Tacos y mas: Eating San Diego

31 Jul

Mention San Diego to people and some will tell you where the best beaches are while others will tell you where the best fish tacos are served.  I, of course, listen to the second group since it has everything to do with what I can put in my hungry belly and nothing at all to do with the fact that I dislike sunbathing and large bodies of open water, and that my swimming skills are limited to a very poor doggie paddle.

One of the great things about traveling to new and unexplored places is experiencing these places through food. If I’m to judge San Diego solely on that attribute, it would earn a solid D. Don’t get me wrong, we had a great time but my food experiences left much to be desired.

Everyone said I had to try fish tacos while in the city and so that’s precisely what I did. I had my reservations, of course, since I live in Texas and what’s what when it comes to tacos.  But when in Rome, right? If people say fish tacos are the San Diegan thing to do then by God I was going to find me some fish tacos. I gave it not one, but two tries – one swordfish, the other calamari.  Neither were bad exactly, just underwhelming.  The two swordfish tacos from Costa Azul (on Coronado Island) were meaty and the chunks of fish reminded me of a tuna steak.  Served in flour tortillas, the tacos were topped with salsa fresca, cheese, cabbage and a chipotle ranch sauce.  While the swordfish was seasoned fairly well, most of the flavor came from the very average tasting sauce.  Still, I preferred them to the calamari tacos I had from Brigantine (on Point Loma).  The calamari strips were lightly breaded, and fried, and served in corn tortillas. The condiments were identical to the swordfish tacos, but this time the average sauce was supposedly jalapeño ranch. At least, that’s what the menu claimed;  the kitchen was either incredibly cheap or incredibly forgetful because my taste buds detected no hint of sauce.  I squeezed some fresh limes over the tacos instead and wound up really enjoying the acidity and flavor it added.

The sides were hit or miss – the coleslaw was a nice change up from your basic rice and beans, but it was nothing special in terms of taste. But the kettle chips were really delicious, perfectly cut, wonderfully crunchy and not at all oily.  However, the star of the evening was the bay shrimp ceviche.  Sweet and succulent bay shrimp were mixed with onions, cucumbers, cilantro, tomatoes, and a generous amount of fresh citrus juices.  Tri-colored tortillas chips were a bit thick for my crunching, but they did hold the ceviche well and lent a very festive feel (and taste) to the plate.  Brigantine’s also offered up a decadent chocolate cake.  Served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, it was creamy, cool, warm, melty, chewy and crunchy around the edges like a brownie.

One meal we really enjoyed was from Cheese Shop, a La Jolla based deli/cheese shop/specialty store that came highly recommended. I ordered the turkey, jack, and avocado sandwich and it was delicious.  The ginormous wedge of a sandwich was served on thick and chewy sourdough that really held up to the real turkey breast slices, which were enlivened with fresh black pepper.  It’s a popular joint, but we had plenty to enjoy during our wait. We perused the imported food stuffs and vintage candy, and I squeeee’d with delight at their variety of sodas and my discovery of Cheerwine in glass bottles! Our next tasty encounter was in the Gaslamp District at Brian’s 24.  A fancy all-night diner in downtown San Diego, we landed here the first night of our arrival (it’s a great place to meander into after a long afternoon nap). It caters to the late-night, post-bar and nightclub crowd, so we had some great people watching along with a solid, familiar meal. I opted to go breakfast for dinner with scrambled eggs and sausage, along with a slice of watermelon and an English muffin. They get one thumb down for giving me bacon instead of sausage, but three thumbs up on the English muffin. The butter melted into all the nooks and crannies and made for a heavenly experience as a I bit  into the crunchy, chewy outside and tasted the soft, buttery, supple inside.  It was definitely good food to fill your belly.

We also managed a trip to Mootime Creamery, which has been featured on the Food Network a couple of times. It’s not a large place, but a crazy Elvis cow in front of the store definitely makes it memorable.  The ice cream was pretty darned tasty, too — creamy and rich.  The waffle cones are made fresh daily and hand-rolled; we managed to get one that was still warm! I felt like I’d had a server offer me a warm scented towel at the end of a long meal in a fancy restaurant… except – bonus! – this one was yummy and perfectly ok to stuff in your mouth. I’m not sure if and when I’ll be getting back to San Diego, but if I do return, I’ll focus more on neighborhood gems and less on eating “like a San Diegan.” More tasty surprises, fewer fish tacos. So, in the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, stay classy, San Diego.

-A

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