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San Diego sits at the intersection of California and Baja, Mexico and when these two regions known for exquisite cuisine collaborate, great things happen.
Cali-Baja cuisine, unique to San Diego, combines the best of both worlds by infusing fresh seafood, local produce, cooking techniques and cultural influences to dishes drawing inspiration from both sides of the border. The region’s cuisine has evolved to a point where the influence of the border, its culture, ingredients, and traditions inform nearly all parts of the dining and drinking scene. From wine to mezcal, tacos to noodles, the international flair of San Diego’s dining scene reflects its unique position on la frontera. Here’s where you can sample it, from casual, walk-up eats to modern, sit-down patios.
Billed as “Chicano comfort food,” this walk-up spot in Barrio Logan offers several international takes on the humble hotdog, each combined with “the comfort of Nana’s kitchen.” Take La Havana, a hot dog version of a Cubano sandwich with melted Manchego cheese, pulled pork, mustard and pickles. Or the Bombero, made with seven distinct chiles and a habanero carrot salsa. With local art and artifacts representative of the neighborhood’s thriving low-rider and classic car culture (the local beer taps are bookended by tires) Barrio Dogg’s expanding footprint in the area now includes a larger sit-down taproom, which has become central to the neighborhood’s food, nightlife and cultural scene.
San Diego’s sole 100 percent Latino-owned brewery, Border X quite literally brings the flavors of Mexico to the San Diego region, by way of Barrio Logan, the city’s hub of Chicano culture. Brothers David and Marcelino Favela left corporate jobs to follow dreams of opening a brewery, featuring classic Mexican flavors in brews like the Horchata Golden Stout, Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout and the Blood Saison which was inspired by the traditional drink Jamaica.
After years at the helm of George’s California Modern, one of San Diego’s most cherished fine dining restaurants, chef Trey Foshee was inspired by one of the godfathers of Mexican cuisine in the U.S., John Sedlar, to open a taco spot. Foshee said, “My goal is to translate my appreciation of Mexican food through a San Diego lens. This is a culture we share a border with, and it has been the backbone of our restaurant and agricultural industries.” He uses nixtamalized heirloom blue corn to make the masa for the house tortillas and regularly hosts local chefs for “taco throwdown” competitions, where the evening’s patrons pick the winner.
What started as a walk-up taco shop in La Jolla is now one of the city’s most colorful and surprising restaurant experiences. The owners’ Mexican and Italian heritage combine for dishes like guacamole with parmigiano reggiano as a garnish, and crostinis topped with Mexican ingredients. Their tacos come with a now-famous layer of fried cheese lining the tortilla. Among the most famous is a vegan option: soyrizo garnished with chilies and pineapple salsa. Street-art style murals by artist Chor Boogie cover the walls and the downtown location’s large patio spills out onto a twinkle-lit courtyard.
Old Town’s new standout Tahona serves Mexican dishes in a modern way. Inspired by Oaxacan traditions and ingredients, the French-born, American-educated owners also added a Mezcal tasting room to the airy, high-design dining room. Their mission? “To educate and give reverence to the complexity and beauty of the Mexican culture through its most iconic beverage, mezcal and to become an epicenter of mezcal culture in San Diego.” With more than 100 mezcals available and a menu filled with moles, barbacoa and of course tacos, it’s a fresh, bright spot to get a taste the cross-border culture in San Diego’s Old Town.
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