Matteo’s mole chilaquiles

While San Diego stay at home orders remain in place, and as many of us self-quarantine at home—leaving the house only for essential activities like grocery shopping, picking up take out from the restaurants still operating, and getting some exercise in places that aren’t official beaches, parks, and trails in most cities around the county—I look forward to the day we all return to work and our social lives. 

A big part of how my family and friends like to spend our ‘less-than-six-feet-apart’ time together almost always revolves around food, whether we’re trying new recipes at home, or actually putting on clothes that aren’t made for sleeping or downward-dogging (though that might just be me) to gather for a few drinks and bites at a rooftop brewery or chic restaurant. Food has, thankfully, always been there for us—during celebrations and in grief, as both necessity and indulgence, to cushion our feelings and fuel our ambitions. 

I can say the same for the restaurants we’ve come to love and return to again and again. Aside from the incomparable company, my favorite sit-down restaurants deliver the trifecta: Seamless service, a well-executed menu, and comfortable surrounds conducive for lingering. In other words, it’s an entire experience. 

Unfortunately, the hospitality industry has been hit particularly hard across the country. In San Diego, KPBS reported that the hospitality industry (which includes hotels and restaurants) accounts for 200,000 jobs in the region. In context, that number is large enough to fill San Diego Padres’ Petco Park stadium nearly five times over. While many restaurants have closed for the foreseeable future, others are doing what they can to offer take-out or delivery, as well as converting into grocery stores for kitchen staples that have been difficult to find at big name grocery stores in recent weeks, like rice and beans. Many others have set up employee relief funds via GoFundMe to assist laid-off or furloughed staff.

Restaurants I Can’t Wait to Dine In Again

When we get through this, I eagerly and hopefully await the day San Diego restaurants welcome back their employees and partners. Because then, that means we can remove our CDC-recommended face coverings and decide whether we want to sit inside or on the patio, whether we order our own entrees or rifle off a bunch of dishes to share, and who we’re wiring our Venmo payment to. Personally, I can’t wait to criss-cross the county and return to these San Diego restaurants, cafes, and bistros:

  • Fort Oak in Mission Hills, a seafood-centric restaurant concocted out of a former Ford dealership. Now, the space features shades of blue and gold with art deco touches. There’s also a choose your own adventure seating situation; there’s a chef’s counter with a full view of the wood-fired grill, a U-shaped bar for low-ABV to bold cocktails and casual dining, or the sleek yet cozy formal dining room. Read more about its menu in the restaurant review I wrote for Modern Luxury.
  • Sheldon’s Service Station in La Mesa is a walk-up counter with a covered terrace ideal for sipping strong coffee, and California breakfast staples like a breakfast burrito served with salsa and fresh fruit. And as the only person in my friend group who does not own a pet, this airy spot on pedestrian-friendly La Mesa Boulevard offers ample dog-watching, and live acoustic jams on weekends. Order a Mexican mocha for cinnamon-infused, caffeinated sugar rush.
  • Before coronavirus, my friends and I ended up at Kairoa Brewing at least once a quarter, which is saying a lot considering the underrated breadth of restaurant options in San Diego. I included this modern University Heights brewery restaurant in a neighborhood guide I filed for C magazine, and I hope to see it published when editorial teams resume publishing food and travel coverage. We miss you shrimp butties.
  • Matteo, a non-profit cafe in South Park, opened only a month before San Diego’s dine-in operations were ordered to close. In contrast to a health-conscious region like San Diego, I like to joke that I follow an unrestricted diet (except when it comes to unflavorful, carelessly-plated food.) Matteo’s menu however, is certainly not lacking in flavor. Among the brunch items I’m ordering again: Pancakes, spicy mole chilaquiles and ALL of the pastries––which I know isn’t very helpful if you’re reading this for specific recommendations, so in particular, the vegan orange olive oil muffin. Huge deal, because I’m usually the first to snatch the chocolate croissants, so I’ll take one (two?!) of those too. 
Matteo’s baked goodies
  • I also can’t wait to return to Cesarina in Point Loma (or is it Ocean Beach?), where I can sit on the leafy patio, stuff my face with their short rib pasta and tableside tiramisu, and bask in friendly neighborhood vibes.
  • North County’s interior has been sorely lacking in elevated casual restaurants like Casero Taqueria. When COVID-19 is over, I’m heading to Bressi Ranch to satisfy my craving for birria tacos on fresh corn tortillas, rajas y crema sopped up with more fresh pressed tortillas, and their margaritas.

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