We’ve already introduced you to North Park, our new favorite neighborhood in San Diego. There are lots of reasons to love this hip and laid back community. But if you know us, then you can probably guess that eating and drinking in stylish surroundings is chief among them. North Park has great bars and eateries, but they can be hidden amidst family dentistries and auto collision centers. You have to seek them out. Lucky for us, people on the river are happy to give. Just ask and locals are happy to point you in the right direction. Here’s where we were pointed:
Carnitas Snack Shack
If God had a food truck, this is the grub he’d roll around with on Superbowl Sunday: pork belly, ribeye burgers and namesake tacos. Just make sure you arrive before the hunger pangs kick in: a long wait to order can precede a long wait for food at this popular food stand. Grab a beer and soak up the sun on the stylish patio while you wait for your number to be called. Trust us: the wait will be a distant memory when you bite into a hulking carnitas taco dripping with juices and all things good in the universe. Coincidence that there is a medical marijuana dispensary just across the street?
Do we really need to explain San Diego’s special relationship with beer? It’s like Jamaica and weed. Every home has a growler for the brewery down the street. And another one for the brewery after that. No wonder San Francisco’s hop honcho opened a satellite bar down here. If you’re familiar with the original NorCal locale, this one will strike you as the bizarro version. On our visit, women outnumbered men, flip-flops outnumbered boots, and smiles outnumbered scowls. Over 50 beers on tap with more in the cooler. Plus a nice selection of the food that you crave when drinking beer. Really hard not to be happy here.
This is the quintessential beer hall brought current. Long communal tables line the large, open space and seat everyone from hipsters to teamsters. Patrons scrutinize the imposing draft beer menu like traders minding stock market boards. A wood-fired oven lends some nice smoke to sandwiches like the awesome Pork Bahn Mi. Great vibe and friendly folks here. It’s a warm neighborhood spot that you’ll want to return to over and over. Or as they say here: Again! Again! Yep, every word uttered by the staff has to be yelled in duplicate. Yes, seriously.*
*No, not really.
Little Italy’s Craft & Commerce is one of our favorite cocktail bars. So we were excited when we heard the owners had opened a new bar in the North Park area. This iteration is dressed in an old-timey pharmacy facade that would make Mr. Gower proud. Like Craft & Commerce, the bar opens to the outside letting in all of that joyous San Diego air. Craft cocktails are the draw, but the menu also features a strong selection of beer (duh), wine and housemade sodas. Half of the menu is available on tap. And at $8 a cocktail, the exchange rate is definitely in San Francisco’s favor. We enjoyed a potent Zombie that got the tropical winds blowin’. Or as a young George Bailey might chide: “Say brainless, don’t you know where coconuts come from?”
SODA & SWINE
This is the foodie sibling of Polite Provisions, immediately adjacent and linked by a hallway. Didn’t think your cocktail could get any better? Try adding a side of spicy pork meatballs: smoky, slightly tart and utterly mouthwatering. And addicting. We wanted another order before we were even finished with our first. The menu is user-friendly, inexpensive and unpretentious. Meatballs come unadorned, tucked in slider, in a submarine or on a bed of spaghetti. Gastropubby sides and a large selection of bottled sodas round out the menu. Get it delivered next door or stay and eat here. It’s a handsome space. Stylish wood trellises line the walls and communal tables keep things lively. It feels like a fashionable picnic inside the actual basket.
URBN Coal Fired Pizza & Bar
Don’t be dissuaded by the slightly forced name: this place is legit. It’s housed in a large, airy industrial space that opens up to the street. Great atmosphere and solid fare attracts all manner of folks from the neighborhood. The coal-fired pizza has a cracker thin crust with a nice bite and slight crunch. Sauce is just this side of sweet. The super fresh basil on the Margherita fills the air. They’ve got a smart selection of booze behind the bar…and you should know by now that the same applies to beer. Nurse one while your pizza’s being fired up. Oh and bring some friends. Their “small” size could sustain a developing village for weeks.
These restaurants look really wonderful. I’ll try to visit them whenever next I’m in San Diego.