The first time I went to San Diego I got stuck in traffic for hours. Like, way more hours than we thought. So long that I didn’t even chuckle at my first glance of the nuclear tits (power plant domes that resemble a bosom on the I-5). We had some mediocre fish tacos when we got there. My bestie was pregnant so she couldn’t even order a stiff drink. It was a bummer.
Since then I have been back mostly for family visits, but recently went to do some eating and drinking reconnaissance for an upcoming event I’m helping to produce. I was armed with recommendations and optimism, and they did not fail me. The drive was smooth, the tacos memorable in the right way, and the hot dogs came out of a lowrider. Read on for details.
I first tried a Galaxy Taco at Tacolandia, and I remember the savory carnitas and blue corn tortilla like it was yesterday. This time the grilled avocado was seared in my memory (see what I did there?) A half of an avocado covered in elotes (corn, chipotle, cotija, and garlic), over black bean puree in a soft, freshly made blue tortilla.
Come thirsty too, there’s a corn beer made just for Galaxy by Benchmark Brewing with non-GMO corn and a tamarind michelada. We also sampled a delightfully balanced mezcal cocktail with Ancho Reyes Verde, a housemade pineapple syrup and poblano chile. The space is dynamic with a partial patio housed under papel picado and bright green walls, a purple and red corn mural on one wall, and scribbles from guests all over the far wall.
In a celebration of the lowrider culture in Southern California, Cruizin Lowrider Galeria hosts a dope collection of photographs, multimedia and a tire-made sink in Barrio Logan. Right outside, Barrio Dogg’s cleverly designed cherry red lowrider hot dog stand offers an array of gourmet dogs and salsas that are not playin around.
My favorite was the Samurai: an angus dog, drizzled with hoisen BBQ, topped with pickled jicama, cucumber, and carrot, plus siracha with jalapeño, cilantro, crunchy garlic and wasabi sesame seeds. Add some of the guayaba salsa or carrot habanero for an extra kick. Don’t let the enamoring name or the beet-purple color fool you: purple rain will light your tongue up with the number of chiles in it. Keeping with the theme of chicano comfort food, you can also get a bowl of sopa de fideo, a creamy tomato based noodle soup I can never resist. Outside seating only, dogs range from $5 to $8.
Barrio Logan is a historically Mexican-American and Chicano neighborhood with a history of activism and fighting gentrification. On this block you’ll find a number of awesome businesses and galleries (a few more listed here) owned by longtime residents that cater to the community and just down the road you can explore Chicano Park, which was recently named a National Historic Landmark.
Just like patches or enamel pins on a backpack, the stickers on a register can say a lot about who’s behind it. I already liked the decorated tin lanterns and the soundtrack, but when I saw the Michelle 2020 and pink concha sticker on the register, I was wishing there was a neighborhood cafe like this in my LA and Oakland neighborhoods. Part gallery and store, the cafe hosts events and has a sweet selection of branded mugs, growlers, shirts and more. Coffee is locally roasted and a blend of organic beans from Latin America. With white walls, a bar facing the street-side open windows, and picnic tables the space at Por Vida is airy and welcoming. Come here for the canela & brown sugar latte and regular events and gallery openings.
Wash the doggs down with a beer at the neighborhood brewery with craft beers inspired by Mexican flavors. There’s a big patio, live music, tacos and a killer horchata golden stout.
For all things agave in San Diego, Cantina Mayahuel is the spot. With hundreds of tequilas and mezcals, no doubt you’ll be content sipping on something. The cocktail here is the margarita, made with orange nectar, orange liqueur and lime. The vibe here reminds me of a small mezcal bar in a lake town in Michoacan, Mexico— dark and unpretentious with carved wood mermans watching me from the wall. There’s a food menu here with daily specials, but I was taco-ed out so I had a ceasar salad which was a bit overdressed for me, but otherwise good flavors. The one thing that I noticed traveling outside of the Bay Area is that when you order a salad you don’t have to split three beets and a leaf of frisee between two people, you actually get some value— even a full meal if you’re like me and love vegetables. Happy hour is 12-6 pm, Tuesday- Friday with $5 drink specials.
Side note: a few of these businesses will be at Mexico in a Bottle, which I’m helping to produce, on March 11th in San Diego!