By David Nelson
Stores located around the county; sees.com
If you don't know See's, you don't know beans about chocolate. California's sweetest homegrown chain started in Mary See's home kitchen (when?). No need to argue whether Rum Nougat, California Brittle or Pecan Buds are See's finest creations, since you can buy all three for about two bucks.
Several locations around the county; chuaochocolatier.com
"Pleasure is only possible in the presence of gratitude," is the slogan of chef/chocolatier and Chuao co-founder Michael Antonorsi, who introduced San Diegans to the concept of chocolate as an artist's palette, painting his bonbons with the flavors of sea salt, blazingly hot chilies and other ingredients unexplored by mega-producers.
DAVID BACCO CHOCOLATIER
9888 Waples St., Sorrento Mesa
Opened in 2010 by Kentucky-born and master-trained confectioner David Bacco, the shop near Qualcomm world headquarters features unique creations that offer not only myriad flavors and scents, but also stunningly colorful designs inspired by everything from Bacco's experiences practicing yoga to photographs of the Milky Way.
ECLIPSE CHOCOLATE BAR & BISTRO
2145 Fern St., South Park
Newly relocated to spacious quarters in South Park and with offerings extended to daily brunch and on-tap craft beers, artisan Will Gustwiller's store - showcasing classic and contemporary chocolates - also sells other fine confections and pastries. A leader in paring savory foods and chocolate, Gustwiller brings a Wonka-esque brio to the chocolate biz.
2690 Historic Decatur Rd., Liberty Station
Good things come in small packages. This little jewel of a chocolate boutique, in one of the vast spaces of the former Naval Training Center, makes sweet dreams come to life with classic dark truffles rolled in svelte Valrhona cocoa powder, European-style truffles that sparkle with infusions of champagne, and terrifically imaginative creations like the curry coconut truffle. Chocolate-tasting parties are a house specialty.
DALLMANN CHOCOLATE BOUTIQUE
2760 Via de la Valle, Flower Hill Mall, Del Mar
Firmly built on a foundation of Austrian chocolate expertise, Dallmann brings the Old World to local chocoholics, and with amazing style. Think chocolates flavored with jasmine tea, sea salt caramel and rosewater, and intended to pair with fine wines. Others, flavored with orange and cardamom, pistachio and coffee, are meant to be enjoyed with beer.
Cruising for chocolate along the sweet streets of Escondido
By Catlin Dorset
For all the lovers out there - chocolate or otherwise - the fourth annual Chocolate Festival returns to Escondido's Maple Street Plaza February 9. Bring your sweet tooth (and sweetheart) to sample free treats along "Sweet Street." Chocolates paired with wine, champagne and locally crafted beer are also available. Take a carriage ride around Grand Avenue, listen to live music by Slow Burn and check out the street vendors. Tickets are $35; escondidochocolatefestival.com