When it comes to naming San Diego’s tastiest neighborhoods, Pacific Beach rarely, if ever, gets any credit for having a food scene. Just mentioning its acronym elicits scowls from 30-something hipsters, who’ve all loved the coastal party town at one time or another - and now just love to hate it.
This an open letter to all the PB haters, including anyone who cites a lack of parking or an abundance of college students as an excuse for avoiding the area. The truth is that we have PB’s bar scene and subsequent hooligan crowd to thank for the diverse array of good eats available late here. Better yet, plenty of classy sit-down options and food- and craft beer-centric lounges are popping up, including Oceana Coastal Kitchen overlooking Mission Bay, Iron Pig Alehouse, and Backyard Kitchen & Tap.
It’s time to rediscover PB as a neighborhood brimming with food choices: There’s inexpensive, ethnic eats catering to the international student population, such as Papa Luna’s Empanadas and Costa Brava with its happy hour tapas; and romantic, neighborhood dining on the front porch at Enoteca Adriano on quiet Cass Street.
In the cheap-eats category, newcomer Zgara Greek Grill (1730 Garnet Ave.) may not look like much tucked behind a Vons grocery store, but inside, immense pleasure awaits with the house specialty, pork gyros. Unlike some Mediterranean joints, no processed meat is served here - only the real, good stuff, like thinly sliced pork and chicken, stacked high on vertical spits, roasting to succulent perfection.
Another Zgara standout is the bacon-laced chicken souvlaki, with hunks of super-juicy charbroiled white meat in a pita. And with all the fixings, it’s only $6.48.
If, like me, you are thrilled by the prospect of trying an all-new preparation of pork, then the house gyro is the way to go. What tastes like a cross between rich carnitas and the crispy bits on fried pork chops comes piled high in pita, and it’s also just $6.48. For those lucky ducks who live nearby, Zgara delivers.
For more ethnic food you’ve probably never tried, hit up sidewalk café Hola Che (1136 Garnet Ave.) for its specialty, choripan. This Argentine street food staple packs a heavy punch with pork and beef chorizo sausage smothered in garlicky chimichurri, all in a toasted football-shaped roll for $7. It’s no wonder the place doesn’t open until the afternoon, 2:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1 p.m. Sundays: You have no business eating this beast unless a siesta, or comatose night’s sleep, is what you’re after.
It’s hard to break away from the fabulousness of your own neighborhood and drive to another for supper - I get that. But don’t stay away from PB because of its supposedly rowdy streets, overrun by blondes in bikinis and bros in monster trucks. This neighborhood has plenty of stuff for grown-ups, or those of us who don’t mind rubbing elbows with our former selves in the name of scoring quality food for reasonable prices. Take my word for it: Pacific Beach is paradise for frugal foodies.
Amy T. Granite is a dauntless eater who has written about food in San Diego since 2006. You can follow Granite and her tasty adventures on Twitter and Instagram @saysgranite. Send your mouth-watering ideas to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.