A foodie postcard from San Diego

August 2016
By Patricia Carswell

San Diego may be better known for its zoo and theme parks but it’s worth a visit for the food alone. A fusion of Californian and Mexican cuisines known as Cali-Baja results in vibrant, colourful dishes made from super-fresh, sustainably sourced ingredients.

Downtown

My culinary adventure began at Currant at the Hotel Sofia on Broadway. Styled on an American brasserie, it underplays the exquisite talent of chef Walter Manikowski. The foie gras toast – a feather-light foie gras mousse served on compressed peaches with a hint of lavender – was a sensation, and fat, butter-poached prawns with peas and pistachio almost as good.

Currant-restaurant---foie-gras-toast

Mexican restaurant Puesto, by the harbour, has won awards for its tacos and margaritas and I soon found out why. The octopus tacos were astonishingly tender (they poach then flash-fry them) and the guacamole a taste revelation. The Puesto Perfect Margarita – just tequila, agave and lime – deserves its plaudits. It’s intense and dangerously moreish.

Puesto---octopus-tacos

Dinner at Sally’s Seafood on the Water, overlooking the marina, began with an early morning visit to the Tuna Harbor Dockside Market – an open-air seafood market with stalls packed with rows of fish from local waters – to choose my fish. The stallholders delighted in sharing their expertise and I settled on a yellowfin tuna fillet, which the chef later served lightly chargrilled, perfectly balanced with polenta, salad and pimento sauce.

Sally's---yellowfin-tuna

Little Italy has an unmissable food market, bursting with fresh produce, artisanal wares and freshly-cooked treats. The highlight was an ocean-fresh oyster with a twist of lime.

Little-Italy---oyster

Nearby, the Ballast Point Brewery provided a welcome rest and the chance to taste local craft beers, from the coffee-tinted Victory at Sea to the peachy Landlord.

Ballast-Point---beer-tasting

Tijuana

A quick hop over the border into Mexico, Tijuana merited a day trip. The elegant Caesar’s Hotel still serves the Caesar salad – which it invented – made fresh at the table.

Caesar's-Hotel---the-original-Caesar-salad

At the Mercado Hidalgo, stalls groaned with vast tubs of spices, herbs and beans, vats of Mexican mole sauce and fresh coconuts cut for you on the spot.

Tijuana-Mercado-Hidalgo

Coronado

Back in California, well-heeled locals flock to the Hotel del Coronado for its lavish Sunday brunch. The “regular” buffet brunch at $93 is spectacle enough, and the $150 chef’s table a delight. A tour of the herb garden by the chef was followed by personally prepared dishes alongside the buffet, accompanied by champagne and their signature Bloody Marys. Bliss.

Hotel-del-Coronado-brunch

La Jolla

For fine dining in the neighbourhood La Jolla, I went to Nine Ten in the Grande Colonial Hotel. An intensely seasoned octopus salad was prettily presented with baby vegetables, and a bold choice of rabbit stuffed with offal for the main course a surprisingly light and nutty concoction.

Nine-Ten---octopus-salad

Galaxy Taco, also in La Jolla, with its Baja-hip décor and Day of the Dead motifs, was a delight. It grinds its own masa for the tortillas every day and it shows – the tortillas, not normally an event in themselves, shone through the taco fillings. Equally impressive was a bitingly fresh mahi ceviche tostada.

Galaxy-Taco---steak-Taco

North along the coast at Torrey Pines, the Cliffhanger Café offered spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean and generously filled sandwiches.

Cliffhanger-Cafe---sandwich-with-a-view

Where to stay

Downtown: you can’t get more central than the smart, comfortable Sofia Hotel on Broadway. For breathtaking views and super-luxe surroundings, choose the Grand Hyatt.

Grand-Hyatt---view-from-the-room

La Jolla: the Grande Colonial provides airy, old-world luxury and ocean views.

How to get there

I flew with Wowair to LAX via Reykjavik and hired a car – essential for getting around – from Hertz.

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