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Puesto

1026 Wall Street, La Jolla

Puesto
I’m instantly skeptical when I hear about restaurateurs looking to improve on Mexican street food. How do you improve on perfection? In the case of this recent addition to the Jewel, they give patrons the ability to build their own street taco or bowl using a plethora of boldly flavored proteins (chicken al pastor, grilled salmon, potato soy chorizo) and delicacies such as cactus, zucchini flowers, and, one of my personal faves, huitlacoche (fungus extracted from ears of corn). The sky’s the limit, but the best things about Puesto’s tacos are the griddled discs of cheese with which they line their tortillas.

The Smoking Goat

3408 30th Street, North Park

The Smoking Goat
There’s nothing like walking into a room redolent with the scent of duck-fat-fried taters. It’s an olfactory amuse bouche that primes my stomach for a tasty meal — something I can always count on at this gem. Those odoriferous frites taste as good as they smell — so much, I order them every time before moving on to smart, succinct dishes such as escargot au gratin, grilled-watermelon-and-burrata salad, roasted bone marrow, or smoked-tomato risotto. I always bring friends so I can enjoy as many plates as possible. Getting in can be tough, but it should be for someplace this good.

True Food Kitchen

7007 Friars Road, Suite 394, Mission Valley

True Food Kitchen
Like mother, like son? Not so much for chef Nathan Coulon. His mom’s known for decadent desserts, but he’s making a name for himself and his recently opened link in the True Food chain behind truly fine healthful fare. Tasty dishes like a barbecue tofu banh mi wrap, edamame dumplings, and panang curry with tofu provide superb options for a wholesome, vegan, or gluten-free night off from San Diego’s heavy upscale burgers, comfort food, and pub grub. Throw in a dining room that’s far more stylish and comfy than most mall restos, and it’s no wonder it’s mobbed most nights.

Urban Solace

3823 30th Street, North Park

Urban Solace
Matt Gordon’s Southern comfort cuisine embraces my palate every time. Love and calories are served up in heaping portions via rich dishes, such as blue cheese–based duck-a-roni, perfectly cooked barbecue-glazed pork belly, and bacon-bolstered lamb meatloaf with figs — gourmet flavors condensed into a down-home slice of mmm-mmm goodness. Bluegrass brunch (regularly cited as one of, if not the best in the city) is the most convincing reason to spend Sunday morning — my most optimal writing window of the week — playing hooky with a spirited eye-opener and a warm, enormous cinnamon roll on Solace’s New Orleans–style patio.

URGE American Gastropub

16761 Bernardo Center Drive, Rancho Bernardo

Urge Gastropub
When I lived in Rancho Bernardo, I told anyone who’d listen, “If someone opens a craft-beer restaurant here, they’ll clean up.” I love being right. This North County spot bustles with an energy that’s off the charts for this quiet community. Ranchers and visitors alike are drawn by a massive selection of beers — including upper-echelon selections only places devoted to craft suds can procure — as well as reimagined homey dishes paced by mac ’n’ cheese bites, chicken and waffles, an immensely flavorful chorizo-bolstered meatloaf, and an exotic array of burgers made with veal, rabbit, and wild boar. ■

More Feast 2012: Eats for Freelancers | Spirit of Family Dinnertime | More Than Dish or Deal | Lunchtime in Kearny Mesa | Fried Chicken | Places to Try At Least Once

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