More than Fish Tacos
It happens every time: it’s the end of a long day at a medical conference and you and your colleagues are gathered in the lobby of your hotel and asking each other, “So, where should we eat tonight?” “City Dining” series was created to answer that very question by providing a local dining insider’s take on the best cafes, restaurants, and bars in town. Our intent is to focus on the cities that are frequent hosts to medical meetings and conferences and offer suggestions that run the gamut from casual and cheap to upscale and elegant. Our first installment takes us to San Diego, a city that has much more to offer to diner’s than fresh Mexican food and fabulous ocean vistas.
With over 30 miles of sandy beaches, nearly perfect weather year-round, and a handful of the country’s most popular attractions (think San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, Coronado Island), one might assume that San Diego’s culinary scene might play second fiddle. And it has. Until recently. Slowly, quietly, and steadily, San Diego has been moving its way up the food chain with aspirations of sitting at the big kids table with other West Coast cities like San Francisco, Portland, and Los Angeles. These days, there’s more to San Diego dining than just fish tacos. And who’s to say you can’t have the best of both worlds with great chefs cooking excellent food at restaurants with incredible views?
Dining Rooms with a View
Leading the way towards having your cake and eating it to is Chef Trey Foshee at La Jolla’s
George’s California Modern
(formerly, and more famously, known as George’s at the Cove). Foshee is a regular on the sustainable, slow food circuit and is committed to serving local produce and seasonal ingredients whenever possible. The menu changes frequently, featuring everything from Pacific Albacore served with carrot miso puree, bok choy and blood orange butter to a fabulous blue cheese burger to California lamb chops with fennel puree. And then there’s the Pacific Ocean. The views from George’s rooftop terrace span the coastline from bluffs of Torrey Pines down to the caves of La Jolla cove dotted with scuba divers and sea lions sunning themselves on the sand.
Farther south and closer to downtown San Diego, C-Level Lounge on Harbor Island also serves up a spectacular view alongside its coastal, seafood-heavy menu. The expansive patio offers diners a view of sparkling San Diego Bay and the downtown skyline from just about every seat in the house. Five-dollar wines and cocktails during happy hour sweeten the deal, too. Also on San Diego Bay, the tiki-chic
offers unparalleled views of the San Diego skyline from its perch on Shelter Island. With a wink and a nod to the mid-century tiki bar trend, the Bali Hai’s menu features Asian-fusion favorites with Hawaiian touches—the Chicken of the Gods entree has been a local favorite for decadeswhile the glass panels on the second floor deck make it feel like you are dining in the middle of the Bay.
South Beach Bar & Grill
And for those yearning for the famous fish taco within view of the water, try in the funky, throw-back beach community of Ocean Beach. The joint routinely wins the local “best of” contests in the fish taco category; plus, you can also watch the surfers from the bar stools on the patio.
Slow and Local
For Slow Food worshipers, San Diego has become somewhat of a shrine. The rich agricultural landscapewhere everything from citrus fruits and strawberries to artichokes and avocados grows in abundancecombines seamlessly with a local population that demands a healthy, outdoor,
ecologically balanced lifestyle.
If San Diego is a shrine for the slow food church, then Carl Shroeder is one of its most loved preachers. His restaurants
Market in Del Mar
Banker’s Hill Bar & Restaurant
closer to downtown both feature locally sourced ingredients and a commitment to cooking seasonally. Market features attractive small plates to a more luxe crowd near Rancho Santa Fe while Banker’s Hill Bar & Restaurant swings a tad more urban, catering to the denser downtown environment.
Also leading the charge in slow food in San Diego is Jay Porter at
New York Times
. From ink in the to a very well-read blog on his own website (
Casing the Joint
), Porter’s everything-in-house and everything-sustainable philosophy about food has gained him quite a following. The Linkery’s most reliable menu standouts include any of their house-cured meats and sausages (notice their butcher shop next store is also open to the public) as well as their selection of local craft beers and organic wines. Porter makes a point to feature produce from small, local, organic growers as well.
Sea Rocket Bistro
Slow Food — San Diego
Other slow food standouts include in La Jolla, for sustainable seafood, and in North Park for sustainable food and a great craft beer selection. For a complete list of slow food restaurants in San Diego, visit .
Beer City, USA
When San Diego was designated the best beer city in America by Men’s Journal, cities with deep-rooted brewing roots such as Milwaukee and Denver may have been surprised. But considering that San Diego-area brewers won more awards than any other region for two years in a row at the
Great American Beer festival
, it’s hard to argue with the growing consensus: San Diego sits at the forefront of the craft beer movement. For a taste of the craft brew culture, look to the 30th Street corridor that runs from the South Park neighborhood up to Normal Heights. Start at
(named one of the top 100 best places to drink beer in the world) for a Yellowtail, then head to The Linkery for a mug of Alesmith, and then on up to Ritual Tavern for a taste of whatever’s been freshly tapped (their selections change regularly). Then stop by
across the street, and head farther north to
Blind Lady Alehouse
, a great beer bar with yummy organic pizzas too. For brewery tours,
headquarters offers some of the best with free tastings and a great seasonal restaurant up in Escondido (about 30 miles north of downtown San Diego).
all offer tours as well. The best craft brewers are scattered throughout the county, so opting for a pre-planned beer tour (wine tasting is so 2006) from
is a great way to see the facilities, stress-free.
The Starlite Lounge
A Noble Experiment
San Diego’s cocktail culture is ready to take the baton from the craft beer folks in the current culinary relay race toward real respect among folks who know their libations. Leading the way are establishments like , a serious steakhouse with a tiny cocktail bar upfront and two of the best bartenders in town. Ask for Garth (winner of many local cocktail competitions) and drink whatever he makes for you, because it will mostly likely be excellent. , with a chic, mid-century modern design also houses one of the best whiskey selections in the city and bartenders who know how to use it. Whisknladle in La Jolla house-infuses all of their liquor and bartenders work with the chef to develop interesting cocktail combinations. touts itself as “timeless” and a throwback to the days when cocktails were handcrafted and took time to create well. Today, it sits hidden behind the popular burger-and-beer joint in the East Village. Search online for the bar’s name to uncover the secret phone number and send a text for reservations.
Regardless of San Diego’s never-ending desire to be considered a serious West Coast food city alongside San Francisco, Portland, and Los Angeles, the city will always remain true to certain culinary roots. Namely, Mexican food. For traditional “street tacos,” (ie, small corn tortillas filled with meat, onions, cilantro, and guacamole), try Tacos El Gordo de Tijuana. There are several locations throughout the city (most in out-of-the-way neighborhoods, but the tacos are worth the drive), and in Tijuana as well. The carne asada street tacos are not to be missed. Las Cuatro Milpas is another storied Mexican food shop, where the lined extends around the building at lunch with locals and on weekends with tourists for a reason: The food is greasy and good.
For a taste of good Mexican with a bit more polish, try in Point Loma or Coronado. The margaritas are well-priced and stiff, and the salsa and jalapeno cheese sauce for dipping are on the house. Isabel Cruz’s in Banker’s Hill (try the tortilla soup) and (standout ceviche) in Little Italy are also standouts for a more modern Mexican food experience.
Doctors, the restaurants listed here only scratch the surface of the gustatory delights that await you during your next visit to San Diego. Try a couple of these eateries the next time you’re in town, but don’t forget to ask the locals where else you should go!