There are some parts of the country where the mix of people, the climate, and the access to the best ingredients make for a culinary scene that goes beyond thriving. California happens to be full of those spots. San Diego and the cities surrounding them are a textbook example of just that. If you’re ever in the mood for a taste-driven road trip, then here are some of the foods you have to try at some of the eateries that simply cannot be missed.
The California Burrito
Given that it’s in the name, is it any surprise that the Golden State is the only region you’re going to find a place that does this dish justice? The best California burritos are going to be found in the San Diego area. Places like the mightily colorful Lucha Libre Taco Shop in Carlsbad serves a lot more than tacos. These burritos are full of marinated carne asada, cheese, sour cream and guacamole. The final piece that completes this unique dish, however, is the crunchy French fries stuffed in along with the rest. They are a staple of the beach culture that grew up and an interesting way that predominantly Mexican cuisine ingredients are used in a meal that isn’t trying to be authentic.
The Fish Taco
Now from Mexican-inspired to Mexican originated. This food made its way through the border to become a staple of the San Diego area. It might sound like a ridiculously simple meal and you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. You can make a fish taco yourself with easy-to-follow recipes using plenty of different seafood ingredients. The only ingredients that are mandatory are the fish, cabbage, and lime juice. However, places like the Blue Water Seafood & Grill in Mission Hills have turned it into an art form with plenty of customization available using a range of salmon, tuna, ahi, and much more besides. This is the home of some of the most packed fish tacos you’re ever going to see, with around 4-5 ounces of fish per each dish.
The San Diego area might not be the only place in the states you can get fresh oysters, but it might be one of the best. While oysters are up there alongside caviar and truffles as some of the world’s finest luxury foods, San Diego is packed with them. It’s not difficult to get a shuck for a buck. However, as common as they are, they’re used in all kinds of more varied dishes, too. For a perfect example of what the scene offers, visit Chula Vista to hit up TJ Oyster Bar. Served alongside a cocktail sauce, smoked tuna, stingray, and much more besides, it’s an excellent way to enjoy a seafood platter all centered around that one main attraction.
As you might have already gathered, a lot of Latin American-cuisine has made its way up to San Diego. One of the dishes you might have trouble finding elsewhere, however, is ceviche. This raw fish dish, most often marinated in lime or lemon juice, requires freshness above all else. There’s a host of different ways to try it, too. It might include snapper, sea bass, halibut, tilapia or whatever else might be in the fish markets at the time. The Ecuadorian style uses only shrimp and a tomato sauce base while the Peruvian version includes corn and sweet potato as the perfect accompaniment. Check out Del Mar, where the Poseidon Restaurant, where ceviche is served up with a gorgeous view of the coast where all the dishes came from in the first place.
There are plenty more international delights to be had on the Pacific Coast, as well. Sticking with the theme of raw fish, there are fewer places where you can a sushi experience as authentic. Sharing the Pacific Coast with Japan, it’s no wonder that dishes like the sea urchin-based uni have become massively popular here. For one of the best West Coast sushi experiences, visit Carlsbad where you can find Mikko Sushi. Sushi’s best served with a swig of authentic Japanese liquor, too, and here they serve a range of hot and cold sakes, as well as bottled light and dark Japanese beers. The fresh nigiri salmon is worth a taste in particular.
San Diego attracts folks and tastes from all over. That’s one of the area’s greatest strengths. Sure, you can find BBQ just about anywhere in the country, but one of the most appealing features of the cuisine is just how much it can change from region to region. San Diego-style BBQ inherits a lot of the Latin American influence you can see in many of the area’s other dishes. Carne asada-based spiced rubs and diced jalapenos are particularly popular here, You can’t go wrong with the catfish served as places like That Boy Good Southern BBQ Joint in Oceanside, either. But the most important aspect of BBQ, which has thankfully been transplanted from the South to the Coast, is that element of making everything from scratch.
Fish and chips
Speaking of transplants, the British style fish and chips with its particularly vinegary taste is a no-brainer for the coastal communities of San Diego. The UK might not exactly share the same kind of weather that you find here, but it does share a tradition of fish and chip carts served by the beach for many a hungry tourist to stumble into. Chef John’s Fish’n’Chips is one of the few places, however, to get the traditional taste down to a tee, complete with ye olde style newspaper wrappings for your meal. The vinegar-heavy taste might be a little pungent for some, but when it’s served with gorgeously fresh fish and those chunky potato chips, it makes for some good, cozy eating.
Taking a trip to any of the scenes mentioned above is going to result in a taste experience you’re not likely to find anywhere else. Not to mention all the gorgeous natural beauty, water parks, and boardwalks that make for an otherwise excellent trip.