Travel Eats: San Diego

San Diego is one of my favorite places for a weekend getaway. It has a nice mix of beautiful scenery, interesting attractions and relaxing vibes. Plus—there’s tons of great food! 

EncinitasI got my first real taste of San Diego back in college. I spent a couple summers interning  in North County, and fell in love with the local community. It was my first time living somewhere with an actual, pedestrian-friendly main street.  There were cute local businesses. I could walk to the beach in 15 minutes. And I ate really, really well.

These days, I’m lucky to live a short plane ride away. I make my way to San Diego a few times a year, and try to hit up different neighborhoods every time. There’s a real variety of things to see, from lush gardens to classic art. When it comes to food, you’ve got your pick of cuisines, from Mexican to Italian to that “New American” label we see all over the place these days.

But where should you eat? Here are my favorite spots. Whether you’re looking for brunch ideas, dinner reservations or just a sweet treat, this list should help you out!

Breakfast and brunch

Isabel’s Cantina (Pacific Beach): This charming restaurant offers a really nice mix of decadent dishes and healthy options. There’s something for everyone—and it’s all delicious. I usually convince someone to share with me so we can get one sweet and one savory dish. My faves are the Very Berry Pancakes and the Avocado Scramble.

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Clayton’s

Clayton’s Coffee Shop (Coronado): Clayton’s looks like an old-timey diner, but its food is fresh, and there are lots of interesting things on the menu. There’s usually a wait, so try to get there on the early side. The service is great here—they refill my coffee so frequently, I lose track of how much caffeine I’ve had!!!!

Potato Shack (Encinitas): The pancakes here are so big, they’re called Manhole Covers! It’s not a gimmick, though: they’re also big in flavor. If you go here, make sure to try their “American fries,” too.

Papagayo (Leucadia): I’ve always loved the atmosphere at this North County spot. It’s laid-back, with lots of personality and great food. I usually get the Macadamia Nut Pancakes or Gran Marnier French Toast.

Little Italy Mercato: Head to Little Italy on Saturday morning for their lively farmer’s market. The market takes over several city blocks with fresh produce, food stalls and local crafts. You’re sure to find something delicious!

Lunch and dinner

Juanita’s Taco Shop (Encinitas): My favorite Mexican restaurant in San Diego! No frills, but huge on flavor. I usually get a combo plate here, and love the rice and beans that come with it. 

Ki’s Restaurant (Cardiff): All meals are great here, but lunch is my favorite. I especially love the butternut squash enchiladas. The dining room has ocean views, so go here during the day and pick your seat wisely!

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Lunch at Volcano Rabbit

Volcano Rabbit (Gaslamp): We wrote this place off as another generic Gaslamp bar…until it came up with super high reviews on Yelp. Ten points to Yelp, because we loved this place! I got short rib tacos, a mushroom taco and a margarita flight. Yes, you read that right: a margarita flight. Highly recommend. 

Cafe Sevilla (Gaslamp): Grab a group for this Spanish restaurant, so you can try all the things. My fave dishes are the Queso Fundido, grilled lamb and veggie paella. Their sangria is great, too. I’ve never been to the nightclub downstairs but… maybe next time?!

Barbusa (Little Italy): This Sicilian spot is a real scene, but the food speaks for itself. Definitely make a reservation before you head over here, because it gets real busy.  

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Pasta at Leroy’s

Leroy’s (Coronado): One of my more recent finds, Leroy’s has an ever-changing menu with lots of interesting options. My favorite dish so far was fettuccine with duck ragu and chili threads. Last time we had some pretty awesome quail, and sweet corn spaghetti. You can’t go wrong! 

Trattoria I Trulli (Encinitas): I don’t want to sound controlling but…if you go here, get the pesto. It’s impossibly good, and they mix pine nuts, string beans and potatoes in with the pasta.

Bakeries and desserts

Charlie’s Best Bread (Pacific Beach): My go-to spot for breads like chocolate cherry, challah and olive. You can also find Charlie’s at local farmer’s markets and grocery stores.

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Cravory cookies

The Cravory (Multiple locations): These cookies are SO good, and come in really interesting flavors. Think Rosemary Balsamic, Taro and Lemon Matcha. I’ve never actually made it to their shops, but you can find the cookies all over town, from the Little Italy farmer’s market to Balboa Park.

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Gelato at Bobboi

Filippi’s Pizza Grotto (Little Italy): I’ve never actually eaten a meal here...but I’ve come for cookies many, many times. They offer a huge selection of classic Italian cookies. My favorites are the sandwich cookies filled with jam or chocolate!

Bobboi Natural Gelato (La Jolla): Come here for cool flavors! Last time I got a rose/hazelnut/pistachio scoop. They have lots of dairy-free flavors, too. Plus, they’re right by the beach!

Things to see in San Diego

I know this post is called Travel Eats…but I have to give you some sightseeing tips, too. Note that San Diego’s top spots are scattered around a large metro area. You might want to rent a car, but you don’t actually need one. Between public transit and ridesharing apps, it’s totally possible to get around without your own set of wheels. These are just a few of my favorite things to do in SD!

Meditation Gardens (Encinitas): These beautiful, well-maintained gardens overlook the ocean. They’re run by a local spiritual group that also offers retreats and meditation. It’s free to go in the gardens, but you can make a donation to contribute to upkeep.

Balboa Park Museums: Balboa Park offers a crazy amount of sights. Make sure to visit the Timken Museum, which is full of masterpieces and free to enter. You should also check out smaller museums like the Centro de la Raza and the International Cottages.

North County fun: Don’t limit yourself to downtown San Diego! Head up north to get a different feel. You can start your day with breakfast at one of my fave Encinitas spots, then hit up Moonlight Beach for a bit. After that, head a bit south to the meditation gardens. Then, go to the Cedros Design District in Solana Beach. It’s full of small crafts stores and a great place to discover local artisans.

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5 Quick Tips for Better Baking

People often say that baking is a science. I prefer to say that it’s exact. There is a lot of creativity to baking, and a lot of room to experiment – but you need to be purposeful with your measurements and process. Sloppy measuring or mixed-up instructions can make a profound impact on your final result. You can certainly recoup your efforts even if you make a mistake. In fact, whenever I realize I’ve messed something up, I bake it anyway! It’s fun to see how things turn out. And every now and then, the “mess up” can be quite delicious. My friend Anne and I once made a lemon olive oil cake… but forgot the olive oil! We baked it anyway and ended up with a delicious lemon cake we called “Lemon Crackle Cake” for our dinner guests later that night.

Still, you’ll want most recipes to come out the way they were intended. There are some easy things you can do to maximize your odds of delicious results. Here are some of my favorite baking “best practices”:

  1. Read Ahead: Read the entire recipe all the way through before you even start to do a single step. And I mean really read it – don’t just skim. When you skim, it’s easy to miss important details about the overall time required or important info on the order of operations. For example, a recipe might require you to chill specific ingredients after you mix them together. If you don’t realize that upfront, you might not have enough time to do the recipe right. The order of operations is really important, too. It makes a difference for how ingredients come together, so you should heed instructions for when to mix wet vs. dry, when to add the salt vs. the sugar, etc.
  2. Prep Your Space: I set up all of the ingredients and measuring cups before I even start a recipe. It’s efficient, and it helps you make sure you have everything you need. No one wants to be 5 steps in and realize they’re all out of sugar! It makes prep work quicker, too, because you aren’t racing around your kitchen in between every step. You also might want to check off ingredients as you add them to make sure you don’t forget critical steps – especially if other people are in the kitchen chatting with you as you bake.
  3. Be Precise: Some measurements don’t need to be perfect, e.g. whether you add exactly a cup of chocolate chips to your cookies, or slightly more or slightly less. But for most things, you should be very precise with your measurements. I use the spoon/knife trick with dry ingredients to level everything off as I go. Fill the cup, using a spoon as needed to fill in empty spaces. Then, use the blunt edge of the knife to smooth it out. It may sound like extra work, but it’s worth it.
  4. Use Baking Times as a Guide: Every oven acts differently. Altitude affects baking time. How big/small you made each piece affects baking time. So when I look at a recipe, I assume the “bake time” is just guidance, not an absolute number. I always check things a couple minutes before they’re supposed to be done – just in case. Sometimes the recipe needs more time in the oven than stated, sometimes it’s less. The best recipes tell you what something should look like when it’s done vs. just giving you a bake time so you know exactly when something is ready to leave the oven.
  5. Take Notes: Wherever you keep your recipes – annotate them. My mom used to scribble notes in her cookbook margins. I keep track of all the recipes I bake in a Word doc, and I always add comments about what I would change next time or any lessons I learned. If I want to make something again or share it with you online, I have an easy reference for what I learned about the recipe and how it works. I also keep track of what I did with each recipe – did I bring it to a party, a picnic, etc. But that’s just for my own sentimental reasons. I’m a sucker for memories!
  6. Be Kind to Yourself: Ok, I lied. There are 6 tips here today. Look – no matter how hard you try, no matter how much you respect the recipe, not everything is going to turn out perfectly. That’s ok! If something turns out less than perfect, or even outright gross – be kind to yourself. Trying new recipes means that some won’t work out. Take notes, and try it again. Or just move on and try something else. Baked goods are far too delicious to be the source of tears!
Getting my ingredients and measuring cups all lined up earlier today. Can you guess what I'm baking?

Getting my ingredients and measuring cups all lined up earlier today. Can you guess what I’m baking? The cutting board is just to minimize the mess on my counter… I’ve learned it helps me keep things a bit tidier!