San Diego’s food truck gatherings are a great and family friendly way to sample a plethora of food styles all in the same place
From Asian to Italian, BBQ to vegetarian, San Diego has plenty of options to choose from when it comes to food trucks.
As a true foodie city, San Diego jumped into the gastro truck craze and now has more than 50 trucks roaming the city. You can find single food trucks parked on side streets and parking lots, or in groups of five or more at weekly neighborhood food truck gatherings. There are also special festivals like the Annual Del Mar Food Truck Festival where up to 50 trucks gather in one location to delight the attendants’ palates.
So How Does It Work?
Food trucks are social media driven. They usually use Twitter and Facebook to update their customers on their menu and location. There are also websites that show you where the trucks will be making their stops, like Roaming Hunger where you can view a map with all the food trucks around your area, or you can check out daily and weekly schedules at websites like Curbside Bites or San Diego Food Trucks.
I personally think the best way to enjoy food trucks is at the weekly scheduled gatherings, where you not only get to choose from various ethnic and infused bites and desserts, but you get to experience the neighborhood and meet its people.
Food truck gatherings are one of the best ways to taste San Diego, after all San Diego is an ideal city for gastro trucks; we have the perfect weather (we just can’t stop bragging about that), a great selection of local farms and a varied ethnic influence.
Conveniently located in the center of it all, Mission Valley is just minutes away from some of San Diego’s major attractions and even closer to some classic, old school-style restaurants that still retain the cool look and feel of yesteryear with delectable retro dining.
Following are my top 5 tasty and intriguing culinary nods to the retro dining spots in Mission Valley:
1. Albie’s Beef Inn
Lounge-tastic Albie’s Beef Inn and Adam’s Steak & Eggs
Albie’s Beef Inn at Travelodge Mission Valley has been serving up prime steaks, seafood and cocktails since 1962. Guests love the retro-lounge look and feel, complete with tufted black leather booths, wood paneling, a piano bar and all-too-suggestive paintings of women adorning the walls. Albie’s is where I imagine the cast of Mad Men hang out for happy hour, and three-martini lunches. 🙂
Next door to Albie’s, Adam’s Steak & Eggs is where folks have noshed on hearty steak ‘n eggs breakfasts since 1962. It has a welcoming, old-school diner vibe with chairs that look suspiciously like the ones my mom had around our dining room table in the 1970s.
Sir Wafflelot welcomes diners for some retro dining at the Waffle Spot
The family friendly, whimsical Waffle Spot at the Kings Inn has been a local favorite for 20 years. The “Home of San Diego’s Best Waffles” has its very own mascot, Sir Wafflelot who welcomes kids on Saturdays and Sundays, 10:00 AM to 12 noon. Children (and adults!) get a kick out of coloring the Kids Menus. This is the spot to get your nostalgia on while enjoying delicious waffles and other classic breakfast fare.
Hunter Steakhouse, a 40+ year tradition in the valley, serves the “Best Prime Rib in Town” – with whiskey peppercorn sauce! The exterior resembles a rustic mountain cabin with a cozy interior to match: rich wood furnishings, dim lighting and a stone fireplace; a nice romantic dinner joint to take that someone special.
Trellises Garden Grille at the Town and Country Resort Hotel & Convention Center is an eclectic mix of floral and retro lounge design, with a lovely garden patio filled with flowers. It’s timeless and old-fashioned, serving a menu of “California Fresh” cuisine, including seafood and steaks. Jane Austen would sup here for sure! 😉
As a kid, I always found ice cream sodas or root beer floats to be odd. Soda with ice cream? Really? Who came up with that? But somehow the combination of a carbonated soft drink with a scoop of vanilla ice cream tasted delicious. Nowadays, it’s not very common to find root beer floats “floating” around the dessert menu, and even if I do see one, I usually tend to pick the fancied-up-gourmet dessert…after all, I am a grownup now.
I recently noticed floats were making a comeback, however, soda has been replaced with beer. Now, I know beer floats are not a new thing, but I noticed that bars and restaurants have not only added them to menus, but have added their own interpretations. Curious about the different options of beer floats available; I decided to invite a couple of friends on a Friday night to try different beer floats in what we named The Beer Float Roundup.
Warning About Beer Floats
Side effects of drinking more than one beer float in one night, just like we did, might include a two-hour sugar rush that will make you burst into singing and dancing on the streets.
First Stop: Ritual Kitchen and Beer Garden
A Stone Stochasticity Project ‘Quadro Triticale’ with strawberry banana ice cream.
This North Park gem offers a good selection of craft beers and a tasty food menu.
Beer floats can be found in the dessert section with the option to combine any beer on tap with their daily selection of house made ice creams. I picked the strawberry banana ice cream with the Stone Stochasticity Project ‘Quadro Triticale’, a Belgian-style beer with wheat and rye. Garnished with cranberries and presented in a tall glass with the beer and ice cream blended, this float looked exactly like a milkshake, but certainly did not taste like one. The result was an interesting combination of wheat and banana that I truly enjoyed.
The Honey Butter with butter pecan ice cream, Me So Honey (Belching Beaver’s honey wheat ale), whip and organic honey.
Also located in North Park, along 30th Street, this local brewery offers award-winning beers like their Peanut Butter Milk Stout.
An elaborate version, referred to as Beaver Floats. With three different options I decided for the Honey Butter: butter pecan ice cream, Me So Honey (Belching Beaver’s honey wheat ale), whip cream and organic honey. The float came in a cold beer mug, with lots of whip cream, a spoon and a straw. This was not only fun to drink, but also caught the attention of everyone around.
Old Viscosity, the bourbon barrel-aged beer from Lost Abbey, with vanilla ice cream.
Known for their meatballs and convenient proximity to award-winning bar, Polite Provisions, this University Heights food spot offers apple pie and a wide selection of soda pops.
Make any of their daily draft beers into a float. Soda & Swine had five beers on tap and three different flavors of ice cream to choose from: vanilla, chocolate and twist. The waiter recommended trying the vanilla ice cream with Old Viscosity, the bourbon barrel-aged beer from Lost Abbey. The presentation was the most traditional of all. The ice cream, which by itself was flavorful, came in a traditional ice cream glass with the beer on the side. Even though I am a big fan of bourbon, the after taste of the bourbon gave the float a peculiar flavor.
Around 1870, soda floats were a rave, unfortunately at the time it was illegal to drink soda on Sundays. Soda fountains had to figure out a way to make a profit, so they started to serve ice cream, creating the term “Sundaes”.
I”m lucky enough to live walking distance from a culinary corner in San Diego”s North Park neighborhood that just gets better every day. While the entire span of 30th Street from Alchemy in South Park to Jayne”s Gastropub in University Heights offers an unbelievable array of quality local choices, my little corner at 30th and Upas features an impressive mix of restaurants and bars within a few hundred yards of each other.
Alexanders on 30th
Enjoy fresh pastas, salads and personal size pizzas at Alexander”s on 30th in North Park San Diego.
Alexander”s on 30th, a classic modern Italian restaurant with a casual elegance and great salads, baked pastas, and dense pizzas for dinner. Their new Summer Sundays brunch-lunch menu includes fennel sausage hash with Italian roasted potatoes and $1 micheladas. The kids like drawing with crayons on the paper tablecloths, and we all enjoy sitting on the patio area outside.
Right across 30th Street from Alexander”s is the new kid on the block, Bazinga Eatery where my 9-year-old flipped over the $5 bacon bowl appetizer filled with mac “n” cheese. Yes, the bowl is made entirely of bacon. My 11-year-old enjoyed her mac “n” cheese ball appetizer and I enjoyed a healthier option, a huge portion of grilled veggies (yellow squash, bell peppers, portabellas topped with parmesan cheese and a Mediterranean dressing, one of six healthy salads on the menu. If you’re like me and unable to decide when ordering, start with the entrée that features a sampler of five kinds of mac ‘n’ cheese (my favorite was the French Onion Mac).
The historic Lynhurst Building at 30th and Upas in North Park houses three restaurants.
Next to Bazinga is Zensei Sushi, one of the first restaurants to open in the historic 101 year old Lynhurst building and a pioneer in the restaurant boom in this intersection. Try the 30th & Upas roll with spicy tuna, rice, avocado, a secret sauce and more. We order it every time.
Enjoy a decadent Monte Cristo on homemade brioche at Cardamom Cafe.
Turn the corner to the Upas side of the Lynhurst for Cardamom Café, a cozy and delicious breakfast and lunch go-to for the whole community. Fresh baked bread, pastries and my favorite – croissants that are the real deal – are made daily. I see owner-chef Joanne baking in the window early mornings on my walks before anything is open and dream about eating a Monte Cristo under a colorful umbrella in the outside sidewalk seating.
Cross to the west side of 30th Street and there are three places in a row that qualify for “date night” in our house (if we leave the kids at home).
Bluefoot Bar & Lounge
The Bluefoot Bar & Lounge, a fun, unpretentious neighborhood hangout with central pool table, sidewalk smoking patio, spacious back room plus stiff drinks and craft beer. It”s the sort of place where everybody knows your name (or you”re at least guaranteed to see a neighbor nightly).
A relaxed but romantic atmosphere at The Smoking Goat.
Next door to Bluefoot is a favorite date night dining spot, The Smoking Goat. Truly wonderful French and American fare including decadent duck fat truffle fries, braised beef ribs and a small but solid selection of very local craft beer and French wine. The interior decor and outside sidewalk seating make a visit fresh, fun and upscale-funky.
Mosaic Wine Bar in North Park proves San Diegans drink more than just local craft beer.
Another grown-up favorite is Mosaic Wine Bar, proving that 30th Street isn”t all about local craft beer, although they do have six local beers on tap and 15 bottles they rotate often. Love the loungey, comfortable living room vibe of this place with open air seating in the front and private nooks, coffee tables and couches with pillows in the back. In addition to an international menu of small plates such as grilled lamb chop couscous, crispy calamari and parmesan crusted artichoke, Mosaic offers a huge selection of wine and happy hour specials, and a bottomless mimosa/sangria/Prosecco brunch on the weekends. Mosaic is 21 and up.
Chicagoans and San Diegans alike love the deep dish pizza and Chicago hot dogs at Lefty”s in North Park.
Next to Mosaic are two small restaurants, Veg-n-Out (Now Closed), a “just the right speed” vegetarian and vegan cafe (love their falafel burger) and Lefty”s Chicago Pizzeria. Lefty”s has a huge local following of ex-Chicagoans as well as born-and-bred San Diegans who discovered the delicious decadence of Chicago-style deep dish. Our family favorites are the heart-stopping Meaty Pie (sausage, pepperoni, meatball, and Italian beef) and South Sider (Italian beef, green pepper, onion, and hot giardiniera). But Lefty”s offers more than three types of pizza (thin crust and “stuffed” options are available). Their hamburgers and dogs are generous and tasty and they slow-roast beef daily for Italian beef sandwiches on a roll with provolone and sweet peppers. Best of all, you can sit across the street at the new Modern Times Tasting Room and order Lefty”s” to go and consume at Modern Times with your beer.
The North Parker
The North Parker lofts and retail houses brewery tasting room, cafe, taco shop and ramen noodle house.
Across from Lefty”s, the east side of 30th (at Upas) features a cool new complex called The North Parker. This mixed-use loft, office and retail space added an architectural panache to our loveable but creaky old “hood.
Modern Times Beer Flavordome
Modern Times Flavordome Brewery Tasting Room patio meets Influx Cafe patio at The North Parker building on 30th and Upas Streets.
Modern Times Beer is one of San Diego”s award winning local breweries, and the North Park Flavordome tasting room is light and eclectic. Sure the ceiling is covered with lampshades, but the seating is clean and uncluttered and there are 6-8 Modern Times beers on tap daily. The tasting room includes outdoor side patio seating, and customers are welcome to bring in food from the area restaurants to eat at the bar or tables inside or out.
In fact, imbibers can take three steps from the Modern Times patio over to the Influx Café patio and order salads (from kale to bleu) and sandwiches (from tofu to turkey) and pastries from this newly opened San Diego coffee house. If you”re not drinking beer, Influx has a wide array of drip and espresso organic coffee drinks and teas to go with your meal.
Next to Influx in The North Parker is the soon-to-be-opened Underbelly, a ramen noodle house that originally opened in Little Italy. The first location is so successful with the blend of soup and, what else?, craft beer, that the restaurateurs decided to open a second Underbelly (so named for the delicious pork included in its signature ramen dish that includes soft boiled egg, char-siu belly, applewood smoked bacon and kurobuta sausage).
Tacos with handmade corn tortillas are being served up with or without crickets at Tacos Perla in North Park San Diego.
Around the corner, back on Upas & 30th, is Tacos Perla, the new street taco darling of the intersection. The menu is simple and offers San Diego’s signature dish, tacos on handmade corn tortillas. While these “street” tacos are priced more like Rodeo Drive than Main Street, they are delicious. I had the Ocho (braised-then-grilled octopus with poblano, pesto and cheese) and the Del Mar (wild caught Mexican shrimp, marinated in ginger, chilies, achiote with jack cheese and avocado) for $4.95 each, while my son had traditional carne asada ($3.95). Neither of us opted to add on crickets for .75ȼ although I did go for the chicharrones and loved the six salsa selections. I had my tacos with a can of Modern Times beer as is de rigeur for the corner.
I feel very fortunate to have this thriving dining and brewery scene in my neighborhood. I’m also lucky enough that if I turn left on 30th, instead of right, I can walk up to South Park with an entirely different set of restaurants, tasting room, wine bar, cocktail bar, ice cream parlor and coffee house to explore; maybe next blog.
National City has a vibrant Filipino community known for its delicious cuisine
Mabuhay! That’s Tagalog for “cheers” or “welcome.” When you visit National City, south of downtown San Diego, you’ll indeed feel welcome to this tight-knit community that celebrates its rich Filipino heritage.
There’s no better way to experience San Diego’s Filipino culture than through its mouthwatering food. Following are a few of my favorite, tried and true restaurants to try, plus a couple bakeries to satisfy those sweet cravings.
National City’s main thoroughfare for Filipino restaurants is Plaza Blvd., located just off Interstate 5 or 805 South.
A Few Filipino Restaurant Options
Pancit malabon – a yummy specialty at Manila Sunset!
First stop, for delicious made-to-order breakfast or lunch fare, is Manila Sunset (925 E. Plaza Blvd.) which resembles a charming Filipino village inside. My fav dish is Lansilog, consisting of longganisa (Fillipino-style chorizo grilled to perfection), egg and rice drizzled with a vinegar/cucumber dip. The fresh lumpia and pancit malabon with thick rice noodles, shrimp, egg, veggies and chicharon are also delish!
Vast array of Filipino food at Manila Sunset
Another great sit-down restaurant for Lansilog and other traditional Filipino breakfast combinations is Point-Point Joint (916 E. 8th St)
Tita’s Kitchenette (2720 E. Plaza Blvd.) is all about the two-item combos. For just $7 you can pick from a vast array of Filipino staples like chicken adobo, sisig (seasoned chopped pork with onions, green peppers and special seasoning), kare kare (traditional Filipino stew of ox tail, tripe and pork with a savory peanut sauce) and finger-licking good BBQ chicken skewers – the best in town!
Tasty chicken skewers at Tita’s Kitchenette!
Nearby Karihan Filipino Food (2220 E. Plaza Blvd., Suite B) is also a great go-to for BBQ chicken and pork, whole(!) fried fish and piping hot sinigang (tangy tamarind soup with veggies).
Sweet! Red Ribbon mango cake
Don’t forget dessert! Goldilocks and Red Ribbon, two bakeshops from the Phillipines, have shelves of sweet fresh-baked yumminess to choose from. Must-trys are the mango cake, ube (sweet purple yam) cake, and mamon special, a fluffy French sponge cake brushed with butter and sprinkled with cheese (yep) and sugar. Trust me, your taste buds will thank you! 😉
Just in case you haven’t heard, there are two things that define San Diego: the beach and beer. Magic happens when these two come together. Such is the case withDraft, the newestrestaurant at historicBelmont Parkon Mission Beach. Draft recently opened its doors on the boardwalk overlooking the beautiful Pacific Ocean. So, in the spirit of research, and a much-needed drink, I stopped by with the mission to draft you a picture.
Beer labels dress the tables and rails of Draft
I visited during lunch time and sat inside near the patio to enjoy the beautiful ocean view. The décor can be labeled as exactly that: labels. Beer labels cover the tables and rails, over by the bar you can see the more than 69 beer taps that make this place so special. Next to the bar adjacent to two pool tables, you can’t miss the wall-sized 31.5-ft television screen displaying scenic images of San Diego and local brewing companies. Draft shows major sporting events and has become quite the hot spot to watch sports. On the other side of the bar, tucked away in a glass room, you can see all the kegs being pumped to keep the beer flowing.
The pistachio crusted salmon sandwich was the perfect choice for a nice lunch near the beach
Looking at the menu, it was hard to make a decision. I went for the pistachio crusted salmon sandwich (with meyer lemon aioli, arugula and fennel) and a side of fries, of course. My burger-looking-sandwich is one of the best I’ve had, so many graceful flavors twirling on my taste buds. I could barely taste the pistachio, which was perfect because I was afraid it would be overwhelming. The fries where perfect too, thick and crispy – a must in my book.
Draft offers 69 beers on tap and 50 bottles from local, national and international breweries
Drinks? Obviously by the name, this is beer paradise, offering a true representation of San Diego’s IPAs, Porters, Stouts and beyond. With more than 60 options on tap and 50 bottles that rotate seasonally, it really comes down to picking your poison, or should I say passion? If you are not sure what to order, ask the staff, they will happily guide you to the right choice.
Close the deal with a lemon meringue milkshake or the churro bites
When dessert time came, I couldn’t say no. I’ve heard so much about the lemon meringue milkshake (with toasted meringue and lemon curd) that I had to have it. I also ordered the churro bites (cardamom, lemon and horchata anglaise) since I grew up eating churros and am always curious to try different versions. When the desserts came, the milkshake took the spotlight, even the table next to me asked what it was. The best way I could describe the flavor is: lemony, but not too lemony, sweet, but not too sweet. It was good! I was so full by the time I finished my milkshake that I couldn’t eat much of the churros bites. They were very soft, but not too sweet, with more of a subtle taste.
If you love beer, the beach and great food, give Draft a go. It’s a delicious addition to the Mission Beach scene and to America’s finest and hoppiest city.
Good to know:
They have a kids menu.
Happy Hour is served Monday – Friday from 4 to 6pm.
Brunch is served Saturday – Sunday from 9am to 4pm.
Parking is free at Belmont Park, but might be difficult to find during summer and weekends. If you can’t find parking on the three lots adjacent to Belmont Park, you can try the lot across the street from the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster.
What else to order:
Slacker jack popcorn
Pork belly corn dogs with truffled mustard
Mac n’ cheese with English peas, thyme, mushrooms, chives and smoky cheese
Draft is located at 3105 Ocean Front Walk, San Diego, CA 92109
Open Monday – Friday from 11am to 2am and Saturday and Sunday from 9am to 2am
San Diego is teeming with nightlife options. But if you want a romantic night out with that special someone, a bustling brewery or crowded dance floor might not be the right fit. Fortunately, with so many incredible bars and cocktail lounges, it’s easy to find one to impress your date.
Cocktail Lounges with a View: Cusp at Hotel La Jolla
Which is better: the drinks or the view at Cusp? It’s hard to decide.
There’s nothing more impressive than a spectacular view. In San Diego, those aren’t too hard to find, but few can rival the view from Cusp. Situated atop the Hotel La Jolla, Cusp overlooks a vast span of the La Jolla coastline, and their drinks are as delicious as the view is beautiful.
Tiki Time: Cat Eye Club
Drinks are on fire (literally) at the Cat Eye Club
For an entertaining evening, Cat Eye Club is a must visit. The vintage-inspired hideaway in downtown’s East Village serves up whimsical tiki drinks that are as fun to look at as they are to drink. Try the Cradle of Life or the Scorpion Bowl – both are served aflame.
Old Fashioneds in an Old Fashioned Setting: Polite Provisions
Polite Provisions offers vintage charm and potent cocktails.
Located in the up and coming neighborhood of Normal Heights, Polite Provisions revives the romance of the early 20th century cocktail lounges with their charming decor and vintage drinks. Whether you order one of their signature cocktails on tap or go for one of the seasonal creations, this precious spot is sure to charm your date.
The Secret Spot: Noble Experiment
Noble Experiment is a sight to see…if you can find it.
The secret is out: Noble Experiment is San Diego’s favorite hidden speakeasy. Located in the back of the popular Neighborhood restaurant in the East Village, this tiny bar is big on character, featuring a wall of golden skulls and animated paintings on the walls (did that dear just blink at me?). Make sure to text ahead for a reservation, as the intimate space doesn’t allow much room for walk-ins.
I’m on a “mission” (pun intended 😉 ) to find the most affordable sights, bites and places to stay in Mission Valley and share them with you for when you visit San Diego.
Find out how to win a stay in San Diego when you finish reading this post!
Mission San Diego de Alcala
Mission San Diego de Alcala in Mission Valley
Mission San Diego de Alcala, the first in a chain of 21 Alta California missions, is our first stop. For only $3 you can visit a small museum brimming with artifacts from the mission’s early years. It’s pretty cool and surreal being able to step back into time to the 1770s – especially with so much modern development in the valley now. Also be sure to check out the quaint chapel, padre’s quarters and stroll through the beautiful gardens, including a cool archeological dig!
Just down the road is Mission Trails Regional Park, one of the nation’s largest urban natural parks covering over 6,005 acres and featuring 42 miles of scenic trails for hiking, mountain biking, birding and rock climbing. Best of all: it’s Free – everything! – including free guided nature walks every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 AM. Stop by the Visitor Center to get the lay of the land.
A fantastic view from the top of Cowles Mountain
My favorite spots are the historic Old Mission Dam on the San Diego River and Cowles Mountain where you’ll be rewarded with spectacular 360 degree views of all of San Diego from its 1,592 foot peak!
The San Diego River
San Diego River flowing through Mission Valley
Running through Mission Valley is the picturesque San Diego River. It’s sometimes hard to find through all the condos and shopping centers, but it’s there. Pedestrian/bicycling paths can be found along the Mission Valley Greenway between Texas Street and Hazard Center. There’s also urban kayaking, for the more adventuresome!
Mission Valley Eats
If you’ve worked up an appetite, at Mission Valley Center the popular new Broken Yolk Café is perfect for breakfast or brunch (recommend the eggs benedict and hash browns). Nearby Pho’ Cali serves up some of the tastiest Vietnamese beef noodle soups. And for dinner, local favorite Sammy’s Woodfired Pizza is yummy, as is Oki Ton Japanese Bistro, one of the best sushi bars in town!
Tiki Oasis in the Heart of San Diego
Tiki Oasis art at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, Mission Valley
If you’re looking for a place to rest your head at night, look no further than Hotel Circle North and South dotted with numerous affordable motels, hotels and resorts. My personal fav is the tiki oasis known as Crowne Plaza Hotel (formerly the Hanalei).
Back in the day it was much more tiki-fied, but remnants remain and it’s a hoot to spot Polynesian artifacts in the lobby and pool areas. The Crowne Plaza, BTW, is the site of 14th annual Tiki Oasis festival on August 14-17. I’ll be there! 🙂
Tip: To see all of Mission Valley in one fell swoop, catch a ride on the San Diego Trolley’s scenic Green Line which hugs the San Diego River. It only costs $2.50 ($5 for a day pass), with convenient stops at Mission Valley Center and Mission San Diego.
See you in Mission Valley – in the middle of it all!
Mission Possible: Stay and Play in San Diego Sweepstakes
Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to stay and play in the heart of San Diego.
Just steps from the San Diego Marriott Mission Valley’s central location, the Rio Vista Trolley Station makes it a breeze to visit some of the best of San Diego offerings including Petco Park, Old Town, Gaslamp Quarter and the Embarcadero.
The entry page will self destruct on Monday, 9 June 2014, at 10:00 AM.
Find the perfect soup in San Diego. Photo courtesy of WikiCommons
Most cultures around the world have their own native version of soup or stew, and San Diego eateries offer a global spectrum of choices. For instance, the growing popularity of Vietnamese pho makes it the latest cross-cultural hit in the culinary world. There are an amazing number of delicious pho and Thai and Japanese ramen and udon soup restaurants in San Diego. There are so many choices that this blog is not even going to address the Asian soup camp – we’ll save it for another blog.
Here are some of my favorite soups in San Diego.
Lourdes Chicken Soup
Chicken and rice is mighty nice at this Escondido Mexican restaurant.
I was lucky enough to grow up a couple of miles from “the best chicken soup in town” as the claim goes. Now there are three locations, including two (the original) in Escondido and a newer store in Encinitas. Lourdes serves a simple chicken and rice soup, and the simplicity is what makes it so good; that, and the generous pieces of shredded chicken, slices of fresh, ripe avocado, sprinkles of onion and cilantro on top; served with warm corn or flour tortillas. Delicioso!
Spike Africa’s Clam Chowder is delicious. Photo courtesy Randy F.
Served in a large mug with big chunks of russet potatoes but proportionately large pieces of sea clams and celery too, this traditional white chowder takes the edge of “winter” off in San Diego on the rare occasion it dips below 60. Topped with fresh made croutons that begin to “melt” in a not too creamy soup for the perfect bite, Spike Africa’s downtown fish joint knows how to please when it comes to the chowder.
Ironside Fish & Oyster is the newest, latest, hippest spot in Little Italy, and its clam chowder is the real deal.
So I was all set with Spike Africa’s clam chowder being top of my list, until I tried the white clam chowder at the just-opened Ironside Fish & Oyster in Little Italy. This version is creamier and more blended than the chunky goodness of Spike’s clam chowder. It also was very rich in the best possible way (like buttah), including leeks, onions, garlic, summer clams and sunburst clams, with just the perfect amount of clam flavor so as not to overpower the chowderishness of the soup base. The two items that put it over the top were the bacon and homemade nori cracker.
Matzo ball soup for the soul at DZ Akin’s Delicatessen.
Better than Bubbie’s with a matzo ball the size of a baseball and generous portion of noodles (if you like it that way). This Jewish deli in the College area does it all the old fashioned way, including pastrami sandwiches that overflow with meat and bakery cases filled with Old World-style goods such as rugalach and Hamentashen.
In February, downtown’s The Blind Burro’s Chef Sara Polczynski won a taco TKO competition facing off against six local chefs, one of the most delicious events my family and I had the pleasure (along with the rest of the dining public) to judge. But by chance, I ordered a bowl of pozole as an appetizer one evening, not realizing the heartiness and generous portion would make the pozole my meal. Chef Polczynski’s own recipe uses roasted tomatillos as the base along with sautéed onions, celery and garlic. Toasted oregano, cumin and ancho chile powder are added with hominy, homemade chicken stock, and finished with lime juice. The soup is served with roasted chicken pieces and garnished with a lime wedge, avocado slices, diced white onion, julienned radishes and Mexican oregano.
If you just can’t decide on what type of soup you’re in the mood for, grab some friends and try lunch at San Diego Soup Shoppe. They feature at least six different fantastic soups daily. The hardest part is deciding what to have (thus the suggestion to bring some friends to share). Panini’s are also fresh and made with prime ingredients; we loved the fresh basil and buffalo mozzarella on our caprese panini, but I digress. By now you know I have a thing for clam chowder, the Soup Shoppe’s version has a deliciously strong clam/seafood taste and is not just milky broth. The mushrooms brie soup was pale and creamy and filling.
My all-time favorite mushroom soup is served at Big Front Door (BFD). It has dairy but more of an earthy flavor deriving from a blend of gourmet mushrooms that have been caramelized and deglazed with lots of white wine. The catch: it’s on a regular rotation of every 6-8 weeks, so it’s a treat to find it on the menu. The good news is that BFD has a robust homemade soup menu; so there are always options like black bean chili, New England clam chowder, chicken tortilla, smoked turkey noodle, tomato basil bisque, French onion, loaded baked potato and corn chowder. Each has its own loyal following.
My Personal Favorite – Marina Kitchen’s Oyster Soup
But the Best Soup I Ever Had was in February at Marina Kitchen. A small bowl as appetizer and I can’t describe how a rich, creamy oyster broth could contain a crisp, battered, fried oyster inside – but it did! I even went back the next night just to order some oyster soup to go (a late night craving). Cursed again – it’s not a regular menu item and is only offered on the chef’s whim, should you be so lucky.
Fans of the Food Network know Marcela Valladolid as the star of Mexican Made Easy and one of the hosts of The Kitchen, but many viewers might not know that Marcela is a San Diegan through and through! And this chef loves the cuisine of San Diego, which is full of Mexican influence. As Marcela notes, “we’re so close to Mexico, it’s unavoidable!”
Let Marcela Valladolid be your Guide to the Good Stuff with her picks for the most authentic flavors of San Diego:
Best Spots for Authentic Mexican Cuisine
There is no shortage of places to find Mexican food in San Diego, but trust Marcela to point you towards the very best.
Old Town San Diego: “It’s very California in the sense that it’s very relaxed, but it’s very traditional in terms of what it’s offering you from Mexico,” Marcela shares. Try El Agave for traditional mole or Café Coyote for their fresh tortillas.
Chula Vista: Marcela loves this neighborhood because many restaurateurs from Tijuana have settled here. She loves Romesco, the San Diego restaurant of famed Baja chef Javier Plasencia, as well as the TJ Oyster Bar.
Aqui es Texcoco: This little family owned restaurants gets Marcela’s vote as one of the most authentic Mexican restaurants in town.
Las Cuatro Milpas: This tiny Barrio Logan shop makes food “like grandma used to make you at home, if you grew up in Oaxaca or Jalisco.”
Marcela Valladolid’s Favorite Non-Mexican Dining
Mexican cuisine is certainly delicious, but we all need to change things up from time to time. For some different flavors, Marcela recommends these San Diego dining ventures.
Searsucker: Marcela loves how celebrity chef Brian Malarkey’s signature restaurant makes you feel like you are having a fine dining experience in a social environment with fun, funky décor.
Morton’s: The great bar, stellar service, and feeling like family when you dine are just a few of the reasons that Marcela enjoys visiting this popular steakhouse.
North Park: This neighborhood is known for its young, hip vibe, but the dining options make North Park really special. Marcela enjoys the small but well-executed menu at the Smoking Goat, and Italian fare from Alexander’s is always a favorite when she is in the neighborhood.
Check out more of Marcela Valladolids’s favorite things about San Diego, including best places to go with your kids, at SanDiego.org/GoodStuff.