Is this the most delicious block in San Diego?
Adams Avenue, between Ohio and 30th streets and its immediate vicinity in North Park, is home to arguably the best eating in the county, with the perfect blend of trendy and traditional restaurants, a delectable diversity of cuisines and first-rate sweet shops, java joints and watering holes.
What more could you need? How about a bullet-proof argument to fend off all the naysayers who’ll argue that certain blocks in Little Italy, Liberty Station, La Mesa, Vista or elsewhere are really the most delicious in town. More on those later. For now, here are some persuasive reasons why this part of North Park could be crowned the top culinary cluster in San Diego.
Street’s Restaurant Row isn’t good. It’s killer.
The single best justification is the caliber of the food. Just on the 3000 block of Adams Avenue are the perfect French bistro, ramen masters, crazy creative sushi, a comfort food haven, a coffee house with primo bites and a place for 99-cent fish tacos. Where else could you top that line-up?
The anchor of all this sumptuousness is Et Voilà — the simply spectacular French boîte that opened in the spring of 2016 and has proved to be one of the best restaurants, of any kind, in San Diego.
A collaboration of former longtime Tapenade maître d’ Ludo Mifsud and chef de cuisine Vincent Viale, Et Voilà exudes authentic bistro fare in every bite, from the bread that’s made in France but baked in San Diego, to the soulful coq au vin, crispy-skinned duck confit, tender moules frites bursting with flavor and ethereal dessert soufflés. With a savvy-minded wine list, date-night charm and polished service, this place has it all.
The culinary excellence continues next door at Tajima Ramen, an outpost of the cult noodle soup shop where building flavors and textures has been turned into an art form.
Whether you choose wide or thin noodles, spicy or savory broth, meaty or vegetarian ingredients, one slurp from your ramen bowl is all it will take to bring you into the Tajima fanatics fold. Keeping you there will be the spicy tuna poke bowl, crispy karaage chicken and Brussels sprouts tempura. Pay the check and sate your sweet tooth next door with — oui — Et Voilà’s profiteroles, the finest ice cream cream puffs bathed in warm dark chocolate sauce you’ll find outside of Paris.
And in this town of rabid sushi sophisticates, crowning Sabuku Sushi San Diego’s best would be a foolish proposition. Let’s just settle on most innovative. The expansive menu of 80-plus items (which you’ll have to slog through on a slightly annoying iPad app) stays pure with stripped down fish of the freshest quality. And it goes tongue-in-cheek creative with concoctions like the Jessica Albacore roll (crab, pineapple, jalapeño, tempura green onion, albacore, avocado, ponzu, cilantro wasabi aioli, wasabi tobiko roe and sesame seeds. Whew.) and the 10 porcine pleasures listed under Beggin’ for Bacon.
On a recent night, four of us ordered a succession of nine dishes, each one our favorite until the next one came to supplant it. In the end, we couldn’t choose a winner — it was a tie between the Buku Bites appetizer (tempura fried shiitake mushrooms filled with spicy tuna, spicy crab and cream cheese, topped with jalapeño ponzu butter sauce) and the Rising Sun roll (citrusy shrimp tempura, crab, salmon, avocado and lemon slices).
Nice problem to have.
Rounding out this bevy of Adams Avenue impressiveness is:
- Hawthorn Coffee: For righteous Joe and eats sourced from some of the best, like the inimitable Paraná Empanadas in Liberty Station, Hillcrest’s Bread & Cie and Cake Monkey in Los Angeles.
- El Zarape Mexican Eatery: Fast-casual newcomer with a familiar name in the neighborhood, it’s a taco stand with chairs.
- Antique Row Cafe: An institution with servers who know your favorite table (under one of the many Route 66 signs, no doubt) and where the cooking is hearty and homespun.
Equally appetizing neighbors
Before you hit send on that email protest — I know, parking isn’t great and it lacks a true pizza place — consider whether your pick also has an abundance of awesomeness literally steps away.
The supporting evidence:
- Jayne’s Gastropub: San Diego’s original gastropub is just as delicious today as when it opened on Valentine’s Day in 2007. The Jayne Burger single-handedly makes up for the fact that this concentrated corner of Adams Avenue block doesn’t have a true burger joint.
- Polite Provisions: The gorgeously designed, nationally recognized epicenter of San Diego’s craft cocktail scene makes the corner of Adams and 30th a destination any neighborhood would envy. Hungry? Indulge in meatballs and pie at sister restaurant Soda & Swine next door.
- Blackmarket Bakery: Beckoning people with an outsized, illuminated “Bakery” sign and a “Powered by Butter” motto, Blackmarket opened last fall and quickly established a loyal following for its scrumptious, not-too-sweet sweets. Out of this world cakes, breads, croissants, scones, tarts, shortbreads, churros and cookies are all served up in a stylish space and on a dog-friendly garden.
- Cantina Mayahuel: This intimate Mexican restaurant is the block’s hidden gem, beloved by locals for its slow-cooked, earthy mole and matchless margaritas. Its ridiculously wide-ranging collection of tequila and mezcal might be the most comprehensive in San Diego.
- Beerfish: Picnic tables, lobster rolls, raw bar, fish and chips, oyster shooters, chowda’ — the only giveaway that Beerfish is in San Diego and not Nantucket is the clam toast and all the local brews on the list of 30 craft beers.
Need more convincing?
Eating and imbibing here is an all day affair. This is no daytime ghost town only outsiders swarm to at night. Stroller moms, construction workers, retirees and laptop-toting digital denizens are out in full force in the morning, devouring Antique Row Cafe’s warm, buttered biscuits and giant pecan sticky buns, Blackmarket’s Eggywiches or Hawthorn’s almond butter and honey toast. It’s also not a roll-up the carpet at 8 p.m. kind of place: El Zarape serves until 11 p.m., while Soda & Swine is open until 1:30 a.m. Ever the big sibling, Polite Provisions beats it by a half an hour, closing at 2 a.m.
They put out the welcome mat. Whether you’re going hip or old school, this is one of those welcoming and unpretentious corners of San Diego that makes you grateful to live here. It’s a judgement-free zone that’s also — thankfully — devoid of the cougar prowls and club kid antics of other hot neighborhoods.
They eat here, too. Ask your charming Blackmarket server Xochi Rocha where she eats and there’s not even a pause. “Cantina Mayahuel!” she said. “I grew up on real deal Mexican food and it’s the best. There’s the owner, right there.” Sure enough, there he was. Eating an Eggywich, BTW. And that chef getting his morning fix at Hawthorn? Bob Pasela, the chef/owner of Sabuku Sushi.
If you won’t take my word for it, take theirs.
San Diego’s most delicious block?
5 contenders for most delicious culinary cluster
Carlsbad: Carlsbad Village Drive between Tyler Street and Carlsbad Boulevard — The Land & Water Co., Paon Restaurant and WIne Bar, Vigilucci’s Cucina Italiano and Gaia Gelato. Adjacent: Blue Ocean Robata & Sushi Bar, 83 Degrees, Pizza Port Brewing Company, Carlsbad Chocolate Bar
La Mesa: La Mesa Boulevard, between Third and Fourth streets — Bo-Beau Kitchen & Garden, Sheldon’s Service Station, Centifonti’s, Johnny B’s. Adjacent: Blvd Asian Kitchen, Farmer’s Table, Swami’s Cafe, Tiramisu Trattoria, Por Favor, Konnichiwa Sushi, Public Square
Liberty Station: Historic Decatur Road, between Sims and Perry roads — Liberty Public Market, Officine Buona Forchetta, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Fireside by the Patio. Adjacent: Pisco, Corvette Diner, Tender Greens, Five Guys, Soda & Swine, Solare, Slater’s 50/50, Con Pane and seemingly every restaurant slated to open in the next year.
Little Italy: Kettner Boulevard, between Juniper and Ivy streets — Juniper & Ivy, The Crack Shack, Herb & Wood, Herb & Eatery, Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. Adjacent: How much time do you have? Only all of Little Italy.
Vista: East Broadway, between South Santa Fe and South Citrus avenues — Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen, The Yellow Deli, Urbn Coal Fired Pizza, Mother Earth Brew. Adjacent: Pepper Tree Frosty, Sonic Drive-In, Curbside Cafe.