This time of year, conversations at Chow Bella staff meetings tend to turn to who's eaten what and where. With the summer travel season in full swing, we bring you Food Tours, our writers' suggestions of what to eat and drink out of town.
San Diego might just be one of the most popular spots for Phoenicians to temporarily transplant themselves for a few days every summer. The easy five-hour drive goes by quick and the weather is pretty much always perfect -- sunny and right around 70 or 75 degrees. However, this laid-back beach city has a lot of gems popping up for vacationing foodies to dig into al fresco. So sit back, relax, and let us guide you through some of our favorite chow-down spots in San Diego.
A Punch Bowl at Polite Provisions/ Swine & Soda 4696 30th Street, San Diego 619-677-3784 www.politeprovisions.com
This twofer restaurant on one side, bar on the other side spot in San Diego's hipster haven, North Park, literally will satisfy every craving you might have. Artisanal meatballs? Got it. Homemade swirled chocolate and cinnamon-vanilla ice cream cones? All you got to do is ask. Huge, pre-Prohibition-style punch bowls full of craft cocktail? Just bring $32 and two friends and it's yours. The ever-changing list of punch bowl, regular cocktail, beer cocktail, champagne cocktail, and cocktails on draft list is sure to please anyone with options at $8 per drink. Plus, the art-deco, open-air bar makes you feel like a dressed-down extra in The Great Gatsby.
While we tried a lot of the neighboring Swine & Soda's menu, the mac and cheese must be mentioned because it's perfect. Find a creamier, smoother, cheesier, and more balanced bowl of mac -- we dare you. Best of all, like it's liquor-y counterpart, dishes are super-cheap, with everything under $10 and that heavenly mac and cheese being only $4 per serving. Obsessed? Yeah, a little.
Guava and Cream Cheese Pastry from Azucar 4820 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach 619-523-2020 www.iloveazucar.com
Previous visits to Ocean Beach have found us at Azucar, a quaint little Cuban bakery, for breakfast. While all the pastries are unique and intense in flavor and around $1 or $2, the guava and cheese pastry takes the cake for us every time. Paired with a cappuccino, the flaky pastry, creamy cheese, and tart and sweet guava jam is pretty much all you could ask for for a quick bite before hitting the beach. Plus, it won't make you look any less bikini-ready.
The Triple Threat at Carnita's Snack Shack 2632 University Avenue, San Diego 619-294-7675 www.carnitassnackshack.com
Carnita's is everything that's right with the culinary world right now. When a well-known, super-talented chef like Hanis Cavin opens a literal shack with patio seating and disregard culinary pretensions to bring you food that just plain tastes good, you have to be excited. Plus the 30-minute line down the block gives you plenty of time to anticipate your meal. We tried the triple threat ($9) -- a sandwich with pulled pork, pork loin schnitzel, bacon, and the house aoli that is so ridiculously over-kill that you can't help becoming instantly addicted. Carnita's Snack Shack quickly has become known around town for its perfect execution, quality ingredients and no-frills, down-home comfort food redux. Did we mention their ketchup is bacon ketchup? It totally is.
Meatloaf Hash at Hash House A Go Go 3628 Fifth Avenue, San Diego 619-298-4646 www.hashhouseagogo.com
If you drink one too many amazing cocktails at Polite Provisions, the best hangover breakfast on the West Coast awaits you, but only if you're willing to wait nearly two hours to get it. Who would wait two hours for breakfast? You would if you know what's good for you. The meatloaf hash is an overwhelming mountain of potatoes, veggies, and mozzarella topped with fried eggs and served with a buttery, fresh biscuit. The meatloaf is incomparable, making all other meatloafs look stupid for even trying to be half as moist and flavorful.
While the large skillet is $14, it can easily feed three people or you for three meals -- we've done it both ways successfully. If you really tied one on the night before, you can order a $10 Johnny's hangover cure cocktail, which seriously does what it says it will. Cucumber, ginger and vodka magic -- don't ask.
Hearts of Palm Pastel at Brazillian Snacks at the Hillcrest Farmers Market 3960 Normal Street, San Diego 619-299-3330 www.hillcrestfarmersmarket.com
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San Diego definitely knows what's up when it comes to farmers markets, and the Hillcrest Farmers Market on Sunday is one of the tastiest. Half of it comprises produce and grocery goods, and the other half features food stands ranging from Greek to El Salvadorian to barbecue. We went to the Brazillian Snacks stand because there really isn't a lot of that going on back here. The $5 hearts of palm pastel is a flaky Hot Pocket-like pastry full of tangy hearts of palm in a creamy sauce made to order in front of you. If that doesn't do it for you, just walk around the market and pick anything -- options abound.
Date Shakes in Dateland 1737 S. Avenue 64 E, San Diego 928-454-2772 www.datelandtravelcenter-hub.com
So it's time to leave San Diego, but don't be sad. Okay, be kind of sad. But feel free to take solace in a date shake once you hit Dateland, approximately halfway between Phoenix and San Diego. The super-thick, creamy, housemade shake becomes almost chocolatey when local dates are blended in. It's definitely a rich and indulgent way to ease the pain between paradise and, well, Phoenix.