Whether rolling along the beach on the Coaster or around the city on the trolley system, riding San Diego’s rails is a great way to get to know the city. And no matter where you stop off, you’ve got immediate access to the region’s world famous culinary and craft beer scene. Pick a stop, any stop. Continue reading
Tiki culture is all about escapism—the food, the drinks, and the decor are all attempts to re-create some fantastical tropical island that never actually existed. This is also why tiki cocktails are so potent, designed to help ease you to into a festive state of mind. San Diego is embracing the tiki culture with a new generation of bartenders celebrating that rich tradition. Here’s a roundup of San Diego’s hot tiki bars and other spots where you can find a perfectly tropical cocktail. Continue reading
San Diego has world-class mainstay restaurants, like Mister A’s, George’s, and Addison. But new blood is good for the restaurant scene’s circulatory system. Here are eight restaurants that have made a significant impact since opening in recent months.
Where: 1909 India St, San Diego, CA 92101
The biggest project from one of San Diego’s hottest restaurant groups and one of the biggest the city’s seen in years, Born & Raised takes an American classic – the mood-lit steakhouse – and flips it on its head. In lieu of oil paintings, we get framed portraits of gangster rap icons, plus some of the country’s best craft cocktails. They’re dry-aging everything in-house for optimal meat quality, and reviving an American dinner classic: tableside service (Caesar salads, steak Dianne, French omelets, you name it).
Where: 2210 Kettner Blvd, San Diego, CA 92101
Chef Brian Malarkey is best known for his TV feats (Top Chef, Guy’s Grocery Games), but locally him and partner Chris Puffer have made names for creating what is arguably the most stunning dining experience in town at Herb & Wood. Malarkey and partner and co-chef Shane McIntyre’s cumin-carrots are a thing to behold, and the housemade pastas are phenomenal – try the oxtail gnocchi.
Where: 721 Eighth Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
Café Chloe’s tiny French bistro was one of the trailblazers in Downtown’s East Village. While the food is phenomenal, the pure design libido of the place makes every diner feel 300 percent more attractive. And Minou, a creperie and private party space opened by Café Chloe’s owners a couple of blocks away, is even prettier. Plus, the crepes (savory and sweet) and Euro-style coffees are top-notch.
Where: 2725 State St, Carlsbad, CA 92008
Carlsbad has always been a quaint, lovely seaside town in San Diego. But no one claimed it a modern, groundbreaking place to eat or drink – until Campfire. A chef, bartender, and GM spun off one of the artsiest restaurant groups in town to build this winner. It’s an ode to fire and smoke – it even has a teepee out back. Try the brisket plate with furikake (Japanese spice mix), or any of the mind-bending craft cocktails from the bar.
Where: 435 Fifth Ave #2, San Diego, CA 92101
The Pendry San Diego is one of those projects that sends local mouths agape. It’s hip, well-designed, and impressive. Lionfish is its 150-seat main dining attraction, overseen by one of the city’s rising star chefs, JoJo Ruiz. Though it’s a seafood-centric menu (we got an ocean here!), the lamb tartare with vadouvan yogurt is a show-stealer, as is the big-eye tuna pizza.
Where: 2865 Sims Rd, San Diego, CA 92106
Buona Forchetta made its name for pizza in the artsy little burgh of South Park. Owner Matteo Cattaneo’s family owns one of the best olive oil companies in Italy, and they ship him over the best of each batch. For this new spinoff at Liberty Station, Cattaneo partnered with Chef Mario Cassineri, a pasta-whisperer who owned BiCE in Downtown for nine years. The result is an all-around Italian winner.
Where: 1980 Kettner Blvd #30, San Diego, CA 92101
Tiny sleeper hit this year. Once a cheese shop, the owner brought on a new partner and a chef who used to work for one of the city’s top caterers (Miho), and went tapas. The ahi tostadas are tiny but delicious, with a blue-corn crisp, avocado crema, morita ash, radish, green onion, and chive. The lamb chops with cilantro-aioli are also a must-try. But tapas is a drinking cuisine, so don’t ignore the well-selected wines at the bar.
Where: 4130 Park Blvd, San Diego, CA 92103
Last year’s runaway best new restaurant was Trust, where chef Brad Wise was blowing people away with his wood-smoked dishes (that braised oxtail raviolini will alter you). They doubled down, literally down the street, with this bar-food spinoff. Try the hen egg pizza with burrata and Calabrian chiles, the steam beer-fried fish tacos, or add some whiskey or booze of choice to one of those naughty shakes (Almond Joy, Mexican Hot Chocolate, Lemon Meringue).
In the classic French style of service, top chefs with the most expertise were trotted out from the kitchen in Europe’s finest restaurants to dazzle guests with fancy techniques of whipping, chopping, carving, and flambéing. It was food as theater. Today, even in the face of the growing fast casual and counter service trends, tableside preparations are making their way back into dining rooms both casual and upscale.
Here’s a roundup of San Diego’s most tasty tableside creations, from the waterfront to the foothills.
Born & Raised
Little Italy’s gorgeous new steakhouse Born & Raised straddles the line between elegant and modern. San Diego Magazine food critic Troy Johnson calls the $7 million space “a grand, elaborate investment in America’s past,” where servers clad in tuxedo jackets and Chuck Taylors offer classics like steak Diane and rib of beef with Yorkshire pudding as well as de rigueur dry-aged cuts of beef and duck. Wheeled out on ornate carts with brass and wood detailing, the tableside preparations of steak tartare, classic French omelets, and shrimp Louie take the drama up a notch.
Where: 1909 India St, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Born & Raised
Just down the block in Little Italy’s culinary center, Monello (the “naughty little brother” to longtime local favorite Bencotto next door) finishes orders of classic Italian risotto tableside in a unique vessel: a wheel of imported Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. The cheese is the final ingredient in the creamy rice dish and, instead of grating or tossing it in, chef Fabrizio stirs and scrapes the entire order inside the cheese wheel, which is lit afire at the edges to keep the dish warm. Rumor has it, they will also finish other pasta dishes in the wheel at a guest’s request.
Where: 750 W Fir St, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Monello
Manhattan of La Jolla
Head up to La Jolla for another classic tableside dish: Caesar salad. Originally invented just south of San Diego at Hotel Caesars in Tijuana, the legendary salad’s egg, anchovy, lemon, garlic, and Parmesan dressing makes for an impressive show when mixed fresh at the table. Manhattan of La Jolla has made it a signature experience for years in its swanky Empress Hotel restaurant that’s hosted celebrities like Ann Bancroft, Mel Brooks, Johnny Depp, and Jay Leno over the years. For locals, it’s been a beloved spot for special occasions for more than 20 years.
When: 7766 Fay Ave, La Jolla, CA 92037
> Find out more about Manhattan of La Jolla
Any list of tableside dishes served in San Diego wouldn’t be complete without guacamole. It’s the local version of bread and butter in a region that produces 40 percent of the nation’s avocados – and it’s most impressive when prepared fresh at the table with simple ingredients: Avocados, smashed with garlic, onions, lime, salt, and salsa fresca garnish. Try it alongside an unparalleled view of the city skyline at Coasterra on Harbor Island, an upscale Mexican restaurant right on the bay.
Where: 880 Harbor Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Coasterra
Travel deep into Hillcrest, one of the city’s original foodie neighborhoods, and find Ortega’s tucked away in the corner of small strip mall. Almost as famous as their tableside guacamole is their simple, seasonal offering of Puerto-Nuevo style lobster dishes served in the rustic space with thick wood tables and colorful, imported glassware.
Where: 141 University Ave, San Diego, CA 92103
> Find out more about Ortega’s
Riviera Supper Club
For a twist on tableside, try La Mesa’s Riviera Supper Club. Its nod to midcentury steak houses is evident in the both menu (steaks, chops, and sides like macaroni and cheese and bourbon baked beans) and the décor of cozy booths, dim lighting, and live music – all housed in a classic 1962 building that was once home to the Department of Motor Vehicles. Here’s the twist: It’s a DIY grill. You pick your protein and cook it yourself on a large communal grill, equipped with tongs and seasonings. The kitchen handles the sides (and we hear they’ll help you with your meat if requested) and desserts like bacon chocolate cake and s’mores casserole. A warning to those who opt to sip a Sidecar while manning the grill: The cocktails are served famously stiff.
Where: 7777 University Ave, La Mesa, CA 91941
> Find out more about Riviera Supper Club
With more than 150 breweries, San Diego is the best place to find your perfect beer. Looking for a few beers brewed with the flavors of San Diego and Mexico? Head to Barrio Logan for an amazing selection of cross-border brews and plenty of local favorites.
Here are the 4 breweries and tasting rooms in Barrio Logan, from south to north, that need to be on your next San Diego beercation itinerary.
Border X Brewing
Border X brews the flavors of Mexico into each one of its beers like the popular Blood Saison, inspired by the traditional Mexican drink Jamaica. Don’t forget to sample the Horchata Golden Stout and Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout. In fact, mix the two for an amazing Mexican-style black-and-tan. Once you have your beer in hand: take some time look around and enjoy the amazing artwork the covers the interior, order a few tacos from Tury Tacos and finally head out to the patio to enjoy the sunshine and Barrio Logan.
Where: 2818 Logan Avenue, San Diego, CA 92113
> Find out more about Border X Brewing
Iron Fist Brewing Co.
While the actual brewery is located in Vista, this central location boasts 30+ taps, an indoor bar and outdoor beer garden where guests can enjoy beer, music, food, and art from surrounding Mercado del Barrio artists and vendors. Make sure to order a Velvet Glove (Imperial IPA) or Counter Strike (IPA) before heading out to the beer garden.
Where: 1985 National Ave., #1132, San Diego, CA 92113
> Find out more about Iron Fist Brewing Co.
Alta Brewing Company
Brewmaster Brett Stampf’s (veteran brewer from Stone and Green Flash) goal is to go over and above with his brews. The core beers are a nitro-driven blonde ale, pale ale, IPA, dry-hopped brown ale and dry Irish stout. If it’s still on tap, order up a pint of the Alta ShakaAzacca IPA brewed exclusively with Azacca hops.
Where: 1983 Julian Ave, San Diego, CA 92113
> Find out more about Alta Brewing Company
Thorn Brewing Co.
Thorn Brewing just upped its capacity from a small North Park brewery to a massive 10,500 square foot brewery located in a former factory. To celebrate the expansion, Thorn is brewing up the Barrio Lager, a Baja-style lager made from both domestic 2 row barley and flaked maize.
Where: 1745 National Ave, San Diego, CA 92113
> Find out more about Thorn Brewing Co.
San Diego’s cuisine reflects its history and culture – rich, diverse & colorful. Eat your way through the county with these 10 San Diego Restaurant Week picks.
Let your tastebuds have a field day with a fusion of American, Mexican and Italian flavors, blended together for a unique culinary experience in the heart of Pacific Beach. Sip on an array of handcrafted mimosas, savor mouthwatering tapas and chill at this cool hangout.
Where: 967 Garnet Ave, San Diego, CA 92109
> Find out more about Crushed
La Gran Terraza
Located on the University of San Diego’s picturesque campus, this farm-to-table bistro is a hit with locals and visitors alike. From the cozy fireplace to sweeping views of Tecolote Canyon and Mission Bay, La Gran Terraza is more than just a good place to eat, it’s a dining experience.
Where: 5998 Alcala Park, San Diego, CA 92110
> FInd out more about La Gran Terraza
Cali-Baja cuisine is to San Diego what palm trees are to the beach and you can experience it at Galaxy Taco. It may sound like a typical taco shop but it tastes like a gourmet experience that will transport your taste buds to a colorful, savory galaxy far, far away. The fish tacos are a not-to-be-missed fan-favorite and when it comes to their specialty tequila menu, trust us, it’s out of this world.
Where: 2259 Avenida De La Playa, San Diego, CA 92037
> Find out more about Galaxy Taco
A former military base transformed into a trendy town square celebrating the city’s history, make your way to Point Loma’s Liberty Station to discover the Mess Hall. This epic food hall will continuously surprise and delight your taste buds as the menu changes daily.
Where: 2820 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego, CA 92106
> Find out more about Mess Hall
Market Restaurant + Bar
This Del Mar hot spot has made a name for itself boasting impeccable service and some of the freshest and finest fish, meats and produce. Start with the Blue Cheese Soufflé & Cinnamon Poached Pears, you won’t be disappointed.
Where: 3702 Via De La Valle, Del Mar, CA 92014
> Find out more about Market Restaurant + Bar
Vintana Wine + Dine
Located in an unsuspecting location of Lexus Escondido, this hot rod of a restaurant offers a tasty menu curated by local favorite Chef Deborah Scott and gorgeous patio views of North County’s rolling hills.
Where: 1205 Auto Park Way, Escondido, CA 92029
> Find out more about Vintana
Plant yourself in the middle of the Gaslamp to discover a hip new hangout and the only rooftop dining space in the area. Surrounded by chic decorations including saucer pans, indulge in a creative menu from scrambled skillets to the RR Burger, featuring a bacon jam.
Where: 535 5th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Rustic Root
The Smoking Goat
A french feast awaits at The Smoking Goat in Uptown featuring sustainable and organic ingredients, boutique beverage offerings and a friendly neighborhood vibe. An optional three-course meal allows you to sample the menu and of course, there is no shortage of curated cheeses.
Where: 3408 30th St, San Diego, CA 92104
> Find out more about The Smoking Goat
It’s a San Diego truth, dinner and drinks taste better with an ocean view. One of the best places to find one is Peohe’s. Located right on the water’s edge on Coronado Island, this tropical treasure boasts a Pacific Rim inspired menu and a rockin’ sushi bar. Enjoy your meal al fresco, perfect for both a romantic rendezvous or a fun night out with family.
Where: 1201 1st St, Coronado, CA 92118
> Find out more about Peohe’s
BO-Beau Kitchen + Garden
Combining bohemian chic with an industrial vibe does not seem like an easy task, but Bo-Beau Kitchen + Garden has pulled it off beautifully. Located in the heart of La Mesa, be sure to grab a craft cocktail at the oversized handcrafted bar, and then treat yourself to the best Brussels sprouts this side of Belgium.
Where: 8384 La Mesa Blvd, La Mesa, CA 91942
> Find out more about Bo-Beau Kitchen + Garden
San Diego Restaurant Week Details
When: September 25 – October 2, 2016
> Find out more about San Diego Restaurant Week
Poke, which means to slice or cut, is a simple Hawaiian dish, traditionally made with chunks of raw tuna, seaweed and salt. But the everyday Hawaiian staple has evolved, with new incarnations popping up all over San Diego. The popularity of poke (pronounced poh-keh) can also be seen with the success of the I Love Poke San Diego event launched seven years ago by Nino “Neens” Camilo. “This event was created as our way of doing a backyard barbecue Hawaiian-style at the Bali Hai right on the water. We’ve become one big family; chefs participate in this festival because it’s fun and there’s a good vibe,” explains Nino.
Always fresh, poke can be sold-by-the scoop at deli counters or found as an upscale appetizer at highbrow restaurants. According to Neens, different cultures have influenced on the dish. “Californians added the avocados; Asians the wonton chips, wasabi, soy sauce and more. In Hawaii, poke always comes with rice – serving it without rice is the equivalent of serving an American hot dog without the bun,” adds Nino.
Poke’s “new skool” is a diverse landscape with poke-inspired raw fish dishes with added ingredients that go beyond the traditional. Discover these top places around San Diego to get your aloha on and enjoy poke.
Head to this little Garden of Eden in Leucadia for authentic Hawaiian eats on a sunny patio with picnic tables. Chef Doug Moric delivers beautiful poke – we recommend the house with raw ahi with soy, sesame oil, sweet onion, scallions, togarashi, and Hawaiian salt or go Californian and add chunks of avo.
Where: 1114 N. Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92204
> Find out more about The Lanai
This National City family restaurant is known for its Filipino and Mexican specialties and Hawaiian-style poke. Zariltos takes pride in their daily poke platters, offering good variety – think spicy garlic, ahi limu (seaweed), shoyu, ahi fuikake, ahi kimchi, salmon, tako and seared albacore. Not to mention Zarlitos took first place at the I Love Poke Festival in 2015.
Where: 505 E. 8th St, National City, CA 91950
> Find out more about Zarlitos
This local’s favorite in Encinitas, known for its sustainably caught fresh fish, dishes up sashimi grade albacore tuna poke appetizer with sesame, shoyu, sweet onion, wakame, and wonton chips, or try their poke bowl with rice, seaweed salads, fresh greens and cucumbers, perfect with a Ballast Point Pale Ale.
Where: 1468 N. Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024
> Find out more about Fish 101
This fast-casual, build-your-own poke bowl concept comes from visionary Japanese chef Junya Watanabe. Diners move through series of stations selecting their own base (white or brown rice, or kale salad), vegetables, fresh fish, housemade toppings and sauces. You may also want to try their innovative sushi burritos.
Where: 4646 Convoy St, San Diego, CA 92111
> Find out more about Pokirrito
Grab a seat at the raw bar of this cool fish shop in Liberty Public Market food hall where you can enjoy lovely ahi poke presented in a martini glass.
Where: 2820 Historic Decatur Rd, San Diego, CA 92106
> Find out more about Fishbone Kitchen
Chris’ Ono Grinds
This Hawaiian plate lunch eatery has poke made from sashimi-grade ahi tossed in Chris’ ono kine sauce. There’s also a delicious bowl with ahi, macadamia nuts, diced veggies all over rice, and drizzled with wasabi aioli.
Where: 4506 30th St, San Diego, CA 92116
> Find out more about Chris’ Ono Grinds
Shelter Island’s Polynesian palace and iconic tiki temple since 1954 is another tropical outpost for poke. Dig into the house special, the Island Poke Bowl with ahi over rice and mac salad or savor their top-selling pupu – poke with avocado cream cheese, seaweed, masago (roe) and wontons.
Where: 2230 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
> Find out more about Bali Hai
The Patio on Goldfinch
The striking Mission Hills eatery with its living green plant walls, fireplaces, gorgeous bar, and open-air patio serves up poke-style ahi tacos with soy-sambal marinated sashimi-grade ahi, Napa cabbage, crispy wontons, and cucumber salad. Delish.
Where: 4020 Goldfinch St, San Diego, CA 92103
> Find out more about The Patio on Goldfinch
Duke’s La Jolla
Named for the Olympic swimmer, movie star and man who brought surfing to the U.S. Duke’s just opened in La Jolla where you can sit on the swanky deck overlooking the Pacific and enjoy a little aloha. Order up the fresh poke tucked into crispy tacos with shoyu, maui onions, avocado, and wasabi crème fraiche with a Mai Tai, of course.
Where: 1216 Prospect St, La Jolla, CA 92037
> Find out more about Duke’s La Jolla
The friendly restaurant at Cape Rey Resort in Carlsbad has a new chef, Teri McIllwain, and one of her menu hits is her take on poke. Head out to the fire pits and savor the Capeside Poke, a mélange of high-grade ahi, rainbow quinoa, Thai chili aioli, marinated seaweed, cucumber, lime and ponzu with wonton chips, perfect for a sunset snack by the sea.
Where: 1 Ponto Rd, Carlsbad, CA 92011
> Find out more about Chandler’s
Local Farmers Markets
From Hillcrest and Little Italy to Scripps Ranch, Encinitas and Oceanside, several companies are selling delicious poke to take home or eat while strolling the farmers market. Look for the San Diego Poke Company, It’s Raw Poke, and Iln Lyf Food.
Make Your Own Poke
If you want to make poke for yourself, Catalina Offshore Products reigns as the place for fresh fish. Talk to San Diego’s finest fish monger Tommy Gomes and he’ll lead you in the right direction.
Where: 5202 Lovelock St, San Diego, CA 92110
> Find out more about Catalina Offshore Products
Good Time Poke
Keep an eye out for this new, casual daytime eatery in Pacific Beach that will front a tiki-themed speakeasy, The Grass Skirt, a hub for rum-inspired cocktails and nighttime fun. Opening Fall 2016.
Where: 910 Grand Ave, San Diego, CA 92109
> Find out more about Good Time Poke
This build-your-own poke concept, created by the owners of Love Boat Sushi, comes to Carlsbad in Summer 2016. The grab-and-go eatery will offer seven different types of fish with one special catch of the day and a variety of bases, sides, sauces and toppings.
Where: 2958 Madison St, Carlsbad, CA 92008
> Find out more about Pokeway
I LOVE POKE SAN DIEGO
This island-spirited celebration of Hawaiian culture and cuisine takes place in at Bali Hai on Shelter Island. It features Pokeland where 20 creative chefs compete for the “Best Poke” crown, and Foodland, a sampling zone with Hawaiian and Asian-inspired foods. Poke-making demos and live music add to the fun. Don’t miss this mecca for poke! And this year’s festival benefits the Ronald McDonald House.
Exotic rum punches and smoking volcano bowls. Flower leis and fruit garnishes. Kitschy décor and flaming torches. Palm trees and palapa huts. Handcarved idols and Hula girls. Kool kats and kittens. The rummy Mai Tai stands as the anchor cocktail of tiki’s “hep retro” culture, but there’s also Zombies, Grogs, PainKillers and Scorpion Bowls, just to name a few.
San Diego’s tiki roots go way back to the 1950s with tiki evidence found in the architecture, art, bar scene, menus and more. And a new influx of tiki-style watering holes and eateries have recently opened their doors in San Diego celebrating this exotic lifestyle with its boozy beverages and Polynesian-inspired eats.
Bali Hai Restaurant
A naval town and gateway to the Pacific, San Diego has long embraced all things tiki. Bali Hai, on Shelter Island, set the tiki tone in 1954 as a Polynesian paradise, replete with hardcarved sculptures, Polynesian artifacts, tapa cloths, and Mr. Bali Hai ceramic mugs cradling potent, rum-infused Mai Tais. Their Pacific Rim-style menu spotlights beautiful fresh fish, poke, Hamachi, papaya and shrimp salad, and more.
Where: 2230 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
> Find out more about Bali Hai Restaurant
Crowne Plaza San Diego
Crowne Plaza San Diego (formerly the Hanalei Hotel) in Mission Valley is another mid-50s Mecca for tiki as it hosts the annual Tiki Oasis Convention each summer (August 18-21), drawing the country’s largest gathering of tikiphiles for pool parties and tropical fun.
Where: 2270 Hotel Circle N, San Diego, CA 92108
> Find out more about Crown Plaza San Diego
The Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa
This Mission Bay resort boasts island-inspired architecture, tropical gardens, koi ponds and a tiki torch-lit outdoor bar called Moray’s, a winsome spot for a Mai Tai and some sushi. The resort also hosts summertime luaus – Polynesian feasts with music, hula and torch dancers.
Where: 3999 Mission Blvd, San Diego, CA 92109
> Find out more about the Catamaran Resort Hotel and Spa
Kona Kai Resort & Spa
Kona Kai Resort & Spa inspires more tiki-style fun with its thatched-roof tiki bar and poolside cabanas for mojitos and Mai Tais. Belly up the bar for a Perfect Storm – Black Magic rum, ginger beer and lime – which pairs nicely with chef’s seafood poke, plump with tuna, salmon, and shrimp in sesame ginger ponzu with taro chips.
Where: 1551 Shelter Island Dr, San Diego, CA 92106
> Find out more about Kona Kai Resort & Spa
San Diego’s New Wave of Tiki
Cat Eye Club
While myriad bars and lounges are slinging tiki-style cocktails all over town, the Cat Eye Club offers up one of the best local tiki experiences in San Diego. Set in the East Village, a neon green tiki sign welcomes guests into the low-lit swanky lounge-think retro 50s-style, mod, pop culture tiki with its Mondrian glass wall, tiki carvings, fern wallpaper, lava lamps, and swimming fish on a flat screen.
A gorgeous hand-drawn menu helps imbibers navigate the map of fun libations with everything from Mai Tais on tap to artful group drinks like Goonies Gone Wild that arrive in treasure chests with billowing dry ice smoke and kitschy garnishes like golden coins and candy. Their cat-with-giant-eyes ceramic mugs are stylish, fruits garnishes outrageous and drinks super potent with various rums.
As owner and dedicated tikiphile Frank Miller likes to say, “Tiki is an aloha state of mind. It’s vacation or an exotic escape from reality.” Cat Eye Club’s tropical tiki vibe is furthered enhanced by live music, karaoke weekly and island-inspired nibbles like tasty salmon poke with toasted quinoa and sesame seeds. Their must-try machetes–elongated quesadillas (housemade corn tortillas stuffed with kalua pork, manchego, and pineapple habanero salsa) – are delish.
Where: 370 7th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about the Cat Eye Club
South Park’s revved-up vegan restaurant Kindred hosts “Permanent Vacation” Thursdays, a pop-up, tiki takeover with tropical elixirs and eats. Expect a rotating menu of nuclear rum drinks with fresh juices from bar whiz David Kinsey and Polynesian bites like orange miso-glazed seitin with grilled pineapple and a mango sweet potato aioli dipping sauce. Orchids and mid-century Exotica music add to the ambiance.
Where: 1503 30th St, San Diego, CA 92102
> Find out more about Kindred
The new high-design rooftop spot, The Nolen, has a tiki menu with five colorful refreshers like their Painkiller on draft with pineapple, orange, rum, coconut and freshly grated nutmeg. Or order up an off-menu Junglebird from their spirit savant, bar lead Andrew Larson. He will create a little fire element to the rum and Campari drink by igniting cinnamon. Bar grub like carnitas-jalepeno-salva-verde flatbreads or chili-glazed meatballs over Idaho potato frites soak up the rum.
Where: 453 6th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about The Nolen
The Grass Skirt
The owners of Little Italy’s social hub, Kettner Exchange, also have tiki on the brain. The Grass Skirt, their Polynesian-styled speakeasy, will descended upon Pacific Beach with a daytime poke eatery out front.
Where: 910 Grand Ave #101, San Diego, CA 92109
Undergoing a redesign, Craft & Commerce in Little Italy will be home to False Idol, a high-design tiki bar featuring classic drinks nodding to old school tiki haunts like Trader Vics and others, curated by rum-meister Martin Cate. Their Coronado Luau Special features aged pot still rum with VSOP Armagnac, Grand Marnier, orgeat, fresh orange and lemon juice, a recipe originally created at the Luau Room at Hotel del Coronado, circa 1940s. Chef JoJo Ruiz will dish out a protein-hearty menu centered around Craft & Commerce’s new custom wood-fired grill.
Where: 675 W Beech St, San Diego, CA 92101
It’s no wonder tiki is alive and well in sunny seaside San Diego – who doesn’t love good food, potent rum drinks in funny mugs, and uplifting music in a tropical ambiance. Exploring San Diego’s tiki culture and scene reveals that it’s not just a trend or lifestyle, it’s a state of mind.
San Diego’s beer scene has simply exploded over the past five years. That growth has meant expansion of all kinds. It has meant more breweries, but it also means that little guys have gotten medium-sized and the medium-sized have gotten big.
San Diego now boasts about a dozen breweries that are producing in the tens of thousands of barrels per year. Some, such as Stone Brewing Co., Karl Strauss Brewery, Green Flash Brewing Co and Ballast Point are on the country’s Top 50 Largest Craft Breweries list (Stone is currently #10).
The big breweries in town make great beer – that’s a major reason why they’re the big breweries! – but the vast majority of brewers in San Diego are relatively small. Most are brewing on 7-barrel or 10-barrel systems that can’t output more than a few thousand barrels per year at absolute maximum.
The nice thing about San Diego’s small craft brewers is that, in general, their systems still require them to craft every batch by hand – dumping in bags of grain one by one, measuring out hops, and pitching their yeast at just the right time. The handcrafted beverages they produce reflect the personal passion and attention that made these folks want to be brewers in the first place. While it’s certainly convenient to pick up a San Diego six-pack at a grocery store or bottle shop, most of the packaged beer available in those outlets is from medium to larger breweries. If you really want to “support local” and “drink local” it’s also important to visit the little guys. You’ll be glad you did. And I know they’ll be glad you did!
Here’s a list of six new outstanding small breweries that have opened recently. They all show great promise, they all make great beer, and – who knows – someday soon you may be seeing them on the list of the Top 50 Largest Craft Breweries in America.
Amplified Ale Works
This is actually the second location for this brewery – the first was on Mission Avenue in Pacific Beach – but this is the first space they’ve had where they can house a decent-sized brewing system. This is good, because Amplified’s brewer Cy Henley is a talented guy who can now let his brewing colors fly.
The new tasting room (with brewery in back) is designed with fun touches that echo the rock ‘n roll theme of the brewery. A video loop of a live rock show plays on the wall, concert graphics and posters adorn the other walls, and tasting flights are served in nifty guitar-shaped boards.
The brewery offers a nice range and variety of beers, including their award-winning brews, Sell Out Lager (winner at the 2016 San Diego International Beer Festival) and Whammy Bar Wheat (winner at the 2016 World Beer Cup). When you visit, don’t miss a chance to taste Electrocution IPA (their most popular) and Electro-Lite, which is a deeply satisfying session IPA that clocks it at a mere 3.9% ABV.
Where: 9030 Kenamar Dr #309, San Diego, CA 92121
> Find out more about Amplified Ale Works
2. Pure Project Brewing
When you visit Amplified, you won’t have to go far to get to Pure Project; they are literally right next door. This is fortunate for the beer tourist, as you can enjoy two of San Diego’s best new breweries by making only one stop.
The tasting room is nicely designed with wood and floral features that are inspired both by nature and by Costa Rica, where the founders lived before returning to San Diego to start their brewery.
Brewer Winslow Sawyer cut his teeth brewing in Northern California, so he brings a somewhat different approach to the mix. He came to San Diego with a No-Cal palate and an affinity for more offbeat styles like gose and Kentucky common. All of Pure Project’s beers are very good, but their fruit-centric cream ales and wheat beers tend to be the hands-down crowd pleasers.
Where: 9030 Kenamar Dr #308, San Diego, CA 92121
> Find out more Pure Project Brewing
3. Division 23
Only minutes from Amplified and Pure, you’ll find Division 23 tucked away in yet another nondescript office park. You have to be persistent and follow the signs all the way to the back of this complex, but the hunt pays off with a casual and comfortable bar-style tasting room complete with shuffleboard, ping-pong, and comfy couches.
Division 23 offers a nice selection of well-made beers, including a few stouts and IPAs, but the most interesting option is the Berliner Weiss. Tasty and refreshing on its own, it’s even more fun sampled with a variety of flavored syrups, which are offered at the bar. The standout mix was the Thai-spiced Berliner Weiss with a splash of coconut syrup. Truly a super-delish treat.
Where: 7408 Trade St, San Diego, CA 92121
> Find out more about Division 23
4. Resident Brewing Company
Here’s a downtown destination where you can actually do a little bit of everything. You can sample the tasty beers from Resident, you can find great craft beers from other producers, and you can enjoy a full menu if you’re hungry.
The Local, on 4th Avenue just across from the Grant Hotel, used to be one of downtown’s best craft beer bars, and – now that Resident Brewing opened up in the (expanded) space and starting brewing right there on the premises – it’s even better.
The large space offers plenty of seating, tables for big groups, and a full menu of pub-centric food. The front section, as you enter, takes you into the Local, which remains one of the city’s best spots for craft suds. Moving toward the back, you’ll find the tasting room area for Resident Brewing.
Brewer Robert Masterson does a nice job with a range of food-friendly and crowd-pleasing styles. The Perky Blonde was notable for its excellent mouthfeel, its bready-biscuity flavors, and its crisp, clean finish. Other standouts include the Vacation Coconut IPA, (which has just the right amount of flavoring without overwhelming the beer) and the Back Alley Porter, which had alluring aromas of coffee, vanilla, and bittersweet chocolate.
Where: 411 C St, San Diego, CA 92101
> Find out more about Resident Brewing
5. Bay City Brewing
Nestled in the shadow of Sports Arena, this light and spacious tasting room provides plenty of space to gather with friends. A few large tables, a nice big bar, and some four-tops provide plenty of options.
The size of the space, as well as their impressive tanks and equipment, may make Bay City the largest brewery on this list of little guys. But, they’re still brewing on a relatively tiny scale.
Brewer Chris West learned his trade on a variety of small systems that provided ample opportunities to be creative and different. His modest lineup here is no exception. There are a few straightforward selections (including a very creamy and flavorful Vienna lager), but the more offbeat brews provide the real interest. If the Brown Sour or the Coffee Pale Ale are on tap when you visit, be sure to get some tastes.
Where: 3760 Hancock St, San Diego, CA 92110
> Find out more about Bay City Brewing
6. Bear Roots Brewing
The brewing system at Bear Roots is definitely the smallest on this list (basically a homebrew setup). They probably best embody our nod to the “little guys.”
This cozy, rustic tasting room was a homebrew supply shop before it was redesigned. Now, homebrewing supplies share space with a comfortable sofa, some tables, and a welcoming, spacious bar.
Owner and brewer Terry Little, an experienced home brewer, has put together a simple, straightforward collection of well-made, full-flavored beers, including a very tasty Nelson IPA, a chocolate-caramel-vanilla laden Scotch Ale, and a deliciously decadent Peanut Butter Milk Stout.
Where: 1213 S Santa Fe Ave, Vista, CA 92083
> Find out more about Bear Roots Brewing
If you’ve heard about San Diego craft beer, you’ve probably heard about Stone, Green Flash Ballast Point, and AleSmith. These are San Diego’s biggest and most widely distributed breweries (and they all produce fantastic beer!). Because they’re so good and so big, you can likely find their beers in shops all across the country. When visiting, these are also the breweries at which you’ll have the most “polished” brewery experience. Their spacious tasting rooms are beautifully designed and there are tons of taps…
So here’s an idea:
If you’re planning to spend a day or two touring San Diego’s 120+ breweries, make sure you make some time for the little guys. Why? Well, for five reasons specifically – and here’s my thinking:
1. The new guys have to be excellent or they’re dead in the water
With so many great breweries in town, the barrier to entry for the new brewers is pretty tough. And the bar has been set awfully high. But that’s good. That means the newbies have to come out of the gate with quality brews if they’re going to have a chance of survival – and most of them do.
2. You can only get the little guys here in San Diego
If you’re going to be here for a visit, why not experience some of the breweries that can’t be seen or tasted anywhere else? A lot of the small brewers are doing creative and interesting things, experimenting with new techniques and ingredients, and doing small batches that are here one day and gone the next. Being small and independent gives them the freedom to play around and – while that’s not always a recipe for success – at least it’s interesting.
3. The small guys need visitors
Most of the smaller breweries rely entirely on tasting room sales to stay afloat. Their systems (most of which are 10-barrel systems or smaller) can’t produce enough beer to go into full-scale distribution or even bottling. So the business model for these breweries is to sell everything they make through their tasting room.
4. You’re encouraging independence and innovation
By supporting the small brewers, you’re also supporting the notion that anyone can make great beer on any scale. The more brewers we encourage, the more diversified our talent pool will become, and that’s good for everybody.
5. It’s all about the beer
The typical tasting room at one of San Diego’s nanos is housed behind a rollup door in a light industrial office park; Not exactly a feature spread in Home & Garden. Concrete floors, simple seating, and inexpensive design are the hallmark of the San Diego small guy. But there’s actually a benefit to going without all the bells and whistles: it makes you focus on the beer. And, let’s face it, even our greatest brewery success stories began in humble basements or garages where our brewers first unleashed their true passion for making beer.
It is important to point out a few things about San Diego’s nano breweries. First, with 120+ breweries in the mix, not all the small guys are making gold-medal beer. So, let it be said that just being small is no guarantee of greatness. Second, not all the new small guys are new to brewing. In fact, a number of the really good new breweries in town have been started by brewers who had considerable pro brewing experience under their belts.
8 Superior Small Guys
New breweries in San Diego county are currently opening at an average rate of one per month! So there’s no worry about finding small, new places to visit, no matter where in the county you may be. Here’s a list of 8 superior small guys who have shown the beer community at large that they have what it takes to stick around:
1. Benchmark Brewing (Grantville)
This family-run operation is headed up by a former brewer from AleSmith who knows his stuff. Their charming tasting room is outfitted with lots of comfortable, “crafty” touches, and top-notch beers.
2. Bolt Brewing (La Mesa)
Their brewery is a quonset hut. Their bar is a small structure with a rollup door, and their tasting room is a sunny outdoor patio space. Despite the lack of frills, Bolt’s lineup is high quality and nicely varied, with excellent options for hopheads and malt lovers alike.
3. Council Brewing Company (Kearny Mesa)
This husband and wife team (she’s the brewer) offer visitors a nice selection of hoppy ales, as well as a number of more interesting, less commonly brewed beers. The tasting room is airy and comfortable, with high ceilings and rollup doors that open to drench the space in sunshine.
4. Fall Brewing Company (North Park)
Set in a semi-residential neighborhood on San Diego’s most beer-centric street (30th Street), Fall is a cozy and welcoming place that offers a quality lineup and showcases the talents of a longtime brewer who brings his experience from Mission, Maui, and St Archer to this new endeavor.
5. Half Door Brewing Co. (Downtown)
This family-owned-and-operated establishment sits inside a historic two-story house on the corner of Island and 8th Avenue. The brewer, who came up at Coronado Brewing, crafts a nice range of small batch, full-flavored beers, all of which pair well with the pub-style menu they offer (try the fish & chips!).
6. O’Sullivan Bros. Brewing Company (Scripps Ranch)
A simple, tiny tasting room with 10 taps, this nano offers visitors a nice selection of Irish-inspired beer styles, including malty browns, ambers, stouts, and porters.
7. 32 North Brewing Company (Miramar)
This new brewery offers an impressive mix of beer styles and interesting flavor combinations. The tasting room, though simply appointed, is spacious and open with plenty of room to move around.
8. Toolbox Brewing Company (Vista)
This little brewery came out of the gate with a desire to be different. They offer well-made hoppy ales as well as some malty ones. What distinguishes them is their selection of brettanomyces (wild yeast strain) beers, which produce oodles of sour, funky, fruity, fabulous flavors.