They offer a wide variety of pizzas, from classic to pesto-based to vegetarian to “Pacific Coast Style.” There’s also the “build your own” option. (Find the menu here.) My favorite is the San Andreas: rosemary wheat crust topped with red sauce, low-fat mozzarella, roasted chicken, red onion, mushroom, roasted red pepper and pineapple.
The restaurant that earned two visits in a four-day vacation.
After a couple hours walking around in Balboa Park, enjoying the Japanese Garden very much, and (to a lesser extent) the Art Museum, I was flagging and in need of a little snack or caffeine. We had heard about Prado, the only restaurant on the grounds there. Since it was in a touristy spot, and without competition, we kinda figured it would be A) poor quality food, B) way overpriced, or C) both. We were pleasantly surprised to find that it was D) neither. It’s not cheap food, but for the quality and the ambiance, I do not think it’s at all overpriced. (You can find the menus at the bottom of this page.)
The complementary appetizer is a crispy cracker/flatbread, that comes in poppyseed and parmesan, accompanied by a bit of bean dip that is rather like a thick hummus, but with herbs. Quite tasty, and a welcome departure from bread and butter.
We were originally going to split an appetizer, but then I spied a wedge salad on the menu, and had to have that. Eric hates bleu cheese, so he ended up ordering a three-skewer trio. One mini-kabob, each with a nicely-done piece of meat and three appropriate sauces: steak with chipotle honey, chicken breast with cashew curry, and shrimp with mango ginger sauce. They were all tasty (I did take a tiny bite of each; Eric’s so nice to share!), and just the right size for a mid-afternoon snack. I loved my wedge salad! It was simple and classic, but done just exactly right. Instead of one behemoth wedge of lettuce, there were four petite ones, with ripe, red, diced tomatoes and crispy bacon in the center of the four, and bleu cheese dressing drizzled generously over all. (Forgive me; no pics. We were hungry!)
So we were originally planning on one appetizer; now we were up to two. But as soon as we saw a gorgeous dessert go by, we knew we couldn’t stop there! The dessert that seduced us was their flan, which is the photo at the top of this post. Confession: I shot this photo on someone else’s table, without their permission. Just pointed my camera over there and clicked once.
What a lucky shot, huh?! That tells you how gorgeous the dessert and the sunlight was! We were seated on their lovely outdoor terrace.
And the waitress was happy to take our picture.
Back to the flan… It’s speared with a shard of sugar glass, and accompanied by a nest of shredded phyllo and fresh berries. Although we were enticed by the flan, the waitress described it as more like a cheesecake in texture, and we’d already been there, done that. (See my review of El Callejon in this post.) So instead we ordered the tres leches cake.
But it was not just cake. Below is the architectural marvel that is this dessert: a pistachio meringue base, filled with caramel bananas, topped with tres leches cake, topped with vanilla bean ice cream — and all that is topped with a thin slice of crispy-fried plantain.
I hate to say this… As beautiful as the tres leches dessert was, it wasn’t my favorite. It’s not that the dish wasn’t well executed; it certainly was! It was just too sweet for me. If you eat a lot of sweets and/or you love tres leches, you might find this dish fantastic. But since I’m fairly accustomed to very little sugar, I’m more sensitive to the taste and actually prefer things that aren’t so sweet.
Still, we were so happy with our first experience there that we decided to go back for dinner a couple days later. That evening, we were seated indoors, so I tried to be very inconspicuous about my photo-taking. That coupled with the fact that it was very dim indoors, means that I don’t have any pictures of the indoors or our entrees. The decor was the very definition of eclectic — for example, the room was lit mostly by a hodge podge of mis-matched table lamps, and they had several lighting fixtures that consisted of vessels made of antlers, filled with multi-hued glass orbs. Yeah, it sounds a little weird, but it really worked with the whole of the decor.
Eric ordered… hmm, I’ll have to get back with you on that. I don’t remember the exact dish. It was something steak, I believe, and quite tender. I ordered the crabcakes; they are meant to be an appetizer, but I wasn’t terribly hungry, and plus, I was saving room for dessert, round two! (I appreciated the fact that the waiter didn’t try to upsell me; when I said I wasn’t that hungry, he graciously suggested the appetizer section.) I usually don’t order crabcakes, because it’s just so hard for any version to live up to the best I’ve ever had, at Cafe Sebastienne in the Kemper Museum in Kansas City. But these stood up on their own. They come with a spicy sauce, which I asked for on the side, but I did use a fair amount of it. It was not too overbearing for this spice wimp, and added a just-right punch to the delicate cakes.
So, on to dessert! I ordered the dessert that really caught my eye the first time I looked over the menu: pumpkin creme brulee! Although it was the least attractive of all the desserts we ordered (or spied), it was the tastiest, in my opinion! The custard was perfect — silky smooth, hinting of pumpkin, cinnamon and cloves, and peppered with vanilla bean specks. The brulee was nicely crunchy. What I really think could be nixed on the dessert is the “cinnamon chips.” I can’t imagine how they’re made, but they look like bacon, and tasted like cinnamon-y burnt sugar. I have nothing against bacon! Just not so much on my pumpkin dessert. (Chef, if you wouldn’t be offended to take suggestions from an everyday cook, I would drizzle the serving dish with something caramel, sprinkle the pumpkin seeds over that, then let the creme brulee stand on top of that in unadorned glory.)
Eric had the “Triple Chocolate Threat.” Although my photo didn’t come out so great, it was a beautiful presentation, and a delicious combo. The menu describes it as: chocolate cookie crust, dark chocolate baked custard, dark chocolate ganache, and salted caramel ice cream.
So, as you can see, we thoroughly enjoyed our two visits to Prado in as many days, and would recommend it to anyone.
Okay, I’ve already talked breakfast in San Diego; here are a couple of taco joints, and a couple places for dinner. Most of them were too dark to take photos in, so I’m stuck with images from Google Streetview. The gorgeous sunset above is not, unfortunately, the view from any of these restaurants. Just a lovely moment from our trip.
South Beach Bar & Grill
Eric found this spot on Urbanspoon; we would have never happened on it otherwise. It’s a nondescript bar in the Ocean Beach area. (How’s that for a redundant name? I mean, what other kind of beach is there?) And with a 95% rating on Urbanspoon, expectations were high. We love fish tacos, this seems like the town for it, and reviewers raved about ’em here.
They offer a Mini Taco Platter appetizer that includes one four-bite taco for each of: mahi-mahi, wahoo, shrimp, calamari, and baha (pollack) tacos. We ordered that, and Eric followed it up with an additional lobster taco.
I thought the amount of food was a good deal for the price, and yeah, they tasted good, but they were all smothered — I mean completely covered and piled high — with your basic pico de gallo, and finished with a drizzle of… Ranch dressing? Okay, so it’s a bar, it’s not a five-star restaurant, but when people describe it as “the best fish tacos on the planet,” I would expect: A) a sauce or salsa suited for each type of fish, and B) to be able to see the fish, as well as taste it. We could do neither.
It’s tasty, it’s cheap, but it’s also loud. I said, IT’S ALSO LOUD! If I’m going to a bar for cheap tacos, this one would do fine. But if I’m looking for the best fish tacos on the planet, I’ll keep on looking.
Located at: 5059 Newport, just off Ocean Beach
Open for: Lunch and Dinner
South Beach Bar & Grill website
Lucha Libre Gourmet Taco Shop
This one was recommended by a local. And we had been forewarned, “It’s a dive.” So we were a little more prepared.
If you like funky and offbeat, this is your place! The not-so-subtle theme is lucha libre, which is Mexican freestyle wrestling. (Think Jack Black in “Nacho Libre.”) Hot pink walls, disco balls on the ceiling, and lucha libre-inspired art in garish gold frames announce that this is not your typical sombrero-sporting joint. (Here’s another reviewer who has lots of pictures.)
The taco was good, but honestly, I can’t give you too many details, because I wolfed my half down so fast I forgot to take even mental notes about the ingredients or taste! I do remember that I liked it, and that it was in a corn tortilla. (I prefer wheat, but I know that corn is more traditional/authentic.)
And the small guacamole? Emphasis on the word “small.” Here it is, next to a normal-sized chip. And nothing remarkable about the taste. But that’s not what you come here for.
There was also a salsa bar, featuring seven or eight different fruit- and/or tomato-based salsas. I didn’t try any of them, because as I’ve already mentioned, I ate in a bit of a hurry!
And being a Vampire Weekend fan (no, it has nothing to do with Twilight), I jumped at the chance to try horchata, which the taco shop had on tap, alongside common American sodas. What is horchata? It’s carbonated, it looks like you mixed milk and soda water, and tastes like cinnamon-sugar. A weird experience. But hey, now I can sing, “I remember drinking horchata,” and mean it!
Located at: 1810 W Washington St. in the Mission Hills area
Open for: Lunch and dinner
Lucha Libre website
This was my first visit to San Diego, but my husband has been there before on business. One of the places he was eager to introduce me to was El Callejon. Much of the restaurant is completely open to the outdoors. Now, if you live on the west coast, this may be very “so what?” to you, but for those of us from the land of 20-degree winters and 100 degree summers, this is a very novel thing!
“El callejon” is Spanish for “the alley,” and the restaurant feels very much like a bar that spilled out into a wide alley with extra seating for diners. The open-air dining and the year-round party lights give the place the feel of a casual backyard summer party.
We started with the ubiquitous chips and salsa, but this was not the typical fare. The chips were thick and crunchy — in a good way — as well as fresh and hot. The salsa cruda was clearly made from fresh ingredients: not the perfect red you get from canned tomatoes, but a pale color that disguised surprising flavor. Perfect hit of onion and jalapeno, too.
Since we were on the coast, I decided to go with seafood. The menu includes a section for choosing which kind of fish you want and which kind of sauce. Being a spice wimp, I steered clear of anything on the menu that sounded spicy. I love lemon, so I ordered salmon cooked in butter, lemon, white wine and spices, topped with capers. The salmon was perfectly cooked — not too dry, as if often the case. But, as much as I love lemon — and I do! — the sauce really overwhelmed the flavor of the dish.
Eric ordered Medallones al Cilantro o Chipotle — beef medallions topped with melted cheese, served in a cilantro or chipotle sauce. I sneaked a taste, of course. We both loved the delicious, spice-laden flavor of the dish, but the meat was a tad — just a tad — overcooked. Still quite enjoyable.
For desert, we ordered the flan. My experience with ordering both flan and creme brulee is that you never know if you’re going to get creamy, smooth deliciousness, or overdone eggy stuff. This was neither. It was more of a cheesecake texture. The flavor was great, but the texture was just unexpected. Had I expected it, I think it would have been perfect.
Located at: 345 S. Coast Hwy 101, in Encinitas
Open for: Lunch and dinner
El Callejon website
Our last night in the fair city… what to eat? I was a little tired of Mexican, and thinking of a memorable dinner I had more than 20 years ago at an Italian cucina in Los Angelos, I had a craving for pasta with seafood and vodka sauce. (If you’ve never had vodka sauce, it might sound horrible, but it’s really a tomato and cream sauce, and although there is vodka involved in the making, you don’t taste it: it’s just a beautiful marriage of flavors that sing!) So doing a search for that dish in San Diego, I found Pomodoro.
I loved the atmosphere! There is nothing remotely pretentious or design-y about it. Sort of almost-kitchy but in a very authentic way. On the inside it looks like it was a small bungalow home that’s been converted into a restaurant. The floors are old hardwood; there is a bay window facing the street, partially covered by homemade curtains with a red tomato motif. The walls are adorned with dishes sporting tomatoes and other Italian themes. The very busy kitchen is only separated from the dining by a counter, and whether or not they are, the staff feels like an Italian family, serving you in their own home.
We started with caprese. The mozarella, I suspect, was housemade; perfect texture. The basil leaves were monstrous — well, by Kansas-in-February standards, anyway! They were a good 4 to 5″ long. (I must confess, I swooned a bit when I saw them.)
For the entree, I had Farfalle Salmone e Vodka; Eric ordered sea scallops in a light wine garlic sauce, served over spinach. Both dishes were fine — really, they were — but just not remarkable. There was very little salmon but lots of pasta, and the sauce was okay, but it just didn’t sing for me. Eric said the scallops were nicely cooked, but not seasoned at all. I think perhaps we just didn’t order the best possible options, because it has a 93% rating on Urbanspoon, and was jam-packed. Or perhaps it’s more just authenticity than I’m used to. I’d definitely give it at least one more try.
A local coffee-house vibe, just a couple blocks to the beach, with lots of sunlight streaming in through the large windows. Their pancakes sounded scrumptious: blackberry , blueberry cornmeal, and strawberry granola were among the offerings. Alas, if I eat pancakes, I need a nap soon after, so, not the best way to start off a day of sightseeing!
There are more than a dozen breakfast entrees on the menu that are gluten free. For those who are pork-averse, they offer several dishes featuring soy chorizo. They also offer several “Latino Breakfast Plates”: rancheros verde, breakfast quesadillas, plato verde con huevos, etc.
We ordered off the “Mission Favorites” section of the menu. I got the Mission Rosemary: Crispy rosemary potatoes topped with scrambled eggs, tomato and an onion garnish. Eric ordered the Chicken Apple Sausage and Eggs: Chicken apple sausage lightly sautéed, served with crispy rosemary potatoes, and scrambled eggs. (Pictured above.) Both came with perfectly-toasted rosemary bread. My plate was very good, but meatless, and after a taste of the juicy, flavorful chicken sausage, I wish I had ordered that plate instead. Still, a great start to the day — especially when followed by a walk on the beach!
Located at: 3795 Mission Boulevard, in the Mission Beach area
Open for: breakfast and lunch
The Mission website
Hash House a Go Go
The interior feels more like a fun, hip bar than a breakfast joint; we ate on the sunny patio.
Their tag line is “twisted farm food.” And by farm food, they do mean fresh produce and meats, and midwest-inspired dishes, but I think they also mean “farmer’s breakfast” — in other words, LOTS of food! (Gotta stock up on carbs, protein, and more carbs for a day in the field.) Fortunately, Eric saw what the plates looked like before we ordered. These aren’t plates: they’re platters! No, really — I’m not exaggerating. Everything comes out on plates that are a good 14″ in diameter, and piled high.
So we split the Hash House Original Farm Benedict. The base is a big slab of mashed skin-on potatoes that have been “griddled” — seared on the grill so they’re crispy in places. Those are topped with the most enormous biscuits I have ever seen. See that big lump in the photo above, just under the tomato? That’s the biscuit — and it’s already been sliced in half! This is topped with fresh spinach, tomato, poached eggs, and finally, red pepper puree. Garnished with diced vari-colored bell pepper and green onion.
The dish featured great ingredients, expertly prepared, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if it weren’t so over-the-top — literally. With a dish stacked that high, it was impossible to get a bite of everything together. We ended up pulling out the biscuits; it was much easier to eat after that. I was disappointed with the biscuits; they were pretty bland. I loved the bell peppers and the puree, though — in fact, I was kind of greedy with it! But I am SO glad we didn’t each order our own plate. We would have had to walk away from a lot of leftover food.
Located at: 3628 5th Ave., in the Hillcrest area
Open for: Breakfast, lunch and dinner
Hash House website
To the Point Cafe
Behind a white picket gate is the front yard/patio with al fresco dining and a potted herb garden in the center. Inside, an eclectic mix of tables and chairs lend a casual vibe.
The menu is what I expected to find in a California cafe: granola, fresh fruit, locally-made bagels. There are also Belgian waffles, wraps, frittatas and Benedicts. The latter looked perfect, and since Eggs Benedict is my favorite breakfast when eating out, I really wish I could have tasted one. Unfortunately, we were both feeling a bit “off” that day, and decided that underdone eggs would not be the best choice.
Eric stuck with a bowl of Coconut Pecan Granola, while I ordered a scrambled egg sandwich on a bagel. In retrospect, I wish I’d ordered it on a croissant or ciabatta – the other two options – since the softness of the eggs and the dense bagel were not a good match. But fresh ingredients, simply prepared; the sundried tomato cream cheese was tasty; I wish there had been more of it. We finished things off with a bowl of fresh fruit. The coffee was a little on the bitter side. A nice breakfast, but not especially noteworthy. I would go back just to try the Benedict, though!
Location: 4161 Voltaire Street in the Point Loma area; handy if you’re on your way to Cabrillo National Monument.
Open for: Breakfast and lunch
To the Point Cafe website
What did I miss?
Of course, there are hundreds more places to catch a great breakfast in San Diego! We couldn’t catch them all in our short stay. If you know if a hot spot, tell me about it. We hope to go back some day!