brew and be on our way.
Switching scenes now, still killing time until dinner, we head over to Old Town. Touristy? Yes, but you’re a tourist so we’re going! Old Town, for those of you who don’t know is a state protected historical park in San Diego. We walk around exploring many historic buildings, museums, graveyards, shops — catch a few mariachis. Likely we pop into one of the many Mexican restaurants for a margarita.
Just before leaving, we stop into the Churchhill Cigar Lounge. We pick out a cigar, pair it with a Duchesse De Bourgogne Flanders Red Ale, sit out back and watch horse racing on the single patio TV. We are attempting to fit in with the old guy regulars who are getting a moment’s break before heading home from their day jobs. We don’t succeed, but we’re drunk enough to think we do!
The sun starts going down and our bellies are ready for more grub. We cab back to South Park and head to dinner at Piacere Mio, a local Italian eatery with house made pasta. The Italian staff cannot get friendlier or more charming. Great vibe and the food is excellent! With the wine ordered, we start off with Bruschetta and the Melanzane Saparita (baked eggplant with mozzarella cheese and tomato sauce) yum! The main courses will be the Gnocchi Alla Sorrentina and the Salmone Al Melograno (salmon over risotto covered in a pomegranate sauce). I have yet to find a better salmon plate in the city. It’s delicious! We finish off with a cannoli and the tiramisu paired with two glasses of port. Everything was to die for and we can barely breathe now, so we decide to go get another beer. “Hamilton’s?”
“Yes!” And just like that, we are on our way to the greatest beer bar in the world. In less then 5 minutes walk we are there. We walk into warm smiles and friendly faces, pop a couple dollars in the juke box and sing Willie Nelson songs until we can hardly stand. We wake up in the morning and you thank me for the awesome San Diego day you can barely remember.
Live: North Park Work: South Park How Long: San Diego native
Let’s assume an early arrival time and limitless amounts of unbridled energy. I’ll pick you up from the airport at 7am and we’ll hop on a Deco bike: PCH to the San Diego River BikePath and into OB we go! We stop for a quick café cubano and pastry at Azúcar, do some window shopping on Newport and make it to Little Lion Cafe before the fog clears. We order poached eggs on toast with seasonal fixings and wash it down with a glass of sparkling rosé. We take a few minutes to appreciate Sunset Cliffs and then head back in to the heart of OB to drop off our Deco bikes and impulse-purchase some earrings from Noon. Before we leave, I make you go grocery shopping with me at Peoples, and we both leave with new patchouli-laced hand cream. We call an Uber and it takes us back to mi casa in North Park.
It’s almost noon and we’re hungry! But first we have to walk the dog, which takes us right by Modern Times’ Flavordome, so we stop in for a liquid appetizer. Two Universal Friend saisons later, we walk Miss Mabel back to the pad and take off for Panama 66 for lunch. We avail ourselves of a house made charcuterie board and some delicious salads. I have a mezcal margarita and you enjoy a Harlot Belgian ale from Societe Brewing.
After lunch, we hit up the San Diego National History Museum and take in the astounding diversity of Southern California through the Coast to Cactus exhibit. I take this opportunity to tie in biodiversity with the diversity of San Diego’s food systems: largest number of organic farms of any county in the country, dry-farmed grapes making great wines, the re-emergence of a healthier commercial fishing community at the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market… You tell me to stop talking, but that you are interested in that wine business so we Uber to The Rose to try some!
We sit in the sun dappled shade of jacaranda trees on the patio and share an order of empanadas. You want to try some Baja wine and go for a glass of Casa de Piedra sparkling rosé while I throw back a chilled glass of J Brix “CouCou” Counoise. It’s 5 PM now and we want to save some steam for dinner so you take a couple bottles to-go: Los Pilares La Dona Pet-Nat of Muscat and Vesper Vineyards Vermentino. All in all, you’re impressed and excited to share the gospel of San Diego wine with your friends back home! “There’s something really cool happening here,” you say!
We head back to the house to drop off the bottles and make our way to dinner at Bracero Cocina. As we sit at the upstairs bar, eat hiramasa aguachile and watch people hit on each other with the neon lights of bonafide high rises setting the mood, we reflect that, “Wow, San Diego really has a little bit of everything for everyone!”
(And I didn’t even make you sit through a Padres Game! which I could have.)
Live: North Park Work: All over town How Long: San Diego native
Let’s start out with an early breakfast — come on we only have 24 hours! Hold on to your seats, it’s going to get aggressive.
Breakfast for me always includes chilaquiles. So we’ll kick things off in Bankers Hill at Jimmy Carters Mexican Café. It may have an odd name for a Mexican spot, but it won’t disappoint and it usually doesn’t have a long wait. From there let’s head to La Puerta for second breakfast and some amazing brunch tequila and mezcal. Try Fortaleza Tequila and La Niña Mezcal — they are my favorites. The chips and salsa there always put me in a happy trance.
Now we’re ready to brunch… so let’s head to Trust. This new restaurant has the most amazing service, and the food can’t be beat! Honestly, ANYTHING here is amazing! Maybe have a digestif after a couple of bites to keep the ball rolling.
Next up is Park & Rec to play a game or two and have another brunch cocktail. That should keep us til around 2pm, when it’s time to aim for North Park to grab a shot and a beer — and a taco! — at Cantina Mayahuel. Then down 30th to Coin Op to catch up on some videogames while drinking Seth Marquez’s world famous Ramos Gin Fizz.
Since we are now a little tipsy and need to soak up some of that booze, let’s head to my home away from home for my favorite pizza ever. Go to URBN North Park and grab a mashed potato pizza and a tasty beverage. One of my faves is the Christopher Oaxacan — a mezcal Manhattan variation with La Niña, Mandarine Napoléon, cynar, and orange bitters.
After that we might need an afternoon nap by the pool, so let’s hit the Lafayette to take in some sun and a snooze.
It’s almost time for dinner, so let’s freshen up and hit the town! I like to roll into Little Italy and start at Ironside for the best octopus north of the border. Then down to Kettner Exchange for a Tuttle tiki cocktail that Paulina will make you. She is fast as lightning and has the prettiest smile in town. Don’t leave Little Italy without stopping at Bracero Cocina. Christian Siglin and Brian P’s cocktails are the best in the city and could NEVER be beat.
Don’t get too tired now — we have three spots to go!
The Lion’s Share is our next spot. It’s got everything, including some of my favorite bartenders. Please see Jason O’Bryan for an amazing cocktail and some crazy cocktail and spirit knowledge. Then have a gamey slider or two…or three. The décor, the staff, and the cocktails are some of my faves. My favorite cocktail on the menu? The Hunter Thompson (mezcal, pineapple-infused rum, agave, raspberry, lime and barrel-aged bitters).
After that stop by the Noble Experiment to see Adele Stratton for some fancy fun! The cocktails are pretty, and pretty tasty! GET A RESERVATION! It’s a super cool experience, and should not be missed!
Last but not least (at all!) we have our late dinner and our last stop before we head to Mexico…
No night is complete in my world without a steak and a shot of Tequila Ocho at Turf Club. Probably the coolest spot in the city in my personal opinion. The décor, the simplicity, and the fun can’t be replicated.
Now it’s about 1:30am and its time for Mexico….
Live: Normal Heights How Long: San Diego Native
Rachel is a multi-faceted artist and designer who takes the adult coloring trend to beautiful nude heights with her Very Adult Coloring Book series. She’s also got a penchant for block print textiles, and routinely offers block printing workshops.
I am a native San Diegan (from Mission Hills) and I have a serious appreciation for the sprawl of South Park-North Park-Normal Heights eateries that keep sprouting up and expanding San Diego’s awesome food scene. I usually like a light breakfast, so to start the day I would take my buddy to my new favorite spot Communal Coffee for a hot cup and their avocado toast (add egg). We can watch the girls at Native Poppy arrange floral bouquets while we eat.
When I want a little more substantial breakfast in the neighborhood, I really have a weakness for Cardamom Bakery and their croissant sandwiches. I love to take my morning coffee to the Grape St. dog park in South Park, to let my pup play and to get some exercise for myself walking around one of the biggest and prettiest dog parks in San Diego. Watching all the goofy dogs is pretty much the best way to get the day going.
Come lunch time we would head back up to Normal Heights for Ceviche House. I really like the “La Paz”, their Big Eye Tuna Ceviche with a side of chipotle chips & guac. Then we’d walk across the street to Señor Mangos, where I like the Green Juice blend or a Beet/Pineapple combo. More often than not though, I get larges of both. Their juice is my favorite pick-me-up in the afternoon.
Dinnertime is my favorite meal, so we would definitely get over to Trust in Hillcrest. They are killin’ it with their small plates– I want to get them all, every time. The portions here are perfect to share with a friend to try several different things together. The menu right now features an incredible Wood Grilled Octopus cooked perfectly. I really loved the Chicken Liver Toast, the Hamachi Crudo, and the Uni Pasta!! Seriously, get everything.
If we are going for a classic dinner out in my world, it’s almost always El Zarape on Adams Ave. It is steps away from my house, and when do chips and guac NOT sound amazing? I usually fill up on chips, guac, and the green salsa before real food comes out, and then I always end up ordering their Veggie Taco Salad. It doesn’t sound too indulgent, but it is seriously delicious, and it comes with more guacamole.
Sycamore Den is one of my favorite places to hang out for a drink. Thursday and Sunday nights they have live music, which is cool because the space is pretty intimate. In this scenario, my friend and I will score a table down by the fireplace, so we could cozy into one of the booths with the little TV tray tables and sip on either the Moonchild, Maritime Boundary, or a classic Negroni.
Nichole and Callie produce and host the podcast, Vegan Warrior Princesses Attack!, a show that takes in-depth looks at vegan topics with humor and an intersectional viewpoint. Episodes are posted every Tuesday morning. On their blog, they run a vegan advice column, have a clothing line, and post a series called “I Am A Vegan” where readers and listeners write in to tell their vegan story from their unique perspective. They are both vegan and Nichole is gluten-free.
To start off a day in San Diego, we’d go to Pure Press, near our apartments in Hillcrest, to get a light, fresh breakfast. Nichole thinks their pitaya bowls are the best in all of San Diego and Callie loves their smoothies. We’d take our treats over to Balboa park to fuel us while we walk around.
Then we’d head to Plumeria Vegetarian Restaurant in University Heights for lunch. The fresh spring rolls and the “chicken” satay are not to be missed. All of their food is good, from curry to noodles you can’t go wrong. Nichole would get the Zen Soup, a unique, lovely coconut-based soup with lotus seeds, rice and beans. Callie would order the Broccoli Delight with Plumeria’s signature crispy mock duck.
For dinner, the only option is Muzita Bistro, right next door to Plumeria in University Heights. They have a great atmosphere in there, and you get to eat with your hands! The best items on the menu are vegan: beet salad, shiro, hamli, and the tsebhi mushrooms. They don’t have the tsebhi mushrooms on the menu anymore but they will usually make them if you ask – we hope if enough people ask, they’ll put them back on the menu! The textures at Muzita are luxurious and the flavors are bold, a perfect special meal.
To end our day of indulgence, we’d cross the street to Park & Rec for cocktails and, if the night gets rowdy enough, an order or two of their amazing tater tots. Park & Rec has a wide selection of liquors and beers, and all their housemade cocktails are terrific. We’re especially fond of the Park Bench, a bourbon and citrus drink made vegan with an alternate sweetener, and their version of an Old Fashioned. Nichole loves that the bartendars are well-educated in craft cocktails and can usually make her hard-to-find favorite, a Talent Scout (bourbon with bitters and curaçao). The staff is friendly and they usually play good music or have someone playing live. A perfect end to a great day in our beautiful city.
Brielle and her husband Scott roast small batches of coffee beans out of their home in North Park as Dane Coffee Roasters. You can find them serving coffee at the monthly BLVD Market and Tuesdays at Pacific Beach Farmers Market. Dane’s fresh roasted coffee beans are available via delivery, and from shops around North Park including Simply Local, Parkside Market and Lucky Dutch Juice Company.
I’ve lived in san diego for a total of eleven years, off and on, and I’ve eaten at some great places. But there are definitely a few that stand out to show a friend who visits. For breakfast my first choice is Swami’s Cafe in North Park. It’s got an all-around good breakfast, including my favorite — the classic french toast (I add strawberries). There are also many options for a vegetarian or gluten free diet. The basil dressing on the Swami’s Salad is the best!
On to lunch, I’d head down to South Park and stop by Grant’s Marketplace for their chicken salad sandwich or the South Park special — turkey breast, ham, bacon, & provolone topped with fresh avocado. Grant’s has so many great sweets and specialty items, I could eat there all day!
But, for dinner I’d pick Alexander’s. It’s really tasty, from pizza to entrees — I usually get the lobster ravioli or linguine vongole. Both taste so good! They’ve also got great Monday happy hour specials, and I can’t get enough of their fantastic basket of warm sesame seed bread with butter and olive oil!
All these places are within walking or biking distance of home in North Park. For drinks, I would go a little farther out into town to hit a favorite — Starlite. Such a cool bar with awesome lighting and a little back patio were you can get fresh air and order from the outside bar. Maybe catch some live music, or a DJ while ordering ginger beer cocktails served in copper mugs, like the Kentucky Colonel and the Starlite Mule!
Live: East County Work: East Village How Long: Native San Diegan
For breakfast I’d go to the Waterfront. The walls of the Waterfront showcase the true beginnings of San Diego, which is the Tuna Fishing Industry! That and it feels, tastes and looks like you are on a boat. Some real history in that location. I think the waterline was right there before all the dredging? They have all your usual breakfast offerings and they do a good job.
Any guest of mine would want to skate WSVT. After, we would probably lunch close at Blue Water. I’d get the seared Ahi Sandwich because it’s what I get every time! Good thing Blue Water is casual because we would probably be sweaty after our session. Patio seating is a must.Always a good host, I’d take my out-of-towers to Sunset Cliffs for a surf. Then we would head back in to town to eat at Ironside Fish & Oyster. This place is amazing. The hospitality and quality of food and drink is second to none. San Diego’s proximity to the water means lots of Omega 3’s for me. Most people could only dream of seafood twice in one day!
Live: North Park Work: North Park How Long: San Diego native
BREAKFAST: Well I’m not much of a breakfast gal, but I get over to Nomad Donuts to get my fill. Take it from me and their following: you won’t be disappointed with their mix of tasty nuts. Then head over to Señor Mango’s to wash it down with a carrot, apple and beet juice. I know it’s kind of all over the place, but it’s a good way to start your day.
LUNCH: As a native San Diegan, I can’t get enough of Balboa Park. Head over there to Panama 66 for lunch. This little gem is next to the San Diego Museum of Art and shares a space with its sculpture garden — a rad set up. The food menu can change often because they use seasonal ingredients, so just go with it. They also have many local breweries on tap, so grab a bite and throw down a few and walk around our beautiful park.
DINNER: My newly fave dinner spot is Caffé Calabria. These guys are making pizzas like they’re fresh off the boat — their whole menu is on point. Not only do you walk into the place feeling like you have been transported to a different country, but sometimes you can’t understand the guys because they are the real deal. Just smile and nod. Love this place!
DRINKS: Night cap drinks — Starlite to end the night. Unfortunately, I don’t drink cocktails —I have a business to run — but definitely a beer or two. But I will sneak a sip off one of my gals’ drinks, and those things are tasty. I hear the mules are the jam.
There are so many amazing places to dine in San Diego it was hard to decide, but these are a few of my faves at the moment, enjoy!
Live: La Mesa Work: Little Italy How Long: San Diego native
With the 100 people I met when I first hit Los Angeles on my quest for the coveted MasterChef apron, I knew I was developing friendships with like-minded people who loved food and all things culinary just as much as I do. My closest friend from the show, Amanda Saab, came to visit me from Seattle, and these were my recommendations.
BREAKFAST: Let’s get one thing straight — breakfast is my favorite meal of the day. And nothing screams amazing to me like a hearty, no frills breakfast. For all things breakfast, including special dietary accommodations, I like Fig Tree Café. Their Gluten-Free French Toast is my favorite plate hands down, beating any gluten packed French toast I have had around town — and I am not even gluten intolerant!
LUNCH: For Lunch, I would recommend a place close to my office in Little Italy, Craft and Commerce. They are a short walk away from me and serve up some of the best sandwich plates around. Seriously, just indulge in the BBQ Bahn Mi — extra cilantro for me! Oh, and if you can get away with it, a punch bowl shared with friends or colleagues will have you wondering if it’s Friday yet!
DINNER: If you know anything about me you know that I cook and thrive on Mexican food, so I want to share with you a low-cost option that I can stand behind, and that is Común Taqueria. There is something about anything carnitas at this place that just gets me every time. The fact that Chef Chad White has no qualms about making a Habanero sauce makes me respect him that much more.
However, if you really want to know my Achilles heel for a fancy dinner it will always be Italian. I am specifically a huge fan of gnocchi. While I have tried a great many times to find a place that can at least equate to the level of Bencotto in Little Italy, the truth is, there is just no comparison. Their perfect pillows of delicious amazingness smothered in their traditional pink sauce are something I dream about on a weekly basis.
DRINKS: I kept trying to come up with recommendations that wouldn’t give away favorite places to go to for a drink. Simply put, people might read these things and then your favorite place becomes the hot spot you can’t find a seat at anymore. But the truth is, this was inevitable because the drinks at Prepkitchen Little Italy have continued to get better and better. Thirsty Thursday never tasted so good. Their special infusions and purees always manage to get the best of me. If peaches are in season, ask Adam Lockridge for a La Pharmacia.
And, if you want some late night cocktails and you have never been, Prohibition is my spot. That speakeasy, 1930’s style ambiance and smoky Islay whisky will have you dancing to the tunes of jazz and soul in a heartbeat.
Live: Lemon Grove Work: East Village, University Heights How Long: 16 years
BREAKFAST: Anywhere with a name that ends in “-bertos”. So what!? You can’t seriously argue against the supreme quality of the breakfast burrito as the single greatest breakfast item. Is there a better? Nope. They’re fucking amazing. (closest other option: Austin Texas for breakfast tacos. Someone jump on that idea) The prototype: eggs, bacon, cheddar (it’s a massive bonus if there’s American cheese available. I’m such a slut for American cheese) potatoes, beans, guac (maybe). All -bertos do it and they are all great. If I had to choose one breakfast burrito supplier to last through the apocalypse? My desert island breakfast burrito buddy? Uh… Humbertos? Yeah. Humbertos. Maybe. I don’t know. Yeah. Ok. Humbertos.
LUNCH: Mexican seafood is essential. It’s the one type of food I seriously miss when traveling out of SD for longer than a week. Oscar’s Mexican Seafood and TJ Oyster are the obvious answers for the craving but there are other highlights. Been hitting the Negro Durazo in Lemon Grove a lot lately (close to my pad – killer seafood cocktails!!). But, for the best lunch ever, it has to be La Guerrerense in Ensenada. I know, Ensenada isn’t exactly reasonable for a quick lunch. But, it truly is the best lunch within 45min. And, if a friend was visiting for a day, it’s a reasonable dice. Second place to Mexican seafood? It’s a tie. Rocky’s for a cheeseburger or Cheesecake Factory for the single greatest food invention: Buffalo Chicken Blasts. Don’t talk shit. CCF is a modern culinary marvel. And the BCB is their greatest invention. Sit at the bar, get some buffalo blasts, suck down a strawberry daiquiri with a splash of campari and TRY to tell me I’m wrong.
DINNER: Tricky…depends on the situation. If money wasn’t an option, I would get sushi. Not sure that’s cost effective / realistic, but if it was I would be at Shirahama EVERY SINGLE NIGHT. Chef is a testament to dedication. A true craftsman. I try to go at least once in a while for a reset and reminder to love all the little details in what seems like even the most simple menu items or tasks. He’s the definition of Art in practice and process. That being said, a more accessible choice is Jaynes Gastropub. I’m 100% biased though. I really like John and Jayne. I love wine, but, like many alpha males, I’m pretty self conscious about my wine knowledge. John is genius about wine. But, you’d never know. He’s humble and approachable. He’s also very aware of bargain wines. The dude is fully committed to bringing really great value to his guests. There’s few I respect more when it comes to welcoming guests. The food is great, too. Might not be a life changing dinner. But, The small family that runs Jayne’s Gastropub succeeds where others can’t compete… the whole experience: comfortable/beautiful space, good food, GREAT wine, and some of the most welcoming hospitality in San Diego. (“Basic Tony” side note: I’m a sucker for the Miguel’s Happy Hour, and that cream cheese salsa. Takes very little persuasion to convince me to hit up Miguels. Don’t judge)
BAR: Turf Club. Always and forever. Well, not really… Always and forever, as long as Chloe and Jackson are bartending. Nicest two in the business. Best tandem bar team in town. Won’t judge if I order a gin and tonic. Won’t grimace if I order something fancy. They’re as down to earth as bartenders get. PS: Turf is conveniently close to La Fachada … Carnitas Tacos after turf is a welcomed tradition.
Live: Chula Vista Work: Chula Vista/Baja California How Long: 9 years
Kristin went outside of the box and revealed some of her favorite spots both in San Diego and Baja California, we are so close that she couldn’t resist!
BREAKFAST: I may have a slight addiction to tacos. I mean, the first step is admitting it right? Some may not think of tacos when it comes to breakfast, but once you have tried the Tijuana style birria tacos from Fernandez Restaurant in South Bay, you won’t be able to stop. You can order up the standard birria tacos, which come tucked inside a lightly fried tortilla. All of those juices that the meat has been simmering away in, drip down your arm with each bite. Or hey, say you are feeling a little feisty, the “quesabirria” comes with a handmade corn tortilla filled with melty cheese, and then topped with that stewed beef goodness, and all of the fixings. Don’t forget the salsa, and also order one of their agua frescas of the day. My personal favorite: Pineapple!
LUNCH: I have this thing for the Valle de Guadalupe, or otherwise known as Baja California’s wine region. It’s only about a 90 minute drive from the San Ysidro border crossing, and worth every minute of that trek. A nice long lunch surrounded by vineyards, half a bottle of wine gone before the first dish comes out, and watching my little ones roam free in nature is what it’s all about. Deckman’s en El Mogor is one of my all time favorites to spend a leisurely lunch, of course consuming everything from incredibly fresh ceviche and oysters, to grilled quail, and the some of the ripest tomatoes that I have ever tasted from the property’s ranch. Here, 4 or 5 hours can go by in the blink of the eye, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now, when I’m not in dreamland, you can find me grabbing fish tacos at El Pescador food truck in Chula Vista, or even a spicy torta ahogada at Tortas El Gallito, which is in the same parking lot.
DINNER: Gosh, there are so many! Corazón de Tierra and Misión 19 in Tijuana are high on my list when it comes to a “nice” dinner out sans kids. If we want to talk more casual, South Park’s Buona Forchetta has some of the most amazing pizza in San Diego. Oh, and on to that taco thing again, I could easily eat way too many carne asada and pork adobada tacos at Taqueria El Franc in Tijuana. They have just the right amount of meat to creamy avocado, cilantro and onion sprinkled, doused in salsa ratio. One of the only times you will find me drinking soda, is at a taco stand, and it must be orange Fanta.
BAR: If you have yet to try the Tamarind martini from Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro, you most definitely need that in your life! I have to admit I am more of one to order a glass (or bottle) of wine, and while their Baja California wine menu is awesome, there is just something about that cocktail that just keeps me wanting more! I also have a major crush on Saint Archer’s IPA. I love to make it out to their tasting room, and fill up our growler with those tasty suds.
Live: North Park Work: North Park How Long: 14 years
Sarah and Kahana have resided in San Diego for 14 years and currently live in North Park. Kahana is the Co-founder of Aloha Sunday and The Local Hawaii. Together they run a family friendly travel site called Hoodrat Holidays.
BREAKFAST: Sarah – Perry’s Cafe family owned and operated since 1985. It’s located under an overpass near Old Town. The food is hearty, the portions generous and the staff is like a well oiled machine. This became one of our favorites when Kahana and I first met almost 15 years ago. I’m a sucker for biscuits and gravy and Perry’s doesn’t disappoint. Kahana – Tobey’s Cafe at the Balboa Municipal Golf Course. Lot’s of old timers, good food, tasty bloody mary’s and a rad view through Florida canyon of downtown San Diego and Coronado Bridge.
LUNCH: Sarah – China Panda Garden, I’m addicted to thrift store shopping which more often then not puts me out east. This hole in the wall family owned chinese restaurant has the best lunch specials in San Diego. I’m obsessed with the spicy orange chicken! Granted I’ve been pregnant the last few years and let’s just say I’ve gotten to know the wait staff pretty well. Kahana – My ideal lunch varies depending on where I found myself earlier that morning. In the event that I was out at Sunset Cliffs, I’d probably say Point Loma Seafood or Mitch’s Seafood. You pretty much can’t go wrong with anything at either one of these spots.
Dinner: Kahana– prior to having kids I would have mentioned any one of the CH Project spots: Fairweather, Ironside, Craft and Commerce… don’t get me wrong I still love those places but it’s just not realistic for me to go there with the groms and really enjoy the dining experience in the way that it should be enjoyed. On that note, my ideal kid friendly dining experience would involve a happy hour at Waypoint Public. We’d grab a few beers, saddle up around the kid pen and order a few appetizers. From there we usually jet to Lefty’s where we’d meet up with a bunch of friends to stuff our faces with pizza, Chicago dogs and cheap PBR. Sarah – Panama 66 at Balboa Park. Everything on their menu is special and changes regularly. Not to mention the banana/nutella sandwich “for the kids” that I get to finish off, and the best part is the open grass area where the kids can roam.
Photo Credit: Suzie Jacobs
Live: Normal Heights Work: All around San Diego! How Long: 20 years
Photo Credit: Laurent Kramer
Live: North Park Work: North Park How Long: 11 years
BREAKFAST: Ranchos Cocina. You can have a Surf & Turf Burrito at 9am, or order a proper Mexican breakfast like huevos rancheros, or Chorizo con huevo. They also have really great vegetarian/vegan options. And, I love their coffee – it’s brewed with cinnamon and something else magical; some of the best coffee in town! I know that’s a stretch considering North Park is spotted with a handful of great coffee spots. There’s also Nate’s Garden Grill, by the City Farmer’s Nursery. They cook on a big grill outside, so their breakfast skillets are extra smoky and delicious.
LUNCH: Ironside. Oysters and Rosé when I feel like being fancy. Urban Solace when I want a tasty Hamburger. They have a tomato jam they slather on, which makes it extra special. Otherwise I have my go-to: Street Side Kitchen Thai that has some great lunch specials. Plus it’s right near our studio. Convenient, tasty, and affordable.
DINNER: Jayne’s Gastropub – always and forever. We love the owners, and the staff. It’s been my go-to since they opened. Simple, but very tasty menu. I’ll usually order the Fish & Chips, or if I’m feeling naughty I’ll go for the Lamb’s Shepard Pie. It’s divine! Oh, and the Sticky toffee Pudding is a must. Great atmosphere – intimate and cozy.
BAR: 7Grand. A lovely whiskey bar that’s always night-time/dark inside. Friendly staff, and great cocktails. Plus an assortment of Bourbons and Scotch to be had straight up. Polite Provisions is another classy establishment that I like to frequent. It’s what I want my future home bar to look like – marble floors and scotch drinks on tap, with fancy brass handles. Their Full Windsor is where it’s at.
Live: Bankers Hill Work: All Over How Long: 10 years
Live: North Park Work: Little Italy How Long: Born & Raised
BAR: Panama 66 for the space. I love to go on a clear night, grab a blanket and sit out under the stars while enjoying a glass of sauvignon blanc. Day or night the scenery is spectacular.
Live: North Park Work: Kensington How Long: For 13 years, moved to attend UCSD
I’m going to start with lunch, since a lot of times it’s my first real meal of the day…
LUNCH: I can do a lot of my work online, so a lunch place with wifi is key. That’s not all it takes though. Sometimes work can be stressful, and I might just want a cocktail with my salad. Guess what? Urban Solace is within walking distance of my apartment; they make delicious seasonal salads and sandwiches at lunch time; they have wifi; and the cocktails are fantastic. Executive Chef/Owner Matt Gordon is a really great guy and an active community member, so I always feel great about supporting him and his team.
DINNER: The easiest one to choose- my favorite restaurant in San Diego is Jayne’s Gastropub. This place is perfect for any occasion: a romantic date, meeting new friends while grabbing a bite alone at the bar, or my 34th birthday, which I enjoyed in their gorgeous back patio. I have never ordered anything I didn’t love here, but the fried chicken or scallop specials are my favorites. The wine list is superb, and their cocktails are made the right way (ask for the “Mikey,” thank me later). Jon and Jayne treat their guests like family (I’m serious, this isn’t hyperbole), and I will always be their number one fan. Oh, and their Chef and Sous Chef are a brother and sister team named Angel and Angeles. No joke.
BAR: After filling up on food and cheer at Jayne’s, it’s a toss-up for which bar we should head to: walk down Adams Avenue to Sycamore Den, or take an Über to the Red Fox Room on El Cajon Blvd. I’m going to give the edge to Syc D, and only because they employ my two favorite bartenders in San Diego: Sarah Ellis and Miranda Marks. Yes, women rule the cocktail game in SD (sorry to all the mustachioed men with arm garters who make epic drinks, but these girls run laps around you). The place is so welcoming, the popcorn flows like wine, and they let me play Magic the Gathering at the tables. WIN!
BREAKFAST: After a long night of tapping mana and slamming back Rocking Chairs (my #1 favorite drink) at Syc D, I need a hearty plate of nostalgia. Where do I go to set myself straight? The Tractor Room! Owner Johnny Rivera has done so much for the San Diego restaurant world, and I consider him a huge inspiration. The food here is hearty, the atmosphere is warm and comforting, and the staff really understands how to delicately welcome me back from Hangover-ville to the land of the living. Also, you can play ping pong while you wait for your table. Welcome to San Diego.
Live: Golden Hill Work: Golden Hill How Long: Since 1988 with two years off to go sailing in the South Pacific
BREAKFAST: I’m going to Jimmy Carter’s, and you should come too. There is nothing I want for breakfast that they don’t have. I always feel better going out than coming in, and that’s not nothing.
LUNCH: Cantina Mayahuel, because they do literally everything right. None of this ‘we are inventing new food boundaries from the Baja culture bull****’, they just execute awesomeness, awesomely well. A little bit of absolutely real Mexico up on Adams. I love the staff, I love the food – the mole is freaking ridiculous, and the pork tacos have left me in gastronomic distress more than once. I love the feel of the place and I love trying to find a mezcal I don’t like. (So far, I have not. I will keep trying. Thrill of the chase).
DINNER: I’ll happily post up at the bar at Cowboy Star – doubly so if Garth is working. He is literally the best bartender I have ever seen, this town or otherwise, and I drink a lot…his craft is beautiful to watch. I’m a sucker for steak tartare done correctly, my experience is that it usually isn’t, and they do it perfectly. I’ve been known to get it twice in one sitting. If I’m with someone and I can talk them into it, I’ll get the porterhouse for two, as long as I convince them to let me have the tenderloin. Thank God for everyone loving the fattier parts these days. I know tenderloins aren’t cool anymore, but I’d rather have delicious in my mouth than cool any day. Or something.
BAR: This is a tough one… I respect the craft of throwing a party. I think there are too many places allowed to mail it in and lay down on that. But there are a lot more places, and people, in this town who really earn their money, work with dignity and respect and a nearly breathtaking amount of passion, heat, and they are all awesome to get inside of, be a part of, so it’s hard to narrow it down to one. But that’s the gig, so I will. And here’s the thing: I’m parking my car after dinner and going to Turf Club, in my ‘hood. But not just because they’re in my ‘hood. I’d cross town to get there if I had to. I just chose to live in a ‘hood that has soul, and rhythm, and the Turf Club mostly puts the Golden in this Hill. There are a lot of things I could say about the place, and the amazing f****** people who work their asses off to make it happen every night, but the main thing is, they’ll let you take your pants off there. They really will. And I respect that kind of fearlessness in a bar. That’s the kind of s*** that gives birth to legends, and I am all the way in on that.
Live: Kensington Work: Little Italy How Long: 19 years
BREAKFAST: I’m not a huge breakfast person, but I never can say no to The Mission. I crave their chicken apple sausage and eggs. The rosemary potatoes and homemade bread are things that dreams are made of. Tasty, tasty dreams.
LUNCH: For a nice lunch, I would take a drive up the coast and end up in Del Mar at Cucina Enoteca. Amazing food and atmosphere to match. If you don’t get the chef’s daily special, I’d lean towards some grilled octopus and a meat and cheese board to share. You can always find a nice San Diego IPA on draft, and there’s also a stellar wine selection to pair with your meal. If I’m doing a more casual lunch, I’d head out to TJ Oyster Bar in Bonita for some street tacos. The smoked tuna and fried oyster are my favorites, but you can’t go wrong no matter what you’re craving.
DINNER: Albies Beef Inn. It’s a gem of a bar/lounge in a very unassuming spot attached to a Travelodge in Mission Valley. Opened in 1962, it’s authentically old school and has a truly unique ambiance. Make a reservation and request a seat in the bar. You’ll be surrounded by 1960s era nude oil paintings hung above your cush tuck-and-roll booth. As you eat your Steak Diane and sip your dirty martini, you’ll be serenaded by David, the house piano player that has a steady repetoire of everything from Sinatra to John Denver.
Live: May- Golden Hill. White- Hillcrest. Work: May- All over. White- Mission Valley. How Long: May- 8 years. White- 9 years.
Veronica May (pictured left):
Breakfast: I would have to go with Hash House a Go Go in Hillcrest…their portions should be illegal but it is a sight to see. Close second is Snooze, mainly because they are based out of Fort Collins, Colorado and as we all know, Colorado is awesome so why wouldn’t their small chain be awesome?
Lunch: South Beach in Ocean Beach is the place to get your mahi, shark, lobster and any other sea life tacos and they are ridiculously good and ridiculously cheap. And you can smell the sea salt from the restaurant.
Dinner: Buona Forchetta in South Park is a new restaurant that already has a line out the door. I went one night and as I ate just stared off to space thinking, “is this heaven?”
Bar: Sounds silly but I would have to go with The Lafayette Hotel. They have a serious bartender who can make an old fashioned that would make a grown bear weep.
Lindsay White (pictured right):
Breakfast: I am the 1% of people who aren’t addicted to juicing in San Diego. Mostly because I’m lazy and my kitchen is too small for that crap. However, I do enjoy LIV Juice Bar in Hillcrest for their smoothies or acai bowls. Also, my girlfriend and I are competing fiercely in a running game of UNO there.
Lunch: El Zarape on Adams Avenue in Normal Heights if you feel like taking your time, or hit up the one on Park Blvd if you just want a quick taco-shop experience. EZ has never done me wrong.
Dinner: BICE in the Gaslamp District had me at hello with their cheese bar. On top of that they provide excellent Italian food and upscale service, plus their marketing/group sales manager Fabrizio is one of the nicest humans I’ve ever met.
Bar: Craft beer is all the rage in San Diego, and I take full advantage of that. My favorite brewery right now has got to be Modern Times in Point Loma. Not only is the beer delicious, they also have the coolest decor such as a bar made of books and a gigantic sticky note mosaic of Michael Jackson and his monkey Bubbles. This was actually the location of our most recent photo shoot.
Live: Playami Beach, Tijuana Work: Tijuana How Long: Since I was conceived
Tijuana edition, with co-founder of Tacos Kokopelli and the consulting chef for Tacos Perla.
BREAKFAST: To me, the best tongue birria (spicy stew) in TJ is at El Sabroso, which is a little street stand located in La Cacho neighborhood on Brazil Street. Great for any given groovy morning and great for hangovers too! I love the fact that the lady attending (who’s originally from Oaxaca) is attentive enough to remember regular costumers by name, or maybe only by face, but she always remembers their preferences. She always makes me my favorite taco, the tongue taco, and she adds my favorite green sauce without me even asking and sometimes, she even digs in her pot, brings out some random bone, takes out the bone marrow from it, and adds it to the rest of my taco, which makes me feel special… not to mention the wonderful flavor.
Just imagine the crispy tortilla made on la plancha with the powerful flavor of the guajillo (chili) grease, compound by clove, ginger, avocado leaf, not to mention other ingredients that you can see and smell if you stick your head in the simmering pot of birria. From the spot where you’re waiting for your taco, you can see the whole procedure: she puts the cow tongue over her wood plank and removes the skin, she chops it, grabs the meat and then she puts it on top of the tortilla, along with fresh cilantro, chopped onion, freshly made salsa verde, whole pinto beans and finishes it with a spoon of the beef stock. The only things I have to add are lime, pickled onions with habanero and radishes before digging in.
LUNCH: Somewhere on the road that takes you from Tecate to Rosarito, far on the east side of Tijuana, lays a place called Barbacoa Blvd. 2000. At this open restaurant with blue tents as ceilings, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, they manage to create a great atmosphere and you will always find a line of people waiting to taste deliciously complex Mexican food. They serve lamb barbacoa (Hidalgo style), which is cooked for 10 hours or so inside a natural oven that’s a hole in the ground covered by grilled pencas (agave leafs). They also serve menudo (belly soup), natural and flavored pulques (fermented agave sap), lechon (baby pigs), crickets, fresh country cheese, ant larva tacos cooked with butter, epazote, green chili, onion, and also agave worms, which are a Mexican delicacy… this is probably my favorite food of them all. Everything comes with hand made tortillas and fresh salsas but I don’t add anything else. Definitely a must-go.
PS: Remember to bring avocados, your own plate, a clay cup for your pulque and an empty stomach.
DINNER: In this city, with so many options, I can’t actually think of a favorite dinner spot, but the place I frequent the most is 24 Horas (also known as Restaurante Mexicano, 24 Horas by locals because it never closes) which is traditional Mexican antojitos (street food) cuisine. The great thing about 24 Horas is that you can drop in early morning after a few drinks, or at anytime of the day or night, and get the same quality food. You will find on the menu: chilaquiles, pozoles, enchiladas, various tacos, sopes, big fat burritos, soups (the corn cream is a little taste of the sweet heavens), rabbit, grilled quails, beers, tequilas and pretty much any Mexican antojito made from scratch. I always ask for off the menu items such as the enchiladas verdes with queso panela, whole beans and cactus on the side. As simple this may sound, I don’t need more to please my stomach. Also, I would bet that 24 Horas has the best hand made tortillas in the city.
BAR: I love Tijuana’s night life. Sky Room is on the 6th floor of a parking lot on 4th Street, with a wonderful view of downtown and the border line in the background. Here you can listen to some good live music, mainly progressive, alternative and psychedelic rock from the 60s & 70s. I would recommend to come here to start the night with a beer or two. Then I would suggest to move down to Nelson’s Bar, just for a pit stop, before going to your friendly basement bar called Zacazonapan. Go listen to the best jukebox in town and talk to random faces from all the social levels of Tijuana. Afterwards I would probably move to Rio Verde (a shady dive bar) and then off to dance a little bit more at La Valentina (in the center of the red district) to groove in to some cumbias sonidero, or to La Estrella to shake it some more. If you don’t feel like dancing, you can just settle with a mezcal in La Mezcalera. If I’m drinking by myself I would visit El Dandy Del Sur, just to find my brother Pablo having a good time. Or maybe just chug another Indio caguama (1.5 liters of beer) in Chips Bar, but definitely finish off the night dancing on the pole for friends in Tropics Bar (at which I’m not allowed anymore for breaking the ceiling once while dancing on it).
With so many options downtown, a flask in my pants, great friends and the everyday people of TJ, you never know were the sunrise may hit you.
Live: Scripps Ranch Work: Escondido, Scripps Ranch How Long: My entire life
BREAKFAST: A stop at Hillcrest’s Snooze would be in order. I’d have them indulge in a pancake flight (one that definitely includes their scrumptious BanaNutella creation) and follow that up with any of their many inventive takes on Eggs Benedict topped with silken, airy hollandaise (Havana Benny reigns supreme in my book).
LUNCH: After a calorie-burning hike, we’d take in a multi-cultural lunch of Bahn Mi packed with tasty pork and shrimp meatballs and fried oyster tacos (plus more craft beer, likely from standouts like Societe Brewing Co., The Lost Abbey, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits or AleSmith) at Brooklyn Girl Eatery in Mission Hills.
DINNER: After the nap that’s sure to follow such a massive ingestion of delicious but admittedly filling sustenance, dinnertime would be spent at Juniper and Ivy. One of the most modern and creative culinary outposts in all of San Diego, this Little Italy newcomer offers stellar service and a lively atmosphere that pairs well with chilled oysters and horseradish pearls, carne cruda asada and quail egg toasts, and rich uni butter-dressed clam linguini.
BAR: If I had someone in town with 24 hours to experience the best urban San Diego has to offer, there’d definitely be more than one stop for a drink. But if I had to pick one, I’d have them taste through the wide-ranging array of ales and lagers at Monkey Paw Pub and Brewery in the East Village. They bring intense West Coast flavor to all things from their hoppy Bonobos “San Diego pale ale” to lesser-explored styles like Rauchbier, Weizenbock and Zwickelbier.
A day spent in the aforementioned manner would leave a memorable impression on any visiting foodie and show them just how far San Diego’s come when it comes to quality food and drink.
Live: Normal Heights Work: North Park, Normal Heights, Kearny Mesa (Logan, pictured left), Carlsbad (Gary, pictured right) How Long: 3.5 years (Logan), 8 years (Gary)
Logan: Since I moved from San Francisco 3.5 years ago, we have had a great time seeking out the weird and wonderful small businesses in SD. We love it when people come visit so we can be ambassadors for our city, and take very seriously the opportunity to prove that San Diego isn’t just a place for meatheads anymore!
Gary: Being Normal Heights residents and burgeoning business owners in North Park means that we often look to these areas, but are willing to travel for the right thing.
Logan: We would walk down to Kensington for our favorite unpretentious brunch at Kensinton Cafe. They have healthy, yet decadent food and weekend mimosa specials. I always hack their Pio Pico tacos with an egg to make breakfast tacos! Gary loves the Acai bowl.
Gary: We would walk the half block from our 35th Street apartment to BGCB (Broke Girls Coffee Bar) which is owned and operated by super nice ladies and has a pretty, shady back patio. They make great cold brew and wonderful savory mini-pies (with tons of gluten-free options)! If we are feeling a bit more athletic we would ride our bikes down to Mystic Mocha for some 90’s throwback coffee drinks and great chilaquiles.
Logan: If our guests are feeling spicy, we wouldn’t miss a chance to show them Sab-E-Lee in Linda Vista for the best Thai food outside of Thailand (plus, they are BYOB, so pick up some SD craft beer on the way). Just don’t order over a spice level 4 unless you are a seasoned pro. Another no-brainer is Ken Cafe’s sister restaurant, The Haven Pizzeria, for creative pizza (try the Cortez: candied bacon, avocado, gorgonzola and arugula) and a pitcher of beer on the little patio.
Gary: For an amazing (and cheap) intro to Mexican seafood, we would head to the Mariscos Alex taco truck in City Heights for some smoked marlin and gobernador tacos, with complimentary soup while you wait.
Logan: If people are wanting to catch the sunset during a coastal drive, we’d head to Wrench & Rodent, the stellar seafood spot in Oceanside. The only way to dine there is sit at the counter and forgo the menu for a chef’s choice tasting. You’ll have to be adventurous, but it’s well worth it for dishes like swordfish pastrami, halibut feathers or Ceviche using chicharrones as chips.
Gary: With some advance notice, dinner at Wine Vault & Bistro is a great choice, but its weekly specials and winemaker dinners are reservation-only. It’s almost criminal how affordable their prix-fixe meals are for the quality and creativity you get.
Logan: We would head to our favorite bar, The Ould Sod, for a whiskey and some karaoke. We can’t step foot in the door without knowing a half dozen people from the neighborhood! Surrounded by friends with a cold drink in our hands is our favorite way to end an evening.
Gary: Likely we would head back home to test drive some cocktails for our upcoming bar and bottle shop, Native Spirits. Safely on foot, we would walk to Sycamore Den for a well-made libation or two…
Live: Little Italy Work: Downtown/Little Italy How Long: Since 2011
BREAKFAST: I love to start out a weekend morning with brunch at Monello. I am lucky to live in Little Italy, in Jonathan Segal’s “Q” building, so it is only a short elevator ride away. I always get the same thing – the Monello Benedict. It’s a sophisticated, Italian take on an American favorite. I substitute the prosciutto for slices of tomato, since I’m a pescatarian, and with a side of roasted potatoes, it is perfection. I haven’t figured out why this place isn’t overrun for brunch on the weekends. I can still usually walk in and get seated right away without a reservation. And they don’t mind if I linger after my meal with a good book or laughing with my girlfriends. I think it might be the best-kept brunch secret in town. I probably shouldn’t be telling people about it!
LUNCH: To be honest, I’m usually not very hungry for lunch on the weekends after indulging in brunch. But I love to grab an iced latte from Influx and stroll through the Little Italy Mercato. You can sample everything from fresh sea urchin to tamales, while stocking up on produce for the week. Everyone who comes to visit me can’t believe that this amazing place comes to life in my neighborhood every Saturday. I never get tired of showing it off.
DINNER: No week would be complete without a meal at Prep Kitchen Little Italy. The food is comforting and classic, yet very modern and inventive, all at the same time. Darren, the manager, and the rest of the staff there are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. They treat us like we are family. We eat there often, but it never gets old, because they are constantly updating their menu to reflect the seasons. Right now I love the stone fruit and ricotta salad. You can never go wrong with whatever the fresh catch of the day is, and the mussels with the fermented chile are another item that I can’t get enough of.
BAR: I almost always prefer a nice glass of wine to a cocktail, but I sometimes change my mind when I visit Ironside Fish and Oyster. The other night I tried a cocktail called the Astoria Vecchio. The server described it as a dirty martini with a grapefruit twist. I thought that sounded strange, but as the daughter of a grapefruit farmer, I had to give it a try. It was delicious. I did not miss my glass of Albarino at all. Paul Basile’s interior design really transports you to another world. You might not notice the wall of piranha heads when you first come in, but once you do, it’s mesmerizing.
Live: Clairemont Work: La Jolla How Long: 11 years
BREAKFAST: I would head to Great Maple in Hillcrest. Its house-made brisket is tasty and you can’t miss the great maple donuts- they are the bomb. They also have a sick Bloody Mary. It’s just a fun spot to go for breakfast. And after indulging ourselves, friends and I like to stroll the nearby farmers market and see what nice goods they have.
LUNCH: Ironside in Little Italy. It has great oysters and some of the best clam chowder in town.
DINNER: Probably head down to Bankers Hill and dine at Cucina Urbana and have some tasty snacks. I really like their chicken liver mousse and house-cured meats. And you can’t go wrong with a pizza pie and some pasta. It’s just a feel-good downtown place. If you can get a spot, I love to sit at the bar. Really fun social environment.
BAR: My favorite bar to take people to is Polite Provisions in North Park. Hands down the best looking bar with the best cocktails in town. You have cocktails on tap or punch bowls which are always cool with a group. And next door if you get hungry, you can soak up the booze with some snacks from the adjacent Soda & Swine. They let you bring the food back into Polite Provisions. You can’t go wrong!
Live: North Park Work: North Park, Point Loma How Long: 11 years
BREAKFAST: If it was a weekend, Urge Gastropub has the best Loco Moco I have ever had, so that’s a great start to the day, or Waypoint Public for the curry maple chicken biscuits. If I decided to stay closer to my North Park home, being a weekday, it would be a choice between Urban Solace and Great Maple.
LUNCH: If I was to do a picnic, I would do it at Balboa Park because in certain sections of the park you can drink canned beer. I’d probably stop at Kebab Shop downtown for a lamb doner and tabouli with saffron rice or Mona Lisa for an Italian sub, on the way. North County, I’d go to Churchill’s Pub & Grille. End of story. If we were doing a local brewery tour, I’d find out which truck would be out front Thorn Street Brewery or Societe Brewing, or if Spanglish Eats was serving anywhere. Then there’ s Modern Times in North Park, where we could bring in Tacos Perla or Lefty’s slices. An Alpine trip is never a bad idea either…
DINNER: George’s At The Cove and Beaumont’s for some nice elegance- although, Prep Kitchen Little Italy or Brooklyn Girl is probably where we are going for cocktails with a great meal. Lion’s Share and Underbelly are my go-to’s for late night eats. If you’re after craft beer and food, you can’t go wrong with Monkey Paw or O’Brien’s Pub, but Tiger!Tiger! is probably my favorite…pork belly Bhan Mi.
Live: South Park/Golden Hill Work: East Village How Long: I'm a native San Diegan. All 31 years in central SD.
BREAKFAST: I’m not much of a breakfast guy. More often than not though, I do make it to brunch on the weekend and Tiger!Tiger! is the spot. The food and beer lineups are amazing and diverse. I can have a Belgian table beer with pate, then enjoy fried chicken on a biscuit with an IPA and finish off the coma inducing experience with an imperial stout and house-made donuts. Whether it’s a group of my peers, older family members or even a few friends with their kids, T!T! is where Sunday Funday begins.
LUNCH: Three words- Carnitas’ Snack Shack. Even before the expansion and addition of the Pig Pen, this was my go to spot for “faster” food. You probably spend just as much time eating here as you would at a more traditional “sit down” establishment, but it feels like you are having a less formal experience. Chef Hanis is a master of flavors and the portions never disappoint. While the focal point is pork, their side dishes (specifically the beet terrine), desserts (Andrea’s Truffles, bacon ice cream sandwiches) and beer selection (Green Flash, Cucapa, Modern Times) show a commitment to the finest San Diego has to offer without a single ounce of pretentiousness. If the line was too long or if the activity level of the day required a more toned down lunch, I always enjoy grabbing a sandwich from Grant’s Marketplace or Royal Food Mart along with a 6 (or 4) pack of local craft beer in cans and heading to Balboa Park for a picnic. There are a few lawns where consumption of alcoholic beverages in public is still allowed and this is a true San Diego experience.
DINNER: Depending on the day and mood, where to enjoy dinner can be the toughest choice to make. Lately I’ve been spending at least one night a week enjoying Piacere Mio. For years I rarely ventured out for Italian food since there were few experiences in restaurants that came anywhere close to the food I grew up with at home, but now I have found the spot. The culinary experience is only rivaled by the attentive staff and simple decor that makes you feel comfortable in flip flops and shorts as well as a sport coat. If the occasion called for cocktails, I would head across the ‘hood to Turf Supper Club. I love that you can eat and drink at your own pace and that no one can complain about the preparation of their food. The juke box is great as well but Sundays, when there is a piano player performing covers, is my favorite night to go.
BAR: There can not be only one answer to this category. I have to separate the cocktail experience from the beer experience. For cocktails I would definitely head to Seven Grand. Their spirits selection and attention to detail when crafting cocktails is unparalleled in North Park. The last stop is Hamilton’s Tavern. This bar made me who I am. The taps are ever changing but always amazing and if you can’t find what you want on tap, the bottle selection is more than extensive. Hamilton’s bartenders know beer and can always help to steer you in the right direction while challenging your palate at the same time.
Live: East Village Work: Downtown How Long: Since '99
BREAKFAST: Cafe Chloe. From an ambiance standpoint, the patio is a nice place to relax after a tough week. The coffee is amazing and the Greek yogurt with apricot-hazelnut granola and lavender honey is super good. Another place I love is Small Bar, definitely for the ultimate bruncher who wants an insane bloody Mary. That spot is always really fun!
LUNCH: Amplified Ale Works in Pacific Beach. It’s the closest San Diego gets to an outside beer garden and with our weather, you think there would be more of them around. I enjoy sitting out there, looking over the ocean away from the crazy party that’s usually going on in PB. The food is also great. La Fachada is another I love, with the best authentic street tacos in San Diego. I always sit outside to eat where the Mexican music is blaring, and I always get a horchata. Every time I bring my family to eat there, they all end up dancing to the music with anyone else outside. The staff is so gracious there, too.
DINNER: Cowboy Star. I have loved that place since it opened. The ambiance is great and I like the fact that there are no TVs. I belly up to the bar and grab drinks from my favorite bartenders in the city, Garth Flood and Doug Wells, while munching on the sliders or steak frites. Blind Burro is another, with one of the best happy hours downtown. I always get the Sonoran queso crisp and when it makes its way from the kitchen to the table, other people always end up ordering it. The service is great; I continue to go there because of the service. The full, open windows are great, too. Talk about a good use of space in East Village.
BAR: Living in East Village, I used to joke that Neighborhood got all my money. But newly formed, Rare Form, is close to my house and I love it. I’m a bourbon gal, always going for that first and gin second. The ambiance and design of the place is awesome. When I go out, I want to lose myself in what’s going on and when you go there, it doesn’t feel like San Diego. You feel like you’re in New York or something. Dangerous that it’s right across the street from my house.
Live: Kensington Work: Little Italy, North Park How Long: 38 years, with an 8-year stint in Berkeley and San Francisco
There is no greater passion of mine than food and drink. Anyone that really knows me knows I am at my happiest when there is great food, which should always be accompanied with great drink, within my reach. The most influential people in my life, with few exceptions, have all been foodies and I’ve been fortunate enough to have many wonderful food experiences over the last 35+ years, and almost every day I wake up thinking about my next meal. If I was in San Diego, my hometown, and I only had one day left to eat I would really have to mix it up and eat and drink a lot to go to bed truly satisfied.
BREAKFAST: I love breakfast. Probably because it’s my first chance at getting something to eat and drink in my system after hours of hibernation. I think I’ve had breakfast everywhere in San Diego that serves an egg. Today, my first choice would be Great Maple. One of my favorite drinks is a Bloody Mary, and Johnny’s Hangover Mary is a perfect Mary. It is served with a toasted piece of bread covered with melted manchego cheese and a slice of chorizo sausage so I’d get my first bite of food and a drink right away. I’ve tried quite a few breakfast dishes at Great Maple, but the House Smoked Brisket Hash is a hands-down winner. I can’t get enough. While I am there I might as well munch on a Maple Bacon Donut…damn that’s good!
LUNCH: Now it starts to get tricky. I really can’t imagine being in San Diego and not experiencing Las Cuatro Milpas. I don’t eat there often, but if I could I would probably eat there 5 days a week. I love everything about it. The women serving (and cooking) the food, the simplicity of the menu (you don’t need anything else), and the rawness of the restaurant. Here it is all about authenticity, and the experience reminds me of my childhood days in Mexico City, one of the places I learned to eat (and drink) at an early age. But I can’t stop there. I grew up in Ocean Beach and still, to this day, one of my favorite places to eat in San Diego is Nico’s, an early adopter of the Southern California taco shop. When they opened in 1982, I was 6 and a future “regular,” I met my first love, the San Diego-style Carne Asada Burrito. Thirty-plus years later some of the same folks that were feeding me as a kid after a long day on the beach are still in the kitchen making lunch for me and my children… and we all love it! Finally, because we are a very short distance from the birthplace of the fish taco and I’m on a “Mexican” kick, I would have to go to Mitch’s Seafood in Point Loma. I’m going to be honest and say I don’t think it is the best fish taco I’ve ever had, but on a sunny day I really enjoy sitting next to the water, daydreaming, eating a fish taco and drinking a cold beer.
DINNER: Carl Shroeder is one of San Diego’s very best chefs. I had the privilege of being part of the development of Arterra over a decade ago which allowed me the opportunity to eat Carl’s food several times a week for a few years. I’ve never had a Carl Shroeder prepared meal that didn’t bring a smile to my face, and for that reason I would make the trek to Market in Del Mar. Eat anything and everything; be happy! If I’m trying to stay closer to home, it would have to be Banker’s Hill Bar + Restaurant. The food is excellent, and I am stoked on the more recent addition of Christian Siglin as part of this team. He makes some of my favorite cocktails in San Diego. However, when my wife and I decide to bring the kids along, which we often do, we would almost undoubtedly head to Blind Lady Ale House. Their egg & bacon pizza is to die for, and the ever-changing beer list is one of the very best in town. And, best of all, while mom and dad enjoy a few delicious beers, the kids can be loud, spill things and get in trouble without hardly being noticed. Oh yeah, there’s another neighborhood bistro that opened up in the last year, serves amazing food and has a stellar draft and bottle beer list and you can show up with or without kids … that’s right, Waypoint Public! Amanda Baumgarten is an AMAZING chef with an unrelenting passion for delivering great food. I’m enjoying every minute of it!
BAR: I also love good design, and Ironside has to be one of the most thoughtfully curated and well-executed restaurant designs in town. Of course, they make good cocktails so this would be on my bar list at the moment. However, I can’t stray away from the classics. One of the very first bars I ever set foot in within the San Diego city limits was The Aero Club. Back then they only served beer, and that was more than OK. They had pool tables and a great juke box. My friends and I had fun! Many years later they added an amazing selection of whiskey without changing anything else; so in my book a place that was already pretty damn close to perfect got a whole lot better! In addition to my affinity for whiskey, I have a deep love affair with tequila and mezcal. Fortunately for me, I learned the truth about tequila well before some knucklehead buddy of mine ruined the experience by pushing a shot of shitty tequila my way; so I’ve been imbibing and enjoying great tequilas and mezcals for many years. When in San Diego there is no better place to go to experience these spirits than Cantina Mayahuel. The wonderful thing is, if for some reason you’re still hungry, you can enjoy a pretty authentic Mole Poblano while sipping some awesome small batch tequilas and mezcals!
Live: Golden Hill Work: East Village How Long: Golden Hill for 3 years, San Diego since age 3
BREAKFAST: Waking up late to an empty fridge prompts many visits to Influx Cafe in Golden Hill. I try to get there before the day’s fresh pastries are gone for a bagel scramble and coffee. It’s a comfortable place to chat with the regulars and get a little work done. The Turkey 2 is amazing as well. However, if time permits, I love starting the day at Tobey’s 19th Hole Cafe . It’s a traditional American breakfast joint with an unbeatable view and prices to match. Split a pitcher of mimosas and take the afternoon off- golfing not required.
LUNCH: So many good options here: Grant’s Marketplace makes killer sandwiches, Luigi’s Pizza could be the best in town, but if I wanted to sit down somewhere I’d do it at Pokez. These guys make some damn fine Mexican food and it is walking distance from my studio. There are a couple of surprises on the menu like the vegan tofu and mushroom burrito and the Mahi-mahi tacos. I’ve never left disappointed.
DINNER: Newly opened, Waypoint Public has such a great beer selection and Chef Amanda Baumgarten has put together an incredible menu to match. Though, my favorite is still Alchemy in South Park. It has developed as one of the treasures of the neighborhood. Proper design inside makes this a good spot to relax at a table with a bottle of wine of hang out at the bar for the unmissable Alchemy burger. Seriously: do-not-miss-it. Ron will even cook you a whole pig if you call ahead, though I have yet to attempt that feat.
BAR: Of the bars that will still serve me, I like to visit Gareth over at Seven Grand for some ol’timey whiskey drinking. El Camino is great for over indulging in margaritas and feeling your bowels tremble when the planes pass overhead. Monkey Paw is my favorite beer bar/ brewery. Lately, I like to venture over to Live Wire where, in a pool taken at Live Wire, the staff was voted “Friendliest Bar Staff in Town.” The drinks are strong and the people are friendly.
Live: Golden Hill Work: Golden Hill How Long: 20 years
BREAKFAST: For the best bloody Mary, people watching and sunshine, I have to say JRDN in Pacific Beach. Otherwise, Sunday brunch has to be at Tom Ham’s Lighthouse: holy-all-you-can-eat-spread! Grab a bar seat and enjoy the ridiculous city view while busting open meaty crab legs. If you sit at the bar, your bottomless Champagne glass never is less than half full.
LUNCH: The quick answer is Grant’s Marketplace in South Park for its yummy sandwiches and the staff’s friendly smiles. If you want a special treat, head south of the border to Muelle Tres on the water in Ensenada. Absolutely delicious meals are prepared with simple elegance and care. It’s a perfect way to spend the day! Don’t forget to stop by the Guadalupe Valley wineries on the way home (Vinicola Encuentro is my favorite).
DINNER: Cowboy Star for the best Manhattan around and delicious meat in your belly. Sit at the bar unless you want to show off to out-of-towners. Riki Sushi in North Park for its menu of ‘ripped off from all the other sushi places in town’ for affordable rolls. Of course, there’s Counterpoint in Golden Hill (since it’s within stumbling distance). Cam has grown his menu from simple flatbreads in an electric toaster oven to having a full kitchen and bar with amazingly thought out meals. Counterpoint even makes their own tonic water! Since you can never have too many hugs, the warm staff is ready to share one with those who are receptive.
BAR: There are too many! Turf Club for the best vibe (again, within stumbling distance). Urban Mo’s on Wednesday nights is your best bet to get over the hump. Arrive by 8:00pm to catch the best weekly live show in San Diego. You won’t be disappointed- bring plenty of dollar bills and use them generously. No, this isn’t like other wannabe shows in town, these bitches are professionals. And yes, those are real.
Live: Fairmount Park Work: Normal Heights How Long: 12 years
I fell in love with San Diego the first time I visited South Park 12 years ago. I tend to stick around that area, North Park, Golden Hill, University Heights, Normal Heights- you get the idea. That is my San Diego.
BREAKFAST: I am actually not a huge breakfast person. Living bar hours makes for a strange schedule. I don’t typically wake up until after noon. But I love a good brunch. On weekends, friends and I do something called “bully brunch,” where one person bullies everyone else to get out of bed. Typically everyone is hung over and a little lazy. Small Bar for the biscuits and gravy or chilaquiles. Nate’s Garden Grill is right up the street and their mimosas are to die for. Great Maple– enough said.
LUNCH: I am quite partial to the sandwiches at both Grant’s Marketplace in South Park, and Influx in Golden Hill. My lunch also tends to be my breakfast – given my hours that I work – and both those places offer up some of the best coffee to drink in San Diego.
DINNER: Man this is a tough one. Chiquita’s Mexican Restaurant, right around the corner from home, has the best chile relleno I have ever eaten and the margaritas aren’t too shabby. I love the cheesesteaks at Monkey Paw. And last but not least – Thai. I love the pad see ew at Bahn Thai over in University Heights.
BAR: Well, my heart is nearest and dearest to the place I had my first legal drink- The Whistlestop in South Park. This place has become a second home for me and I love the neighborhood feel. I also have grown quite partial to the Sycamore Den – the drinks there are delicious, and having spent a lot of time there getting their live entertainment off the ground, I feel like I have become part of the family. My boyfriend and I love to go to Livewire so he can play the AC/DC Pinball machine. I love to have a few glasses of wine at The Rose Wine Pub in South Park with my girlfriends – the people that run that place are so nice and their food is delicious as well. I love my city and all the people that contribute to making it what it has become.
Live: North Park Work: Midway/Point Loma How Long: 3.5 years
My day would be spent entirely within walking distance of my apartment. My favorite thing about North Park is that it’s one of the very few walkable parts of San Diego. This city has one of the most gorgeous, hospitable locations on the planet, yet most of it is tragically covered in pavement and sprawl. Things are finally starting to change a little, but we’ve got a long, long, LONG way to go. So by way of encouraging the replacement of car infrastructure with human infrastructure, I’d spend the entire day on foot.
BREAKFAST: We’d start with coffee at my house. Modern Times is one of the only breweries in the world to roast our own coffee, so there are always interesting test batches of beans floating around the house. Afterwards, we’d walk over to The Mission on University & 28th St. I’ve been vegan for 17 years, and The Mission is one of the only brunch spots that can make me something decent. Although I have no desire to move back to L.A. (where I was born), I will say that L.A. absolutely crushes San Diego in the “good vegan brunch options” department.
LUNCH: We’re headed to Sipz on 30th St. for vegan sushi. They’ve nailed the whole “third wave decadent stoner sushi” thing shockingly well. There’s something utterly surreal about eating sushi made with fake, fake crab smeared with spicy vegan mayo, but holy crap is it delicious.
DINNER: Time for beer number one. Tiger!Tiger! on El Cajon always has a few dank vegan sandos available, along with a carefully selected tap list, pristine tap lines & glassware, and a marvelous ambiance. I’d go with the vegan banh mi and a crisp, complex saison (like, say, Lomaland saison from Modern Times), which is, in my mind, the ideal food beer. A lot of vegan menu items around town simply leave out the protein entirely – which makes them utterly useless to me – but Tiger!Tiger! always gets it right.
BAR: Now we’re taking the short walk down to Toronado on 30th St., a titan in the craft beer world. Toronado always has a jaw dropping tap list, and if you’re feeling spendy, you can dip into their obscene bottle cellar. I’ve spent far too many nights at Toronado to count, and I have a deep affection for the nut-jobs who work there. In fact, two Toronado bartenders served as witnesses to my signature on the federal brewers’ license application for Modern Times! That shit runs deep, yo.
Live: Little Italy Work: Barrio Logan How Long: 7 years
BREAKFAST: Usually I go with a light breakfast and a lot of coffee. If I’m around my apartment it’ll be Influx in Little Italy. If I’m over at my studio early I usually get coffee from Cafe Virtuoso. My favorite spot for a good breakfast though is The Mission in East Village. Anytime I have someone in town or it’s a mellow day that’s the first place I think of. I’ll always get OJ, coffee and the Mission Rosemary.
LUNCH: Since I’m over in Barrio Logan, if I head to lunch, a newer great spot is SuperNatural Sandwiches – great seafood sandwiches. It’s in the same building as my studio, and I’m starting to work my way down the list of sandwiches. If I want to meet up with someone I’ll go over to Neighborhood in East Village. The grilled cheese with avo and tomato soup is my favorite. I don’t think I’ve ordered anything other than that in a year. Also, San Diego is known for great fish tacos and my favorite spot for those is Marisco’s truck in South Park. $1.50 gets you a fish taco and soup. Can’t be beat.
DINNER: My favorite spot for dinner in town is Starlite, it’s a classic spot and I’ve been going there for years and still love it. In the summer the back patio is perfect for drinks and dinner. I’d say it’s even one of my favorite spots for dinner and drinks ever –the design, the drink selection and the food are great. If it’s a night where an event is going on I’ll hunt down the MIHO truck. I switched to Pescatarian last year, but prior to that I’d take down one of their burgers in only seconds. They always have something new on the menu. If I’m in the mood for seafood I’ll head over to Blue Water. Here’s a tip; if there’s a line, which there always is, and it’s a nice night, call it in from outside and save yourself 30 minutes. I’ll add one more important spot, Lefty’s in North Park. Coming from Chicago, I miss deep dish pizza immensely. If I’m getting pizza it’s Lefty’s, they know how to make proper Chicago deep dish.
BAR: Nothing beats a great IPA, so the best spots to grab a beer near my apartment is Bottlecraft in Little Italy. Their beer selection, price and overall vibe is great. If I’m headed out, it’s usually to a show at the Casbah, one of the main reasons I live in Little Italy, so a great combo is usually to head over to Bottlecraft and meet up with some people, have a few beers, then walk over to the Casbah for a show.
Live: Golden Hill Work: The El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement District traverses the neighborhoods of North Park, University Heights, City Heights, Normal Heights, Kensington and Talmadge. How Long: Nine years
I always tell people that I share my love between Golden Hill and El Cajon Boulevard. I moved to Golden Hill/San Diego nine years ago, and for the past six years, I have worked for the El Cajon Boulevard Business Improvement Association (BIA), while more recently working towards my Masters Degree in City Planning at SDSU. The El Cajon Boulevard BIA has allowed me the opportunity to promote small businesses, work on significant collaborative projects including the development of a Little Saigon District, organize events such as Bike the Boulevard, Boulevard Nights, and the Boulevard Cooking Class, as well as initiate the ‘Complete Boulevard’ project to further improve El Cajon Boulevard’s public infrastructure and multi-modal transportation options.
BREAKFAST: The Big Kitchen because the owner of this radical institution, Judy ‘The Beauty’ Forman, who shares my same last name welcomes me like family, and I feel right at home.
LUNCH: Great Mexican food is part of what makes San Diego a food haven, and I love walking down to Pokez.
DINNER: With a good friend, it’s always a fun to go out for sushi, and my favorite is RK Sushi on Washington Avenue.
BAR: I’m not one to just go out for drinks. I much prefer an evening of live music, so before heading out, I’d check the schedule of my two favorite venues on The Boulevard, Soda Bar and Til-Two Club and go from there. Also The Turf Club, because they have stiff drinks, a juke box, great atmosphere, and I can walk home.
Live: South Park Work: Little Italy + North Park How Long: I've been in-and-out of San Diego since 2001, but here consistantly for over two years now.
BREAKFAST: For a great cup of coffee, I hit up Coffee & Tea Collective. With beans roasted on premise and each cup poured individually, you can’t beat their freshness. If I want a little food with that coffee, then Influx in Little Italy is my home. A bowl of their fruit and granola is the perfect way to start my day. On the weekend, you can find me at Small Bar for brunch… steak & eggs, great beer, great music.
DINNER: A casual dinner that’s a long time favorite of mine is Pizza Port. If I want to class it up a bit and have some really good food & wine, I’ll head to Jaynes Gastropub or The Smoking Goat. Dinner & cocktails with friends at Starlite is always a good time too. Oh, for a steak, Cowboy Star.
Live: University Heights Work: Kensington, University Heights and Hillcrest How Long: 5 years
Live: North Park Work: All over San Diego How Long: Since 2003. (Juan) I've lived on the north end of North Park for almost 6 years. (Kevin)
Live: I live in the ballpark area of East Village. Work: I refuse to admit that I work. But my business is in University Heights. How Long: I've had 3rdSpace for less than a year.
LUNCH: Prado patio in the summer. Why does San Diego not have more amazing outdoor patios like this? I guess it’s our shitty weather.
DINNER: For best dinner, I gotta go with Pomegranate. It’s a Russian/Georgian restaurant in University Heights that consistently makes me drool, which is very unsightly; I’m surprised they let me back. Begin with the salad sampler, on which they will instruct you of the proper order of consumption. Don’t argue. Just do it. You’ll be very happy. As an appetizer I often get the Pelmeni, a Siberian meat dumpling in a yogurt dill/garlic sauce. For the entree I like to split a couple of them with my company. It’s all amazing, but I almost always get the Shashlik Chicken skewer. They grill it on an open flame right outside of the entrance, so you’re less likely to do something stupid, like not order this. My runner up is Cucina Urbana. Atmosphere goes a long way with me, and their food almost lives up to it.
BAR: Tractor Room after 10 pm (especially if I get my favorite corner booth). I’m a sucker for dim lighting, a cool vibe, tufted leather, small crowds, and a killer scotch. Of course, now that I let everyone in on my secret, it’s going to get overcrowded and I’ll never get my favorite booth… unless I become an Italian gangsta. Then they’ll reserve it just for me every night. That would be awesome. I’m going to be overly indulgent by including my favorite NEW bar. I really dig Prepkitchen. They look down on all the other bars and restaurants and passersby in Little Italy. But not in a snobby way. Just the opposite, actually. They happen to be perched onto the second floor of a building in the heart of this cool downtown district. They’ve actually struck that perfect balance of modern class and simple, understated homieness. You shouldn’t go to their bar, though, unless you feel like socializing with strangers. The communal tables will help you meet some new homies (so, no, I didn’t misspell “homeyness”).
Photo by Gary Allard.
Live: Tijuana Work: Tijuana How Long: My series of atypical day-trips began in 2009. Since then, it’s grown into a caravan of anywhere from 10 to 60 foreigners - San Diegans, mostly - looking to live like natives for a few hours in a city that was, ironically, built for tourists.
Live: North Park Work: North Park How Long: I’ve lived in San Diego for about a decade, minus a year-and-a-half stint in a small mountain-town in Colorado.
Live: Mission Valley/Kensington. I used to live downtown. Work: Sorrento Valley How Long: 3 years
LUNCH: A perfect lunch combo would be a few $1 fish tacos from the Mariscos Germán truck on University and a fruit salad from a few blocks away at Frutilandia. For just a few bucks, you can get a pile of freshly chopped fruit topped with honey, raisins, coconut, granola and cottage cheese. It’s eyes-roll-to-the-back-of-your-head good. While there, get one of their crunchy ceviche tostadas too. Another top option is the beef Manakeesh Ultimate Supreme from Mama’s Bakery in North Park; it’s Lebanese flatbread with beef, thyme, olive oil, sesame seeds, tomato, olives, mint and lebni. I guarantee it’ll be the best thing you ate all day.
DINNER: El Zarape in University Heights is inexpensive, fast and delicious. I’ve filled up many an out of town guest here, as well as many frequent burrito-eater cards! Across the street is the unpretentious Savory Deli & Market, which serves simple and tasty dishes from Spain, France and Italy, all made with care. With great bread, pasta and quality meats on their sandwiches, you can’t go wrong. I love their tomato, basil gnocchi and pasta with pancetta. And hey, if you want something a little more upscale, go down a block to Parkhouse Eatery.
BAR: My first time at Prohibition, it was like the planets aligned for the most enjoyable bar experience ever. Delicious, creative and strong drinks were worth every penny. The live band, the décor, the crowd – everything was just the way it should have been. I’m also a sucker for the playlist and the Alice in Wonderland vibe at downtown’s Vin de Syrah. And who doesn’t love to watch people fumbling around for a hidden door on closed circuit TV?
Live: East Village Work: Gaslamp How Long: I have worked at the US Grant for 2 1/2 years and have lived downtown for 5 years.
DINNER: You know I am just slightly biased on this one, but I truly speak from my heart when I say this: Grant Grill. In my opinion, downtown San Diego has a lot of restaurants that are close to being a bar or cafe. Others tend to be chain-like or touristy. The Grant Grill is unique. If you like to sit down to an amazing dining experience in a comfortable booth and you want some of the most knowledgeable and friendly service in town, it’s a no-brainer. I think there have been misconceptions about it being expensive or that we have a dress code, but our popularity has grown exponentially this year, so assumptions must be changing. I would also say we have the best lounge and cocktail program as well, but then again I am probably even more biased on that one!
BAR: I like Searsucker for its innovation in cocktails. I like Prohibition, Syrah and Noble Experimentfor the “underground” feel they have. I am a big believer in understanding the difference between a good bar and a good place to hang out. The places above are both. Most bars have friendly employees who pour you drinks you can easily make at home but you will be paying a lot more for it. I don’t really believe in doing that. I think you should expect more knowledge and experience out of the establishments you go to.
Live: Normal Heights Work: Downtown How Long: Grew up in the San Diego ‘burb of San Carlos, but have been based downtown/uptown since 2006.
BREAKFAST: I went to Red Sails Inn a lot as a kid–because it was cheap and my dad liked to look at the boats in the marina out back–and it’s still got a solid spot in my regular repertoire. It’s the perfect stop for coffee or bloodies after you pick up someone from the airport. Or if my husband and I are up early on weekends for a walk or cruise around the bay. I love the dark wood bar, the almost-burned flavor of the diner-style coffee and the really old, thick ceramic mugs. It just feels so stinkin’ classic and cool: Drinking burnt coffee out of an old brown mug in a salty, sailor bar on Shelter Island with my Portuguese husband whose family’s tuna boats were docked down the street back in the day. It’s just rad.
For breakfast meetings, I have to give a nod to Hob Nob. It’s another place I went as a kid often (a staple for my grandfather), and there’s part of me that hopes it will become cool again. Raspberry jam in hollowed out orange peels, people!
LUNCH: Snag the inside corner table on a nice day at Neighborhood for lunch, and it seems like the whole East Village walks by on Eight Avenue or G Street. With the big windows open, I’m always nodding to a friendly face or coworker cruising through the ‘hood. The burgers are divine, but I haven’t ordered one in years because I can’t resist the mini steak or shrimp tacos. Perfect size and price for a weekday lunch with a cold beer. I have yet to become a label snob with local beers and can much more effectively articulate the flavors I like over the actual brands. And the gals that work here get it, get me and can always help me order something perfect, even with vague notes like, “I like wheat beers but hate the strong banana flavor” or “I don’t like IPAs, but I do like Racer 5, so something like that?”
DINNER: One of the weird things about doing what I do is having people be extra nice to me when I’m out at a restaurant. Yeah, getting an extra heavy pour of a wine or a great table can be a perk, but it can also be awkward and annoying when I’m off the clock. One of the reasons I love doing dinner at Bencotto is that owners Guido and Valentina are always warm and welcoming to me, and it has nothing to do with my job (or at least they don’t make me feel that way). They give all their regulars and neighbors a little special attention. And don’t even get me started on the things chef Fabrizio does with pancetta in his Bencotto sauce. Or the pasta lab where he makes thousands of tortellini by hand every day. Or how humble and sweet he is when I push my way past the food runners to get in the kitchen for some cheek-to-cheek smooches. If I’m staying closer to home, Jayne’s Gastropub is my spot for dinner out. I love small spaces, and this teeny-tiny spot has excellent service (which, to me, makes the high prices worth it), twinkling-light ambiance, and seasonal bistro food that changes often (always order the special) but never disappoints.
BAR: For drinks before or after anything downtown, the bar at Cowboy Star is it for me. It’s never crowded (despite endless buzz), and ‘tender Garth is just about the most pleasant person you’ll ever encounter. And for someone who’s a habitual wine drinker with the occasional whiskey or vodka indulgence, this is one of the few places where I’ll try just about anything. Recently when Jenner and I ducked in here on our way to a Padres game that was delayed for rain, I was freezing cold and starving and impatient. Garth took one look at me and said, “Irish coffee?” It was as random a suggestion as it was absolutely, spot-on, exactly what I wanted. And I didn’t even know I wanted it. One sip, and the whole night was right again. We ended up ordering French fries and more wine and never even made it to the game.
And on any given unspectacular evening, you can also find me at Ould Sod with friends or neighbors. I never karaoke (because I’m terribly tone deaf and nervous and not in a funny way), but I enjoy the Guinness, the funky booths and the fact that I can walk home.
Live: North Park Work: North Park How Long: 19 years
REAKFAST: A lovely morning begins with a hike through Switzer Canyon ending in South Park with Café Madeleine‘s vegetarian crepe. Throw an egg on top and get ready to conquer the day. Extra bonus: sidewalk tables = sunshine and doggies abound. Other contenders include theStarlite, as their Sunday brunch menu serves up a mean organic Benedict on a gluten-free waffle (no joke, just ask.)
LUNCH: Perpetually on the snoop for some rockin’ greens, I never tire of Salad Style‘s Moroccan Cous Cous salad eaten whilst lounging on a blanket at Balboa Park. Influx remains my go-to spot for lunch meetings and food made with love (as best experienced in the Tofu 1.) But if it’s Sunday, the Veggie Panang Curry (with pineapple AND apples!) care of The Black Thai at the Hillcrest Farmer’s Market always makes my taste buds sing.
DINNER: Blind Lady Ale House because they are great people who serve pizza with local swiss chard and egg upon it (!), Ebisu to support my sushi, and the MIHO Gastrotruck…because of, well, everything about them.
BAR: On the off-chance I actually venture out past 9pm, I like to keep it in the ‘hood with the Station Tavern for gathering ’round ye old community table, the Whistle Stop Bar for Tuesday night Friend’s Chill (GREAT music, Atari games & life-sized Connect Four, people), or Counterpoint for yummers wine and noshes.
Live: City Heights Work: Downtown and throughout Council District Three's neighborhoods of Balboa Park, Hillcrest, University Heights, North Park, Normal Heights, City Heights, South Park, Golden Hill, Talmadge and Kensington. How Long: Most of my life.
BAR: Home to some of San Diego’s best nightlife and America’s Beer Boulevard (30th Street,) getting a good drink in my favorite neighborhoods is not hard to do. Naturally, when I’m headed out for a night on the town, I look west to Hillcrest. You can’t go wrong with The Caliph’s karaoke and heavy pours, or Chris Shaw’s famous hospitality at Urban Mo’s. But, if you’re looking to try an incredible variety of cocktails options, don’t miss Martini’s Above Fourth. This classy joint is well appointed with a full menu and an even fuller martini menu. You can sip your drink choice on the great patio that overlooks the hustle and bustle of Fourth Avenue. And like so many of our neighborhood’s proprietors, Dale, Chaz and Johnny give so much back to the community that you can feel good about ordering another round because you know it will go to support great organizations like the San Diego LGBT Community Center.
Live: South Bay Work: Anywhere there's cheap hooch and an empty stool. How Long: Lived on either side of the fence my whole life.
BREAKFAST: An avid nightlife enthusiast, I’ve stared at North Park’s Old Mill Café during the off hours like Sarah Palin would stare at a dictionary—wide eyed and from a distance, but recently succumbed to its lumberjack décor and brown Naugahyde booth charm. The crab cakes Benedict plate is killer and at just two bucks a pop for a large, it’s about the only place in town that a tall glass of freshly-squeezed OJ won’t cost you an arm and a leg. A plaque outside the men’s room proudly proclaims it the “official” restaurant and clubhouse of the San Diego Leathermen, and each bill is handed out with a chance to win a bimonthly prize of $500, finally giving an answer to the age-old question: where can I take my bingo loving grandma and my leather daddy boyfriend for some flapjacks?
LUNCH: Only the most adventurous dare to venture south out from the latest Gastro pubby they’re so cool ‘cuz they serve meat in Popsicles buzz, but Chula Vista is a foodies dream. From authentic lamb barbecue to succulent goat meat burritos, it’s about the only place you can have a culinary petting zoo at your table. Mexican food for me is hit or a miss because I know what it’s supposed to taste and look like, and Mexicano Taco Shop never disappoints. What they lack in name creativity they make up for with SoCal’s best carne asada fries. Trust me. My editor at CityBeat is going to kill me because up until now I’ve kept it on the DL and never included it in our “Best of San Diego” roundups, but one taste and you’ll see why I tried to keep it all to myself.
DINNER: Going for the comfort food trifecta, I’ll conclude at the SD Chicken Pie Shop. From the outside “Bitchin’ Chicken” painted light box by my buddy Kelly Hutchison, to the blue-haired stable of regulars, to more poultry memorabilia that you can shake Scrooge McDuck’s gold-tipped cane at, this place always manages to make me smile. All the home-style standards can be found here: baked ham, chicken fried steak and delectable mac ‘n cheese. But the house chicken potpie doused in DayGlo gravy still reigns supreme as this hen house.
BAR: Being somewhat of an expert on dives, I can honestly say the SRO Lounge in Bankers Hill meets every single sketchy guideline. Adorned with more gold leaf and mirrors than Liberace’s dildo collection and catering to a sui generis clientele of usually middle-aged crossdresers, you can leave all your RuPaul’s Drage Race expectations at the door. These ladies have day jobs, and five-o-clock shadow and sometimes even full beards peering through their foundation. Always the perfect setting to hold a classy conversation in, the last time I was there a sauced-up lady on the wrong side of fifty turned to me and said: “You know, it’s been proven men can lactate too.” Check please.
Live: South Park Work: Barrio Logan How Long: 2 Years
BREAKFAST: I’m thoroughly addicted to Influx in Golden Hill – it’s close to home, a good jumping off point for adventures around the city, and their buttery bagel scramble is… well… buttery. Coffee prep at Influx is pretty spot on too, and of course you can’t leave without snagging one of their infamous red velvet cupcakes for later. And while we’re on the subject of pastries, let me say that while the cinnamon roll at influx is far better than most, the crown still resides atop the head of Bread & Cie, best bakery in town.
LUNCH: It’s a good feeling when you are acknowledged by the proprietor of an eating establishment. It’s a great feeling when they know you by name. And it’s an incredible feeling when they know that you want no mayonaisa and jalapeños on the inside of your veggie torta without you uttering one word. Yes, I have become a regular at a place called Patty’s Fruitland in Barrio Logan. My variation on their veggie torta, known by some as the “Veggipeño”, is my go-to. But their fruit salads are scrumptious, refreshing, and piled high. BUT… if we had enough time, I’d take my guest to TJ for my favorite dining experience in all of Tijuego – Cebicheria Erizo. It’s a Javier Plascencia joint, and pretty magical. Yes, I called it magical, bitches.
DINNER: There are a few dinner places I love taking people from out of town to show them the San Diego I know and love. They are The Linkery, Jayne’s Gastropub, and Blind Lady Ale House. BLAH wins out quite often because it’s comfy, and deals a 1-2 punch to my weak spots – an obsession with artisan pie and my love of good design. Although it is no Mozza (go there next time yer in LA), the pizza is damn good and pretty inventive. And of course the guiding hand of talented designer and co-owner Jeff Motch has created a fun Northwest-beer-bar-esque space and a brand that has bred loyalty like crazy. And what’s San Diego without great beer?
BAR: I do love me a Colonel at Starlite… but El Take It Easy is my spot. Their Laguna Salada is by far the best Michelada I’ve consumed in my time on this planet. If you haven’t tried one yet, and especially if you’re into bloody marys, turn off the boob tube, get off your butt, and sit it over at the EZ. Their food is great too (the pork cazuelas beckon me), so hopefully there’s a little room left after a long day of eating around town.
Live: Downtown, I believe... What is an "East Village"? Work: Errwhere. I'm all over this city like pavement. How Long: 10+ years
BREAKFAST: I’m going to be honest and up-front with you – when my kin are in town, I always try to prepare as many vegan, largely raw meals for them as possible in my own kitchen. To me, that’s love, which is, I believe, truly the best that urban San Diego has to offer. That’s all terribly beside the point though, innit?
I live right around the corner from Cafe Chloe and I love my flat. But, if push came to shove, I would happily live inside Cafe Chloe. People seem to love the menu. For breakfast, I’m super cool with fresh squeezed pomegranate juice and coffee, as long as I’m up in that joint feeling super French.
Big up The Mission too, for having brown rice, veggies and tofu on the menu.
LUNCH: I go to local farmers markets twice a week. I go for the produce, but there’s tons of prepared food as well, which really is a perfect way to eat a little something, probably something pretty unique, and entertain, show somebody around, at the same time… Wednesdays in Ocean Beach and Sundays in Hillcrest are my business. I’ve heard that Saturdays in Little Italy are totally official too. Check the technique: After you run the farmers market in O.B., hit the deli at People’s Co-op – A top-shelf dining option in itself… But even if you’re already loaded off crepes and samosas from the market, don’t play yourself… run up in here and get some vegan dessert. Cross your fingers for Goddess Bars.
DINNER: El Camino in Little Italy is my junk. If you appreciate a little entertainment with your dinner, there’s some real special stuff going on there. The Wednesday night jazz jam with Gilbert Castellanos is bona-fide San Diego hot shit… Grade “A” entertainment (Shout out to the Voz Alta Project in Barrio Logan… It’s not a dinner option, so far as I know, but they’ve got a proper latin jazz jam every Thursday). I play Saturday nights at El Camino, starting during dinner. It’s really a special dinning experience.
BAR: Good Ol’ Bar Dynamite. I call it that for a reason. Feel me? The place is as old as dirt… but, Bar Dynamite is like home to me and a lot of good folks. I play there every Friday (Big up Greyboy – OG Friday night champ) (I see you Ratty!). The bar is comfy. The sound is cracking. It’s got roots. The place is super OG and definitely something unique in the city.
I don’t drink. For as much time as I spend in them, bars aren’t my jawn. However, when I can take my folks who do enjoy a cocktail out to a place where they can get whatever they please, and I can get a hot maté… I’m sold. The Kava Lounge is the only place I’m familiar with in the city where you run that sort of game. Highly evolved.
I also have a deep appreciation for the Starlite. I don’t drink, I’m a paranoid vegan… But the Starlite is just a fantastic place to lamp.
Live: North Park. Or University Heights. Or Hillcrest. Depending on how far I want to bike for a beer. Work: See above. How Long: 1 year. I moved to San Diego in February 2010 and lived in Ocean Beach until October when we opted for a slightly larger house and shorter commute to fun places to eat.
BREAKFAST: While my first choice would be to make huevos rancheros at home and sit out on our deck overlooking North Park under the Tuscan sun. If I had a particularly antsy guest who wanted to get out and see the town, I’d have to take them to The Mission in the East Village. Both the architecture and the french toast are surprising in this still semi-industrial section of the city.
LUNCH: My relationship to lunch in San Deigo thus far has been, perhaps, unusual. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything and would certainly take any friend of mine on a little adventure. When I’ve been working out of The Bakery in Barrio Logan, the guys at Patty’s Fruitland on National Avenue would make a mean veggie tostada heaped with jalepanos (and tease me daily for never wavering from my usual order.) Other days that I find myself planting in the fields at Suzie’s Farm, you don’t need much more than some bread and a jar of mustard to compliment the radicchio, broccoli, squash, butterhead lettuce, or heirloom tomatoes you hand pick from the rows. Trust me, everything tastes better with a little bit of dirt and a lot of your own manual labor.
DINNER: My primary plan for dinner would have to be The Linkery, Jay Porter’s rule-breaking farm-to-table meatery in North Park. He’s really elevated the conversation around sustainable food in San Diego, and I’m happy to be part of the effort by supporting his restaurants. It’s also the only place in town you’ll see this vegetarian with a sausage or a Reuben on his fork. I am thrilled to see they’re adding more veggie entres to the menu, and highlighting my friends from Suzie’s. On a warmer night when I feel like bringing along my dog, Kevin, we’d head for the picnic tables at Station Tavern & Burgers in South Park. Few burger and beer joints have as many vegetarian offerings, and the Tater Tots are one of my favorite guilty pleasures.
BAR: Simply for their massive selection of dark chocolate locally-brewed Porters, if not for the fun, family-friendly, beer garden vibe, I’d head to Blind Lady Ale House on Adams Avenue. It helps that it’s bike-able and bike friendly, so I don’t have to worry about driving home after my third or fifth pint. When I’m missing my hometown of Brooklyn, NY, though, I recently discovered Eleven on El Cajon Blvd. It’s dark and small, with live bands of varying degrees of musicianship and a food truck parked out front. Hard to beat!
Live: Golden Hill Work: East Village How Long: 3 years
BREAKFAST: This is a toss up between the bagel scramble at Influx, and the classic Mission Rosemary at The Mission. But I have to officially chose a recent favorite, the breakfast special at Restaurant on Park & Broadway. My room mate Dylan showed me this gem of a cafe’ which doesn’t even need a name… Wrap those eggs, hash browns and salsa in a fresh flour tortilla and you’ll be in heaven for under $5 bucks!
BAR: Starlite is where I take any out-of-town visitors, and their Kentucky Colonel is my favorite drink in town. It’s a love/hate relationship though, because two is not quite enough, but three will leave you hurting in the morning. Their fries with garlic aioli make a perfect late night snack as well.
Live: Little Italy Work: Little Italy How Long: 7 years
BREAKFAST: My ideal breakfast would be dim sum on Sunday at Emerald Chinese Seafood on Convoy . My must-haves include, turnip cakes, har gow (shrimp dumpling), sticky rice, tofu fa (sweet tofu) and egg tarts. When I have “adventurous” guests with me, we would do the spareribs and stewed chicken feet. I always get jasmine tea to go with the meal.
LUNCH: I am a big lunch eater and my favorite spot is C Level on Harbor Island Drive. I always start with the crispy calamari, and for my entrée, it’s either the lobster blt sandwich or crusted ahi tuna. For dessert, I always get the incredible mud pie. C-Level has the best outdoor dining experience in San Diego, with a stunning view overlooking the bay. I love watching the sail boats while enjoying a glass of desi arnaz. I love SD because of this! All of our out-of-town guests and clients always leave this place wishing they live in SD.
DINNER: I get lazy during dinner time, so I would walk 2 blocks over to Buon Appetito on India Street for my favorite Linguini allo Scoglio (seafood pasta) and a glass of white. If I am craving steak, Po Pazzo has the best Sicilian rib eye steak. For dessert, (if I still have room), I would grab a chocolate milkshake to-go from Burger Lounge.
BAR: I am not a big bar type gal, but I enjoy happy hour at Sushi Nobu at the Hard Rock Hotel. I love the lychee, mango and bellini martinis. They are so delish! While I’m there, I have to get the Tasmanian Sea Trout and Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice. YUM!
Live: La Jolla/UTC Work: I photograph all the parties at Gaslamp nightclubs, but also shoot in North Park, Pacific Beach, & Hillcrest. How Long: 2 years
BREAKFAST: Great place for coffee and a pastry is Zanzibar Cafe in the Gaslamp. It’s one of those places where you can jokingly say, “Double macciato, half-regular half-decaf extra whipped cream, two pinches of sugar with a dash of cinnamon” and they won’t even blink. I bring business clients here to people watch with the fresh breeze flowing through their building.
LUNCH: This is easy. Rubicon Deli in Pacific Beach is the only place I take anyone from my parents, to hot dates, to business clients for lunch. The food and people who run it are phenomenal. Get the spicy tuna sandwich on garlic cheese bread. I once ate here 19 days in a row and now have a permanent tab I pay monthly. I’m in there so much I’ll sometimes run the cash register and help clean dishes when they get slammed at lunch. Ask about their little known picnic special, where the owners will cater a picnic beforehand in one of several romantic locations and you walk up and “discover it” with your date. She’ll think you’re so Don Johnson.
DINNER: When I heard the Neighborhood restauruant, “Doesn’t serve ketchup,” it immediately made me want to eat there. Not having Ketchup with french fries is so pretentious it’s amazing. It really forces you to expand your taste pallete and try the garlic cream sauce, tomato based sauces, and other house made specialties. Their beer selection is really varied with a lot of imported brands on tap. Just don’t lean on the kegs, you might unexpectedly fall into more than you bargained for…
BAR: Most of my friends are into going to these trendy speakeasies downtown or the hottest clubs for bottle service. I can’t go into a San Diego nightclub without 10 girls coming over to say hi, it just comes with being a photographer. I’ll take dates downtown for the initial “wow” factor, but if I’m really serious about a girl I bring her to Wet Stone Wine Bar in Banker’s Hill. The red wine sangria has delicious chunks of mango and lilikoi. Get that with a cheese plate and she’ll be completely into you. The seating isn’t like a bar, it’s more like a comfy lounge with dim candles and quiet music. It’s the perfect place to talk and get to know someone away from the superficial scene.
Live: Lemon Grove Work: College Area How Long: 10 years
BREAKFAST: I was going to call this a guilty pleasure only I feel no guilt about recommending Eclipse Chocolate as the perfect breakfast place. I can’t go a whole day without a serving of dark chocolate so
what better way to start the day than with some truffles, chocolate fondue, cupcakes, and/or chocolate rococo (kind of like elegant rocky road, only better).You can also drink your chocolate if you so choose. My French friends used to give me bread and chocolate sandwiches in the morning so chocolate for breakfast seems perfectly natural. It also guarantees I’m in a good mood the whole day.
LUNCH: Being Italian, bread and cheese make me happy, and the absolute best place for bread is Bread and Cie. For lunch you can choose from a wealth of specialty breads — with or without cheeses — or any of their spectacular sandwiches (the Mozzarella one is a meal and a half). I always have to buy two loaves to bring home because I will devour one in the car. And to top it off they have the best desserts in town from lush and decadent to simple and divine. Pain au Chocolat is nothing fancy but this milk bread wrapped around Belgian chocolate is to die for. The croutons they sell also make delicious stuffing at Thanksgiving. I could live here and be happy.
DINNER: I crave spicy food that’s full of flavor AND can make your eyes water. Some of the tastiest food of this kind can be found at Thai House, a cozy little Kearny Mesa establishment with a friendly staff and simply some of the best food around. When my son would get sick he would beg me to bring home Thai House — some Satay Chicken, Crazy Duck, Yellow Curry, and Thai Ice Tea. Guaranteed to make you feel better. I wish they were open 24 hours a day to satisfy my unpredictable cravings.
BAR: I don’t go out drinking much so when I do atmosphere and the whole experience are as important as the drinks. One of the coolest places I’ve been to is Noble Experiment. You have to plan in advance for this speakeasy or you won’t get in. I love any establishment with a wall of skulls and the drinks are sublime. I appreciate the details at this prohibition themed bar like ice in the straw to keep it at the perfect temperature.
Live: University Heights (my favorite part of town!) Work: Kensington How Long: 12 years
BREAKFAST: Oh man! It would be hitting up the Sunday Farmer’s Market in the Hillcrest DMV parking lot for some tamales. There’s this one lady who makes the best tamales I’ve EVER HAD (sorry mom.) Plus you can pick up some good produce for cooking during the week and some beaaaauuutiful flowers.
LUNCH: The original El Zarape on Park Ave, just about anything from there is a delight and their salsa bar is simple but PERFECT. If my imaginary friend was in the mood for margaritas as well, the new El Zarape on Adams Ave has amazing soy ceviche tostadas and a great house margarita. My wife and I love Zarape so much that they did our wedding food… mmmmmm….
DINNER: We’d head to The Station in South Park, and chow some spicy black bean burgers and sweet potato fries that my trumpeter J Crane cooked up for us! We’d have a couple drinks and enjoy the awesome architecture. Plus, it’s right next to my favorite spot for dancing in SD.
BAR: The Whistlestop has my favorite DJs and dancing in town, cheap good drinks, and a non-stuffy vibe that just feels nice and homey. The Casbah, Soda Bar and The Tin Can have some great live music, great drinks, and friendly folks there, too. I think that San Diego is really blossoming right now and I’m super happy to be able to be here to enjoy and participate! The night would have to end up at Starlite, enjoying a perfect cocktail and superb ambiance.
Live: East Village Work: Escondido How Long: 10 years
LUNCH: Well, it goes without saying that after filling up on hearty punk rock tinged vegetarian mexican fare at Pokez after an out-too-late night before (and since the Urbanist Guide made us actually get up for breakfast instead of just sleeping through it), the next order of business was crashing out for a digestive nap. Now that we’re up, we walk from Parkloft up to Broadway, catch the #2 bus to Hamiltons. No food yet, we need a beer. And not just any beer. We need an amazing San Diego brewed beer, and Hammies is gonna provide one of the best selections you can find. Perfect. The afternoon is definitely starting to look up, and we’re getting hungry. No, I mean HUNGRY. Time to grab the #2 again and head up 30th to Sea Rocket Bistro for some artfully prepared day-catch, and another great San Diego craft beer. Or maybe The Linkery for their grilled ginger green beans, a “I never knew that part of the cow could taste so good…glad to know it’s a grass-fed cow” item, and another great San Diego craft beer. Come to think of it, maybe we’re in the mood for the signature Shepard’s Pie at Ritual Tavern and, you guessed it, another great San Diego craft beer. Yeah, I know, life’s full of rough choices.
DINNER: Off to Neighborhood. Gotta show my buddy my favorite hang spot. Great bartenders (I think I’ve secretly fallen in love with every single woman that works there), awesome creative food, and…wait for it…an amazing selection of great craft beer. We’re just here for a warm-up beer, and an appetizer. Then it’s off to Masala on 5th Ave., my favorite Indian Restaurant. Amazing flavors and awesome vegetarian food. Pair that with a draft Stone IPA, and I’m in heaven!
BAR: Finally, it’s over to Quality Social for a little quality spectating and some more tasty beer. Hell, maybe even some active participation. Just sayin’. No promises ladies…I’m hangin’ with my best bud from outta town after all. Gotta get the quality beer time in with my bro. Besides, I’ve got a full belly and I’ve had WAY more beer today than average… even for this pro….
Live: Crest Work: My home studio on the mountain and my beach studio on the La Jolla Cove. How Long: I've lived in San Diego my whole life.
BREAKFAST: Janet’s Cafe in El Cajon, on Greenfield and Main. A Mom and Pop I have been eating at for over 15 years. So many good options with great service and patio seating.
LUNCH: The Bull and Bear in La Jolla,Ca. My Studio (The Cave) lunch spot for Coronas and Blue Cheese Burgers, “The Blue Chip”. They just moved locations from Prospect to Girard. Great service and patio seating
Live: Golden Hill Work: Downtown How Long: 8 years
BREAKFAST: A cozy, friendly neighborhood spot, Mystic Mocha is tiny but its menu is HUGE – tasty egg dishes (scrambles, wraps, chilaquiles), pancakes and some of the most amazing homemade baked goods. I crave their scones – perfectly golden triangles of melt-in-your-mouth, moist goodness – and huge muffins, which come in a variety of inventive flavor combinations (chocolate chip banana coconut is a favorite). I stick with regular coffee (brewed from local Cafe Moto beans) though their drink menu is as extensive as the food (over 25 different mochas!).
LUNCH: Meat may reign supreme here, but vegetarians and vegans can also fall in love withThe Kebab Shop. I can’t resist the lamb döner kebab and salmon kebab plate, though the falafel, hummus, and fresh salads (from minted orzo zucchini and Algerian eggplant to tabouli and cucumber dill) also vie for my attention. Don’t forget to grab an “after döner” mint on the way out to combat the oh-so-deliciously strong garlic yogurt sauce.
DINNER: Jayne’s Gastropub serves up delectable dishes, an extensive beer and wine list and modern twists on classic cocktails. It also has one of the best outdoor patios for enjoying long, leisurely meals with friends and loved ones. Despite the restaurant’s urban surroundings, sitting on that patio makes me feel like I’m in a French country garden. The menu gets tweaked to highlight seasonal produce; can’t-fail staple entrees include fish and chips, steak frites, and the burger. For appetizers, don’t miss the white bean crostini and gambas al ajillo.
BAR: Too many to choose from, and it all depends on my mood. When I want classic kitsch and old-school cocktails (with live piano players on select nights), I head to the Red Fox Room or Imperial House. For a laidback afternoon beer, I park it at the Whistle Stop, where happy hour lasts until 8 every day, or Hamilton’s Tavern, the city’s king of beer. AndCounterpoint for a good glass of wine in my favorite ‘hood.
Live: North Park Work: North Park How Long: 5 years
BREAKFAST: Cafe on Park. I’m a big bruncher and this place is one of my favorites. I have yet to try anything there I don’t like. The mashed potatoes are amazing! The menu reminds me of Hash House A Go Go, but smaller portions. I just wish you could sit outside.
LUNCH: The Prado at Balboa Park. It’s nice to go here before or after a stroll around the park. They have a lovely patio and the lunch menu is easier on the pocket book.
DINNER: Starlite. Love the vibe there. This is a great place to come for cocktails before catching a show at The Casbah. I highly recommend the Starlite Colonel. The food is local, organic and delicious. I always bring out-of-towners from big cities here. They love it!
BAR: Live Wire. I like this bar because there it’s easy to fly under the radar. It’s perfectly divey, they have a nice beer selection and the bartenders pour a strong drink. Plus, they have one of the best juke boxes in town. An honorable mention goes to Blue Foot for the best place to hang during the day. Ask Mikey to make you a Moscow Mule, but be careful not to drink too many because they will sneak up on you.
Live: Golden Hill Work: Golden Hill How Long: 4 years
Live: Golden Hill Work: Hillcrest + North Park How Long: 7 years
BREAKFAST: If it’s payday, I recommend the Westgate Hotel’s Champagne Sunday Brunch for $42. Walking into the Westgate Hotel makes you feel like you’ve stepped into the Versailles Palace, or at least Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette movie. The brunch is a huge buffet that doesn’t taste even slightly related to buffet food. They serve you unlimited champagne, fresh squeezed orange juice, and coffee. For food, my favorites are the caprese salad, haricots vert, fruit and berries, made to order crepes, and the antipasti board. Others might be attracted to the made-to-order omelet or sushi bar. They also have an incredibly huge array of fancy seafood items and shooters. Their display also includes an ice sculpture and a big chocolate fountain with marshmallow, strawberry, and pineapple kebabs for dipping. For those on more of a budget, Sunday brunch at Lei Lounge is equally as good with inventive $3 champagne cocktails & bloody marys. The atmosphere of Lei Lounge will make you feel like you are on vacation in Palm Springs mixed with Hawaii. The Thai Chicken Lettuce Wraps are the best thing you’ll ever taste, even if you want nothing to do with “Thai food.” The breakfast quesadillas are great as well. They also have an amazing dinner menu if you end up getting so drunk that you decide to stay there past 4pm when brunch ends.
LUNCH: Krakatoa has the best sandwiches in all of San Diego– not to mention one of the prettiest hidden tropical tree-shaded patios. Two of their best sandwiches also happen to be vegetarian: The 3 Fingered Jack with pepper jack cheese, avocado, red onion, tomatoes, and so on, and The La Palma with roasted red pepper spread, red pepper slices, and other fresh vegetables. The potato salad that comes with the sandwiches is to die for. I normally despise potato salad and yet theirs is one of my all-time favorite foods. For meat-eaters, I recommend The Ubehebe sandwich with turkey, cranberries, and cream cheese.
DINNER: Cafe Chloe is the perfect little dinner spot reminiscent of an upscale sidewalk cafe in Paris. At night, the candles and warm low-lighting really make the place. The most important thing to order is a glass of their Lavender Lemonade, if not a Lavender Lemonade Mismosa as well. Their Steak with Pommes Frites is amazing, as are their cheese plates. Or you can go to Turf Club, which has amazing steaks that you cook yourself for less than $8.
BAR: Before you go out anywhere, it’s always best to head to happy hour at Ruby Room which has really strong $2 or $3 drinks from 6pm-9pm. After that, Voyeur on the right Thursday night throws one of San Diego’s best electro dance parties. Tin Can Ale House is a great little dive bar with bands if you are not the dancing type. Whistle Stop is good most any night of the week, and Starlite is a good bar to hide out at. Beauty Bar can also be a really fun place to dance at when Gabe Vega is DJing.
Live: North Park Work: North Park How Long: 10 Years
BREAKFAST: While not a big breakfast eater, I love a good cup of coffee. Best in town is Caffe Calabria on 30th Street; I buy the French Roast in bulk. When dining out for real breakfast its at The Mission. They are consistent, affordable, and so yummy. Love the tamales.
LUNCH: The pozole rojo at El Comal has the most beautiful flavor and warmth– it’s tough to describe. El Comal is a Mexican comfort food spot, family-owned and operated. Urban Solace, right around the corner, makes a mean Burger served with Sweet Potato Fries. Also, the Arugula, Endive n’ Radicchio Salad is an amazing start to any meal. Urban Solace has a dedicated and welcoming crew who make every visit special.
DINNER: Where farm-to-table meets urban living, The Linkery has given us hope that San Diego can be a sophisticated, enviro conscious city. The great food, simple design and open air corner spot on 30th Street make it a draw for many. My favorite combo is whatever seasonal salad is on the menu with a daily spicy link. Beers are always delish. Jayne’s Gastropub is a great date destination, the atmosphere is beyond charming. The Fish & Chips and Braised Beef Short Ribs are my top recommendations, but the menu is packed with superb culinary decisions. Everything is fabulous!
Live: South Park Work: Golden Hill + Kensington How Long: 5 years
LUNCH: Jyoti-Bihanga offers excellent vegetarian and vegan cuisine at affordable prices. They do all kinds of mock sandwiches from BLT’s to Ruebens to their famous Neatloaf as well as a ton of fantastic soups, salads, wraps and full entrées. The atmosphere is serene and calming and all of the staff belong to some sort of new-agish peace/love cult/commune. How could you go wrong?
DINNER: It wouldn’t really be a good culinary representation of San Diego without some Mexican food and La Fachada is possibly the best I’ve had. It’s basically a taco stand with a huge tent attached to it in the middle of Logan Heights. They have a kettle of hot beans out and peppers and onions on a grill that are complimentary with your meal. FYI inside the restaurant behind it there’s a Mortal Kombat 3 machine. The perfect end to a perfect day!
BAR: Despite the fact that I have worked there for the last 3 years, the Turf Club is still my favorite bar in the city. It’s blend of old school charm and modern dive attitude is irresistible to me. I have always felt extremely comfortable in there ever since my first visit several years ago as a patron. The cook-it-yourself kitsch has made the place a landmark, but the bar is really what holds it together for me. The bartenders are some of the best in town and they pour em’ as stiff as anyone in their right mind should want a drink.
Live: Golden Hill Work: East Village How Long: 31 years
BREAKFAST: Walk by the line of grumbling people who smell like last night’s booze at theHash House. Then walk right into the Tractor Room where it’s essentially the same food without the wait. Order a Highlander (a bloody mary made with Scotch… sounds disgusting, tastes like Jesus) and Andy’s House Sage Fried Chicken Benedict. It’s a massive mountain of cheese and fried clucker—served with a defibrillator and two pills of Lipitor. Share this with your entire table. No reason to order anything else unless you’re eating with Michael Phelps and Kobayashi.
LUNCH: A tour of real Mexican food on University Ave. First, order the Gobernator taco (grilled shrimp, veggies, corn tortilla, cheese) at the Marisco’s German taco truck on the corner of 32nd and University. Comes with a complimentary spicy tomato soup with cilantro and a shrimp head whose tentacles stick out of the Styrofoam cup like the little sucker died trying to escape. Then, three blocks down, Super Cocina—where a line of Mexican mamas cook some of the best moles, enchiladas, etc. Place looks scary—like eating there may do harm to internal organs. But it’s where S.D.’s top chefs eat in their off time. They get their seafood fresh from World Famous Seafood (super fresh), and they serve goat and other wild and crazy anti-gringo meats. The recipes change every day—regulars can call ahead and ask the mamas to make a favorite for the next day. The owner will give you a taste of everything before you buy.
DINNER: Quality Social. I know the flack it’s getting. “They’re trying to be an ‘upscale dive’—that’s so contrived and bullshit!” But, really, it’s just a casual bar, the owners are good dudes, and the chef is pretty goddamn good. He’s won a James Beard Award and turned down Top Chef to open this restaurant. It’s bar food, done gourmet. Instead of chicken wings, he does duck wings in harissa sauce. He also is house-making hot dogs—one topped with cheese and short rib chili, the other the famous Chicago dog (chef is from Chicago, where he was labeled “the sausage king of Chicago”). And the house-made charcuterie (cured meats)—the soppressata and Spanish chorizo are killer.
BAR: A mini-tour. First I’d go high-class at Grant Grill. The guy is making arguably the best cocktails in town right now with small-batch spirits (Old Tom Gin, Devils’ Door White Whiskey, etc.) and crazy farmer’s market mixes. Example: The Dragon’s Eye: Rock Sake, house-made dragon eye fruit puree, coconut water, fresh lime). Then I’d go for an Old-Fashioned at Noble Experiment (make reservations way ahead of time). Keep in mind that Noble is not a place for bottle service, Jaeger bombs or calling waitresses “sweetie.” Then I’d finish at Starlite for a Moscow Mule in the brass goblet that you’ll be tempted to steal but you won’t because you’re not a jerk. After that I take my liver out and soak it overnight in a glass of acai juice.
Live: North Park Work: Mission Hills How Long: 4 years
BREAKFAST: I am not a huge breakfast person, but sometimes after a night out or a hungry weekend morning, a Ray’s breakfast burrito sure hits the spot.
LUNCH: Grant’s Marketplace in South Park or Mona Lisa in Little Italy. Both have amazing sandwiches. My favorites are the turkey on rosemary olive oil bread from Grant’s or the Proscuitto from Mona Lisa’s.
DINNER: Station Tavern in South Park. I am definitely a fat kid at heart, so anytime I can enjoy a good burger and fries I am there. The full bar, outside area, and the fact that it is in walking distance of my house are also major pluses.
BAR: Bluefoot and Bar Pink in North Park, Whistlestop in South Park and the Casbah for live music. Since the foot is the closest to my house though I would definitely have to say that’s my most frequented. Week nights and weekend days have the best local crowd. Everyone should try a “Mule” or a “Grandma Dolores” (just kidding Mikey) it’s really a “St. Doras.”
Live: We live in a spaceship party bus hovering 100 feet over San Diego. Work: Cats from space don't work. How Long: 7,329.25 zrcats
BREAKFAST: Tobey’s 19th hole because we love to romp in the green fields after a plentiful breakfast.
LUNCH: Luigi’s. The best in the galaxy for a slice of green olive pizza and perhaps a Duchesse de Bourgogne.
DINNER: Small Bar. Us cats dig their fish and chips and plentiful beers.
BAR: Tin Can Ale House. A great hangout, bumpin’ music, and shows that are out of this world, dig?
Zoltron Monsieur and Kittytron Churro
Live: North Park Work: La Mesa (Guitar Center) and DJ all over SD How Long: 8 years
LUNCH: I like family run businesses so for lunch I go to Fatboy’s Deli on University. It’s close to my house so I can bike or skate. Great people work there and the conversations are always fun. They help me stay away from fried foods. The veggie sandwich really does it for me, I’m trying to watch my figure if you know what I mean. Fatboy’s really warms up the community.
DINNER: I’m a big pizza fan so I go to Sicilian Thing Pizza because it’s fresh (you watch them make it) and they offer veggie slices. Super friendly place, the employees call you by your first name and treat you like a King or Queen. Great place to see North Park’s community interaction. The best part about living in North Park is you get to see the diversity of businesses and the people. The freaks come out at night!
BAR: U31 is my favorite because I’ve DJ’ed there since back when it was Buster Daly’s. I shot my second video (DeepRooted “crazy”) there which by the way has been in constant rotation on MTYU for the last 3 months (shameless plug). U31 has a kitchen with killer fish and chips and 20 flat screens. I’m DJing there every Thursday night www.GenerationsParty.com My second favorite would be Bar Pink, the people are great, drinks strong and the hipsters love them some DJArtistic. I’m DJ’ing there on the first Friday of every month.
I love North Park!
Live: South Park Work: North Park How Long: 8 years
LUNCH: Mama’s Bakery Lebanese Deli – Get the Manakeesh Ultimate and add falafel. Such a great find.
DINNER: Kensington Cafe. Rad place to go have a beer and hang out. They have an awesome breakfast and lunch as well, but their tapas totally kill it…. really cheap. They also have s’mores that you make at the table.
BAR: The last time I had an out of the ordinary experience at a bar was at the Whisknladle in La Jolla. Some friends and I started chatting with the bartender about all the unique vodka infusions. He ended up bringing out all his top secret experiments from the back. “Alcohol Art” would be the best way to describe it I guess.
Live: North Park Work: North Park How Long: 24 Years
LUNCH: The outside patio of C Level. Two words: Lobster Nirvana. The Lobster BLT served with the oh so creamy and “definitely not on my diet” Lobster Bisque is the perfect pairing that is only slightly out shadowed by the amazing bay front view looking back to the city. It’s the perfect place to bring mom or guests from outta town.
DINNER: Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot in Clairemont Mesa. Similar to traditional Japanese “Shabu Shabu”, this SPICY SOUP is made up of over 32 Chinese medical restorative herbs and reportedly 3 different bone marrows (which animals, I cannot say). Diners then choose from an array of meats and veggies (baby bok choy and oyster mushrooms are my fave) and throw them all in the pot to cook right at your table. It’s a great place to go with a large group and the huge caldron of bubbling, boiling broth also adds an element of danger that certainly adds even more spice to the evening!
BAR: If I wanna get my ASS KICKED, I head over to Starlite for their famous (and potentially brain damaging) Mules. Otherwise, Sunday’s Beer Bust @ The Hole (OK, get your mind outta da gutter) in Point Loma gets a little crazy. Packed elbow to elbow at this infamous dive, you’ll find big manly “BEARS” (and an occasional, daring “real” lady) all downing copious amounts of $6.00 pitchers of beer while rocking out to a DJ spinning everything from classic Bowie to Boston and Black Sabbath to Blondie. Finish off the evening on the patio with one of their made to order greasy double, double decker “macho” avocado burgers and you’re in HOG heaven!
Live: La Jolla Work: Rose Canyon How Long: 7 years
BREAKFAST: If I actually carve out time for breakfast, I want it to be an experience; a moment to set the tone for the day and leave with a shared energy…I have 2 choices; depending on the mood. Of course, everyone’s sentimental favorite; Café Chloe for the poached eggs with mushrooms and sage beurre blanc; reminds me of my hometown of Montreal. And then, Extraordinary Desserts (I know; you think that’s because we designed it) but, Karen’s Sunday European Breakfast is Paris at its best; a place to linger and savor and enjoy friends.
LUNCH: I love stopping at Pappalecco in Little Italy for a Panini, café and a small indulgence of gelato to send me on my way. The place feels like Milano; always full of chic patrons at the sidewalk tables. You stay for a delicious taste and as the Milanese do; you’re off in a flash to your next meeting. The friendly sophistication expressed by owners Lorenzo and Francesco reminds me of the simplicity that makes a good meal perfect in Italy.
DINNER: Tracy Borkum has given us a gem in Cucina Urbana. Close to the ‘park’, it removes us from grit of the city but is, oh, so urbane. The food transcends “Italian” to become something that she and chef Joe Magnanelli should bottle…..the retail wine concept makes so much sense..I leave each visit with a case of my new favorite vino at a great price. Ben Kephart knows his ‘cave’ and knows how to help you buy wine!
Live: Barrio Logan Work: East Village How Long: 5 years
BREAKFAST: Influx Cafe is definitely my favorite morning hideaway. I keep it pretty simple for breakfast; a Cranberry Muffin and an Earl Grey tea pretty much keeps me satisfied until lunch. Their Croissant Melts are good for those Saturday mornings after a long Friday night. Free WiFi and good music to go with your breakfast is always a plus too!
LUNCH: Pokez in the East Village has some of the best Mexican food in town. Their vegetarian/vegan friendly menu gets pretty deep; so your options of finding something you like are pretty good. I highly recommend their ‘Tofu, Potato and Mushroom’ Burrito. Their free chips and salsa starters are also a real treat.
DINNER: Pizzeria Luigi in Golden Hill is by far the best place to get pizza in San Diego. Their slices are almost too good that people sometimes forget that they offer some great pasta dishes as well. If their slices don’t fill you up, their Puttanesca plate definitely will.
Live: Coronado Work: Barrio Logan How Long: 20 years
BREAKFAST: Since we moved our studios to Barrio Logan a few years ago, I’ve been scoping out the hidden gems over here. And there are many. Latte Mi Corazon makes latin-style coffee drinks and pasteries. They roast their own beans. They turned a nothing little house into a place of love and warmth. Gotta support that effort. 129 25th St.San Diego, CA 92102
LUNCH: Darband Fifth Avenue Grill. Love this place for lunch. Kinda like a guys-club. Mideastern soccer on the TV, taxi drivers hangin out and great skewers. The food of Bandar at the prices of The Kebab Shop.
DINNER: Cucina Urbana– Tracy Borkum has it dialed in. The pasta isn’t there yet. But the pizza is close to Italy and the wine presentation and vibe are right on.
BAR: I’ve rediscovered Mister A’s. The view from that place at dusk is pure San Diego. And it’s not the obvious choice. Ask them to make you a Negroni Cocktail, with gin, sweet vermouth and Campari bitters. They do it right.
Live: North Park Work: All over How Long: 7 years
BREAKFAST: Cafe on Park. I usually get one of their scrambles with crispy potatoes. I’ll convince my breakfast partner to get the French Toast so we can switch plates half way through. You are going to want a giant jar of iced coffee to wash it all down. And don’t forget about the complimentary Bazooka Bubble gum when you leave!
DINNER: El Camino in South Park. Great decor, tangy salads, Rajas Tacos and a big cup of Street Corn paired with a traditional Michelada in a boot mug to kick off the night.
Live: South Park Work: Everywhere How Long: 8 years
LUNCH: Check out Blue Water on India. Get yourself a healthy blackened swordfish sandwich and some not so healthy (but delicious) waffle fries. If you’re downtown check outTin Fish. Make sure to get the chips. They are the best in town.
DINNER: I’m loving Blind Lady Ale House in Normal Heights. It’s casual, has great food, and amazing beer. I also love Starlite on India St. Great atmosphere… Check it out on Tuesday when they create a 3 course dinner for $20.00 – Such a great deal. If you need something sweet afterwards, go check out the Daily Scoop in South Park. They have great ice cream and the most amazing Red Velvet cupcakes.
Live: Ocean Beach Work: Gaslamp How Long: 16 years
DINNER: Café Chloe, always solid food and great East Village atmosphere and service. Perfect bistro experience.
Live: La Jolla Work: East Village How Long: 12 years
BREAKFAST: The Tractor Room, for a dark – left over from last night vibe, this place is the spot. Not necessarily a low cal option, but for a nice hardy start to your weekend morn, it’s a great place to meet up with friends, have a Bloody Mary, and exchange stories from last night’s events. The butter biscuits are a must!!
LUNCH: I’d have to say Café Chloe, or as my studio jokes “the cafeteria”. Café Chloe is a block away from work and a true blessing to the East Village. It’s a quaint and delightful French bistro with consistently tasty daily specials, cheese plates that make me gaiety, and a generally friendly staff. On special occasions I go for their dangerously delicious mac and cheese, might be the best in town.
DINNER: Cucina Urbana The atmosphere can be a little loud for conversation, but it has a good upbeat energy. Their Italian cuisine feels part creative and part authentic, but either way it works, I love their seasonal fig pizza. Wine selection here is a unique experience, you actually pick the bottle yourself right from their display shelves. For those of us who select by the label (oh of course I would never do that), this is a perfect setup.
BAR: That’s a tough one right now, don’t have a favorite spot. I like the urban underground garden vibe at Syrah, there’s always something nice about finding a hidden door at the bottom of a staircase. I also like the haunted mansion with real time cameras theme at Voyeur.
Live: Golden Hill Work: Barrio Logan How Long: 11 years
BREAKFAST: Head to Influx Cafe for their amazing scones, muffins and minimal decor… perfect for just waking up.
LUNCH: If you’re in the mood for some serious authentic mexican head to Las Cuatro Milpasin Barrio Logan… Little bit of a line but worth every second.
DINNER: The Turf Club in Golden Hill is always a rock solid staple… How can you go wrong with vintage track decor, piano bar and a smoking hot grill.
BAR: The Casbah in Little Italy… Always a rockin show. Bring your earplugs and turn it up to eleven
Live: Bankers Hill Work: Barrio Logan How Long: 4 years
While the incredible “San Diego House Parties” series is no longer, Heather is still very much a part of the SD music scene.
BREAKFAST: Pokez because I like my tofu mushroom potato tacos with a side of server attitude. The staff may not be the friendliest but their array of food has some gems and doesn’t break the bank.
LUNCH: Few things in life are better than finding the perfect sandwich. And when you find one, you have to do it justice by providing the best setting to experience it in. The Roasted Turkey Sandwich at Mona Lisa Deli was the reason I sought out and found a little slice of Balboa Park heaven to eat it in. The super fresh delicious rolls holding some of the finest deli turkey, provolone and oil and vinegar deserves a picnic in Balboa on a sunny day with a hidden bottle of wine in your basket (and a bunch of napkins).
DINNER: Wine specials and great paninis? Sign me up! Enoteca Style is a perfect place for wine and beer enthusiasts who love delicious salads, pannins, bruschetta and desserts for all tastes.
BAR: If I have a friend coming in to San Diego and I want to give them a clear idea of San Diego’s uber friendly, compulsive hugging, “No Bad Day Bro” party vibe I roll out to Universal . No only do they serve big strong drinks but there is a massive amount of space (outdoor patio with fire pit included) comfortably filled with the greatest people in our city; gay, straight, men and women. Ok my hangover from partying there last night is just now wearing off but if you want great DJ’s to spin the soundtrack to one of the best dance parties of your life, go to Universal!
Live: South Park Work: Downtown How Long: 11 years
BREAKFAST: influx cafe in Golden Hill for the bowl of yogurt, house-made granola (and deliciously fresh berries) and a soy latte, then a stroll through the botanical gardens at Balboa Park.
LUNCH: Head over to North Park to farm-to-table eatery The Linkery to try the portobello burger, grilled green beans, and a local brew, with perhaps a mid afternoon visit to The Daily Scoop. (They have champagne sorbet, people.)
DINNER: Definitely El Camino for the food and scenery. The sopa de fideo, rajas tacos, and chips + dip are excellent, and this place is fully equipped with Mexi bling including the glowing Virgin Mary and Jesus wall and murals by one of my favorite local artists Tocayo.
BAR: If you can convince me to leave, I’d head over to Toronado. Bring someone who knows beer or be prepared to sample because it’s all about the beer. Drink it, talk about it, and make some friends.
Live: Columbia District Work: East Village How Long: 10 years
BREAKFAST: Tobey’s 19th Hole Restaurant in Golden Hill. It’s a total shit-hole but I mean that in the best way possible. This is the perfect spot for the morning after a big night of boozin’ a laNuNu’s style. It’s super dive-y, cash only and has a killer patio that overlooks the downtown skyline. Order the chicken fried steak and keep the shades on.
LUNCH: Neighborhood. Only a few blocks from The Hive, Neighborhood is turning into my weekly lunch stop. They don’t believe in ketchup so I usually roll with the teriyaki beef wrap. Plus, the mac-n-cheese never fails, especially when you kick it on the patio and people-watch all the downtown crazies.
DINNER: Saffron The pad-see-ewe w/chicken is off the chart. Seriously, I can eat Thai 5 days a week. Hook up a side of tofu salad rolls with sweet pepper sauce. Oh damn, I’m going there now!
BAR: Enoteca Style I’m not a big fan of their name but everything else makes this my bar of choice. A deck of cards and a Belgian beer is how you’ll find me.
Live: Mission Hills Work: University Heights How Long: 11 years
BREAKFAST: You really could do Cafe Chloe for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but for the sake of an interesting survey I will start off the day here. This place is breakfast heaven.
LUNCH: For lunch we will head to influx in Golden Hill. The most important ingredient in any recipe is love, and boy can you taste the love at Influx. Red. Velvet. Cupcake.
DINNER: After relaxing at the beach for the afternoon, we’ll head down to Starlite for dinner. I love the ever changing menu of local and organic food there. No, I didn’t forget about their insane drinks which are really worth a trip in itself. The Starlite mule has been known to kick a few good men in the ass.
BAR: Whistle Stop Nothing steals away the guilt of a day full of restaurant treats better than dancing for 3 hours. After a couple of delicious cocktails, I am ready to get lost in the sweet sounds of Transport DJs Gabe Vega and Saul Q. When the lights come on and the music stops, is it wrong for us to head to La Posta for burritos?