3175 India Street, Mission Hills
Pass the hexagon-shaped entrance and enter what is probably the hippest cocktail bar in town. It’s always possible to run into successful local artists and musicians at Starlite, but we’ll focus on the cocktails. At $9 a pop, the specialty drinks are worth it: take, for instance, the Starlite Mule, a perfect blend of Rain Organic vodka, ginger beer, lime, and Angostura bitters served in a dewy copper mug. If you want something fruitier, try the Blueberry Swizzle, made with rum, Moscato, lemon, mint, and blueberries. Should you want to get all Southern, sip down a Kentucky Colonel: Buffalo Trace bourbon, lemon, and a special house-made cherry vanilla bitters.
4642 Park Boulevard, University Heights
Tequileria of El Zarape
One of the few tequilerias in town is connected to El Zarape on Adams Avenue. The restaurant is a decent size, but the bar is quaint, often packed with 25 post-meal guests.
On Tequila Tuesdays, the impressive list of tequila shots is half off, and the acoustic band Cantura jams.
A popular cocktail is the Horchata Borracha, made from banana rum, horchata, agave, and cinnamon — it’s like a dessert. Also try the Picosito, jalapeño-infused tequila, lime juice, and agave. The Spicy Mango (Corona Rita) has an upside-down Corona sticking out of the drink — very flavorful, even toward the end, when the Corona becomes the main ingredient.
7091 El Cajon Boulevard, La Mesa
Terra American Bistro
This is exactly what you’d expect from a Hillcrest bistro that moved to East County, converted a family-style restaurant into a clean and simple dining space, then started serving house-infused spirits at the U-shaped bar. So, yeah, there’s X-Games bike-jumping on the TV and a friendlier, more all-comers vibe than you find at some drinkeries, but there’s also lemon-basil vodka in your Basil Martini and coffee-vanilla bourbon mixing with crème de cacao and a dollop of half and half in your Bourbon Whip (think pleasingly bitter cocoa). The list changes with the seasons. Terra is, however, a restaurant first, so don’t come looking for late-night libations.
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