San Diego — Or, What I Did on My Winter Vacation

2 Feb

Tania and I just got back from a whirlwind of a trip to San Diego.  The main purpose of our visit to California was a wedding of some close friends.  (I was in the wedding, ostensibly because the groom and I grew up next door to one another.  But it may also be that I just happen to look damn good in a tux.)  As would be expected of someone who cares enough about food to write about it on the internet, we did our best to eat our way through San Diego as well.

We ate incredibly well at the wedding itself.  The rehearsal lunch was fantastic, and dinner at the wedding reception exceeded all my expectations for wedding food.  As good as those meals were, it’s the many other meals that will be the subject of this blog.

Rather than a chronological listing, I’m going to recount our trip by category.  Looking over those meals, with one notable exception, they appear to break break down into three main classes: breakfast, fish, and drinking.  Because this is a long post, here’s a quick list that will jump you right to each place we went:

The Mission
Mystic Moca
Mariscos German
Oscar’s Mexican Seafood
Hamilton’s Tavern
Stone Brewing Company
In-N-Out Burger



The Mission

Researching San Diego ahead of time, I was told by several people that if we were looking for a cool neighborhood away from the tourist spots then we couldn’t go wrong with North Park.  Heeding that advice, Tania and I booked a really cool modern loft through AirBnB.  As an added bonus, The Mission restaurant was only a short walk from where we were staying.

Papas Locos

Papas Locos

Although I always say I’m going to branch out and try a sweet breakfast for once, when push comes to shove, I never fail to select a savory option.  And that’s what happened at The Mission.  I opted for the Papas Locos from the “Latino Breakfast” portion of the menu.  A delicious combination of beans, eggs and potatoes, the whole mess was tied together with spicy and flavorful grilled jalapenos.


Tania’s sweet tooth is the yin to my breakfast palate’s yang.  She got the cornmeal blueberry pancakes.  Tania loves pancakes.  Especially ones with cornmeal.  And with things, like fruit, in them.

Mystic Mocha

Having already had one delicious breakfast, when day two of our stay in North Park rolled around, we asked our AirBnB host Laura for a recommendation that wouldn’t let us down.  She directed us to Mystic Mocha in University Heights.  A hole-in-the-wall local joint if there ever was one, she said that they had the best chilaquiles she had ever had.  A ringing endorsement considering the fact that she originally hailed from Mexico City.

The space at Mystic Mocha isn’t all that big.  Which is fine, because a lot of the business seemed to consist of neighborhood locals stopping in for breakfast or a morning to-go cup of coffee.  Everyone seemed to know each other, but that didn’t stop them from providing great service to strangers such as us.



I of course got the recommended chilaquiles—with chorizio. (See earlier comment about my savory tooth.)  But they also had muffins with interesting flavor combinations, which I also felt compelled to try.  I ended up with a banana Mexican chocolate, with strawberries.


Tania, being the responsible one of the group, chose their oatmeal.  And while I don’t have any photos of it, believe me, it was good.  Tania is a bit of an oatmeal expert, and she said it was the best oatmeal she’s had that she didn’t make herself.

Fish tacos


Mariscos German

Fish tacos were a dish I had heard of prior to planning our trip to San Diego.  But it wasn’t until we started getting ready to go that I realized how essential they are to the city’s culinary identity.  Fish tacos are a borderline obsession, with heated debates about where to find the best iterations.  A name that kept coming up, time and again, was Mariscos German.  A collection of taco trucks, and perhaps a restaurant?, scattered throughout the city, Mariscos German was always discussed in language used only for the most revered of establishments.  The only catch?  Their trucks apparently can be hard to find on occasion. While usually in established locations, it sounds as if there is enough variability in the schedule to make one feel fortunate to actually find them.

Fish taco at Mariscos German.

Fish taco at Mariscos German.

Fish soup.  You can't see them, but there are lots of fish pieces hanging out at the bottom of the cup.

Fish soup. You can’t see them, but there are lots of fish pieces hanging out at the bottom of the cup.

Luckily for us, find them we did.  And the truck we visited lived up to the hype.  Their fish taco is probably the best $1.50 I’ve ever spent on food.  Not only that, but along with a taco, you also get a small cup of fish soup.


Gobernador taco.

I also tried their “gobernador” taco, which was loaded with shrimp, celery, peppers, cilantro cheese and other vegetables. It was so stuffed, a fork was required.  Tania opted for the ceviche tostada, which she also raved about.


Oscar’s Mexican Seafood

Oscar’s Mexican Seafood was the last meal we ate in California before heading off to the airport.  We were in La Jolla at the time, and were looking for one last fix of seafood and/or Mexican.  We didn’t realize at the time that Oscar’s was also a fish taco place—one where you order at the counter and grab one of the seats outside to eat.  But we were glad it was.

Fish taco at Oscar's Mexican Seafood.

Fish taco at Oscar’s Mexican Seafood — with ceviche in the background.

The fish tacos at Oscar’s were also quite good.  Although I still give the nod to Mariscos German.  The ceviche at Oscar’s might have been better though; the fish was cut into larger pieces rather than the usual Mexican ceviche dice.  I had a surf and turf taco, with steak and shrimp.  It was great, with very flavorful and well-cooked steak.

Oscar's surf and turf taco.

Oscar’s surf and turf taco.



Hamilton’s Tavern

I don’t have any pictures for Hamilton’s sadly.  We ended up there because we were looking for a place where we might be able to sample some locally brewed beers.  Hamilton’s was listed on a hand-drawn map our AirBnB hosts had provided.  Tania also found some great reviews of the place.  And when I found it discussed in this NY Times article about beer brewing in San Diego, we knew we had to go.

The bartenders were incredibly friendly, and put up with my probing questions about what was local and good. I had a couple different beers, but the one that stands out the most was the Tounge Buckler from Ballast Point Brewing.  It was a well-balanced beer with a lot of complex flavors.

Stone Brewing Company

The Stone Brewing Company really needs no introduction.  By now, they’ve firmly entrenched themselves in the top echelon of American craft brewers.  I knew that their brewery was somewhere out in the San Diego area, but had written off the possibility of a trip.  I figured we were going to be too far from the brewery, and busy with wedding things to boot.  So you can imagine my surprise and elation when Tania discovered that they were only 15 minutes from our hotel and asked if I wanted to go.

Of course I did.

Tania at the Stone Brewery.

Tania at the Stone Brewery.

As with many craft breweries, Stone has their usual compliment of beers.  And then there are beers you can only find at the brewery.  I had an amazing Bastardized Bastard Ale w/coconut, cocoa nibs & oak off the cask.  And then I was able to try the final entry in their Vertical Epic series, the 12.12.12.  Sadly, that night they were out of the most recent batch of Enjoy By, so I didn’t get to sample that freshest of their beers.

I did however buy a really cool looking growler of the 12.12.12 for later consumption.

Growler of Vertical Epic 12.12.12.

Growler of Vertical Epic 12.12.12.



In-N-Out Burger

Finally, no trip to California would be complete without a stop at In-N-Out Burger.  This was Tania’s first trip, and only my second.  As one would expect, we got that iconic In-N-Out burger: the Double-Double Animal Style.

Blurry photo of a Double-Double, Animal Style.

Blurry photo of a Double-Double, Animal Style.

Those of us who live in states other than California have often lamented the fact that we have to travel several hours west to get our In-N-Out fix.  I still mourn that fact on a regular basis.  But if you live in Ohio, there is comfort to be had.  While In-N-Out is incredibly delicious, it still is, in my opinion, only the second best fast food burger.  Northeast Ohio’s Swenson’s edges it out for the top spot.

Heresy? Maybe.  But I’m willing to put the Galley Boy (and even the regular cheeseburger) up against the Double-Double any day.


One Response to “San Diego — Or, What I Did on My Winter Vacation”

  1. Nikola June 26, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

    It looks like you ate really well during your winter vacation to San Diego! I’ve heard there are a ton of great restaurants in the city. What better way to spend a vacation than dining at all the best spots?

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