Just like dating, neighborhood restaurants can be charming, intimate and sometimes even romantic

We’re having a loving affair with these special local eateries, including North Park’s The Smoking Goat, which turns 10 this month


We love them, we hate them, we’re obsessed with them, we ghost them.

In so many ways, restaurants are like dating.

Think about it:

There’s the sexy newcomer we get all dressed up for, post about constantly but eventually get bored with and drop.

There’s the hipster we don’t feel cool enough for but then outgrow.

There’s the guilty pleasure you’re embarrassed to even tell your friends about and the corny one your parents love, so you give it a shot and instantly regret it.

And how different, really, is the mobile delivery app from a booty call?

Then there’s the one you love, the one you can’t imagine life without, the one that’s unpretentious and charming, intimate and comfortable, occasionally even quite romantic. That’s your favorite neighborhood restaurant — even if you don’t live in the neighborhood. It’s the special place you go back to over and over, the one that gives you that warm and fuzzy feeling the moment you walk in. Or even think about.

The kind of place like The Smoking Goat. Along with Jaynes Gastropub and the now-closed Urban Solace, the Goat helped put North Park on the culinary map as a destination for great neighborhood restaurants with elevated eats. The Smoking Goat will celebrate its 10th anniversary on Wednesday and fittingly for a place we love, it’s owned by a husband-and-wife team, Fred and Tammy Piehl.

Ever since the delightful French bistro opened in 2010 as a cozy, 850-square-foot spot for escargot, steak frites, duck fat truffle fries, goat cheese cheesecake and expertly chosen, well-priced wines, the Goat has been embraced by locals and out-of-town visitors alike. And the Piehls, who have been married for 13 years, have been hugging them right back with their hospitality and fine fare.

Owning a beloved restaurant takes more than running a business that simply serves food and drinks, they said. They’ve aimed for excellence without pretension. They’ve adapted to changes in the restaurant industry while remaining consistent. And as with any relationship that endures, the key to the couple’s success has been a commitment to making their better half feel special.

“All of our employees need to have the same passions that we do ... to make it a memorable experience,” said Fred Piehl, the restaurant’s chef.

“This is a relationship you’re creating, a relationship with your guests,” added Tammy Piehl, who manages the day-to-day operations of the Goat and its sister restaurant next door, One Door North. “We’re looking for a longtime relationship with our guests — it’s not just hi and goodbye. We’re teaching the servers it’s not just about the money.”

Over the past decade, the Piehls’ family has grown — they have two children, ages 7 and 9 — and The Smoking Goat has expanded as well. After it was clear in 2012 that they had a hit on their hands, they took over a recently vacated space adjacent the restaurant, tripling the Goat’s size to 2,500 square feet.

Working with your spouse isn’t always a recipe for a successful marriage, but the Piehls have cooked up a strategy that keeps them sweet on each other.

“We stay in our own lanes,” said Tammy Piehl. “We have different styles. He has vision; he’s more creative. I’m more engaged in the business; I’m the one who says, ‘Let’s see how to get that done.’ ”

And when one veers into the other’s lane?

“One secret to our success is we can argue, and it’s OK,” Fred Piehl said.

With that, the couple then had a good-natured disagreement. Asked if they have date nights out to another restaurant, he said no. She said yes. Turns out, they were both right. When the Piehls do eat out, it’s more like a date night with work benefits.

“Going out to dinner is different for us. He grills the servers; he wants to know everything about the restaurant. ... Half the time he’s in the kitchen,” Tammy Piehl said, laughing.

“Tammy gets really embarrassed!” Fred Piehl said, clearly relishing the role of the eye roll-provoking husband.

Something the couple agrees on is that love seems to be in the air at The Smoking Goat. Among the restaurant’s staff, at least four couples have met, dated and gotten married in the 10 years it’s been open. Customers have met there, too. Two got engaged at the Goat this past New Year’s Eve in true rom-com style, Fred Piehl said.

“The whole restaurant was involved in the proposal,” he said.

With Valentine’s Day Friday and The Smoking Goat’s anniversary on Wednesday, the hopeless romantics in us prompted us to peruse our Little Black Book for other neighborhood restaurants we love. Swipe right on them, San Diego. They’re keepers.

Bo-Beau Kitchen + Bar

As inviting and delightful as a French country inn, the original Bo-Beau is a quintessential date night locale. Standout dishes include the crispy brussels sprouts with pancetta, parmesan and balsamic, mussels in lobster bisque with sherry crème fraîche, and a soul-satisfying boeuf Bourguignon. 4996 W. Point Loma Blvd., Ocean Beach. (619) 224-2884.

Cafe Athena

There’s a relaxed vibe at this airy taverna and the regulars all seem to know each other. No doubt they’re drawn to the expertly made Greek classics, like smoky baba ghanoush, lamb and onion bourekia, baked lamb and eggplant moussaka, and the two best desserts this side of Santorini — rose water-topped baklava and galaktoboureko, oven-hot phyllo rolls of farina custard and orange zest. 1846 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach. (858) 274-1140.


Practically from the day it opened in 2016, John Resnick’s rustic open fire-focused restaurant on State Street became Carlsbad’s most popular restaurant. It’s a hit with foodies, who crave its roasted vegetable and meat dishes, and parents with small children who can relax on the tent- and firepit-decorated patio. Last year, it also earned a coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand honor. 2725 State St., Carlsbad. (760) 637-5121.

Cenote Grill

Russ and Pam Taylor opened this popular neighborhood Mexican restaurant in north Escondido in 2004. Named for the cenote (“sink hole”) caverns, lakes and wells in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, it’s one of the Escondido/San Marcos area’s favorite go-to spots for a delicious sit-down Mexican lunch or dinner. It’s known for large portions, reasonable prices and delicious sangria. 1896 W. El Norte Parkway, Escondido. (760) 740-9911.


A bright new star on San Diego’s burgeoning Italian food scene, the instantly popular Cesarina buzzes with energy, thanks in no small part to its trio of enthusiastic owners. Can’t-miss dishes include fior di zucca, crispy octopus, short rib pappardelle, tonnarelli cacio e pepe, and the made-to-order tableside tiramisù, one of the best desserts in San Diego. Or anywhere. 4161 Voltaire St., Point Loma. (619) 226-6222.

Ciao Ristorante

Opened 22 years ago by Giuseppe and Gloria Di Giovanni, this Italian restaurant is an institution in north Vista. Last year, the family completed a three-year renovation that tripled the size of the property to 12,000 feet, adding a second modern Italian restaurant as well as a wine bar, delicatessen, bakery, gelateria and 250-seat ballroom. Ciao is known for its large portions, lasagna, tiramisù and fresh-baked Italian bread. 2015 E. Vista Way, Vista. (760) 630-7333.

Cucina Sorella

The sweet little sister of the Cucina restaurant group, this family-friendly local hangout has great food and perhaps the most welcoming manager in San Diego, Gracie Valtierra. Sorella lets you create your own pasta dish and serves deliciously crusty deep-dish-ish pizza. Don’t skip the luscious salted caramel budino with cocoa nibs for dessert. 4055 Adams Ave., Kensington. (619) 281-4014.

Et Voilà

A perfect slice of Paris in North Park, nothing disappoints on Et Voilà’s menu. Settle in for irresistible ravioli aux champignons, coquilles Saint-Jacques, warm, crusty French bread, moules marinière, escargots, reblochon cheese in flaky phyllo, profiteroles and Et Voilà’s signature soufflé du jour. It’s also a top pick for French wine lovers. 3015 Adams Ave., North Park. (619) 209-7759.

Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen

One of the first finer-dining restaurants to open in Oceanside in 2011, the “Pig” is known for chef Mario Moser’s housemade bacon, pasta, focaccia, chili and gazpacho. It’s also revered for the “Cheers”-like hospitality of owners Roddy and Aaron Browning, who know most of their customers by name. Weekend brunch and a speakeasy cocktail program have just been added. 626 Tremont St., Oceanside. (760) 453-2940.

Jaynes Gastropub

San Diego’s original British-style gastropub, Jaynes is more of a global culinary adventure, with such eclectic menu choices as bangers and mash, lamb shepherd’s pie, crispy eggplant tikka masala, gambas al aljillo, wiener schnitzel and the classic Jayne burger. Snag a seat in the charming patio garden and enjoy the trip. 4677 30th St., North Park. (619) 563-1011.

Little Frenchie

Coronado’s loveliest newcomer is a beachy take on the French bistro. There are lightened-up versions of dishes like smoked salmon rillette, but Little Frenchie pays proper homage to such standards as cassoulet, escargot, croques, frites, moules, the simple omelet, and, bien sûr, le fromage. Pair it all with bubbles from the “Champagne altar.” 1166 Orange Ave., Coronado. (619) 675-0041.

Maggie’s Cafe

Everything is scratch-made at this homey, Mexican-flavored breakfast-all-day diner at Mercado del Barrio. Run by two generations of the exceedingly sweet Granda family, if Maggie’s sunflower-yellow walls don’t make you smile, the food will. Top picks include the South of the Border Benedict, the Guaca burger, chile relleno omelet and the stuffed French toast. 1985 National Ave., Suite 1129, Barrio Logan. (619) 241-2660.

Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro

This long-running, stylish spot was founded by Tijuana’s legendary Plascencia restaurant family. Blending the best of Baja and Mediterranean cuisines, Romesco is perfect for casual tapas grazing or dressy date nights out — particularly with its tableside service. We can’t get enough of the pulpo tostadas and Grandma’s fideo tacos, with spaghettini and Spanish chorizo. 4346 Bonita Road, Bonita. (619) 475-8627.

RoVino Restaurant + Wine

If we had a dollar for every time someone wrote us to recommend RoVino, we could retire. Fans hail the unpretentious Italian menu of pastas, flatbreads, roasted meats and more. But what really touches people is how they’re treated like family from the first time they walk into the intimate dining room. 2034 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy. (619) 269-9341.


With a patio overlooking Powerhouse Park and the Pacific Ocean, Sbicca has been a popular date night spot for Del Martians for more than 20 years. It’s known for its award-winning wine list, crab cakes, pasta Bolognese and Burgundy-braised short ribs. 215 15th St., Del Mar. (858) 481-1001.

Terra American Bistro

Chef Jeff Rossman’s homage to locally sourced American comfort food is the kind of comfy, casual neighborhood spot everyone wants near them. Don’t miss his flavor-packed Salty Peppery Calamari, addictive truffle fries, the better-than-mom’s Jeff’s Meatloaf and two of the best sides in town: mac and cheese and jalapeño cornbread. 7091 El Cajon Blvd., La Mesa. (619) 293-7088.

Tony’s Jacal Mexican Restaurant

A Solana Beach institution, Tony’s Jacal has been a popular watering hole for Del Mar Racetrack bettors since it opened in 1946. The restaurant occupies the converted former home of restaurant co-founders Tony and Catalina Gonzalez. Their children now run the old-school eatery, which is known for its colorful Mexican décor, festive patio, turkey tacos and chile rellenos. 621 Valley Ave., Solana Beach. (858) 755-2274.

The Smoking Goat’s 10th anniversary celebration

When: 5-9 p.m. Wednesday

Where: 3408 30th St., North Park

Cost: $40 for three courses, complimentary sweets and a glass of bubbly

Phone: (619) 955-5295


Union-Tribune staff writer Pam Kragen contributed to this report.