Quantcast
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs

Ten great dishes (and the places that served them)

Ian Pike swooned over the “Ants on a log” at Swoon Dessert Bar.
Ian Pike swooned over the “Ants on a log” at Swoon Dessert Bar.

For this list, I have decided to use not great restaurants but great dishes. It gets a handle on ten local restaurants by looking at some of the best individual dishes I’ve eaten in the past year or so.

Place

Jin's Grill

3445 Midway Drive, San Diego

Cheesesteak at Jin’s Grill

Tour de Cheesesteak commandeered a huge amount of my time, energy, and willpower last year. In my eyes, Jin’s emerged victorious as the king of cheesesteak sandwiches in San Diego. It may be a random, Sports Arena hole-in-the-wall where lettuce comes standard on the Philly sandwich, but hot damn does Jin grill up one heck of a sando! The fact that practically nobody has ever even heard of the place makes it all the more mysterious. How does something this good slip under everyone’s radar? Maybe because nobody wants to bash his car over Midway potholes for a cheesesteak. Oh yeah, Jin grills chicken, burgers, and pastrami, too. All cheap, all rad.

Place

Lofty Coffee Co.

90 North Coast Highway 101 #214, Encinitas

Turkish Latte at Lofty Bean

Cardamom is one of the trickiest spices to use right. Overdone, it tastes of soap and nightmares, but a perfect touch with cardamom can take any dish into excelsior territory. Lofty Bean’s baristas — certified coffee dorks to a perfectly coiffed north county soul — manage to marry the Italian classiness of a perfect latte with the spicy kick in the junk of Turkish coffee. Of course, the rest of the coffee shop’s offerings make coffee snobs drool with envy. Single origin espressi and pour overs, Kyoto process iced coffee, and $2 French presses for those who eschew expensive java. I never pass through Encinitas without stopping at Lofty Bean.

Place

Sushi Tadokoro

2244 San Diego Avenue, San Diego

Zuke Tuna at Sushi Tadokoro

Describing great Edo-style sushi demands exactitude, which fits such simple and perfect food. Tadokoro’s zuke tuna — akami marinated in soy sauce and served with a fermented pepper instead of wasabi — contains more flavor in one $3 bite than any overblown sushi roll smothered in eel sauce and fried crunchies could even hope for. Every other piece of sushi at this cozy, poorly located, old-school sushi bar is a miniature work of art. Anyone wanting a hands-on (seriously...put down the chopsticks!) education in sushi can get one the old-fashioned way at Tadokoro. Just forget the price, belly up to the sushi bar, and start ordering.

Swoon's "Ants on a Log"

“Ants on a Log” at Swoon Dessert Bar

Yeah, maybe they no longer even have the “ants on a log” at North Park’s unexpectedly brilliant dessert bar, but the combination of celery ganache/granita, rum raisins, and peanut butter “dust” blew my mind wide open for less than ten bucks. Rest assured, everything else at Swoon represents a melding of inspiration and execution fit for fine dining. These desserts warrant Michelin stars (which they will never receive due to the unfairness of the world), and I would be hard-pressed to think of a better place to take a date for great coffee or tea and a slice of deconstructed cake.

Place

Punjabi Tandoor

9235 Activity Road #111, San Diego

Pickled Limes at Punjabi Tandoor

Socked away in a Miramar industrial park, Punjabi Tandoor has some of the best northern Indian curry dishes around. But the restaurant also had some of the best pickle I’ve ever had. The best dish in all of Indian food, by huge leaps and bounds, is the pickle. The salty, oily, fermented fruits and veggies are one of the world’s great palate wallopers. The briny, spicy burn of good pickle is the perfect counterpoint to rich curries, and Punjabi Tandoor put a huge pot of lime pickle (laced with carraway seeds) out for the taking. Also, get the chicken tikka. Not chicken tikka masala. Big difference. The former is way better, and, wrapped in a piece of naan bread with a chunk of pickle resting in there to zip things up, it’s one of San Diego’s best bites of Indian food.

Place

Aquí es Texcoco

520 Broadway number 5 and 6, Chula Vista

Pulque at Aqui es Texcoco

I seldom get to feel like an Aztec nobleman. It’s one of the downfalls of the guero lifestyle. That said, drinking pulque (fermented agave sap) at Chula Vista’s premier lamb barbacoa joint gave me a chance to connect, gustatorially, with the pipiltin. I realize that’s a pretty tenuous link, but pulque is damn tasty and Aqui es Texcoco is the only place to get it. They serve it straight up, or prepared with fruit and nut flavors. The taste is one of a kind, musty and fermented, sour and sweet, and it goes well with the lamb plates that have given Aqui es Texcoco its deserved reputation. Those lamb plates, by the by, are a masterwork of build-your-own-taco deliciousness.

Surf n’ Turf Burger at Sherman’s Shack

Sherman's Shack, 549 25th Street, Grant Hill

Midwesterners talk lovingly of “Juicy Loosey” burgers, i.e. hamburger patties stuffed with cheese before grilling. Sherman’s Shack takes that to the next level and beyond, stuffing a “surf n’ turf” burger with shrimp and cream cheese. They also fill burgers with bacon, cheddar, and pulled pork; or maybe blue cheese, mushrooms, and onions; depending on one’s whimsy. The other thing that Sherman’s gets right is charging a reasonable price for a burger (about ten bucks) and including the fries, rather than surreptitiously driving the price skywards with “additions” to a bare hamburger. The tacos at Sherman’s are also pretty good, but it’s that burger full of shrimp that keeps me coming back.

Place

Paris Bakery

4481 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego

Banh Mi at Paris Bakery

Just thinking about Vietnamese sandwiches makes my head swim. The way the ultra-crunchy bread crust yields to chewy crumb. The tangy mayonnaise and savory meats that wait inside. The pickled veggies and fresh herbs. Banh mi are special, and the Paris Bakery is the king of banh mi. Until recently, the bakery had a vaguely sketchy, bulletproof store on El Cajon Boulevard. The storefront just moved across and up the street a bit, to a shinier second location, but the sandwiches are still the best and the “buy 3, get 1 free” deal still encourages eating lots of amazing banh mi. Pork, chicken, egg. Whatever. All delicious.

Place

Pizzeria Luigi

2121 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego

Place

Pizzeria Luigi

1137 25th Street, San Diego

Ricotta Pies at Pizzeria Luigi

Luigi’s pizza gets it done with thin crust, minimal grease, and a bevy of delicious toppings. But the best slices are the ones with huge globs of ricotta cheese on top, and the best of the ricotta pies is the slice with jalapenos and pineapple alongside the creamy ricotta. Something about the combination of sweet/creamy/spicy toppings just rocks my socks. Being able to get everything as a slice, with a cup of soda or a beer for a nominal extra charge, just ices the cake.

Place

Duck Dive

4650 Mission Boulevard, San Diego

Duck Fat Fries at Duck Dive

Most beach bars make a living serving up beer and sugary cocktails to collegiate drinking machines. There’s no harm in that. I’m certainly not one to scoff at a bit of recreational drinking and whomping out to loud-assed club jams. But I don’t usually head to Pacific Beach looking for a tasty meal. That said, Duck Dive’s french fries, fried in honest-to-goodness duck fat, are off the chain. There is no more sacred medium in all of frying than duck fat. “Liquid gold” imparts a mysterious, savory goodness to something as lowly as a potato. All of Duck Dive’s surprisingly extensive menu is better than average beach bar food, but the duck fat fries are worth a special trip. After that, order some sterno-powered S’mores for the table. You’re in a huge P.B. bar. That counts as dinner!

Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all

Previous article

De Anza Cove terrorized, La Jolla Cove cesspool, doomed life in Eastlake, South vs North Park, displaced persons in City Heights

Quirky San Diego neighborhoods
Ian Pike swooned over the “Ants on a log” at Swoon Dessert Bar.
Ian Pike swooned over the “Ants on a log” at Swoon Dessert Bar.

For this list, I have decided to use not great restaurants but great dishes. It gets a handle on ten local restaurants by looking at some of the best individual dishes I’ve eaten in the past year or so.

Place

Jin's Grill

3445 Midway Drive, San Diego

Cheesesteak at Jin’s Grill

Tour de Cheesesteak commandeered a huge amount of my time, energy, and willpower last year. In my eyes, Jin’s emerged victorious as the king of cheesesteak sandwiches in San Diego. It may be a random, Sports Arena hole-in-the-wall where lettuce comes standard on the Philly sandwich, but hot damn does Jin grill up one heck of a sando! The fact that practically nobody has ever even heard of the place makes it all the more mysterious. How does something this good slip under everyone’s radar? Maybe because nobody wants to bash his car over Midway potholes for a cheesesteak. Oh yeah, Jin grills chicken, burgers, and pastrami, too. All cheap, all rad.

Place

Lofty Coffee Co.

90 North Coast Highway 101 #214, Encinitas

Turkish Latte at Lofty Bean

Cardamom is one of the trickiest spices to use right. Overdone, it tastes of soap and nightmares, but a perfect touch with cardamom can take any dish into excelsior territory. Lofty Bean’s baristas — certified coffee dorks to a perfectly coiffed north county soul — manage to marry the Italian classiness of a perfect latte with the spicy kick in the junk of Turkish coffee. Of course, the rest of the coffee shop’s offerings make coffee snobs drool with envy. Single origin espressi and pour overs, Kyoto process iced coffee, and $2 French presses for those who eschew expensive java. I never pass through Encinitas without stopping at Lofty Bean.

Place

Sushi Tadokoro

2244 San Diego Avenue, San Diego

Zuke Tuna at Sushi Tadokoro

Describing great Edo-style sushi demands exactitude, which fits such simple and perfect food. Tadokoro’s zuke tuna — akami marinated in soy sauce and served with a fermented pepper instead of wasabi — contains more flavor in one $3 bite than any overblown sushi roll smothered in eel sauce and fried crunchies could even hope for. Every other piece of sushi at this cozy, poorly located, old-school sushi bar is a miniature work of art. Anyone wanting a hands-on (seriously...put down the chopsticks!) education in sushi can get one the old-fashioned way at Tadokoro. Just forget the price, belly up to the sushi bar, and start ordering.

Swoon's "Ants on a Log"

“Ants on a Log” at Swoon Dessert Bar

Yeah, maybe they no longer even have the “ants on a log” at North Park’s unexpectedly brilliant dessert bar, but the combination of celery ganache/granita, rum raisins, and peanut butter “dust” blew my mind wide open for less than ten bucks. Rest assured, everything else at Swoon represents a melding of inspiration and execution fit for fine dining. These desserts warrant Michelin stars (which they will never receive due to the unfairness of the world), and I would be hard-pressed to think of a better place to take a date for great coffee or tea and a slice of deconstructed cake.

Place

Punjabi Tandoor

9235 Activity Road #111, San Diego

Pickled Limes at Punjabi Tandoor

Socked away in a Miramar industrial park, Punjabi Tandoor has some of the best northern Indian curry dishes around. But the restaurant also had some of the best pickle I’ve ever had. The best dish in all of Indian food, by huge leaps and bounds, is the pickle. The salty, oily, fermented fruits and veggies are one of the world’s great palate wallopers. The briny, spicy burn of good pickle is the perfect counterpoint to rich curries, and Punjabi Tandoor put a huge pot of lime pickle (laced with carraway seeds) out for the taking. Also, get the chicken tikka. Not chicken tikka masala. Big difference. The former is way better, and, wrapped in a piece of naan bread with a chunk of pickle resting in there to zip things up, it’s one of San Diego’s best bites of Indian food.

Place

Aquí es Texcoco

520 Broadway number 5 and 6, Chula Vista

Pulque at Aqui es Texcoco

I seldom get to feel like an Aztec nobleman. It’s one of the downfalls of the guero lifestyle. That said, drinking pulque (fermented agave sap) at Chula Vista’s premier lamb barbacoa joint gave me a chance to connect, gustatorially, with the pipiltin. I realize that’s a pretty tenuous link, but pulque is damn tasty and Aqui es Texcoco is the only place to get it. They serve it straight up, or prepared with fruit and nut flavors. The taste is one of a kind, musty and fermented, sour and sweet, and it goes well with the lamb plates that have given Aqui es Texcoco its deserved reputation. Those lamb plates, by the by, are a masterwork of build-your-own-taco deliciousness.

Surf n’ Turf Burger at Sherman’s Shack

Sherman's Shack, 549 25th Street, Grant Hill

Midwesterners talk lovingly of “Juicy Loosey” burgers, i.e. hamburger patties stuffed with cheese before grilling. Sherman’s Shack takes that to the next level and beyond, stuffing a “surf n’ turf” burger with shrimp and cream cheese. They also fill burgers with bacon, cheddar, and pulled pork; or maybe blue cheese, mushrooms, and onions; depending on one’s whimsy. The other thing that Sherman’s gets right is charging a reasonable price for a burger (about ten bucks) and including the fries, rather than surreptitiously driving the price skywards with “additions” to a bare hamburger. The tacos at Sherman’s are also pretty good, but it’s that burger full of shrimp that keeps me coming back.

Place

Paris Bakery

4481 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego

Banh Mi at Paris Bakery

Just thinking about Vietnamese sandwiches makes my head swim. The way the ultra-crunchy bread crust yields to chewy crumb. The tangy mayonnaise and savory meats that wait inside. The pickled veggies and fresh herbs. Banh mi are special, and the Paris Bakery is the king of banh mi. Until recently, the bakery had a vaguely sketchy, bulletproof store on El Cajon Boulevard. The storefront just moved across and up the street a bit, to a shinier second location, but the sandwiches are still the best and the “buy 3, get 1 free” deal still encourages eating lots of amazing banh mi. Pork, chicken, egg. Whatever. All delicious.

Place

Pizzeria Luigi

2121 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego

Place

Pizzeria Luigi

1137 25th Street, San Diego

Ricotta Pies at Pizzeria Luigi

Luigi’s pizza gets it done with thin crust, minimal grease, and a bevy of delicious toppings. But the best slices are the ones with huge globs of ricotta cheese on top, and the best of the ricotta pies is the slice with jalapenos and pineapple alongside the creamy ricotta. Something about the combination of sweet/creamy/spicy toppings just rocks my socks. Being able to get everything as a slice, with a cup of soda or a beer for a nominal extra charge, just ices the cake.

Place

Duck Dive

4650 Mission Boulevard, San Diego

Duck Fat Fries at Duck Dive

Most beach bars make a living serving up beer and sugary cocktails to collegiate drinking machines. There’s no harm in that. I’m certainly not one to scoff at a bit of recreational drinking and whomping out to loud-assed club jams. But I don’t usually head to Pacific Beach looking for a tasty meal. That said, Duck Dive’s french fries, fried in honest-to-goodness duck fat, are off the chain. There is no more sacred medium in all of frying than duck fat. “Liquid gold” imparts a mysterious, savory goodness to something as lowly as a potato. All of Duck Dive’s surprisingly extensive menu is better than average beach bar food, but the duck fat fries are worth a special trip. After that, order some sterno-powered S’mores for the table. You’re in a huge P.B. bar. That counts as dinner!

Sponsored
Here's something you might be interested in.
Submit a free classified
or view all
Previous article

Pondering the ice cube in my Rusty Nail

I think my grandpa’s friends used to drink them at the Elk’s Lodge
Next Article

Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego’s biennial Art Auction, La Mesa Oktoberfest, Keep Rockin’ Fest

Events October 1-October 3, 2020
Comments
2

Three of these places sound like where I'll have my next meals. If I could only stop drooling on the computer

Sept. 8, 2013

Dinner's thirty minutes away. Mr. Wolf will be there in ten!

Sept. 9, 2013

Sign in to comment

Sign in

Art Reviews — W.S. Di Piero's eye on exhibits Ask a Hipster — Advice you didn't know you needed Best Buys — San Diego shopping Big Screen — Movie commentary Blurt — Music's inside track Booze News — San Diego spirits City Lights — News and politics Classical Music — Immortal beauty Classifieds — Free and easy Cover Stories — Front-page features Excerpts — Literary and spiritual excerpts Famous Former Neighbors — Next-door celebs Feast! — Food & drink reviews Feature Stories — Local news & stories From the Archives — Spotlight on the past Golden Dreams — Talk of the town Here's the Deal — Chad Deal's watering holes Just Announced — The scoop on shows Letters — Our inbox [email protected] — Local movie buffs share favorites Movie Reviews — Our critics' picks and pans Musician Interviews — Up close with local artists Neighborhood News from Stringers — Hyperlocal news News Ticker — News & politics Obermeyer — San Diego politics illustrated Of Note — Concert picks Out & About — What's Happening Overheard in San Diego — Eavesdropping illustrated Poetry — The old and the new Pour Over — Grab a cup Reader Travel — Travel section built by travelers Reading — The hunt for intellectuals Roam-O-Rama — SoCal's best hiking/biking trails San Diego Beer — Inside San Diego suds SD on the QT — Almost factual news Set 'em Up Joe — Bartenders' drink recipes Sheep and Goats — Places of worship Special Issues — The best of Sports — Athletics without gush Street Style — San Diego streets have style Suit Up — Fashion tips for dudes Theater Reviews — Local productions Theater antireviews — Narrow your search Tin Fork — Silver spoon alternative Under the Radar — Matt Potter's undercover work Unforgettable — Long-ago San Diego Unreal Estate — San Diego's priciest pads Waterfront — All things ocean Your Week — Daily event picks
4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
Close