Publications earn clicks and ad dollars off listicles that tell you the best places for everything from fried chicken to foie gras. This is not one of those articles. I’m not going to tell you where to find the finest rendition of any one dish or laud someplace as a can’t-miss destination. This month’s column is a tribute to the lovely, simple places that call to me after an evening spent at local breweries; these places have drawn me like a moth to an irresistible flame for years or, in some cases, decades.
I recently found myself at one such haunt on my way home from interviewing local brewers and it occurred to me just how fun it would be fun to serve up several of these never-fail bastions of easy, exquisite eats to all of you. Going a step further, I’ve listed the breweries in closest vicinity to each of them. Sharing is caring, after all.
I’m sure you have a handful of gems unique to your palate and geography. Feel free to share them in the comments section. Maybe we’ll end up with an unofficial guide to some of the best little-known spots in the county.
Anny’s Fine Burgers
This place has around 30 burgers topped with everything from ‘shrooms to pineapple to pastrami. Its sides game is similarly robust with bacon-cheese, Korean BBQ, and even pizza fries. Everything I’ve ever had here has been amazing, but I keep coming back to the simply delicious California Burger (with avocado, bacon, Swiss, and thick, and rich Thousand Island dressing) and crispy-on-the-outside, fluffy-on-the-inside fries seasoned with salt and black pepper. Bonus: They have taps and will load you up with condiments free of charge.
5375 Kearny Villa Road, Kearny Mesa
Nearby Breweries: Quantum Brewing, Societe Brewing, Kilowatt Brewing, Circle Nine Brewing, Ketch Brewing
Canada Steak Burger
You’ll have to venture out of North Park and there’s always a line, but it’s worth these minor inconveniences for fresh-sliced strips of lamb tucked into a soft, folded-over bread-velope with sharp, raw onions and chunks of tomatoes. It sounds basic and it is, but few things satisfy the way this Greek treat does, especially slathered in cooling tzatziki, which makes a great dip for the French fries that come with the economical gyro sandwich combo. Feeling particularly carnivorous? Get a burger topped with that succulent spit meat.
3604 University Avenue, City Heights
Nearby Breweries: The Original 40, Mike Hess Brewing, North Park Beer Co., Second Chance Beer Co. (tasting room), Rip Current Brewing (tasting room), Thorn St. Brewery, Pariah Brewing, Eppig Brewing, JuneShine, Home Brewing, Barn Brewery
Dumpling Inn & Shanghai Saloon
It’s been on my speed-dial since I had a flip phone and “D.I.” was based in a closet-sized strip-mall space. Being so compact, a pre-visit call from cross-street watering hole, O’Brien’s Pub, was essential. Now, this Chinese comfort cuisine classic is six times the size and still just as busy. Key reasons have to be to-die-for xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), a plum-infused take on kung pao and the world’s best hot-and-sour soup. The jellyfish and scallion lamb are darn good, too. Pro Tip: The food is just as good boxed up and carted home.
4625 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa
Nearby Breweries: Circle Nine Brewing, Kilowatt Brewing, Societe Brewing, Ketch Brewing, Quantum Brewing
If county-fair fare is a food group, the undisputed king of the sub-genre is this North County from-scratch oddity. Everything about it is unbelievable, from its penny- and movie poster-encrusted interiors, to a menu sporting caloric splurges that might shave years off your life (but what a way to go). Indulge in a “3×3” burger, meaty “triple mess” melt, or a “rings dog” with onion rings, or go with my standard order of a junkyard dog (with bacon, peppers, jalapeños, and so much cheese), plus me and Tomme Arthur’s shared love, the chili-cheese fries wrap.
1360 East Mission Road, San Marcos
Nearby Breweries: Wild Barrel Brewing, Port Brewing/The Lost Abbey/The Hop Concept, My Yard Live, Escondido Brewing, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens—Escondido
Peterson’s Donut Corner
Size matters. The proof is in the queue of hungry folks at this 24-hour purveyor of gargantuan baked/fried goods. Everything here is big in stature and flavor, be it butter-iced cake, yeast or old-fashioned donuts, cinnamon rolls, muffins, butter logs, or modern novelties like cronuts. They’re not even my favorite donuts, but there’s something incredibly fun about ending an evening with a hefty red-velvet donut and a buttermilk bar that’s basically a pound of Southern biscuit dough glazed within a nanometer of its dense, decadent life.
903 South Escondido Boulevard, Escondido
Nearby Breweries: Escondido Brewing, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens—Escondido, Plan 9 Alehouse, Jacked Up Brewery
A Side Order of Soul Food
For me, there is nothing better than good, San Diego-style taco-shop grub. I’d eat it every day for the rest of my life if that were monetarily and healthfully feasible. So what my dad and I refer to as “soul food” gets its own section. There’ll be no Colima’s or Tacos El Gordo on this list. They’re great, but everybody knows that already. These are the other guys (in no particular order).
My love for taco shops—and quality carne asada—was born at this orange-and-yellow barrel midway from middle school to my house. Decades later, it entertains a line of cars stretching down the street at all hours. Mostly hidden from view but crazily popular, it’s a taste of my past that holds up in the present. With no breweries close by, I’ve gone way out of my way for this place’s carne asada burritos.
6936 Lisbon Street, Encanto
Nearby Breweries: 13 Point Brewing
This local institution catered my thirtieth and fourtieth birthday parties and its 24/7 Genesee spot is the resto I’ve frequented most in my lifetime. Their spicy, coating, orange-hued elixir-like salsa is the best I’ve ever had, especially when smothering the largest serving of truly supreme nachos anywhere. They have locations throughout the county, but word to do yourself a favor and avoid the meanies at their Mira Mesa drive-thru.
4370 Genesee Avenue, Clairemont
Nearby Breweries: Bitter Brothers Brewing, Karl Strauss Brewing Tasting Room
This is the newest addition to my rotation. My son introduced it to me after an extra-innings Padres game. Not only do they have salsa that is indiscernable from Cotixan’s, but they have “Christian” versions of burritos and fries that—heaped with carne asada, bacon, guac, sour cream, oodles of cheese and a fried egg—qualify as a religious experience. I’ve only been to the Mira Mesa location, but it’s all I need!
9313 Mira Mesa Boulevard, Mira Mesa
Nearby Breweries: White Labs, Savagewood Brewing, Longship Brewery, Thunderhawk Alements, 2kids Brewing, Protector Brewery, Mikkeller Brewing San Diego, Little Miss Brewing, AleSmith Brewing, Mike Hess Brewing—Miramar, Pure Project Brewing, Amplified Ale Works (tasting room), Duck Foot Brewing
Don Lucio’s #2
The source of so many decadent Friday nights where I’d pick up burritos filled with tender cabeza or harder-to-find buche, a flavorful al pastor torta, giant three-meat breakfast burrito or the special-order Hawaiian burrito, something so rich and bacon-y it sends my palate into overdrive. Throw in creamy, atomic, avocado-green salsa, kind and hard-working staffers, and a liquor store next door stocked with craft beer, and there’s lots to love about this spinoff.
9969 Mira Mesa Boulevard, #9, Scripps Ranch
Nearby Breweries: Savagewood Brewing, Harland Brewing, Newtopia Cyder, JuneShine, White Labs
Order a Grande Burrito, tell them it’s for a “Grande challenge” at Societe (where I also work), then watch the chef proudly attempt to make the most monstrous creation of his life. The Grande is billed as a two-pounder, but they’re likely to go way over that weight if they know you’re headed to my nine-to-five. It’s as tasty as it is large and always hits the spot. Want to try the aforementioned challenge? Belly up, order a pint of The Butcher imperial stout and start timer. The current world record is just under four minutes.
8199 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa
Nearby Breweries: Societe Brewing, Quantum Brewing, Kilowatt Brewing, Circle Nine Brewing, Ketch Brewing