I found myself completely immersed in eating locally, and abroad this month (more to come soon on my travels overseas). The hunt for great restaurants is a thrill for me, and I happily spend endless hours researching where to eat next. Simply put, good food improves my life, and finding a worthwhile place to recommend to others is my reward for a meal well-eaten. Consider me your restaurant scout, I'm here to do the dirty work in order for you to have a fantastic meal! Below are my favorite dining highlights from July.
Soichi Sushi (University Heights)
This one Michelin-starred restaurant is a tiny, straight-forward, sushi bar that is consistently booked two months in advance. I have been trying to get a reservation here for the last six months and finally scored prime seats at the ten-seat sushi bar by setting my alarm for the first of the month, at noon, when seats for the following month are released. Was it worth the effort? Indeed it was! We ordered off the Negiri Omakase menu which costs $110 per person and includes an appetizer of four tasting dishes, twelve pieces of incredible sushi, a fish broth soup, and a scoop of homemade ice cream. Chef Soichi himself was our sushi chef and whipped together an exquisite omakase experience while engaging us with his charm in between courses. Our appetizer featured fatty tuna, Japanese anchovies (which shimmered like pieces of jewels), fried salmon, and oysters from British Columbia. Although everything was tasty, this course did not blow us away. Things really started to pick up after our second bite of sushi- from there, we agreed that the simplicity in preparation, the rareness of some of the fish served, the freshness of ingredients, and the pride put into producing a masterful bite, takes this sushi restaurant to a whole new level. A round of twelve pieces of sushi looks like this: halibut with a sliver of hidden seaweed, Japanese butterfish with a hint of chili, Japanese bonito, Agi Mackarel, golden ice snapper fish, Japanese triggerfish topped with its liver, kampachi, marinated blue fin tuna, toro fatty tuna, Japanese sea perch, a hand roll with fatty tuna, and a piece of creamy tamago sushi ending the orchestration of artistic Japanese delicacies. The only disappointing part of our meal was taking our last bite.
pros: outstanding omakase and a chance at Chef Soichi preparing your meal
cons: the service staff was a little fast, removing our plates while we were still chewing
must order: Negiri Omakase menu and the Japanese egg custard (a la carte)
ARTIFACT at Mingei (Balboa Park)
The Urban Kitchen Group brings to San Diego their latest restaurant concept located inside The Mingei International Museum. Artifact is the only restaurant in San Diego to be added to the California list of recognitions in the 2023 Michelin Guide. The globally influenced establishment offers both lunch and dinner and has special events each month that highlight cuisine from around the world while serving patrons who dine amongst the museum's art collection. All plates are presented beautifully, comprised of the freshest ingredients, each with an interesting twist. For example, the fava bean falafel is a unique take on traditional falafel and so is the cilantro tahini it is served with. You'll find this seamless experimentation woven throughout their dishes, all with successful outcomes.
pros: well-designed space uniquely surrounded by art and the museum's gift shop
cons: parking is a bit tricky
must order: any of the homemade non-alcoholic beverages, the Thai green curry, and chocolate mousse with coconut whipped cream
Queenstown (Wall Street Location)
Any place that serves tater tots, wins my heart although Queenstown took a couple of tries before it won me over. After a not-so-great dinner (slow service, bland food, unbalanced cocktails, etc...), I felt compelled to give this spot another chance because I find the interior absolutely lovely. The greenhouse effect that the space creates is open, warm, and quite beautiful - a place I'd love to linger in over a long meal. After a not-so-stellar dinner, I gave it one more go at brunch. I'm glad I gave it a second try. The margarita was spot on, the fries were perfectly crispy, and my chilaquiles were the spiciest I have had to date (I like it spicy!). I find the space very appealing with a great ambiance to enjoy a meal. They have a separate bar section as well and a new, Parisian chic outdoor cafe with baristas that crank out great espresso drinks. Now you've got triple reasons to check this place out.
pros: attractive main dining area with a separate bar and a quaint cafe cons: inconsistent food between the dinner and brunch menu must order: chilaquiles and tater tots
Ciccia Osteria (Barrio Logan)
This charming osteria has remained on the coveted Bib Gourmand list for several years. The main dining area is set in a courtyard along the main road of Barrio Logan's ultra-hip main strip. Owned and operated by a husband-wife team, Ciccia Osteria creates some superb handmade pasta as well as other traditional Italian dishes. On the extensive menu of nightly specials, the squash blossom, stuffed with mascarpone, ricotta, and shaved truffles, was simply the creamiest and dreamiest. Equally, the decadent mushroom flan is over-the-top flavorful, and extremely memorable. Prices are reasonable at $13.00 per appetizer and $19.00 per pasta, especially considering the quality of the food and the well-balanced offerings of traditional Italian fare along with some more innovative dishes. This is a great go-to Italian restaurant that will not only feed you well but will get you to explore a neighborhood in San Diego many people overlook.
pros: reasonably priced well-made Italian food in a hip neighborhood of San Diego cons: owner is a tad abrasive and seemingly overwhelmed by the dinner rush
must order: mushroom flan, crab gnocchi in cream sauce, squash blossoms
La Clochette du Coin (Pacific Beach)
This adorable cafe brings a touch of France to Pacific Beach. The baristas pump out perfect espresso drinks to pair with the delicious breakfast and lunch offerings in a casual setting with mainly outdoor seating. Management is committed to fostering a strong staff and building a community around great food. The pastries are usually sold out by 11:00 am so arrive early if you crave one of their buttery croissants.
pros: delicious sandwiches and freshly baked pastries
cons: the bathroom could be cleaner
must have: tuna pastrami sandwich and steaming beignets
The Hive (La Jolla)
I was bursting with excitement when I heard that La Jolla was getting its very own speakeasy. Sadly, I have mixed feelings about The Hive, which is secretly tucked behind a door in the back of Beeside Balcony. There is talk about a password required to enter the hidden door (which is "The Octopus has Escaped to Aruba") but no one asked us for the password, and making a table on Open Table was extremely easy. Call me a snobby New Yorker, but a speakeasy should have a bit more allure to it. If you're going to generate a buzz around a required password for those in the know, don't make online reservations so accessible. The space itself is set in a small, intimate space with cascading flowers dangling from the ceiling and a romantic vibe created by perfect lighting. The cocktail menu is enticing, and the mixologists (shared with Beeside Balcony) shake some great drinks. However, the cocktails lack a certain oomph that could be easily attained by simply adding garnishes that not only enhance the taste of the drink but also its visual appeal. Finally, our group found the live musicians to be underwhelming for the space, lively swing music or soulful jazz is probably the best choice for this space. They may need some time to work out the kinks that come along with opening a new place. I am optimistic that they will get it right, there is a lot of potential here. Side note: they are open Thursday- Saturday evenings only.
pros: intimate setting in a swanky speakeasy
cons: slow service and poor choice of music
must have: old fashioned