Enough with the endless lines and mimosas! Brunch in San Diego may be more popular than ever, but we’re not flipping for overpriced flapjacks. But since you insist on going: Here are 10 places that serve up an excellent unconventional brunch
Maybe it’s just a pretext for day drinking, or an excuse to load up on carbs, or a guilt-free way to sleep late and laze about every Sunday.
Whatever is fueling the brunch craze — at least a decade in and showing no signs of ebbing — it can’t be the hackneyed Hollandaise being ladled out by the bucketful, the cheap O.J. and even cheaper bubbly being endlessly poured, or the cringe-inducing colossal portions. And don’t even get us started on the lines to get in or the bloated prices and — can we all say jump the shark? — bloody Marys garnished with pizza, burgers or fried chicken.
And yet, you persist: You continue to line up and brunch places continue to open.
Several prolific local breakfast chains are debuting new locations at a clip faster than you can crack an egg. And nearly every established casual and fine dining restaurant in the county has given in to the boozy brunch trend.
To stand out in this sea of scrambles, the morning meal is increasingly coming with a twist. One of our favorite spots in San Diego, the East Village’s You & Yours Distilling Co., just launched a small, creative brunch menu that deploys its not-so-secret weapons: You & Yours vodka and gin. Among the dishes to pair with a new lineup of cocktails are bloody Mary toast, with vodka-cured salmon, roasted tomato cream cheese, lemon zest, cherry tomato and micro celery and stuffed French toast, with cherry jam and cream cheese filling, a corn flake crust and Provisional Gin cherry sauce.
The new daytime eatery Breakfast Bitch in Hillcrest uses cheeky branding and sassy swearing in the vein of L.A.'s crazy successful, and prim by comparison, Eggslut. And North Park will soon see the opening of Flap Your Jacks, where brunchers will make their own pancakes on personal griddles right at the table. (We’re sorry, but if we’re cooking our own breakfast, we’re showing up in a tattered robe and fuzzy slippers.)
Brunch is in no way a San Diego phenomenon. From Portland to Williamsburg to Silver Lake, it is, as they say, a thing.
All melodrama aside, we’re not trying to kill off this overdone ritual. We are simply trying to elevate it. That’s why we went in search of places that eschew the clichéd, conventional approach to brunch, ones that are inspired by global dishes, like Oceanside’s Dija Mara, a Southeast Asian restaurant with Thai, Balinese, Filipino and Vietnamese-inspired French toast, hash and egg dishes. Or those that are curated by truly talented chefs who don’t give their skills a day off just because it’s Sunday, like Brad Wise’s Fort Oak in Mission Hills, whose smoked lamb shoulder hash with a sunny side egg, potatoes, pickled peppers, mint, vadouvan aioli and cilantro is an elevated egg-tastic version of the soulful cooking he serves up at night.
So if you must brunch, San Diego, here are 10 places we think you should try.
Classy and urbane, Fort Oak is a beacon in the boring brunch depths, with wonderful woodfired dishes emanating from the custom 7,000-pound grill. You can’t go wrong with any dish whether it’s the unconventional charred caulilini, with fermented chile aioli, shallot vinaigrette, smoked almonds and currants, or a twist on a classic like the aforementioned smoked lamb shoulder hash, or the breakfast meatballs, with two eggs, country biscuits, red eye gravy and butter. One of the best burgers in town is on the menu: with dry-aged beef, aged cheddar, truffle onion jam, fried egg and aioli. And if you seek perfection on a plate, you’ll find it in the whisper-light, crispy, Tahitian vanilla waffle with lemon curd, sweetened ricotta and hot smoked almonds. No syrup necessary. 1011 Fort Stockton Drive, Mission Hills. (619) 722-3398. fortoaksd.com
Herb & Wood
Brian Malarkey’s beautiful, bustling and delicious Little Italy hotspot could lead a master class in serving unique brunch dishes. Sure, there’s avocado toast, but why not opt for the sense-awakening burrata and crispy prosciutto toast, with a touch of local honey and cracked black pepper? H&W’s signature woodfired pizza comes in four varieties, but we loved the ode to New York: salmon lox pizza with everything spice (as in bagel), crème fraîche, red onion, capers, sieved egg and little pops of trout roe. Luscious pull-apart monkey bread is listed on the menu under “Sweet Start” and because of the limited availability, we’d suggest you order it first. Lightly drizzled with caramel and sesame and topped with tahini gelato, its a one-of-a-kind dish. One small quibble: the Dungeness crab hash could use more crab and less potatoes. 2210 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy. (619) 955-8495. herbandwood.com
Brunch at this new Coronado beachy bistro is like being whisked off to Paris, complete with a Champagne and cheese bar and a legit, stripped down French herb omelet. Order the spectacular pastry basket (with flaky, buttery croissants, scones and mini Danish) and the lightest and smoothest smoked salmon rillettes you’ll ever have — it’s not Paris, it’s California, so chef Matt Sramek has subbed out the butter for yogurt crème fraîche. Bacon, gruyère and caramelized onion quiche tastes altogether authentic as does the croque madame on brioche, with ham, creamy Comté mornay and sunny-side-up egg. Albacore Niçoise salad is always a healthy choice, but le burger is how we rouler. It’s topped with onion confit, aioli, a sunny-side-up hen egg and warm raclette cheese poured over the burger tableside. Served with crispy duck fat frites, you’ll be thankful at least for the butter-less rillettes. 1166 Orange Ave., Coronado. (619) 675-0041. bluebridgehospitality.com/little-frenchie
This postage stamp-sized charmer has serious San Diego culinary cred and crowds of customers to prove it. The Coulon sisters — Anne-Marie, Jacqueline, and Dominique — hail from the family that brought us the beloved, and groundbreaking Belgian Lion. So it’s in their genes to serve elevated brunch fare like baked green eggs with cream, Cypress Grove goat cheese, sautéed greens, leeks and a pesto-ish housemade chimichurri or creamy mozzarella on black olive bread with silky slices of prosciutto and homemade romesco sauce. Not surprisingly, every other dish we saw coming out the kitchen was the Belgian waffle with whipped cream and mixed berries. Also not a surprise: with very limited seating and a no-reservation policy, the wait to get in can be long. Put your name down on the list and be patient. But maybe don’t be tempted to walk along Sunset Cliffs as we were. Our table came up, sooner than we were told it would, and when we got back, we had to wait another half-hour. The sides of crispy Belgian Lion potatoes and tasty duck bacon jalapeño sausage helped make up for it. 1424 Sunset Cliffs Blvd., Point Loma. (619) 756-6921. thelittlelioncafe.com
Fellow brunch-hater Arsalun Tafazoli set out to change the brunch narrative in San Diego and instead blew it up with his riotously pink, Little Italy antidote to the banal. Morning Glory’s stunning $4 million interior, by style master Paul Basile, and sprawling yet focused, inventive menu from chef/partner Jason McLeod take brunch to a new level. Nearly every dish is divine, but we’re particularly in love with the khachapuri, Georgian cheese and egg bread, the chilaquiles, Omelet Sando with katsuobushi (dried tuna flakes) on Wonder Bread, the Egg McFunnin and each of the glorious pancake varieties (classic flapjacks, Japanese soufflé and German). Be forewarned: it’s crazy crowded and they don’t take reservations. One work-around is to go during the week when you can also enjoy the sophisticated, newly launched tea service, Monday-Friday from noon-3 p.m. 550 W. Date St., Little Italy. (619) 629-0302. morningglorybreakfast.com
You may be surprised that one of the county’s best waffles is being served at this new Solana Beach cafe owned by Root Cellar catering’s Jamie and Marie Brawn. But the real shocker is that Homestead’s featherlight and deliciously crispy brown butter waffles with housemade walnut butter are gluten-free. So are the muffins, breads and luscious chicken pot hand-pies. The couple’s two sons have food allergies, so everything they make, both at home and for their customers, is made from scratch with mostly organic, local ingredients. The menu is small, but every item is delicious, like the Homestead burrito made with Root Cellar’s famous braised beef short rib. And the shaved farm beet and lemon thyme ricotta salad is the perfect summer meal. Pair it with one of the restaurant’s popular lavender lattes. There may be a wait on weekends, but it’s worth it. 8 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. 346 S. Cedros Ave., Solana Beach. (858) 209-0149. homesteadsolalabeach.com
Carol Roizen and Jonathan Goldwasser have a similar story to the Brawns in what turned them toward serving healthy, fresh and mostly organic food at their three Parakeet Cafés in La Jolla, Little Italy and, most recently, Del Mar. Their youngest daughter Michelle, now a healthy 13-year-old athlete, needed chemotherapy as a baby and the then-Mexico City couple discovered how quickly her body responded to a clean, healthy diet. Now local diners can benefit from their discoveries. The San Diego couple’s cheery cafés serve a chef-driven, seasonal menu of sustainable coffees, teas, elixir health drinks, gluten-free and vegan pastries and egg and fresh veggie-focused entrees. Signature items are the turmeric latte, avocado toast with crunchy mung beans and beet spirals; mango chutney toast; overnight oats and chia seeds with granola and fruit; grilled vegetable bowl with buckwheat noodles; and organic green scrambled eggs with kale, spinach and green beans with labneh toast. 7 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. 927 Silverado St., La Jolla; 1680 India St., Little Italy; 3745 Paseo Place, Suite 820, Del Mar. parakeetcafe.com
Jeune et Jolie
This charming eight-month French eatery in Carlsbad Village has already established a following for its exquisite dinner menu. Less known, but no less accomplished, is the 90-seat restaurant’s weekend brunch menu. Chef Andrew Bachelier’s brunch menu is petite, with just nine prepared items plus a raw bar, but they’re all created with thoughtfulness and detail. The dishes sound like what you’d find on an American brunch menu (there’s an omelette and a French toast), but they’re prepared with classic French technique. Start with a bowl of made-to-order beignets, rolled in granulated sugar and served with sides of vanilla crème and fresh apricot jam. Consider the salad Lyonnaise, which is generously laden with crispy cubes of smoked lardon and a finger-licking green goddess dressing. But our favorite is the Tartine, which is scrambled eggs topped with Mornay sauce, chives and espelette pepper seasoning served over halves of a baked-from-scratch English muffin. Reservations fill up quickly, so plan ahead. 2659 State St., Carlsbad. (760) 737-5266. jeune-jolie.com
If you haven’t heard of chef Ryan Costanza’s Balinese/Indonesian bistro yet, it may be because O’siders are trying to keep the fast-rising 28-seat restaurant a secret. Open since fall 2017, the fine-dining spot is famous for its Nasi Goreng, a decadent fried rice and egg dish that’s also the star of its brunch menu. Costanza honed his technique in Singapore, Korea and Japan and worked at Lukshon, L.A.'s revered Southeast Asian restaurant. As at Jeune et Jolie, the menu has familiar-sounding breakfast dishes, but with a difference, like the Thai sausage hash, the Kaya French toast with coconut pandan jam and the sourdough toast with cultured Koji butter. New to Southeast Asian cuisine? Try the $15 Nasi Lemak Breakfast plate, with a mix of proteins, veggies and sides. 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Sundays. 232 S. Coast Highway, Oceanside. (760) 231-5376. dijamara.com
Another hidden gem is this lovely and affordable full-service restaurant/bar, which opened in April in a North County business park. It’s named for San Diego’s legendary long-distance swimmer Florence Chadwick, whose photos, trophies, personal mementos and even the swimsuit she wore while crossing the English Channel in 1950, adorn the walls. Chadwick traveled the world, and that’s reflected in chef Ricardo Heredia’s globally inspired menu. The excellent brunch menu includes the soul-satisfying broken rice porridge, with the surprise of chicken meatballs hidden inside, ginger, scallions, cured egg yolk shavings and a dash of spicy chili oil. There’s also the perfectly cooked salmon paillard with arugula, grapes and house Hollandaise. House-baked pastries include the Chadwick bun, which is a brioche cinnamon roll, the indulgent chocolate croissant bread pudding, and cute little blueberry taiyaki, a Japanese pastry shaped like a fish, in Chadwick’s honor. Kilroy Sabre Springs, 13480 Evening Creek Drive North, Suite 150, San Diego. (858) 433-1545. theflorencesd.com