FOODIE FIND: THE SECRETS OF SAN DIEGO

San Diego features some of the best Mexican, steak, seafood, and desserts around

By Ben Young

AAA World Article

Many agree that San Diego is one of the best cities in the country. The almost-always perfect weather combined with scenic views of the bay and ocean in one direction and the mountains in the other make it seem like an urban paradise. Luckily, San Diego is also quite the foodie paradise, featuring some of the best Mexican, steak, seafood, and desserts around.

PUESTO
It’s hard to miss the comfortable patio adorned with orange umbrellas or the brightly colored murals on the walls of this lively Mexican eatery, but that’s all part of Puesto’s allure. The colorful and trendy environment in the shadows of The Headquarters (the original home of the San Diego Police Department) transfers over to the menu, which features a taco of the month, small plates, shared plates, creative cocktails, and an assortment of tequila flights. While Puesto’s Headquarters location is the one most accessible to tourists, there are five other Puesto locations around the San Diego area.

The highlight of Puesto’s menu is the lineup of award-winning tacos served on housemade organic maize azul tortillas. Try the filet mignon, which features perfectly cooked filet, crispy melted cheese, avocado and spicy pistachio serrano salsa; the chicken al pastor with crispy melted cheese, hibiscus and chipotle tinga, avocado and piña habanero pico de gallo; or the carnitas with braised pork, avocado tomatillo salsa and avocado.

SALLY’S FISH HOUSE
There’s no better place to enjoy the sights and sounds of the San Diego Bay and boardwalk than at Sally’s Fish House. Decorated in shades of blue and featuring an expansive patio that’s perfect for people-watching, Sally’s features seafood dishes that exhibit a California coastal flair with an emphasis on sustainable seafood, local ingredients and unforgettable flavors. The restaurant even offers a dog menu for four-legged friends who wish to dine on the patio.

Sally’s features a variety of sushi rolls that are handmade and beautifully plated, but the main menu also features some standout dishes. The grilled skirt steak salad is one of the best you will ever experience and is served over a bed of romaine, red leaf lettuce, and arugula, and features parmesan cheese, caramelized onion, Roma tomatoes, bread crumbs and a well-balanced Dijon mustard vinaigrette. The beer-battered fish tacos featuring mahi-mahi are served on a purple corn tortilla and are paired with habanero-pickled red onion, cucumber pico de gallo, and red cabbage and are drizzled with a spicy avocado mustard citrus sauce. Also worth trying are the salmon couscous and the seared Chilean sea bass with rock shrimp over linguini.

LOU & MICKEY’S
Those walking into the Gaslamp Quarter from the convention center will notice the leather booths and banquettes and the long bar bustling with activity reminiscent of a classic steakhouse on the corner of Fifth Avenue and L Street. After all, Lou & Mickey’s sits right under the sign welcoming you to San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter. The restaurant opened 17 years ago as an homage to cousins Jeff and Sam King’s fathers, and since its opening, the establishment has become well known in San Diego for its choice seafood and prime steaks. 

With three butchers on staff, Lou & Mickey’s is most proud of its on-site dry-aging room, which is visible from the dining room. Inside, cuts from Double R Ranch in Washington state age for 30, 45, and 60 days in a temperature-controlled room lined with a pink Himalayan salt block. This aging process results in top-notch steaks with a rich flavor and buttery texture. While there are plenty of fantastic steak options on the menu, none will hit the spot quite like a dry-aged ribeye prepared perfectly with seasoned butter and drizzled with chimichurri. Pair it with one of the many fresh seafood choices, from raw bar selections to more traditional plates, and you’ll experience one of the best surf and turf selections in the city.

BARBUSA
Nestled in a bustling block of San Diego’s Little Italy, Barbusa is a modern homage to the owner’s Sicilian heritage. The lively environment, complete with a pop art collection, is the perfect space to enjoy modern Southern Italian specialties.

While the menu is seasonal, some notable standouts should not be missed. The lollipop chops are a crowd favorite, made from blackened lamb and gorgonzola cheese, and the roasted beets with goat cheese, citrus, smoked almonds, white balsamic and lemon thyme offer a light, earthy flavor. The raw bar boasts a wide variety of options, especially of oysters.

Pastas hand-rolled in front of the chef’s table include gnocchi e Zucca (with butternut squash, sage and cream) and granchio (with spaghettini, crab, shallots, Serrano chile and rosa sauce. But one of the best dishes on the menu is the tomahawk marsala, featuring pork tenderloin, Florio, spinach and burnt carrots. The osso buco and ribeye are also menu standouts.

End your meal with Barbusa’s housemade cannoli—arguably the best in town.

EXTRAORDINARY DESSERTS
Let’s get this out of the way—pastry chef Karen Krasne has created a gourmet restaurant that offers indulgent brunch, lunch, and dinner menus that include savory sandwiches, salads, and cheeses. But the key to Extraordinary Dessert’s success is all in its name, and there couldn’t be a better description of the restaurant’s offerings.

Upon arrival, visitors are greeted by an elegant and vibrant visual menu of desserts ranging from gourmet cakes such as blood-orange ricotta and black velvet to a variety of large cookies and pastries. While the visual menu at both the Little Italy and new Balboa Park locations changes daily, keep a lookout for some handcrafted gems such as the lemon ricotta cake, which combines citrus and berries into a creamy torte with a light lemon whipped cream filling. The Frasier, a twist on a Parisian favorite, features moist vanilla cake with raspberry and blackberry buttercream filling with chunks of fresh strawberries. The Viking will be a favorite for chocolate lovers; it features chocolate cake filled with chocolate crème brûlée and milk chocolate crémeuse, topped with crushed chocolate almond pralines.