Pan-seared salmon with stir fried vegetables
Count me among the many thousands of young transplants who, upon first arriving in San Diego, took a look around the city, and all it has to offer, and decided to settle first in Ocean Beach. And why not? It’s got instant access to the sandy beaches that lured us here, with kook friendly surf for those determined to start. There are scenic cliffs to stroll, lively bars serving cheap, potent cocktails, and an endless influx of quirky people to watch. For all the same reasons, someone like me might move into OB and for months or years at a time never see any reason to leave the neighborhood.
1830 Sunset Cliffs Blvd Suite E, San Diego
What eventually drew me away from the beach was food. The neighborhood is set for burgers and tacos, has a bona fide institution in Poma's Italian Deli, and thanks to the recent years arrival of Blue Water Seafood, can satisfy most fish cravings. But, while tourists might line up for Hodad’s, there aren’t legitimately exciting meals to be had.
It’s as though restaurants in the area know they have a captive audience, so they don’t rock the boat by deviating from the usual. I just get the feeling that, given the choice, long-time Obecians will choose the same ho hum meal they’ve ordered from the same cherished place they’ve loyally patronized for years, rather than take their palates on a culinary adventure.
That’s probably why I took notice of a new spot that opened on Sunset Cliffs Boulevard earlier this year: Starfish Filipino Eatery. San Diego’s actually blessed with a greater breadth of Filipino restaurants than most American cities, but they tend to cluster around neighborhoods with higher concentrations of Filipino Americans, such as National City and Mira Mesa. Though we food writer types tend to seek them out, and share the experiences, descriptions of some traditional Filipino dishes too often keep non-adventurous eaters at bay.
Starfish Filipino Cuisine opened in Ocean Beach during the pandemic.
For example, I checked out an emerging Filipino restaurant a few years ago, and wound up trying balut: a fertilized duck egg that tasted like a cross between hard boiled egg and pâté. I quite enjoyed it, but didn’t wind up writing about it, out of concern sharing photos of a boiled duck embryo could turn people off to Filipino food forever.
However, that is not a concern I have about recommending Starfish. Its promise of “modern Philippine cuisine” is so well aligned with Obecian tastes that it offers a vegan menu. I won’t pretend I enjoyed vegetable lumpia more than Starfish’s conventional beef and pork version, or that most won’t refer the eatery’s “special” lumpia, which adds shrimp. But the egg roll-like fried wrap filled instead with minced mushrooms, cabbage, water chestnut, carrots, and green beans? Still pretty darn addictive.
Lumpia is almost always the best thing on the menu, vegan or otherwise.
Starfish is still pretty new, and it did open in the middle of a pandemic, so its menu still doesn’t feel complete. For that matter, it has yet to offer dine-in seating — a reminder that, despite easing restrictions that allow indoor dining again, some restaurants still have too small a footprint to make 50-percent capacity work.
But, now is a great time for Obecians to check its take-out menu for some Filipino greatest hits. For example, the stir-fried noodle and vegetable dish pancit provides a tasty introduction to Filipino food. Meanwhile, meat eaters should try some adobo. It’s the best known non-lumpia dish of Filipino cuisine, and Starfish makes it as either a chicken, pork, or boiled egg dish. I ordered a combo of all three, and though it wasn’t as spicy or vinegary as most adobos I’ve tried, it was savory and satisfying, especially when I ate some with a bit of garlic fried rice.
Chicken, pork, and egg adobo may not be pretty, but would provide a satisfying post-surf meal.
I had a similar experience with the pritong salmon. They pan-seared the fish with skin on, and the crackling texture nearly imparted more to the brightly colored fish than its light seasoning. Served with a colorful mix of stir fried vegetables, it was another OB-friendly dish — tasty, sumptuous, and easy to like. Give Starfish a few years, and it will likely become another beloved mainstay for a new generation of incoming Obecians, who may find themselves altogether running out of reasons to head inland.