Thursday, July 24, 2008

Day 24: Best of San Diego

I've been noshing in this town for 15 years now, and I've got a thing or two to say about what's most delicious. Sure, this list is local, but you never know: if you find yourself in town, you'll have the inside dope. 'Course, you could also call me for a tour. (If you don't see a link, it means they don't have a website.)

Best Fruit Slushies - Fusion Cafe (Kearny Mesa)

30-something flavors of chilly goodness. You can get boba balls at the bottom of yours, or soy milk swirled in if you want, but I'm a simple gal. They'll mix up to three flavors in one slushie, and then they heat-seal the top with a cute little picture of flowers or fruit. Nothing hits the spot more on a hot day, and you can tell yourself that it's mostly ice. My favorite is Strawberry Vanilla. Jarrah favors Green Apple with boba. David likes Cantaloupe. Oh, and the food's good, too--try the plate lunches with mango salad on the side.

Best Bagels - Big City Bagels (Hillcrest)

Most San Diego bagels are cakey, or chewy straight through, and my jaw gets tired. But I love the bagels here, especially the divine bright-yellow, big-as-a-saucer Egg bagel--my favorite. I also love Sourdough and Toasted Onion. The staff are freakishly friendly, the shop always smells like a hot bagel, and you can't get in the door on weekends (call ahead for large orders.) I favor their bagels because the outside is crisp and the inside is soft and chewy. To me, it's the closest thing to a New York bagel in town.

Best Cupcakes - VG Donuts (Cardiff-by-the-Sea)

Mary introduced me to these beauties on somebody's birthday, probably mine. They are simplicity itself--either chocolate with vanilla frosting, or vanilla with chocolate frosting. I favor the former by a hair. If you want them decorated, they roll the edges in a wall of colored sprinkles. No flash, no froofy flavors, just moist, real-tasting cake with buttercream frosting that doesn't have that dread shortening aftertaste. We've had them for all our birthdays for three years running now. I hope the trend will continue.

Best Skordalia - Cafe Athena (Pacific Beach)

Skordalia is a Greek dip with the consistency of mashed potatoes, which makes sense because it's a mix of potatoes, garlic and cilantro. It's a lovely lightish-green color. Served as an appetizer, with a massive Anaheim pepper and tomato slices on top (totally superfluous, in my opinion) and a basket of soft, steaming flatbread triangles, a perfect conveyance for the chilled dip. When you're really hungry and waiting for your dinner, the first bite seems to fortify each and every cell in your body. I've never had it better anywhere. Of course, the food in general rocks at this place--I also love the souvlaki and the couscous.

Best Roast Beef Sandwich - Boney's Bayside Market (Coronado)

I'm like Goldilocks about my roast beef. It can't be too rare or too done, too fatty or too thick. In past years, I've been very partial to the roast beef subs (one is big enough for two people) at Poma's in Ocean Beach, and according to Yelp, they are still awesome. A recent discovery is the deli counter roast beef at Bayside--they'll fix it up to your liking, and the meat is juuuust right. I like mine on rye with shaved swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, cucumber slices and yellow mustard. Packs well for the beach, too, and it's right near the Ferry Landing. Picnic perfection!

Best BBQ Chicken - Phil's BBQ (Sports Arena)

There is no time of day when you won't stand in line, my friends. Most people are there for the ribs, and I have it on good authority that they're sublime, but I don't eat pork. The BBQ chicken, served as part of a "Chickless" dinner (I've never understood the name) comes with six or seven big chunks of boneless, skinless chicken that's been smoked all the way through, while bathing continuously in sweet, spicy sauce. I like baked beans and corn on the cob as my sides, but they also have wonderful fries and coleslaw. Jarrah can put away a man-sized plate of food at Phil's. It's just that satisfying.

Best Margarita - Baja Betty's (Hillcrest)

You have to take this one with a grain of salt. (Ha!) I am not a "serious" tequila drinker, though I do like a classic marg on the rocks. At Betty's, though, I can't wait to get my hands on their supermodel-tall, frosty blended margaritas, mixed with beautiful clouds of fruit puree, and a sugar rim. These babies are BIG. It's not unusual for me to stagger after just one. The place is beachy and cheerful with beautiful waiters who call you "darlin" and there's nothing I like more than to slurp down my drink and then chase it with a plate of mini-tacos in corn tortillas, sprinkled with chopped onion and cilantro. David says the food is only so-so, but that's news to me: after one of those deceptively strong margaritas, I'd swear I was eating the finest tacos in town.

Best Cheesecake - The Incredible Cheesecake Company (Normal Heights)

I am verrrry particular about cheesecake. To help you understand, when I can see that it's not exactly how I like it, I can say "no, thank you" to even one bite without an iota of sacrifice. What I crave is very dense, heavy filling (fie on you, light and fluffy!) with a thick graham-cracker crust, so dense that licking the fork feels like a substantial mouthful. And I like it plain, or plain with fruit on top. This place serves dozens of flavors, and I hear they are very good (we served a bunch at our wedding rehearsal dinner) but I am serene with a shiny slice the color of an eggshell. This isn't a hang-out spot--it's a storefront on Adams Ave. Pick up a cheesecake (they also sell by the half and the slice) and delight your guests. Or just brew some coffee and snarf up a piece by yourself in front of the TV.


Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

Boy do you get around town--why am I always reading these food posts at night? I'm definitely going to check out Cafe Athena.

Anonymous said...

That post really made me hungry!

Some of my favorite San Diego foods were from restaurants at the bottom of the hill that goes up to Hillcrest -- that fantastic chicken satay at the thai take out place (just a hole in the wall) and the huevos rancheros from the mexican place next door. Yum. And how about that potato burrito from that place near your old apartment? That was fantastic. :) Lix

Smitten Knitten said...

Mmmmm...Fusion is so yummy, can't get enough of their mango salad.

Caroline said...

Wow! Someone bring me one of each right now, please!

Friends of ours had their wedding reception catered by Phil's. Yummo!

suebdo said...

You NEED to be a food writer! No one is as multi-sensory descriptive as you. I sat here like Homer Simpson saying "mmmm bagles ... mmmm slushies ... mmmm bbq chicken" aloud to myself.
Now I'm starvin' Marvin! Get yourself a food column in the local paper or business press, become the "Phantom gourmet" of San Diego ... you have a gift!

Laural Out Loud said...

Heck yeah on Phil's. Whenever we have an event at work that requires catering, I try to talk the planner into Phil's.

I love the used bookstores in Hillcrest- I'll have to try some of the places you recommend that are nearby the next time I go book shopping!