EATS: San Diego

No matter how near or far you are from home, a recommendation for a good restaurant or bar is always nice to have.  EATS is a collection of places that I’ve enjoyed during my travels.

San Diego Pier Cafe
When I pictured dining out in San Diego I imagined it would be at a place like the San Diego Pier Cafe.  Located near Seaport Village in the southwestern part of Downtown, this cute wooden restaurant with a nautical-feeling interior juts over the water and provides great views of the bay, especially at sunset.

The menu is well-rounded, offering more than just seafood with options ranging from shredded pork tacos to vegetable pomodoro.  Case in point, our order included fish and chips and a cobb salad, along with beer and wine and the “bread upon request”, which I highly recommend you do not pass up.  The bread was actually rolls, still warm and steaming from the oven with a fluffy inside, hint of sourdough flavor and a crispy bottom as if they were baked in a cast iron pan.  The San Diego Pier Cafe is not as casual as its name implies, but comes with a relaxing ambiance, friendly service and is in a great spot for a post-dinner walk along the waterfront.

San Diego Pier Cafe, 885 West Harbor Drive, (619) 239-3968,

Isola Pizza Bar
San Diego has a great Little Italy, so the pressure to find the perfect pizza place was definitely on.  My search left no stone unturned as I scoured the map and browsed photos of all possible options because, pizza, and I’m happy report that we struck gold with Isola Pizza.  Here you’ll find a long list of Neopolitian-style pizzas to choose from, along with large sharable salads, antipasti, pasta dishes and more.  They also have some pretty great weekly specials, like a whole pizza and glass of wine on Ten Dollar Tuesdays.  We came with a singular mission and ordered a margherita and the salsiccia, which was topped with sausage, mushrooms and red onion.  Our pizzas arrived molto rapido, with cheese still bubbling and crust slightly blistered from the wood oven.  The sauce was full of flavor and the crust had just the right amount of chewiness to it, two very important factors when judging the quality of pizza.  Maybe it was because we were more than hungry after a day at the beach, but the pizza was beyond amazing.  Who knew that this hip, contemporary joint would rank up there with some of the best pizza I’ve ever had?

Isola Pizza Bar, 1526 India Street, (619) 255-4230,

When in (Little) Italy one must always indulge in gelato as a post-dinner treat and this cozy Italian café was a great spot to do so.  Pappalecco draws upon Tuscan influences and prides itself in freshness, quality and simplicity. Walk in and you’ll be greeted by a display case of various panini, pastries and of course gelato, which is made on site.  We ordered two cups, one with frutti di bosco and chocolate and the other with pistachio and coconut, which we enjoyed as we strolled the streets of Little Italy.  Alternately, there are a handful of cute tables both inside and out if you’d like to linger longer.

Pappalecco, 1602 State Street, (619) 238-4590,

King and Queen Cantina
A change of plans on our last night in San Diego led us to find this gem.  The name may be easy to overlook (I almost did), but you shouldn’t if you’re in the market for amazing tacos.  This old-meets-new cantina is punctuated with pops of colorful paper banners overhead, evoking the feeling of a Día de los Muertos celebration.

The cuisine is Mexican standards with a fresh and modern twist, like the chips and guac we started with that was served on a wooden board with smoky tomato salsa.  We followed this with an order of the roasted veggies tacos (pinto beans and an assortment of vegetables in sweet potato tortillas) and the seafood trio (featuring one each of fish, octopus and shrimp).  With both dishes, each ingredient right down to the garnish was given the opportunity to shine, creating delicious flavor combinations as a result.  Even better, this is another place with great weekly specials on food and drinks (Taco Tuesday anyone?) that are fit for a king or a queen.

King and Queen Cantina, 1490 Kettner Boulevard, (619) 756-7864,

Half Door Brewing Co.
This family-run brewpub in the heart of the Gaslamp Quarter just one block north of Petco Park.  Set in a turn-of-the-century historic house, Half Door Brewing feels like a welcoming front porch for pre- or post-baseball game gatherings.  Inside is just as inviting, with cozy tables filling all available nooks and crannies.  Its menu is touted as “inventive comfort food” designed to complement house beers that are brewed on-site.  We started with the Roark Red Ale before moving on to the Seventh Heaven from the craft cocktail list.  Our food arrived shortly after, which included a poached pear salad, steak and gorgonzola flatbread and the HDBC Burger that’s topped with Irish white cheddar, lettuce, roasted red tomato, pickled red onions and truffle aioli. The flatbread was smothered in almost too much cheese and the truffle aioli was used a little too liberally on the burger, but the ambiance alone makes this a great place for drinks whether you’re going to a game or not.

Half Door Brewing Co., 903 Island Avenue, (619) 232-9845,

Chocolat Cremerie
We also found this spot in the Gaslamp District and was surprised that the gelato here was better than what we had in Little Italy.  Chocolate Cremerie is an Italian counter-service café that serves panini, crepes, pastries and of course gelato.  You’ll find an assortment of indulgent fruit and nut flavors and just as many variations on super dark and rich chocolate ones as well, hence the shop’s name.  I went with a combination of chocolate hazelnut with pistachio in a cup (for the traditionalist in me) and my husband chose peanut butter with salted caramel in a cone (for fun).  We found the gelato here to be extra creamy and were pleased by the extra generous portions (as any gelato connoisseur will tell you, the latter is of upmost importance!).

Chocolat Cremerie, 509 Fifth Avenue, (619) 238-9400,

Coronado Island is only 15 minutes away from Downtown by car or ferry, and a lovely spot for a leisurely lunch is Tartine.  This European style café is a short walk from the ferry landing and serves up delicious grilled panini sandwiches and salads and hard-to-resist bakery creations/rooted in fresh ingredients.  We ordered one of each – the grilled eggplant panino with roasted red peppers and warm goat cheese and mixed spring greens salad that was topped with pears, gorgonzola, walnuts and a crunchy baguette on the side – and wish we would have saved room to try one (or some) of Tartine’s hard-to-resist bakery creations.  The restaurant offers both indoor and outdoor patio seating, and a dinner menu with a twist on bistro favorites in the evenings.

Tartine, 1106 1st Street (Coronado), (619) 435-4323,

Any favorite places in San Diego that you recommend?  If so, share them below!

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