Three seasons passed, and the Otay Ranch Town Center still hadn't gotten the slow-roasted cochinita pibil it'd been promised since spring 2012. Then in the midst of holiday and hungry in-law season, this second El Vitral opened (Dec. 13). While larger than the flagship East Village El Vitral, this Chula Vista location has the same menu (the tequila selection is still taking shape). It has a more family-friendly vibe than the first one, open since 2009 and known for its 250+ tequilas and duck enchiladas. The owner of both El Vitrals, Pablo Becker, is doing double duty as their chef. He's trained in French cuisine, but the mole poblano is his grandmother's recipe. Heads up: The East Village El Vitral is closed through January for renovations.
Otay Ranch Town Center, near the Cheesecake Factory and Barnes & Noble, in Zone C, 2015 Birch Road #710, Chula Vista. (619) 421-7067 or on Facebook.
San Diego Soup Shoppe
They've been fresh-making medleys of mushroom with Brie or New England clam chowder since opening in November. You might remember these soup makers from their days at the Ocean Beach Farmers' Market, where they operated as the OB Bread company. Once known for slinging lobster bisque and roasted red pepper in the beach town's streets, they've bulked up their soup selection since throwing up a shingle at the corner of Utah and El Cajon Boulevard. (And changed their roasted red pepper recipe to now include Gouda.) The Shoppe technically closes at 6 p.m., but when they sell out of their six-soup selection they lock the doors.
2850 El Cajon Blvd. North Park. (619) 795-3870 or sdsoupshoppe.com.
Manna BBQ - San Marcos
You're welcome, San Marcos carnivores. Open since December, this is the sister restaurant to the all-you-can-eat Korean barbecue restaurant on Convoy Street. So you die-hard bulgogi-fans know the Manna drill...There are three different menu options: $19.50 per person for the regular meat feast; the premium's $24.95 and upgrades you to seafood and prime rib; for $35.95 you get access to every animal product, including the Kobe beef. Every table has a gas grill installed in its center. Don't worry, the servers can help you cook. (Pictured left)
740 Nordahl San Marcos. (760) 743 3300 or Facebook.
Open since Dec. 14, Blind Burro was inspired by Mexico's haute cuisine of the moment, out of Baja (so there's no burritos, no enchiladas). This East Village newbie has mariscos, mahi mahi and seafood cazuelas (stews) designed by chef consultant Sara Polczynski. (She did Analog's menu and recently explored Baja cuisine with celebrity chef/Mexi-phile Rick Bayless.) Blind Burro comes from owner Ty Hauter (Lucky's Lunch Counter, Bootlegger, + his other Good Time Design venues). It has two bars, both with an emphasis on tequilas and mezcals and Bacanora de Sonora--which was an illegal drink until recently. And the Burro occupies the old Fleetwood space, yet it upped the social-dining quotient: They added booths and killed the DJs and dance floor. Lunch service starts Jan. 13. (A sister speakeasy called Cat Eye Club is attached to the restaurant, and will open on the Seventh Ave. side of the building come February: cateyeclubsd.com.)
639 J St. East Village. (619) 795-7880 or theblindburro.com.
The UTC mall's booze-fueled shopping prayers are answered. It's getting this SoCal burger import. There's as much an emphasis on whiskey as there is craft beer. (We're promised 40 examples of each great genre.) Eureka! has a soft opening this weekend. Read some of our hype about Eureka! here. Pictured above: Eureka! Caprese Burger.
Westfield UTC Mall, 4353 La Jolla Village Drive, University City. eurekaburger.com.
So far the $12 menu from exec chef Konstantin Plavnik is teeny -- grilled oysters, sandwich, cobb salad, cheese and meat board. So turn your longing eyes to the $9 craft-cocktail menu, where Bailiwick resurrects a classic (their Sidecar uses Zaya Rum), a version of a trademarked drink (there's is called a Dark and Stouty, instead of the copyrighted Dark and Stormy) and this just-opened Gaslamp spot isn't afraid to work with smokey, mezcal spirits.
756 Fifth Ave. Gaslamp. (619) 795-3036 or bailiwicksd.com.
Felix's BBQ With Soul
Looking for a brown-gravy smothered, cornmeal-battered, slow-smoked or fried food place? Right here. Expanding upon their Oceanside concept and their Alabama-style 'cue, this Felix's lends a polished-but-family-friendly touch to a shopping center by the Euclid Trolley stop. There's a full bar. And this three-month-old Felix's has been bringing folks for breakfast (chicken and Belgian waffles), lunch and dinner. Note: The barbecue (chicken, pulled pork and beef) gets slathered in a sweetish sauce. And make sure to get a side of greens for an authentic Southern experience. Or a six-cheese mac 'n cheese for decadence.
342 Euclid Ave. (619) 546-9120 or felixsbbq.com.
Read Keli Dailey's full story and more on utsandiego.com