Top 10 Restaurants I Frequented in 2019 (San Diego, CA)

Before social pressures, we would just eat and tell others to eat wherever we always ate. These days, it seems, recommendations come skewed by hype (to which I too am not immune) when what we really should be sharing are the places we return to over and over even when no one is looking.

So, here is an un-scientifically compiled list of the restaurants I frequented in San Diego the most in 2019, which was totally inspired by this tweet:


Hands down one of my favorite restaurants in San Diego. I love about 90% of the menu and never hesitate to recommend it to anyone. While I rotate between many of the dishes, the Black Pepper Cashew Chicken—trimmed mushrooms battered and fried in “beef jerky” (my words) sauce served with always perfect rice—special (above) is almost always on my table.


There are only have a handful of restaurants that slay on every single visit. Pokez is one. Even on the off days, I’m still happy to be here. The kitchen harnesses San Diego Soy Dairy tofu to create fajitas, tofu/potato/mushroom burrito, tofu tortas and other favorites scatted throughout the menu.

Donut Panic

I fell hard into the party pit of Donut Panic. Here, donuts are a fleeting moment of lightness, with an almost eggy crumb, deep fried to a crisp and dripping with glossy sugar glaze spiked with lavender, lemon, or maple syrup.

Which Wich

I know! But facts are facts and I eat here all the time. It’s close to my office, the black bean patty is filling, vegan options are clearly spelled out online (pdf) and there plenty of pickles to choose from (I get them all). I basically eat a pickle sandwich with a black bean patty accent.

Sattvik Foods

Dining here shook my taste buds to life. The menu runs deep with chaat (Indian street food/snacks), mostly marked vegan, and a rotating menu of entrees often prepared vegan when possible. You can read just how much I love Sattvik place here.

Phuong Trang

I come here for one dish: The Banh Xeo. It’s a huge crispy rice flour, turmeric, and coconut crepe stuffed with beansprouts, tofu, and mushrooms. It’s meant to be neatly wrapped into lettuce leave and herbs but, in my hands, turns into an delicious mess. It’s perfect.

Poke UTC

I don’t frequently post this one on Instagram because Poke UTC is so un-vegan-friendly. A plastic bowl comes piled high with brown rice, lettuce, sweet strips of inari tossed in spicy sauce, seaweed salad, jalapenos, onions, mashed avocado, pickled ginger and radish, edamame, horseradish, and cilantro for $11-ish. It’s essentially deconstructed sushi—a relative bargain to forgo the fancy rolling and cutting.

Native Foods

I am hooked on the burgers. The house made seitan patties fill me with protein under melted vegan cheese and a side of seasoned fries (or steamed kale). This is my favorite burger in San Diego by a lot—but here are my other favorites to peruse. Not into burgers? Nachos sub fries make for a brilliant meal.


This is must visit spot in San Diego for all my vegan friends… which is what brings me here frequently. I’ve never not ordered the Skewers on a dinner visit. The Memphis BBQ Sandwich is also a steady diner buddy while the Hashes for the Mashes warm me up at brunch.

First Friday Night Market

You will find me here always, running around with a big tray of food for the volunteers. Snapping pictures then feeding them spreads like this while I pick at the scraps left behind. Favorites have included potato croquette and veganized chicken fingers. None of this would happen without the support of the San Diego vegan and vegan-curious community, so thank you so much for embracing this idea and allowing me and mostly Carly to bring it to life.

The Purple Mint Vegan Bistro (San Diego, CA)

Summer Rolls are one of the great culinary inventions in the history of man. A perfect package of crunchy vegetables, fragrant herbs, and the soft but snappy bite of rice paper enriched with the sweetness of some sort of sauce. At Purple Mint Vegetarian Bistro I appreciate that they don’t dilute the rolls with extra noodles, offering rice paper stuffed with tofu, purple mint, lettuces, basil, jicama, and carrots.  The sauce, although spiked with crushed peanuts and pickled carrots, runs bland and benefits greatly from a kick of hoisin ($5.95).
Purple Mint ups the anti on summer rolls with the Double Delight Spring Rolls ($6.25). A crispy egg-less roll bisected and wrapped in rice paper with lettuce, bean sprouts, pickled daikon, carrots, and cucumbers. Served with a light and thin sweet vinaigrette that is apparently unladylike to slurp directly from the cup.
Doubling down, the free-range Satay “Chicken” Lettuce Wraps ($12.95) is a DIY adventure of marinated chicken strips, bean-sprouts, coconut curry vermicelli, pickled daikon and carrots. Served with the same peanut sauce as the Summer Rolls, the neutral nature the sauce is bolstered with the selection of well-seasoned lettuce fillers.
Fiery “Shrimp” ($9.95) was order and enjoyed by the rest of the table. The lightly battered soy shrimp are smothered in a nightmare of sweet and sour spicy-pineapple vegan mayonnaise that everyone but me thought sounded appealing. My parents claim they taste just like the real shrimp… the exact reason I can not stomach it.
A temple of iceberg and romaine lettuce serve as the base of the Asian Chicken Salad ($11.95). Glazed with grilled soy chicken and accented with the juicy crunch of bean sprouts, slivered snow peas, tiny mandarin oranges, almonds, and crispy vermicelli, the confetti of toppings are finished with a light plum-sesame dressing.
For those avoiding protein, the Chinese Broccoli & Shitake Mushrooms ($11.50) serves simple vegetables in a light brown sauce. A few sharp onions and a mound of rice flush out the bowl.
In an industry where consistency is key, I’m caught in the conundrum that is the Kung Pao “Chicken” ($11.95)—the dish comes out different every time. Battered hunks of deep fried soy proteins come drenched with a sauce that is sometimes sticky, sometimes muggy, but somehow always good. I’m guess it’s the high salt content with the light crunch of scallions mix in pungent garlic, seared cashews, and ornamental dried chilies. The pile of steamed broccoli and jasmine rice offer respite from the salty richness of this dish that I order almost every time I’m here.
Soy shrimp, mock chicken, tofu, cashews, and tiny vegetables make up the House Combination Fried Rice ($11.75). Luckily for me there was only one shrimp, but I guess the other three people found this offerings stingy. I gnawed on the chicken while rest of the table divide up the shrimp into tiny morsels of sadness. *
Tender medallions of Japanese eggplant and sugar-cube sized nuggets of tofu under way too much sauce manages to be my second go-to dish. Be ready to eat all the rice with the saucy Eggplant & Tofu Delight ($9.95).
The fresh oranges sing with the battered Orange “Chicken” ($11.50) but the dish begs for a vegetable… so I add broccoli and $2 to my bill. Because this dish doesn’t warren broccoli, compared to the complex King Pao which does include broccoli, it prevents me from ordering it more.
Yam & Sweet Potato Curry ($10.95) with taro and king trumpet mushrooms in a thin coconut broth is a straight forward dish which offers much more flavor then is expected from its watery consistency. Served with choice of French baguette, jasmine rice or vermicelli noodles—I personally go for the rice.
If you’ve made it this far through this rambling review, here is your prize: The Lemongrass Chicken Banh Mi ($7.95). Confidently the best item on the menu (this statement applies to all of their Banh Mis). Warm soy hunks fragrant with lemongrass sauce are served warm saturating the thin walled baguette. Twisted with threads of cilantro, pickled carrots and daikon that offer more texture then flavor. But that’s alright. Against the meager offering of vegan Banh Mis in San Diego, this is the standout of the city.

The Purple Mint Vegetarian Bistro
6171 Mission Gorge Rd
San Diego, CA 92120

*We did complain and ask for more shrimp—offering to pay for it—and were told no.

Gravity Heights (San Diego, CA)

CITRUS SHANDY gh pilsner, grapefruit, orange, lime

Gravity Heights is a strange fellow. Atop the hilly landscape of Sorrento Valley—a wise move to capture the tech workers trapped by the 805’s unholy rush hour traffic—clear glass walls bath the space in light, while maple veneer and sky blue upholstery keep the interior on trend.

The latest project of Whiskenladle Hospitality, Chef Keith Voight (formerly of Prep Kitchen Del Mar which was formally a part of the Whisknladle brand) helms the only vegan-friendly menu of the group’s portfolio.

Perhaps vegan-friendly is too effusive a term for the two options, but when you’re the single vegan in a sea of omni co-workers, the little “v” on the menu becomes your good time enabler.

From the west coast of India to the best coast of America comes Bhel Puri ($10.75). Delicate puffs of rice—not unlike the healthy hippy cereals that filled many of our childhood bowls—come tossed with roasted peanuts, diced tomato, cubes of sweet mango, bites of red onion, quinoa, and a side of tamarind date chutney (the mint cilantro chutney is not vegan). It’s a fleeting dish, growing softer by the minute, that balances tastes and textures in a respectful (albeit very sweet) fusion.

The Sundried Tomato N’duja Pizza ($14.5) comes speckled in char. Spread with a thin tomato sauce spotted with thick nugs of umami in the form of sun dried tomato paste, wilted basil, red onion, and dollops of cashew ricotta.

“It’s my favorite… and I’m not even vegan” exclaims our waiter as he places it before us. Digging our toes into the wood chips below the purple picnic bench, a whiff of smoke from the distance oven falls over us as we raise the first slice to our lips.

Gravity Heights 
9920 Pacific Heights Blvd.
San Diego, CA 92121
Instagram: @gravityheights

Vegan Friendly: Telefónica Gastro Park in Tijuana

The indoor/outdoor Telefónica Gastro Park offers an array of global flavors infused with the creativity of some of Tijuana’s rising chefs.

The Vibe

Long under the influence of its northern neighbors, the relatively recent dip in tourism has given rise to a brave new breed of Tijuana restaurant. Aimed at feeding the local’s hunger for innovation and community, chefs are pushing the boundaries of Baja cooking.

Telefónica Gastro Park encapsulates this shift.

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a god-awful small affair: A Bowie Dinner with Joshua Ploeg

I’ve long espoused the idea that foodie culture rose from the smashed emotions of the Great Recession swizzled with Yelp. But lately I’ve been reading the theories of food as entertainment—a phrase that immediately rings true. Because foodie culture also rose along side Food Network, increasing obesity, grocery abundance, Salt Bae, and other bastions of 21st century American culture.

Our Birthday Lady, Beth

But for longer than that, food has been the fuel of the party season. Entertainment not aimed to sell us more or make us docile, but to share a bit of joy with friends, and friends of friends. Touring chef, Joshua Ploeg, tied it all together in an unironic David Bowie themed dinner theater for Beth’s birthday.

Is Ploeg’s food Michelin star worthy. LOL, of course not. His food is crafty, sarcastic, joyous, and frankly more fun then any tweezers plated, food as art, tasting menu could ever wish to be.

Dinner starts off wet with the Ploeg Ziggied out and serving up “In the wilds of Oh Lordy, Oh Lordy, You Know I Need Some Iced Tea”—a hibiscus lavender brew spiked with fresh mint and self-administered rum.

Joshua Ploeg as Ziggy Stardust

life’s a well-thumbed machine


Course 1
Doped up on 70’s cocktail party air, the meal opens with “Some Cat Was Layin’ Down Some Rock ‘n’ Roll Veggie Shrimps.” Adorned in Japanese robes, Ploeg shimmied little plates of turnip and jicama “shrimps” towards us. The bits are skewered with mini potatoes and broiled zucchini over a swirl of cocktail and garlic sauce.

He’d like to come and meet us But he thinks he’d blow our minds

Joshua Ploeg as Starman


Course 2
In the kitchen, baby leaves turned matte side up. Plated as “Nights Are Warm and the Greens Are Young,” the salad hides bits of rainbow carrots, Golden Years of young tomatoes, crescents of shaved fennel, and black lentil sprouts under a wild drizzle of sweetly aged mulberry balsamic.

gold whop whop whop

Joshua Ploeg in Station To Station


Course 3
The flair of “Living Nostalgia… Humble Pie or Bitter Fruit?” overshadowed the DJ performance on the soup course. A shallow dish of slow cooked squash and cucumber layered soup capped in a semi-sweet almond crust tart stuffed with black garlic pate. To the side, a sweet tamarind and bitter melon chutney bleeds slowly into the broth.

Joshua Ploeg as the DJ

I am a D.J., I am what I play


Course 4
As our ears filled with the ashes and melancholy of Major Tom, the “…But the Little Bean Wheels Are Following Me, Oh No Not Again” soothes our entry into the closing acts. Irregular pats of fava bean cakes arrives under a sandy toss of garlic herb crumble and creamy splats of pale pesto. Beside it, hearts of fancy mushrooms and roasted beets come obscured in the crumble as well.

Joshua Ploeg as Scary Monsters

The shrieking of nothing is killing

Course 5

With miniature Muppet dressed in trash bags and jute, Ploeg dons the classic fitted pants and shock of white hair of to deliver the Magic Dance of “Slime and Snails, or Corny Dog Tails?” Bamboo skewers of pecan caramel came battered and fried in sweet corn breading. The tip rests in a muck of coconut vanilla ice kreem snails swirling with blackberry slime sauce and bits of crunchy praline.

Joshua Ploeg as the Goblin King

Slap that baby, make him free


Joshua Ploeg:

Debra with Joshua Ploeg as the Goblin King

Vegan Friendly: Thali and Chaat at Sattvik Foods in Miramar

The Short and Skinny

At Sattvik Foods the menu flutters through a well-honed collection of curries and rice, offering only a few options each day. Lay your trust in Kanta Jina’s spice-tempered pots and pans and follow her around the metal thali, because they’re all good.

The Vibe

Counter height tables line the walls leading to a small window overlooking the open kitchen. Here, the women of Sattvik Foods can been seen stirring pots of daily dishes like sesame aloo and turia patra—ridge gourd stewed in colassia leaves and topped with gram noodles.

The space has the feel of a catering kitchen, which reflects the fact that half of the meals produced here are delivered to local businesses. Kanta can most often be found overseeing the kitchen with deserved confidence, though you might also see her wiping down tables, chatting with customers, or demonstrating the joys of eating Pani Puri.

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Vegan Friendly: An Unbiased Review of Every “Beyond Meat” Vegan Menu Option at Del Taco

Every January healthy resolutions and organized efforts drive up the demand for vegan food and someone will proclaimed it the “Year of the Vegan.” Then February rolls around and the food world returns to the status quo. This February is different.

Towards the end of 2018, partnerships between thriving plant-based protein brands and the fast food industry were taking root. One of the biggest pairings here in Southern California was the union of Beyond Meat and Del Taco.

But, why?

While vegan options at fast food outlets may seem absurd—as an insider in the vegan community I can tell you that this has been the goal of many all along.

See, I often hear omnivores deflect vegan ideas, lamenting “…if only the food tasted good…”. But we all know that in reality, most Americans will eat plastic garbage if it’s cheap enough. And for new vegans, what many miss more than eggs and cheese are cheap convenient foods.

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Sweet Earth Foods

It’s not often that companies offer me products—and even rarer that I accept. But seeing as Sweet Earth already has a place in refrigerator, I accepted their mystery swag box.

This plant-based company, helmed by former Pepsico and Burger King important person Brian Swette and former Calvin Kline important person Kelly Swette, offers an ever growing array of refrigerated vegan meats and vegetarian and vegan frozen foods to grocery stores nationwide. Though known mostly to me for the unexpected burrito combinations, my box arrived with (2) frozen bowls and (2) mock meats.

I don’t often post my own cooking—mostly because if I’m cooking food that means I’m tired and hungry, the least photography compatible mood I have. Also, frozen meals are meant to be eaten in moments of rushed convenience wedges between the bustle of work, which is exactly when I devoured these bowls.

Cauliflower Mac

Noodles cut with cauliflower florets smothered in a cauliflower and sweet potato sauce under shreds of panko and vegan parmesan. Once microwaved, the dish still looked startlingly frozen, but when eaten seemed fully cooked. I found the small portion reasonably filling for 290 calories but followed up the meal with a bag of kettle chips.

General Tso’s Tofu

The ultra sweet glaze of General Tso’s is, by far, my favorite American-Chinese dish—both raising my bar of expectation and making me easy to please once the bar is met. This dish meets that bar. The cornstarch crusted tofu gives the glossy sauce something to cling to against the not-soggy broccoli and brown rice.  My only complaint is that the 330 calories is not nearly enough to complete a meal—I could easily eat double this for lunch. Still, I’ve already purchased more for my office’s freezer.

Harmless Ham

This is an example of me being too hungry and forgetting to take pictures before eating. These rounds of wheat gluten—which taste of an unspecified flavor I would liken more to onion, garlic, and pepper over “ham”—were quartered and caramelized in pineapple juice and turned into a Hawaiian Pizza.

Benevolent Bacon

Bacon. One of the more popular non-sequitur utterances after the mention of veganism—and one of the hardest meats to mimic. Expectations demand a flattened and fried vessel for delivering sweet, smoke, and fat—fat here being the hardest to deliver. So I took the wheat gluten strips—peppered with hickory, smoked paprika, tomato paste, maple syrup , and so on—and fried them up in an avocado oil greased cast iron for a luscious Buffalo BLT on everything bagel.

Sweet Earth
Facebook: @SweetEarthFoods
Instagram: @SweetEarthFoods
Twitter: @SweetEarthFoods

The Blind Burro (San Diego, CA)

It is becoming delightfully common to happen upon vegan staff at very non-vegan restaurants. Through the kindness of my server, Emily, I found my way through the menu modifications at The Blind Burro.

This is the kind of space a vegan would probably not find themselves at alone. A gathering corner a quick jaunt from Petco Park, this is the kind of restaurant your onmi friends will suggest meeting at because they like it. But don’t worry, you’ll like it well enough too.

The only vegan as-is items are the Guacamoles—Tradicional and Especial—I went Especial ($12). Mashed avocado binds chunks of roasted sweet potato, corn, and rajas with house made plantain chips (shared fryer). I scraped some of the salt from Caramelized Pineapple Margherita ($12) to season it.

Pinto beans and rice are prepared with animals, leaving the Veggie Tacos ($14) and Power Bowl ($13) as the substantial entrees. Over two corn tortillas, a generous plop of boiled or fried cauliflower comes drizzled in a fruity chipotle-orange BBQ sauce over kale salad, avocado, and matchstick radishes. I asked for all the hot sauces and received a rainbow of actually spicy house-made pepper slurries.

The Power Bowl is filled with scoops of quiona and kale salad under avocado (subbed for goat cheese) and benefited from what ended up being my favorite disha side of Mole Black Beans that came with the tacos. The spiced, and slightly sweet beans, smothered the blatantly healthy ingredient under better tasting but just as healthy sauce.

The Blind Burro offers an extensive printed allergen listhighlighting what dishes independently have nuts, egg, soy, and dairyalthough deciphering it requires detailed reading while hungry… Which made our friendly server indispensable in creating our pleasant evening in a very non-vegan establishment.

The Blind Burro
639 J St.
San Diego, CA 92101

Facebook: @TheBlindBurro
Instagram: @TheBlindBurro
Twitter: @TheBlindBurro

All food hosted.

Vegan Friendly: The Far West Lounge by Modern Times in Encinitas

The Short and Skinny

Large windows open onto Highway 101, pulling the ocean breeze into Encinitas’ newest vegan food and beer destination.

The Vibe

Dozens of cyclist fly by as the crowd slowly forms outside of The Far West Lounge by Modern Times in Encinitas. Within 20 minutes of opening, the bar is full of breakfast sandwiches and beer flights.

Curling around a marble top horseshoe bar, friends sip beer as their kids climb the underlit stadium seating in soccer practice threads. The papered walls wear badges of the company’s strong “mid-century maximalist” branding—from trays of felted TV dinners to cross-stitch rackets by Modern Times’ inhouse “art gnomes.” In the corner, a mini mart offers beer cans, coffee beans, and Modern Times branded swag to-go.

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