San Diego Symphony's second night of the Masterworks season showcased the power of place and personality
Garrett Harris noon, Oct. 13
I've been meaning to get started writing a blog about cool places around San Diego (and perhaps elsewhere) that I've visited. It is finally time people.
My first "real" entry is going to be a review of Hill Street Cafe in Oceanside. You can find this charming Victorian mansion converted to a restaurant/coffee shop/art gallery at 524 South Coast Highway, which is on the 101 between Washington and Minnesota Avenues.
I've been to Hill Street Cafe once before, but it was just a quick drop in to get some coffee. Even so, the style and decor made an indelible impression on my brain. I've been back twice since - once for dinner and another time to hang out, work, and surf the web.
Parking is behind the cafe... there are several spots, but I imagine on a busy day you might have to park somewhere on one of the residential streets and walk. It won't be far tho and our weather always rocks so doesn't matter. For pete's sake don't park in the lot next to the building - there are a ton of signs posted that restaurant parkers will be towed! They look like they mean it!
There's lots of seating on the patio - at least five large tables - and they have heaters for the cooler nights. It's a bit of a maze to find the front counter (especially if you're coming from the parking lot out back), but just follow your nose to the coffee...
There are two floors - downstairs is the cafe and restaurant. Upstairs they have an "art gallery" spread across three rooms (obviously used to be bedrooms when it was a house) and tables in each. One room has three smaller tables and overlooks Hwy 101, the other two rooms have one large dining room table each (probably from Craigslist!) with several seats around. Lots of windows in each room so it's not claustrophobic, and I've never seen so many plugs for computers. This was a real plus! I can imagine this place gets full with students during the college season.
The art is for sale, but not my taste so I can't really give an opinion on that. The only thing I would do to improve upstairs is to remove one of the large tables from a room and put comfy chairs in there instead. Leave the other two rooms with the tables for the folks that need to have the laptop on something other than their lap. It would just be nice to have a choice of softer seating if you're lounging with coffee and a book.
The cafe/restaurant is spread between a small front room and an enclosed front porch that wraps around the building. There are a dozen tables at most (mostly 2-seaters), so on a busy night you may have to wait a bit. And they DO get busy. (I was there on a Sunday evening at 6:30 and it was kinda dead. No one but me upstairs and only a few diners downstairs. Friday/Saturday are a different story based on my memory from my coffee drop-in.)
Since the place is small and intimate I do not recommend it for families. Children running around would cause too much havoc in the relatively narrow hallways and dining spaces.
The night we had dinner here, I got a spearmint tea in a "for here" mug while I was waiting for my friend. The mug was nice and large, and it was only $2. I remember the coffee was relatively cheap as well.
Dinner was amazing. The menu is an average size (not extensive like a diner but not skimpy at all either). It has all healthy choices and lots of vegan-friendly fare. There's still something for everyone though as they do serve regular hamburgers/cheese burgers, and there were chicken and pasta dishes.
Prices were average to low... our whole bill for two of us only came to $20. We split a bowl of the yam soup and an entree of chicken teriyaki (my friend and I are not big eaters). He had hot tea as well, and we shared a piece of cheesecake for dessert. Figure double the price if you're used to two people each ordering their own entrees with an appetizer, a beverage, and dessert.
The food was really tasty - full of flavor. The yam soup was spicy, but not overwhelming, and the teriyaki chicken was definitely yummy. The cheesecake was a good-sized piece and the only way to improve it would've been to have the option of a fruity topping (which they made have done if I'd asked, but I didn't think to).
The service was fast (but then we were there at an off-peak time), and friendly. The waiter was very attentive (if a bit shy), and the guy who was obviously in charge (Parker I think I heard someone call him?) even came over to see how our dinner was. Overall, some very nice employees working there!
The only way I would improve on the experience is if there were some soft seating upstairs for us literary buffs. I know their primary business is as a restaurant, but if you're going to include a coffee-shop-type area, I believe it's appropriate to offer a relaxing option to peruse dead trees with ink in addition to the "geek seating."
The place gets an A+ in my book, and I will definitely be back repeatedly since they're open until 9pm most nights. Next time you find yourself wandering Oceanside in need of a tasty beverage or fine dining fare, be sure to check out the lovely experience of Hill Street Cafe.