3659 India Street #101, Mission Hills
Youthful urbanites and veteran barflies swarm to this low-frills joint and rush the counter. The dim, cavernous space provides anonymity for gorging on strong ales and 20-percent bacon Hungarian Kolbasz from local frankery T&H Prime Meats. An outdoor deck is the perfect spot to enjoy the nightly sausage fest with a side of people-watching.
4628 Park Boulevard, University Heights
A color palate — black, red, brown, and gold — sums up this intimate-by-design neighborhood bar. Elbow-to-elbow late-night crowds enjoy an extensive selection of brown liquor and liquid gold (in the form of exceptional craft-beer offerings) amid a scarlet glow that bounces off bottles, glasses, and the shiny, happy faces of the young and the inebriated. Many of these will return for the hangover-curing brunch fare on weekends.
1999 Citracado Parkway, Escondido
When asking a handful of Stone employees what they’d most like readers to know, without hesitation they said, “We have the most attractive staff.” Yes, these folks are humble, indeed. But the brewery boys want us to know that they really are here to help, and that this isn’t fast food. They believe the menu’s gotten a bad rep because people “don’t understand it.” Everything here is local, organic, and fresh, designed for pairing with Stone’s beer offerings. Foodwise, employees suggest the BLT or Tilapia Ceviche. Also worth checking out: Wednesday-night movies in the garden.
Tasca de la Sexta
Think TJ’s cerveza culture begins with Corona and ends with Tecate? Think again. Baja is home to dozens of craft breweries, many of which are putting out beer as good as (in some cases, better than) U.S. breweries. Test drive a Belgian-style tripel brewed in Guadalajara, or an anise-heavy imperial stout made mere miles from this Zona Centro bar within a bar. Hopheads make the pilgrimage to TJ just to get an early sip of this burgeoning suds scene.
1108 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas
Union Kitchen & Tap
Family-friendly, even a bit dull by day, once the sun goes down, this gastropub transforms into one of Highway 101’s most lively spots. Singles (aged roughly 20–40) enjoy matchmaking, upscale pub bites, and deal-sealing liquid courage in the form of local craft beer. This reclaimed-chic “meet” market overflows with energy and libido.
16761 Bernardo Center Drive, Rancho Bernardo
Farm-to-table food (via chef Marc Liautard), the largest tap list in North County, and a boastful list of 100 bottled beers — need I say more? Urge features an intimate bar, a private dining room, and a cozy patio, but this is not a top social spot, maybe because they close shop at midnight. Bring a friend or two and grab a stool. Bartenders can make recommendations about the overwhelming options. No rowdy drunkards or loud music, just a mix of customers and a staff that really knows its beer. August 3 is Urge’s second anniversary: there’s likely to be suds flowing off the handle and special surprises.
2103 El Cajon Boulevard, University City
This venerable bar is hitting the big two-zero this year. It’s got a little Ponce de Leon thing going on — the place has remained lovably straightforward and quintessentially blue collar while the world outside keeps on spinning.
As the longest tenured of its regular clientele can attest, the craft-beer program — intact longer than most beer bars have been in existence — has eluded the time warp, advancing with trends and remaining a local standout.
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