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La Cresta Restaurant stands alone at 1600 feet

Crest’s only restaurant is a taco shop, bar, and dance club

A flying saucer tostada bowl, filled with lettuce, cheese, beans, sour cream, and grilled chicken
A flying saucer tostada bowl, filled with lettuce, cheese, beans, sour cream, and grilled chicken

As the crow flies, the unincorporated community of Crest is more than two and a half miles from the nearest freeway. In actual driving terms, it’s closer to four. And not flat miles, either, but an up and down and winding trek over the hills of East County. And when you get to La Cresta Restaurant and Caffé, that’s about how far you’ll be from the nearest dining establishment, as well.

Place

La Cresta Restaurant and Caffé

1331 La Cresta Blvd., El Cajon

Perched along the ridge of a 1600-foot peak between Alpine and El Cajon, Crest isn’t the most remote neighborhood in San Diego. But it’s still the sort of out-of-the-way place you’ll only ever find if you go there on purpose. Or with the intentional lack of purpose that fuels a meandering Sunday drive.

That’s how I found Crest, a community of around 2600 that formed from two distinct midcentury communities: Suncrest and La Cresta. The Crest Historical Society explains these two sprung up in the late 1940s after the Department of the Interior declared it one of only three places in the U.S. offering “satisfactory living conditions for persons suffering from asthma.” (Alpine and Winter Gardens were the other two).

The only dedicated restaurant in Crest, California

Strictly speaking, La Cresta Restaurant isn’t the only place serving food up here — a liquor store down the road offers take-out pizza and sandwiches from a back counter. But it remains the only dedicated sit-down restaurant. Its back room features the area’s only bar, equipped with television screens to serve as a sports bar and turntables to serve as a music venue. A bulletin board in front of the restaurant is where the community posts items for sale, jobs, or services available.

The family-owned eatery serves breakfast through dinner, daily. Like most San Diego restaurants it’s still offering a shaded, outdoor seating area assembled in its parking lot to survive pandemic restrictions. Unlike most of the county’s parklets, this one includes an expansive view of boulder-strewn hillsides and mountain peaks on the eastern horizon.

A food counter specializing in Mexican food

Crest couldn’t very well feel like a true San Diego neighborhood without a good taco shop, so it’s a boon to the community that La Cresta offers tacos in two sizes. Even better: despite the relative lack of competition, inflation hasn’t hit the remote shop too hard yet. Regular size tacos, served on six-inch corn tortillas, go for $3.35 apiece. Mini tacos, on 4-inch tortillas, go for $2.25, or three for $6.

A bar in the dining room tunes its TVs to sports; turntables make it a music venue.

Whether tacos, tortas, burritos, or plated entrees, the dishes are prepared with the usual taco shop suspects, from shredded beef to adobada. I can personally vouch for the carne asada, pollo asado, and carnitas. The carne in particular was well above average, and would have been even better with some spicier salsa. Maybe the guy behind the counter was holding out on me, but all the salsas we tried were pretty mild.

A regular, carne asada taco (front) with three carnitas mini tacos

Most memorable among the dishes we tried was the $9.25 special of the house: the flying saucer tostada. In a bowl fashioned out of a crispy, fried flour tortilla they pack in loads of shredded lettuce and cheese, plus beans, sour cream, pico de gallo, and your choice of protein. It made for an easy-to-like meal in the middle of a relaxing drive in a tucked aside part of the county still blissfully free of re-opening, weekend crowds.

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You can’t really name the spots because they are on a need-to-know basis.

“Couple of the breaks you’re not really supposed to name,”
A flying saucer tostada bowl, filled with lettuce, cheese, beans, sour cream, and grilled chicken
A flying saucer tostada bowl, filled with lettuce, cheese, beans, sour cream, and grilled chicken

As the crow flies, the unincorporated community of Crest is more than two and a half miles from the nearest freeway. In actual driving terms, it’s closer to four. And not flat miles, either, but an up and down and winding trek over the hills of East County. And when you get to La Cresta Restaurant and Caffé, that’s about how far you’ll be from the nearest dining establishment, as well.

Place

La Cresta Restaurant and Caffé

1331 La Cresta Blvd., El Cajon

Perched along the ridge of a 1600-foot peak between Alpine and El Cajon, Crest isn’t the most remote neighborhood in San Diego. But it’s still the sort of out-of-the-way place you’ll only ever find if you go there on purpose. Or with the intentional lack of purpose that fuels a meandering Sunday drive.

That’s how I found Crest, a community of around 2600 that formed from two distinct midcentury communities: Suncrest and La Cresta. The Crest Historical Society explains these two sprung up in the late 1940s after the Department of the Interior declared it one of only three places in the U.S. offering “satisfactory living conditions for persons suffering from asthma.” (Alpine and Winter Gardens were the other two).

The only dedicated restaurant in Crest, California

Strictly speaking, La Cresta Restaurant isn’t the only place serving food up here — a liquor store down the road offers take-out pizza and sandwiches from a back counter. But it remains the only dedicated sit-down restaurant. Its back room features the area’s only bar, equipped with television screens to serve as a sports bar and turntables to serve as a music venue. A bulletin board in front of the restaurant is where the community posts items for sale, jobs, or services available.

The family-owned eatery serves breakfast through dinner, daily. Like most San Diego restaurants it’s still offering a shaded, outdoor seating area assembled in its parking lot to survive pandemic restrictions. Unlike most of the county’s parklets, this one includes an expansive view of boulder-strewn hillsides and mountain peaks on the eastern horizon.

A food counter specializing in Mexican food

Crest couldn’t very well feel like a true San Diego neighborhood without a good taco shop, so it’s a boon to the community that La Cresta offers tacos in two sizes. Even better: despite the relative lack of competition, inflation hasn’t hit the remote shop too hard yet. Regular size tacos, served on six-inch corn tortillas, go for $3.35 apiece. Mini tacos, on 4-inch tortillas, go for $2.25, or three for $6.

A bar in the dining room tunes its TVs to sports; turntables make it a music venue.

Whether tacos, tortas, burritos, or plated entrees, the dishes are prepared with the usual taco shop suspects, from shredded beef to adobada. I can personally vouch for the carne asada, pollo asado, and carnitas. The carne in particular was well above average, and would have been even better with some spicier salsa. Maybe the guy behind the counter was holding out on me, but all the salsas we tried were pretty mild.

A regular, carne asada taco (front) with three carnitas mini tacos

Most memorable among the dishes we tried was the $9.25 special of the house: the flying saucer tostada. In a bowl fashioned out of a crispy, fried flour tortilla they pack in loads of shredded lettuce and cheese, plus beans, sour cream, pico de gallo, and your choice of protein. It made for an easy-to-like meal in the middle of a relaxing drive in a tucked aside part of the county still blissfully free of re-opening, weekend crowds.

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Mira Mesa man captured first giant panda in 1936

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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
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