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Craft Café is here to improve Balboa Park mornings

Along with the Mingei Museum re-opening comes a pastry-lover's coffee counter

Cold brew and an egg croissant featuring asparagus and green beans
Cold brew and an egg croissant featuring asparagus and green beans

Outside holiday lights season, there’s no better time of day to visit Balboa Park than a quiet morning. And while that’s likely been true for more than a century, such mornings at the park have only gotten better in the past several weeks.

Place

Craft Café

1439 el Prado, San Diego

That’s thanks to the new-look Mingei Museum, which reopened last month following a more than $50 million-dollar renovation. The folk arts and design museum looks better than ever, enhancing the sight lines for everyone and their dogs who take a morning stroll along El Prado and around the Plaza de Panama. But arguably just as important to morning visitors is the addition of a new coffee counter to the Mingei’s northeast corner. From this perch, Craft Café has a prime location, immediately accessible from the heart of the park.

The Mingei Museum is back open in Balboa Park, with a coffee counter in its northeast (bottom right) corner.

It’s not that coffee was previously difficult to come by in Balboa Park — assorted carts and kiosks have offered coffee, tea, and pastries, whether over by the Spanish Village, or outside The Prado restaurant. But quality and service haven’t always been reliable. As a self-avowed coffee snob, I’ve long since learned to bring coffee from outside the park, if I mean to sip as I stroll.

So right off the bat, Craft Café has boosted the caffeinated beverage offerings by brewing beans from local favorite, Dark Horse Coffee Roasters.

A bistro table with a view of the park and its famous architecture

Better still, the café is operated by another local favorite, the Urban Kitchen Group, best known for nearby Italian restaurant and wine bar, Cucina Urbana. And that means it’s not just good coffee and tea greeting park people in the morning, but pastries and breakfast sandwiches ranging from the usual to the unique.

For example, it might seem odd if the café didn’t offer the likes of ham and cheese croissant, potato and chorizo breakfast burrito, or even an acai bowl. Any business operating the new counter shop space would offer something similar, and though Urban Kitchen renditions prove better than most, to be honest, it doesn’t matter that much. Anyone craving a breakfast burrito isn’t likely to second guess it.

Cinnamon rolls with raisins

It’s with less expected menu items that Craft Café makes its mark. So, rather than bacon, the egg and croissant breakfast sandwich features diced asparagus and green beans ($7.50). In addition to tomatoes, the Avocado toast ($10) features kosho pickles and furikake, the Japanese seaweed and sesame seed condiment, typically used to flavor rice. Perhaps the best part fo the shop are its daily made pastries. These include the croissants, assorted empanadas, raisin cinnamon rolls, and my favorite find: a spinach and cheese croissant featuring an elegant, honeycomb foldover.

A unique spinach croissant

Though most of these breakfast offerings — as well as the menu of grab-and-go lunch items — travel well, Craft Café does offer a few bistro tables set up outside the museum, which allow you to stop a minute, sit, and appreciate views of the park’s famed Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

The only fault I could find with the whole scenario was trying the cold brew and bubbles menu, specifically a cocktail of cold brew coffee, tonic water, and cherry syrup. It’s certainly nothing I’d have expected to find at pre-2021 Balboa Park, but in this case I’d recommend sticking to a basic brew instead.

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Cold brew and an egg croissant featuring asparagus and green beans
Cold brew and an egg croissant featuring asparagus and green beans

Outside holiday lights season, there’s no better time of day to visit Balboa Park than a quiet morning. And while that’s likely been true for more than a century, such mornings at the park have only gotten better in the past several weeks.

Place

Craft Café

1439 el Prado, San Diego

That’s thanks to the new-look Mingei Museum, which reopened last month following a more than $50 million-dollar renovation. The folk arts and design museum looks better than ever, enhancing the sight lines for everyone and their dogs who take a morning stroll along El Prado and around the Plaza de Panama. But arguably just as important to morning visitors is the addition of a new coffee counter to the Mingei’s northeast corner. From this perch, Craft Café has a prime location, immediately accessible from the heart of the park.

The Mingei Museum is back open in Balboa Park, with a coffee counter in its northeast (bottom right) corner.

It’s not that coffee was previously difficult to come by in Balboa Park — assorted carts and kiosks have offered coffee, tea, and pastries, whether over by the Spanish Village, or outside The Prado restaurant. But quality and service haven’t always been reliable. As a self-avowed coffee snob, I’ve long since learned to bring coffee from outside the park, if I mean to sip as I stroll.

So right off the bat, Craft Café has boosted the caffeinated beverage offerings by brewing beans from local favorite, Dark Horse Coffee Roasters.

A bistro table with a view of the park and its famous architecture

Better still, the café is operated by another local favorite, the Urban Kitchen Group, best known for nearby Italian restaurant and wine bar, Cucina Urbana. And that means it’s not just good coffee and tea greeting park people in the morning, but pastries and breakfast sandwiches ranging from the usual to the unique.

For example, it might seem odd if the café didn’t offer the likes of ham and cheese croissant, potato and chorizo breakfast burrito, or even an acai bowl. Any business operating the new counter shop space would offer something similar, and though Urban Kitchen renditions prove better than most, to be honest, it doesn’t matter that much. Anyone craving a breakfast burrito isn’t likely to second guess it.

Cinnamon rolls with raisins

It’s with less expected menu items that Craft Café makes its mark. So, rather than bacon, the egg and croissant breakfast sandwich features diced asparagus and green beans ($7.50). In addition to tomatoes, the Avocado toast ($10) features kosho pickles and furikake, the Japanese seaweed and sesame seed condiment, typically used to flavor rice. Perhaps the best part fo the shop are its daily made pastries. These include the croissants, assorted empanadas, raisin cinnamon rolls, and my favorite find: a spinach and cheese croissant featuring an elegant, honeycomb foldover.

A unique spinach croissant

Though most of these breakfast offerings — as well as the menu of grab-and-go lunch items — travel well, Craft Café does offer a few bistro tables set up outside the museum, which allow you to stop a minute, sit, and appreciate views of the park’s famed Spanish Colonial Revival architecture.

The only fault I could find with the whole scenario was trying the cold brew and bubbles menu, specifically a cocktail of cold brew coffee, tonic water, and cherry syrup. It’s certainly nothing I’d have expected to find at pre-2021 Balboa Park, but in this case I’d recommend sticking to a basic brew instead.

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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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