Nothing enhances the flavors of nibbles and sips like fresh air, sunshine, and blue skies. Fortunately for us, it’s not hard to find these extra special ingredients.
350 University Avenue, Hillcrest
On an ideal day of dining al fresco, I’d begin early with my partner in everything (my husband David) at Bread and Cie (350 University Avenue). We perch on the sidewalk patio, overlooking the colorful Hillcrest happenings at one of its more bustling intersections. David orders whichever quiche is available (ham and cheese, veggie, etc.). I choose either a soft slice of jalapeño cheese bread or the Croque Americaine, a breakfast panini filled with sliced egg, bacon, tomato, watercress, and pepper jack cheese. If my sister Jane is able to join us, she’d most certainly get the cheese plate, comprising a generous triangle of brie (stuffed with a mixture of apples, onions, and walnuts) a hunk or two of French baguette, and refreshingly cool grapes. Rarely do we leave without grabbing one of those raspberry almond cookies to share.
675 W. Beech Street, Little Italy
After running errands and answering emails (or, on a good day, spending a few hours strolling around Balboa Park or Seaport Village, playing tourist), David and I seek out a seat in the shade, which is easy to find at Craft & Commerce (675 W. Beech Street). Something about the friendly attitude of the staff and the decor’s focus on words (be they painted on the citrus-green booths or in the books that populate several shelves) slows time and deepens breaths. As does an Eastern Prospector, my go-to fortifying bevvy, with tea-infused bourbon, orange spice, honey, and lemon. If we know there is soon to be more food in our future, David and I will keep lunch on the lighter side by sharing the mini corn dogs and grilled-shrimp tacos or one of the salads, such as the Citrus Avocado (citrus supremes, greens, avocado, jicama, goat cheese, almonds, citrus vinaigrette).
4020 Goldfinch Street, Mission Hills
Ah, happy hour. I prefer a place that starts early — chances are, if I had a drink at lunch, I won’t be doing any more work for the day, so I might as well keep the relaxation and revelry going. First, at 3 p.m., is Patio on Goldfinch (4020 Goldfinch). This patio is particularly dog-friendly, so bring your own or do like me and visit with other people’s furry friends. Drinks are half-off, and a special menu offers tempting tidbits such as the vegetarian flatbread (a combination of roasted-garlic sauce, mozzarella, spinach, caramelized onions, sun-dried tomato, and goat cheese) or, on the lighter side, the seasonal mushrooms sautéed with garlic, herbs, and marsala wine.
1655 India Street, Little Italy
From there we return to Little Italy to meet up with friends on the back patio of Davanti Enoteca (1655 India Street), where we can relax beside a giant, deceptively realistic faux olive tree embroidered with twinkling white lights. The must-share item here is the focaccia di Recco with honeycomb: thin sheets of soft, baked bread sandwiching warm ricotta-style cheese, the perfect bite to accompany either the $7 martini or $6 glass of wine.
3175 India Street, Mission Hills
When it comes to dinner, it’s all about mood. If we’re looking for casual and convivial — and a high probability of running into friends — we head to Starlite (3175 India Street), home to one of my favorite burgers in town and an extensive selection of top-shelf liquors, which David drinks straight but I imbibe in the form of a Kentucky Colonel (think Dark and Stormy with bourbon) or Holly Golightly (a Manhattan made with High West Western Oat whiskey, sapling maple liqueur, Angostura bitters, and Carpano Antica vermouth).
2820 Roosevelt Road, NTC Promenade, Liberty Station
If I want a more intimate, romantic evening, I turn west toward Solare Ristorante (2820 Roosevelt Road, Liberty Station), where the candles are lit, the lights are low, the wine selection is extensive, and the pasta is made fresh daily. Here, sitting on the same patio upon which Tom Cruise once strutted during the filming of Top Gun, I can sip wine and watch the lights coming on in the distance downtown.
1451 Washington Street, University Heights
2929 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill
After dinner, we’d take an unhurried stroll, preferably along the water. If I find myself craving a little something for dessert, we’ll go to Great Maple (1451 Washington Street) for a maple-bacon doughnut, whose salty-sweet notes makes it oh-so-satisfying.
Or, if we’re out on the late side, we’ll pull up a chair outside at Extraordinary Desserts (2929 Fifth Avenue) and wind down with a cup of tea and a plate of whatever creative confection suits our fancy.
Breakfast: Queenstown Public House (1557 Columbia Street, Little Italy)
Lunch: Tofu House (4646 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa)
Cocktails: Lion’s Share (629 Kettner Boulevard, downtown)
Dinner: Wine Vault & Bistro (3731 India Street, Middletown)
Dessert: Gelato Vero Caffe (3753 India Street, Middletown)