If you’re among the growing number of people who, like me, work from home, chances are there have been days when you’ve emerged from your den of productivity in search of sustenance, only to find that your favorite corner café was closed. Most restaurants cater to nine-to-fivers, whose lunchtimes fit neatly between 12 and 2 p.m. But just because you might not be ready for a break until the blue hour (the not-quite lunchtime, but not-yet dinner period), doesn’t mean you have to rely on drive-thrus and grocery-store deli counters. Here’s a roundup of eateries that are open when you, the hardworking foodie freelancer, need them to be.
3950 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest
Snooze, an A.M. Eatery
This breakfast-centric bistro is open at 6:30 a.m. every day of the week to greet you with an elaborate latte or a restorative cocktail such as the Hound Dog, with citrus vodka, grapefruit juice, and raspberry liqueur. After you select whether you want to be bright-eyed or buzzed, choose from an array of re-imagined breakfast classics, from the savory Breakfast Pot Pie (with house-made rosemary sausage) or Chilaquiles Benedict (carne asada atop a “cheesy, saucy, tortilla stack,” Niman Ranch eggs, smoked cheddar hollandaise, fresh salsa, and cotija cheese) to the sweet and oh-so-decadent Pineapple Upside Down Pancakes or Sweet Potato Pancakes topped with house-made caramel, pecans, and ginger butter. Bonus: you don’t have to feed the meters until 8 a.m.
3795 Mission Blvd., Mission Beach | 2801 University Ave., North Park | 1250 J St., East Village | themissionsd.com
Hip, urban, and with three locations from the shore to downtown, the Mission is open by 7 a.m., which makes it a great go-to for early-morning meetings with “conscientious cuisine.” My favorite dish is the Breakfast Burritos — two tamale-sized egg-and-cheese burritos served on a plate with black beans. But no visit is complete without a bite of a strawberry, banana, and granola pancake (if you can’t handle a stack, you can order just one pancake to share). Other sure-fire dishes are the Mission Rosemary (crispy rosemary potatoes, scrambled eggs, rosemary bread) and the Zen Breakfast (egg whites, tofu, brown rice, grilled veggies, and a savory tamari-based sauce).
1220 University Avenue, Hillcrest
While most restaurants are wrapping up from lunch and prepping for dinner between 2 and 5 p.m., the gregarious girls (and boys) at Gossip Grill are waiting to welcome the afternoon strays. As you sip one of the flavorful cocktails, you’ll be entertained by the menu’s flirty double entendres. My favorite flatbread is the Italian Stallion, with sweet sausage, big hunks of peppers in the sauce, provolone cheese, and basil. The grilled asparagus is simple but satisfying (it’s a side, but I always get it as an appetizer). Another fun small plate to share is the Happy Dogs, which are veggie dogs wrapped in puff pastry with brie cheese.
2608 S. Escondido Boulevard, Escondido
Hacienda de Vega
The best time to visit this tranquil oasis is late afternoon on a weekday, just as the sun begins to relent. Beat the happy-hour crowd by arriving at 3 or 4 p.m. and ordering the best margarita in the county (that’s right, I’m calling it), the Hacienda Margarita — a refreshing, spicy concoction containing tamarindo and a hunk of fresh jicama, served in a chili-salt rimmed glass. Sit back and listen to the relaxing sound of water cascading off the roof of the hacienda and into a small pond. Little birds scampering through potted plants and walls of violet bougainvillea only add to the wonderment and the Hacienda’s Mexico City–influenced menu never disappoints.
1851 Bacon Street, Ocean Beach
Raglan Public House
I’m beginning to think that it’s illegal to display a time-keeping device in Ocean Beach. At any time from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day, you can stroll into this upscale burger bar inspired by New Zealand’s “unique culture and friendly attitude.” The monstrous burgers are made with 100 percent grass-fed beef, and feature exotic topping combos, as with the Sheilas Cracked (topped with fried egg, edam cheese, and beetroot). Sit outside, nibble on some Kumara fries (sweet-potato fries with blue cheese), enjoy a beer or creative cocktail, and observe OBceans in their native habitat.
The Kebab Shop
630 Ninth Avenue, Downtown San Diego | 9450 Mira Mesa Blvd., Mira Mesa | 127 N. El Camino Real #127E, Encinitas | 303 W. Beech Street, Little Italy kebabshop.com
When you don’t have time for a beer and a sit-down — when you’re just escaping your work cocoon for a late-afternoon bite — the Kebab Shop delivers. I mean, well, they don’t deliver, at least not in a pizza way. For when you want good food fast, try a Döner Kebab. The marinated chicken has a delightful sweetness. But my favorite is the falafel version, crispy meatball-sized falafel balls, mixed veggies and garlic yogurt sauce, all swathed in a soft flatbread. For even speedier service, you can order online.
2632 University Avenue, North Park
Carnitas Snack Shack
Named for the owners’ beloved pet mini pig, Carnitas, the shack is exceptionally pork-centric. The menu (ten items written on the chalkboard outside) changes daily, depending on what’s fresh at the farmers’ markets that day. Open till midnight, and now with an expanded patio, the shack provides perfect post-drink nosh fare, such as the Pork Belly Hash Burrito or the triple pork sandwich (breaded pork schnitzel, pulled pork, and bacon, with pickle relish and shack aioli). Vegetarians are not entirely forgotten — there’s always at least one meat-free dish, such as the Stuffed Tomato (potato, onion, corn, carrot, zucchini, and more).
4681 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa
Tucked into the corner of a small strip mall on Convoy Street, this Japanese joint has some of the best ramen in town, and it’s open until at least 2:30 a.m. Sunday through Wednesday; till 3 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. The bowl I order time and again is Ground Pork, with the thin-cut noodle and spicy Tajima Original (tonkotsu) broth. For a satisfying meal, add a takana (Japanese spicy pickled leaves) rice ball, which bursts with flavor.
3900 Fifth Avenue, Hillcrest
Saigon on Fifth
After dancing all night, don’t fill up on a giant bean burrito — instead, cap off your evening with fine Vietnamese cuisine. Open until 3 a.m. every night, Saigon on Fifth offers classics (fresh spring rolls, all kinds of pho) and toothsome specialties, such as Creamy Basil Fish, Clay Pot Fish (sea bass or salmon cooked and caramelized in a clay pot), Smoked Oyster Omelette (smoked oyster, ground pork, onion, vermicelli, dried mushroom), and the just-as-fun-to-look-at-as-it-is-to-eat Saigon Love Boat. ■
More Feast 2012: Spirit of Family Dinnertime | More Than Dish or Deal | Accessible Gourmet | Lunchtime in Kearny Mesa | Fried Chicken | Restaurants to Try At Least Once