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Only in San Diego

Fabulous foodie finds unique to California's Beach City

San Diego's one-of-a-kind vibes bring chefs from all over the world to create inspiring dishes in California's Beach City. 

San Diego’s prime location doesn’t just mean nearly 300 days of sunshine a year and beach time in the winter—its combination of geography, diverse topography, and a laid-back lifestyle have set the stage for culinary innovation, too. Dishes, drinks, and brands have started right here in San Diego thanks to the city’s unique characteristics.

From cross-border influences in food and craft beer to a Top Chef restaurant empire, here are a few culinary and beer icons born in San Diego:

Fish tacos

Better known as San Diego’s unofficial mascot, the fish taco is said to have debuted in San Diego in 1983 thanks to Ralph Rubio, co-founder of fast-casual Mexican chain Rubio’s. During a 1974 spring break trip to San Felipe on the Baja Peninsula, Rubio stumbled upon the simple, beach-perfect taco and wrote down a list of ingredients from his favorite vendor (rumored to be Taqueria Adriana). He held onto that recipe for seven years before opening his first restaurant, in Mission Beach. Now you can find various interpretations all over the city—from a gourmet riff at Galaxy Taco to the crowd-favorite TJ Oyster Bar in Bonita and the Mariscos Nine Seas food truck in South Park.

Crack Shack

Richard Blais rose to stardom on Top Chef and Top Chef All-Stars, and when he chose to start his restaurant empire, he wanted the Pacific Ocean as his backyard. Blais debuted with his “left coast cookery” Juniper & Ivy in 2014, known for its beef tartare and Instagrammable yodel dessert. Next came Crack Shack, a wildly successful fast-casual eatery devoted to chicken and egg dishes like a two-hands-needed fried chicken sandwich. Since then, Crack Shack has expanded to Encinitas, Orange County, L.A., and Las Vegas with lines out the door.

California Burritos

Burritos are a San Diego staple, whether you’re re-fueling after surfing or taking in a sunset from Windansea Beach. But to make it next-level local, you order a California burrito. Who actually invented this San Diego specialty is a hotly debated subject—some say it’s Roberto’s—but the components are the same: carne asada, guacamole, cheese, and French fries wrapped in a flour tortilla. If you want to try a different spin, in addition to offering a classic California burrito, Lolita’s is famous for their carne aside fries—a mound of crisp French fries topped with carne asada, guacamole, sour cream, and cheddar and cotija cheeses.

Stone Brewing

There are more than 150 breweries (plus brew pubs and tastings rooms) in San Diego, but none have had a meteoric rise quite like Stone Brewing Co. Known for their bold, hoppy beers, Stone launched in 1996 with its sprawling location in Escondido that touts a one-acre beer garden, large patio, and a food menu that champions, local, organic ingredients. Beyond a second location in San Diego’s Liberty Station—which has a bocce court and summer move nights— they’ve expanded globally, too, most recently in Shanghai. But they keep their recipe close to home, working with fellow San Diego-bred biz White Labs, a yeast producer that consults many breweries like Stone.

Border X Brewing

It’s craft beer with a Mexican twist at San Diego’s only 100% Latino-owned brewery. Located in Barrio Logan, the city’s epicenter of Chicano culture, Border X shines with Mexican-flavored brews like the Horchata Golden Stout, Abuelita’s Chocolate Stout, and the Blood Saison. They also host events, like Taco Tuesday, cupcake and craft beer pairings, and lotería nights.

Chino Farm

Many cities have farm stands, but not all have ones that are beloved by chefs like Alice Waters and Wolfgang Puck, and written about in The New Yorker. Fans like these have helped spread the world about this “vegetable shop” in Rancho Santa Fe whose roots date back to the early 1920s. Thanks to their microclimate-contained location five miles from the Pacific Ocean, Chino’s 45 acres burst with sweet corn, strawberries, oranges, tomatoes, and other seasonal goods. Around the city, you can find their produce at Wayfarer Bread & Pastry, Nine-Ten La Jolla, George's at the Cove, Mister A’s and Il Dandy.

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