Travel Eats documents my food adventures while traveling.
We had originally scheduled this trip to celebrate our first anniversary in April 2020, but we all know how that timing turned out! More than a year later, we were even more grateful for a substantial change of scenery and the ability to travel across the country now that we were fully vaccinated. I enjoyed finally visiting a city I’d always heard so much about and the variety of cuisines available.
Of course, my top priority was fresh seafood, and Ironside Fish & Oyster in Little Italy didn’t disappoint. The local rock crab was beautifully served with fragrant, creamy coconut curry rice in the cavity. The extra effort to dig out the sweet meat for a dunk in the drawn butter was definitely worth it. My other half also experienced a revelatory dish: chowder fries (exactly what it sounds like). I’m now tempted to recreate this combination at other restaurants, regardless of the confused looks that might ensue.
The tempura cauliflower with a zippy chili sauce was a welcome veggie addition to our meal. I also sampled a couple of briny oysters (with especially pungent horseradish!), washed down with a Buenaveza salt & lime lager from local Stone Brewing.
The grand seafood finale came in our last dinner of the trip at C Level: a platter with salmon tartare, Old Bay-rubbed shrimp, an ahi tuna-crab salad-mango salsa tower, and a half-dozen oysters. It was decadent and refreshing, with so many of my favorite ocean flavors. C Level’s sherry-topped lobster bisque was also top-notch. Besides the food, the main draw of this restaurant on Harbor Island was the sweeping skyline views, which made the experience even more special.
We also saw great views at Pier Cafe, a waterfront restaurant in Seaport Village. The crab cake appetizer made an excellent snack after lots of exploring, especially when paired with a gingery happy hour cocktail with strawberry, basil, and mint.
Another San Diego food priority was Mexican cuisine, so I was happy to discover a family-owned taco shop a short walk from our hotel that served breakfast burritos. The savory chorizo, egg, potato, salsa, and cheese were well-blended and tightly wrapped in the tortilla. Just half of this hefty burrito was the perfect fuel for a day at the renowned San Diego Zoo.
And continuing with the outrageously-topped-fries theme, we sampled tsunami fries from Lolita’s, which featured both carne asada and shrimp as meaty toppings, as well as cabbage- and pico-laden fish tacos.
Our most captivating restaurant experience of the trip was at Morning Glory, a popular brunch spot in Little Italy with an opulent, pink-washed interior and tons of fun details (like the champagne vending machine across from our table). I went with the cheesy khachapuri and the coconutty Irish coffee, and both hit the spot for high-end brunch fare.
The best bites of the meal, though, were the fluffy Japanese-style soufflé pancakes – sky-high, custardy cakes paired with syrup and not-too-sweet whipped cream. They were a unique kind of delicious, and I can see why they’re a best-seller.
We’d also heard great things about the exquisite creations at Extraordinary Desserts, and after a lot of gazing through the glass display case, we chose a slice of cake decked out with rose petals and pink and white chocolate shavings, hinting at the guava mousse, strawberries, and Kirsch-infused vanilla layers inside. A celebration-worthy slice, to be sure.
We rounded out our dessert experience with ice cream from Salt & Straw, a scoop shop I’d visited in its original Portland location many years ago, but has since expanded to more West Coast cities. The salted, malted cookie dough flavor lived up to its name, pleasantly salty with a ribbon of rich malted fudge.
I was also very happy to stumble across charming Daniel’s Coffee, a tiny stand inside the colorful Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park near the zoo. My iced dirty chai was one of the best I’ve had.
One last gem came when we took the ferry over to Coronado Island. Clayton’s Coffee Shop was an endearing kitschy retro diner with bottomless “great diner coffee,” a massive menu, and a walk-up window slinging pie and milkshakes. My caprese-inspired avocado toast, while requiring a little construction, was a great mix of California flavors, and the side of creamed corn (that I amped up with some shakes of Tapatio hot sauce that seems to be ubiquitous in Southern California) was classic and comforting.
The details: Morning Glory, 550 W Date St.; Pier Cafe, 885 W Harbor Dr.; Ironside Fish & Oyster, 1654 India St.; Lucy’s Taco Shop, 109 W C St., Suite D; Daniel’s Coffee, 1770 Village Place; Lolita’s Mexican Food, 202 Park Blvd.; Salt & Straw, 1670 India St.; Extraordinary Desserts, 1430 Union St.; C Level, 880 Harbor Island Dr.; all San Diego; Clayton’s Coffee Shop, 979 Orange Ave., Coronado.