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January Food Diary, San Diego Edition

This year, as my blog continues to evolve, and my readership continues to grow, I decided to publish one article each month highlighting restaurants in San Diego to hopefully inspire others to get out and explore the culinary scene in this wonderful city that offers a plethora of dining options.

In January, I had the pleasure of feasting in several restaurants for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. Some have delivered fantastic meals while others can use some guidance to better perfect the overall expertise required to deliver an outstanding foodie experience.

It took me a year before checking out this breakfast spot and now I'm hooked. This neighborhood staple offers wide offerings of both breakfast and lunch options to bite into on either the spacious outdoor patio or inside the quaint diner. I am addicted to their breakfast burrito and breakfast tamales. The Zen Breakfast healthily arranged with marinated tofu, brown rice, scrambled eggs, and steamed veggies is also especially delicious. There is so much on the extensive menu to look forward to, you'll find yourself returning repeatedly without running out of tasty new dishes to try.

I find everything at The Fairmont Del Mar to be exquisite; from their grounds to their pools, their spa and their hiking trails, and certainly their weekend brunch at Amaya. You won't find a more glamorous patio to dine in than the one this California bistro boasts. The top-notch staff will ensure your meal is perfect from start to finish. Brunch is offered as a two or three-course menu with an unrivaled homemade punch list comprised of six interesting flavors to get your boozy brunch going. To start, I recommend either the chia seed pudding, steel-cut oats, avocado toast, or the freshly baked bread basket. All delectable. For the main course, I love the smoked salmon bagel although my dining partners really enjoyed the smash burger and chilaquiles. Come here for a Sunday afternoon and lazily linger as long as you'd like. You won't want to leave.

While offering a modern take on a Jewish deli, Gold Finch, delivers some non-traditional staples as well. The modern, minimalist decor loses some of the charm that come with the meshugaas that you'll find in a Jewish deli in Manhattan's Lower East Side but the menu is extremely creative and distinctive, so much so that I have eaten here four times since they opened last September. What makes this Jewish deli especially stand out is the menu's commitment to Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine while giving it an interesting Sephardic flare. First-timers must embark on the Jewish foodie journey by ordering the loaded giant latke topped with a fried egg, mushroom, broccoli rabe, caramelized onion, and horseradish labneh. My other favorite dishes include their green shakshuka or building the ultimate deli experience by ordering a bunch of sides that include egg salad, potato salad, Moroccan carrot salad, cucumber salad, and schmaltz crushed potatoes, of course, accompanied with a bagel basket with all the shmears. The location of this restaurant may feel a bit off the grid but once you figure out where it is you'll find yourself coming back again in no time.

Located in Escondido, Craft and Taco Lounge is my ultimate favorite San Diego discovery. I've craved this taco shop so often that I've have made the forty-five-minute journey three times to fulfill my desire to devour these exceptional concoctions that you're guaranteed not to find anywhere else. The Coco Loco is loaded with coconut shrimp, bay scallops, sweet and sour sauce, and sriracha aioli. El Pescado is equally outstanding combining tempura rockfish, strawberries, cabbage, raspberry salsa, chipotle, and cilantro serrano aioli. If these uncommon combinations are too wild for you try the Surf and Turf (with ribeye steak, grilled shrimp, pickled onion, sliced avocado, melted Oaxaca cheese, and salsa) or the El Camaron (stuffed with fried shrimp, cabbage mix, and tamarind chipotle salsa). Their chips and salsa are equally superior; perfectly crunchy and salty and generously served with three sides of homemade salsa ranging from mild to insanely spicy. Make the well-worth trek to this unassuming taco hut, grab a picnic table on the patio, sample as many tacos as possible from their extensive menu of twenty-one taco options, down each bite with a glass of wine or beer, and thank the taco ferries for blessing you with this divine experience.

This popular San Diego newbie has lots of potential along with some hits and misses. I love the trendy, lively vibe and the ambitious French-influenced Vietnamese fare. The decor is super chic and the gorgeous bar which dominates the space is precisely where I recommend you sit for outstanding craft cocktails and a couple of truly appetizing bites. All the plates are beautifully presented but some are prepared better than others. The ones that are most memorable are the poached shrimp (served with green papaya, banana blossoms, kohlrabi, and cashews), the striped Baja sea bass (flawlessly cooked with mustard greens, green onions, crispy shallots, and a side of lemon buttered rice), and the vanilla flan which provides a decadent closure to your meal. Beyond these, the offerings range from just "ok" to downright inedible. The Vietnamese Curry is nothing special and resembles a curry you can order for takeout from your local Thai restaurant for half the price. Similarly, we were unimpressed with the diver scallops, halibut, and beet salad. The wild mushroom congee, a porridge-like mixture of mushrooms, garlic, egg yolk, and hot sauce had the diners at our table literally gagging. I would stay away from this dish entirely. I think once management works out its kinks, there is a lot of promise in Kingfisher. Until then, this is a superb date spot for delicious drinks, in a stunning setting, while noshing on the few enjoyable menu items I highly recommend you stick to for a great dining experience.

While the $99, eight course vegetarian tasting menu at this Italian bistro is extremely inventive, sadly ambiance and good service is lacking in the small, sterile space. The owner is reminiscent of Chef Slowik from The Menu, on the brink of losing his sanity and seemingly ready to turn his diners into human s'mores to be torched. The mainly vegetable-based ingredients incorporated into the dishes are super fresh, masterfully made, and impeccably prepared. Unfortunately, management hasn't yet captured the essence of customer service or the importance of creating an environment that will make patrons want to stick around for the three-hour meal. Since they just recently opened, perhaps give them a few months for the owner to destress and come around to purchasing some flower vases, art for the walls, and a sound sytem to break the silence that permeates the main room.

Please look out for my February Food Diary at the end of next month where I'll feature some other dining destinations that I will be exploring soon. If you have any favorite restaurants in San Diego that you recommend I visit, please send me a message!


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