I’ll make this first part simple: volleyball brought me to San Diego (surprise, surprise). Really, volleyball has often brought me down here, as my second oldest played for the University of San Diego (flags with her picture are still up on campus). But back then, Dianderthal was still in its infant stage. And when it came to food during our trips down, we kept things family friendly and affordable, often just grabbing Carl’s Jr. before hopping on I-5 to head home after a game.
But Dianderthal has grown up. And so has my youngest daughter, Kourtney, who is attending USD’s high school volleyball camp. Sure, I could have driven back home during the day and a half camp and, like, cleaned the house or something. Instead, I booked a room on Hotel Drive and mapped out some local food with plans to eat and write.
I did fine with the eating.
I also got a lot of drinking in, which is likely why my writing suffered.
Okay, which is definitely why my writing suffered.
But, I’m writing now. About the food and drinks; however still writing. It was so nice to explore a city that I’ve visited so often but only vaguely familiar with. Sticking fairly close to my hotel, I ate/drank in Mission Valley and Hillcrest areas.
Breakfast at Farmer’s Bottega
It will be nice to return here one day – to settle behind a table on a weekday morning and sip mimosas with my breakfast. This first visit, I passed on the bubbly with plans to drink for lunch and dinner; and the desire to be completely sober when checking Kourtney in to camp (this was before dropping her off). Farmer’s is a perfect place to chill and take in the morning while delighting in their cuisine. My dish, the Baja benedict, started my day on a high note – a shrimp and grits take on a benedict served with wonderfully herbed potatoes (*Spoiler Alert* – the day would later bring me to another round of awesome potatoes). People who know me know how I often don’t like my foods to touch, but when made to go together, I approve of integration. So I happily swirled my shrimpy bites of grits (or gritsy bites of shrimp) in the warm lusciousness of the egg yolk. Kourtney didn’t finish her pancakes, but not because she didn’t enjoy them. She just didn’t want to overeat right before starting a long day of physical activity (though she took down all three pieces of bacon on her plate). So I got to bear witness to her take on the plate, agreeing that the pancakes were both fluffy and flavorful.
Mid-day Drink (and Snack) at Harley Gray
The plan had been to hit up Harley Gray’s happy hour late in the afternoon before meeting a college friend of mine for dinner. For lunch, I headed over to a new place in town, FruitCraft. I took a Lyft over there, and my driver was long gone by the time I pulled hard on the door, realizing it was closed when it didn’t give. I wasn’t the only one disappointed. A man on the patio had also just tried to let himself in, telling me the place didn’t open until 3:00. While there were other options along the same block and beyond, I thought it best to keep walking as my fellow lunch seeker offered to dine with me, wherever it was I decided to go. I walked away quickly, checking my map to see how far of a walk Harley Gray was. I’m a walker. I like to explore. So a trek of about a mile didn’t faze me. What I hadn’t considered, however, was the sun, and how sweaty and warm I’d get making the trip (in my sandals). So when I finally landed at my new lunch selection, all I cared to have was something cold and refreshing. Their take on a Moscow Mule – the Hey Girl! Mule – would be perfect. When she asked if I wanted to make it a double for three more bucks, I said Yes Girl! (not really – just yes). And just to get a little taste of their menu, I ordered their organic mixed greens with watermelon. Both my choices were invigorating samples of what Harley Gray has in store for me the next time I visit.
Dranks at FruitCraft
So I made the walk back over to Hillcrest to win the prize of the place’s very first customer of the day (I managed to keep myself busy until 3:08 so as not to appear desperate), having my choice of any seat in the house. Glad to have made it back, I asked for both a sangria and a flight of their fermented fruit drinks. Unfamiliar with fermented fruit wines, I let the tall young man helping me pick my flight selections: the pineapple (dry), the cranberry (semi-sweet), and the mango (sweet). I enjoyed all three, but my favorite was the mango. The pineapple proved dry indeed, a nice alternative to a dry white grape wine, and came with the most robust aroma, as if someone had just cut up a fresh pineapple a stuck it in the glass. And to make sure I had more than just alcohol and the remnants of my Harley Gray salad rumbling around in my tummy, I ordered FruitCraft’s patatas bravas, intending to just eat a couple, as I’d already reached my potato maximum for the day. But I couldn’t not eat the whole bowl. It’s only a mild exaggeration when I say these potatoes made this mama orgasmic. As much as I loved my distilled and fermented fruit wines, the patatas are what will get me back for sure.
Fried stuff at The Crack Shack
Dinner at night 2 of my visit was at Cheesecake Factory with my friend, but our first night in, we headed to downtown after checking in at the hotel, a day before National Fried Chicken Day (I’m always a step ahead when it comes to food). Crack Shack, I’d heard, would have a line; would be filled with hipsters and millennials. Lucky enough to find a parking space right across the street, I found the rumors were true. But I refused to be dissuaded. Ordering two sandwiches (one for me, and most of the other for Kourtney – for this post’s sake, I needed to try a bite) and fries, especially excited to dip all I had in one of their renowned sauces. It was easy to fall in love with the Firebird, a piquant and crispy slab of chicken nestled on a toasty bun with ranch and pickles (I removed mine) and crispy onions. Those crispy onions are what makes the sandwich so enticing. Kourt’s selection was the Royale, a chicken sausage version of a sausage McMuffin. I had high hopes for it, as a breakfast sand incorporating chicken sausages is a rarity. Sadly, it underwhelmed – rather one note and a little clunky. Not that I wouldn’t take one with my coffee if I found myself in the neighborhood one morning. Just wouldn’t make a special trip for one. I am curious, however, about some of their other sandwich offerings, like the Coop Deville (fried chicken, pickled chilies, lime mayo, and cabbage on brioche) and the Malibu Barbie Q (bbq thigh, cornmeal onion ring, bacon, and pineapple mustard on a potato roll). So much good food, so few trips to San Diego.
And, oh yes – them fries was damn good!
Ambience and healthy grub at True Food Kitchen
My plan for my last lunch in SD was to hit up a place called Brooklyn Girl Eatery. But passing by True Food Kitchen at the mall the night before (home of the Cheesecake Factory), I couldn’t help be envy the hip and happy crowd gathered there on their patio. So I ditched my original plans, cozy with the fact that, after eating, I could do a little shopping before heading over to pick up the kid from camp. As much as I prefer local places rather than chains, I was very pleased with my decision. And so with my computer, I settled down to table for one and ordered a drink as a start. Their sangria matched in taste the restaurant’s ambience – vibrant, fresh, and fun with a playful punch. And hefty (I’m actually writing this particular entry here in the restaurant – forgive typos and grammar errors due to my tipsiness; with it two-thirds done, I can hardly keep my head lifted). Next up was my entrée. I usually clutter my burger with sweet and salty and textures, but True Food’s turkey burger hit high and low notes without going the extreme. The ketchup I first wanted to ask for (and always use) wasn’t needed. I hardly let myself put it down so I could eat a couple-few bites of the sweet potatoes before while they were still warm. It was like when I binge watch a hot series – by my last bite, I didn’t want it to end. So forced an extension, ordering the flourless chocolate cake even without any space left in my belly. The struggle is real as a taxes. Too bad I can’t write off all this eating. Though, really, the last thing I need is another incentive to eat.
A Day and a Half in San Diego
True Food Kitchen
7007 Friars Road at the Fashion Valley Mall and multiple locations throughout the US
The Crack Shack
2266 Kettner Blvd (and one other location in Encinitas)
1477 University Avenue
902 W. Washington Street
860 W. Washington Street