Beauty lies beneath the surface in City Heights . It may not be in the post card, but what this part of town lacks in hot air balloon rides it makes up for in a thrilling selection of ethnic food. From Vietnamese to Mexican, Thai to Ethiopian, City Heights is home to a world of cuisines, authentically prepared by the people who give East San Diego its soul.
Start off your City Heights gastro tour with an order of lamb rolled tacos from El Borrego Restaurant (4280 EL Cajon Blvd., 619-281-1355). Crunchy, chewy and just right, these divine, rolled to order creations stuffed with tender lamb meat take a little longer to prepare, but you'll taste the love in effect, and it's well worth the $6.25 price tag. If rolled tacos aren't your thing, and you want to gorge yourself all in one place, go for it with the mixiote-a mix of lamb morsels steamed in a maguey leaf, served irresistibly juicy with all the fixings for tacos alongside.
In past DiscoverSD food coverage, we've waxed about El Salvador Restaurant & Pupuseria (3824 University Ave., 619-282-3018)-particularly the pan relleno con pollo, a rustic stewed chicken sandwich served on a crusty baguette with tomato, watercress and copious amounts of mayo for a whopping $4.50. Yes, get a pupusa, but don't forget about this sandwich!
Yet another hot deal can be found at Las Morelianas Carnitas Estilo (3645 University Ave., 619-521-2891), located right next door to longtime favorite for its regional Mexican stews, Super Cocina. Inside this porky paradise, a whole pound of whatever succulent parts you want costs $9.99, and comes with a half pint of velvety refried beans, one dozen tortillas and all the salsa, cilantro and onions you can stuff in a plastic baggie. Pro tip: For your next party, have the wonderful folks at Las Morelianas do all the work. Call ahead and pick up hours worth of work and deliciousness that will leave your guests pork-struck.
And City Heights has a flavor uniquely its own with Nate's Garden Grill, where brunch on Saturdays and Sundays (8 a.m. to 3 p.m.) has become quite the scene with live blues as a backdrop to dishes like house-cured salmon with cream cheese, onion, capers and pretzel bread; sausage gravy atop homemade biscuits with poached eggs; and crab cake Benedict with hollandaise. Even better, this wholesome restaurant uses fresh ingredients from its neighbor, City Farmers. Between the dog friendly patio, family friendly dining room and unique perspective of eating on the edge of a prospering urban farm, Nate's is a must-experience in your authentic taste of City Heights. 3120 Euclid Ave., 619-546-7700.
While you're there, jaunt across the parking lot to the entrance of City Farmers Nursery, where you'll weave around the largest organic farm in San Diego (since 1971) and see all the livestock-goats, chickens, ducks, cows and a pony-plus the selection of cacti and succulents, citrus, bonsai and the many other plant species on these grounds. It's easy to spend a good chunk of time just hanging out, in what feels like the countryside, maybe petting a goat or getting ideas for your next gardening project. It's a true urban oasis, even more mirage-like thanks to the mimosas you had at brunch. Take a date, or your mom here. They won't believe it's in the middle of City Heights' concrete jungle. 4832 Home Ave., 619-284-6358.
More neighborhoods to explore
Anza Borrego, Balboa Park, Coronado, Del Mar, East Village, Encinitas, Fiesta Island, Golden Hill, Hillcrest, La Jolla, Linda Vista, Mission Beach, Mission Hills, North Park: Part 1, North Park: Part 2, Ocean Beach, Point Loma, San Carlos, South Park, University Heights