Best of San Diego 2021 | Guides

Table of Contents North CountyBEST SUNSET TOASTMonarch Ocean PubBEST HALO HALOLutchi and MaryBEST GOURMET CHOCOLATE

Table of Contents






It’s been a long road, but we’re seeing brighter days ahead. Our annual guide to the best new food, drinks, shops, and activities San Diego has to offer is here, with unique pandemic pivots and stories of communities coming together in between. Ready, set, celebrate!

North County






Best of SD - Monarch

“It warms my heart to see you all here. COVID’s almost over, we got nothing left to fear. The last year sure was a hell of a fright, but it gave us strength, and made the human spirit fight. Summer’s almost here and the sunshine is comin’.

Here at Monarch we preach love, respect, and a whole lotta lovin’. We thank you all for our amazing start. It’s all of you that fill the Monarch heart.” —Erik Sloan


BEST SUNSET TOAST

Monarch Ocean Pub

At Del Mar Plaza, Monarch Ocean Pub takes sunset toasts to a whole new level. Past the beachy, open-air design and dragon fruit margaritas, the pub’s real magic lies in the nightly poem read by their bar lead, Erik Sloan. At sunset, Sloan rings a cowbell, hops on the bar, and silences the room before reading a poem he wrote that day. The ritual began as a moment to observe hope during a dark time—the pub opened last fall—and has blossomed into a way to reflect on how the pandemic has changed our lives.

“We all got a second chance,” Sloan explains. “And no one should take that for granted.” Sloan wraps up every poem with a toast the whole pub joins in on: “Cheers to me, cheers to you, and here’s a toast to a hell of a view.” While the lobster rolls and the boozy slushies are a big draw, it’s this barman’s poetic tradition and moment of gratitude that truly unify and elevate the room.

1555 Camino Del Mar, Del Mar

BEST HALO HALO

Lutchi and Mary

Enjoy the sweet life with Lutchi and Mary’s version of the Filipino halo halo dessert. Halo halo (which means “mix mix” in Tagalog) is a traditional confection from the islands, but this San Marcos eatery serves it up with a twist. The dessert includes shaved ice, fresh fruit compote, and ube ice cream on a decadent leche flan. Trust us: It’s just as good as it looks.

844 West San Marcos Boulevard, San Marcos






Best of SD - Dliteful

BEST GOURMET CHOCOLATE CLASS

D’liteful Chocolat

Learn more about European chocolates at D’liteful Chocolat at Lake San Marcos. Owner and chef Dayleen Coleman is a Le Cordon Bleu alum who’s sharing all her best secrets for creating fine chocolates, truffles, and more. Coleman offers weekly lessons for budding students of all ages. Aside from her chocolate classes, Coleman is serving up a new brunch menu and afternoon tea times, and she often partners with local breweries and wineries for chocolate pairing events.

1030 La Bonita Drive, San Marcos 






Best of SD - Fairmont bees

BEST SUSTAINABILITY PROGRAM

Fairmont Grand Del Mar

Fairmont Grand Del Mar got its buzziest guests yet in the form of two honeybee colonies who settled near the fourth hole of their well-manicured golf course—which is ripe for pollination thanks to nearby Los Peñasquitos Canyon Preserve. With help from local beekeepers at Bee Leaf USA, the resort now provides a safe sanctuary for these bees to thrive. The Grand’s Bee Sustainable program harvests honey produced by the hives (up to 200 pounds a year) and incorporates it into food and cocktails served on site. A raw, natural superfood with healing properties? Sounds like a sweet deal to us.

5300 Grand Del Mar Court, Carmel Valley

BEST SPECIALTY MASSAGE

Massage Concepts Del Mar

When owner Anne Chao was looking for a new treatment to bring to her Del Mar spa, she turned to the past. Her Wood Lock Medicated Balm Treatment builds on a tried-and-true remedy to smooth out muscle aches and tension knots, enhancing the most incredible deep- tissue massages in her soothing oasis—perfect for routine self-care. This old-timey ointment, made with wintergreen oil and menthol, has been recommended by grandpas in Hong Kong for centuries.

12925 El Camino Real, Carmel Valley 






Best of SD - Legoland

BEST AMUSEMENT PARK EXPANSION

The Lego Movie World

These days, we could all use a little positivity, even if it comes from an animated Lego character named Emmet reminding you that “Everything Is Awesome.” The Lego Movie World is Legoland California’s largest-ever addition, featuring brand-new rides. Take the family to experience Emmet’s Flying Adventure, a 4-D animated thrill ride on a triple-decker flying couch, or Unikitty’s Disco Drop, which puts a spin on the typical drop tower rides by “tossing” riders upward.

1 Legoland Drive, Carlsbad






Best of SD - Graves House

BEST CONCEPT SWITCH-UP

The Graves House at Mission Pacific Hotel

Dessert with a view? Count us in. The historic Graves House, aka the Top Gun House, was relocated to the newly opened Mission Pacific Hotel and is undergoing renovations to open up as a charming dessert bar for beachgoers and hotel guests in search of a sugar fix. The 140-year-old Victorian was rechristened “Charlie’s” after Kelly McGillis’s Top Gun character, who lived there. While you wait to satisfy your sweet tooth, check out the 3D elevator art on your way to the top of the hotel, where Valle de Guadalupe chef Roberto Alcocer serves up street-style eats and cold craft brews at this “après-surf ” rooftop scene.

201 North Myers Street, Oceanside

BEST NEW HOTEL

Alila Marea Beach Resort

This new boutique hotel was over 20 years in the making, and it’s absolutely worth the wait. The eco-friendly property perched on the cliff above South Ponto Beach was built from sustainable materials and plans to achieve zero waste in five years. The hotel has also partnered with local businesses like Lofty Coffee, Vuori, Surfin Fire surf school, Electra Go! Bikes, Aaron Chang Ocean Art, and the Rob Machado Foundation—for the latter, to set up water stations to replace single-use plastic bottles. Stay in the chic, modern accommodations, then enjoy craft cocktails and locally inspired cuisine by chef Claudette Zepeda at Vaga (her nickname, Spanish for “wanderer”).

2100 North Coast Highway 101, Encinitas

BEST HOME FURNISHINGS

Serena & Lily

Praise be! San Diego has a Serena & Lily. The casual coastal furniture retailer opened its newest design shop at One Paseo this spring, outfitting the space inside and out with the beach-chic decor we’ve come to love from the brand—furniture in white and rattan finishes, light-colored textiles, and seaside accessories. There are also design professionals on hand to draft up mood boards for your next home project or to offer complimentary swatches and styling tips.

3720 Caminito Court, Carmel Valley






Best of SD - Child of Wild

BEST JEWELRY SHOP

Child of Wild

Considering Child of Wild’s affinity for all that glitters, it’s only fitting that their shop would be a true hidden gem. Nestled in low-key Leucadia, the quaint brick-and-mortar is a pared-down offering of their edgy accessories and an eclectic assortment of home decor. Owner Eileen Lofgren put her designs on the map—or online, to be exact—in 2014, beginning with bejeweled cow skulls. Today, Child of Wild boasts 300 original jewelry designs, some of which have graced the pages of Glamour, Vogue, and Sports Illustrated. Our favorite facet of the shop is the charm bar, where you can design your own jewelry with interchangeable charms and chains.

1114 North Coast Highway 101, Leucadia






Best of SD - Candles on Tap

BEST CANDLE BAR

Candles on Tap

Pour your own candle? Makes scents to us! You can pour over 90 scents at Candles On Tap in Encinitas, San Diego’s self-described “first candle bar.” They have specialists on hand to walk you through every step of choosing and pairing candle scents, which range from traditional to adventurous—like Campfire, Cannabis, and Santa’s Pipe. The soy candles are a favorite, but there’s also the option to create a flameless reed diffuser.

687 South Coast Highway 101, Encinitas

BEST DESIGN SHOP EXPANSION

Bixby & Ball

Think of Solana Beach’s Cedros Avenue, and Bixby & Ball, interior designer Betsy Bracken’s home decor shop, is most likely one of the first places that comes to mind. In fact, the shop is housed in the first cottage ever built on Cedros Avenue, and today it brims with Southern California–inspired home goods spanning furniture, lighting, wall decor, kitchenware, bath products, and more. The interior design maven has even opened a second Solana Beach location right down the street for her consultations. Sign us up!

143 South Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach; 214 South Cedros Avenue, Solana Beach

Central






Best of SD - Finest City

BEST SECOND ACT

Finest City Improv

COVID couldn’t keep Finest City Improv down. The feisty Hillcrest theater, founded in 2012 by Amy Lisewski, lost several revenue streams when quarantine forced it to cancel classes and performances. Things looked bleak when an unsympathetic landlord issued a pay-up-or-get-out ultimatum.

In the “Yes, and…” spirit of improvisational comedy, Lisewski and general manager Skyler Lee went to work on a Save Our Theater fundraising campaign. Local media put out the story of their impending demise, and the arts community stepped up. Students, house performers, and the general public all chipped in, and that crowdsourcing, along with grants and a PPP loan, helped the improv theater hang on for one more act.

Meanwhile, Lisewski and Lee used the downtime wisely to pivot and expand the theater’s offerings. They now have a beer-and-wine license. In April, they built a sidewalk patio. Along with improv drop-ins, their outdoor shows have included stand-up comedy, musical stylings, and trivia nights.

Now that the restrictions on indoor gatherings have been lifted, the hope is that the pulse of improv performances will quicken in the newly reconfigured indoor theater. If and when the audience for stand-up comedy and other entertainment returns, Finest City Improv will have emerged from the pandemic stronger, funnier, and more cathartic than ever.

3746 Sixth Avenue, Hillcrest






Best of SD - Wonderbus

BEST NEW MUSIC EXPERIENCE

Wonderbus

San Diego’s music scene had to get creative in the past year. There were livestreamed performances and drive-in shows, but nothing was as creative as seeing a double-decker bus with a live band on top making the rounds through the streets of San Diego. Wonderbus’s “concert on wheels” brought live music back in a souped-up bus complete with a full sound system. The bus changes its route every weekend and hosts local bands in a variety of genres. Wonders never cease!

Locations vary

BEST IV THERAPY

Saffron & Sage

Already known for wellness offerings like massage, meditation, and energy and sound therapies, holistic health club Saffron & Sage has added IV therapy and vitamin injections to its list of services. Now, clients can get an intramuscular boost of vitamins including B12 or D, or a customizable IV injection to promote energy, sleep, immunity, or muscle recovery. By delivering nutrients directly to the bloodstream and bypassing the digestive system, IV therapy is purported to provide better absorption and quicker results. We say it’s worth a shot.

2555 State Street, Bankers Hill

BEST DISTILLERY

Liberty Call Distilling Co.

Community came first for Barrio Logan’s Liberty Call Distilling Co. when they put their opening on pause to produce sanitizer during the onset of the pandemic. Now they’ve finally reopened their doors as the distillery restaurant they were meant to be. Stop in for small- batch spirits, like their Special Reserve Doublewood Bourbon, and stay for the tapas-style menu to pair with your drinks.

1985 National Avenue, Barrio Logan

BEST RESTAURANT COMEBACK

The Balboa Bar & Grill

There’s a dearth of places to grab a drink and a bite on the south end of Fifth Avenue near Balboa Park, so when Tom Logsdon turned the former Tin Can Ale House into a cocktail bar that served good burgers, he gained a loyal following. After five years in the neighborhood, he closed the restaurant last summer because of the pandemic. But nearly one year after closing, The Balboa got a second, arguably better life. This spring, Logsdon’s landlord asked him to return to Fifth Avenue and reopen the restaurant in the same location, and even offered him the chance to expand into the space next door. The Balboa is now back in full swing, with more seating and space. Cheers to their return (and to their landlord)!

1863 Fifth Avenue, Bankers Hill






Best of SD - Da Nang

BEST CENTRAL VIETNAMESE CUISINE

Da Nang Corner

If you travel from Saigon to Hanoi, you’ll discover that the deliciously complex flavors of Vietnamese pho change dramatically by region. Owner Quynh Nguyen brings scrumptious Central Vietnamese cuisine to Convoy at Da Nang Corner. The kitchen is run by her father, who was a chef in Da Nang for nearly 20 years. Try the bun bo hue, a spicy beef noodle soup, or mi quang, a yellow noodle soup with frog or chicken marinated with fresh turmeric, a Da Nang specialty.

4428 Convoy Street, Kearny Mesa

BEST NEW DIGS

Red Fox Room Steakhouse

It was out with the old and in with the new for the historic Red Fox Room. After 60 years, the iconic eatery and piano bar left its longtime home at The Lafayette Hotel… to move right across the street. The new spot opens this summer on the other side of El Cajon Boulevard, sporting the same cozy, intimate interiors the city fell in love with—including the 400-year-old wood paneling from the original building in Surrey, England—and a new sign, door, and seating. Sing us a song, piano man!

2200 El Cajon Boulevard, University Heights






Best of SD - Holding Company

BEST OVER-THE-TOP COCKTAILS

The Holding Company

Ocean Beach’s trilevel, 7,000-square-foot beach hangout has the perfect drink to match its “go big” vibe: 90-ounce cocktail towers. You can turn a variety of drink orders into one of these mega concoctions, like spicy mules, margaritas, passion fruit mimosas, or vodka Red Bull. Kick back on the rooftop for sunset views of the OB Pier and live music, or head downstairs to dine on Asian-, Californian-, and Mexican-inspired dishes by owner Scott Yeng of OB Noodle House. Bottoms up!

5046 Newport Avenue, Ocean Beach






Best of SD - Fit Tacos

BEST HEALTHY MEXICAN FOOD

Fit Tacos

This meal-prep business started by friends is now a successful food truck parked at Societe Brewing, serving up healthy tacos that are built on a thin-sliced jicama tortilla that is sweet, juicy, and doesn’t fall apart. If you prefer your taco deconstructed, try the Fit Bowls filled with Mexican brown rice, veggies, and your choice of Soyrizo, grilled shrimp, pollo adobado, or carne asada.

8262 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard; Kearny Mesa






Best of SD - Mystic Mocha

BEST CAFÉ MAKEOVER

Mystic Mocha

After operating for well over a decade in University Heights’ residential area, this humble café came under new ownership just last year and got a facelift—hello, bright yellow exterior!—and a refined menu. The breakfast menu, served Thursday through Tuesday, skews Mexican and includes chilaquiles, burritos, and tamales, nearly all with vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free variations. Of course, the cafe’s namesake are the real draw. Its mochas are named after notable heroes, like John Wick (honey and lavender), Wonder Woman (peppermint and chocolate), and Frida Kahlo (Mexican chocolate).

2105 Mission Avenue, University Heights

BEST FLOWER CART

Best Bud Florals

A flower concept doesn’t get more adorable than that of Best Bud Florals. Owned and operated by former Native Poppy employees Kathleen Dore and Grace Kinney, this flower cart pops up at Little Italy’s Home Ec boutique on the second Sunday of the month, stocking prewrapped grab-and-go blooms. When they’re not carting around flowers, you can contact Dore and Kinney for made-to-order arrangements and floral design for events. They’re the best of buds.

2355 India Street, Little Italy

BEST BOOZE CRUISE

Paddle Pub

It’s like a pedal wagon, but on the water. Paddle Pub, which has five other locations in the US, started making waves in Mission Bay last summer with its pedal-powered pontoon boat. While it seats up to 16 people, there are 12 pedal stations total, and only seven pedalers are required to power the vessel. Meanwhile, non-pedaling partiers might want to captain the sound system. Rent out the whole pontoon for a large group or purchase an individual ticket and mix and mingle with fellow booze cruisers. Whatever floats your boat!

1441 Quivira Road, Mission Bay

BEST FOOD COMPOUND

The Acre of Awesome

You can do a lot with 40,000 square feet. And in Barrio Logan, four businesses banded together to make the most of one property, creating a food-and-drink compound that caught the eye of not only locals, but Forbes. The Acre of Awesome comprises Sideyard BBQ, serving up sizable plates of meats and sides (don’t skip the brisket); HottMess Wood Fired Pizza; a newly opened tasting room for Kové, the world’s first hard yerba maté tea; and ReBru Spirits, a distillery that upcycles craft beer into hard liquor.

1735 National Avenue, Barrio Logan

BEST BOUTIQUE

Nativo

After temporarily closing due to COVID-19, Nativo is up and running again in a new space with revamped inventory to show for it. Think of the boutique like an Anthropologie with an authentic Latin American twist, including ceramics and textiles handmade in Oaxaca, as well as accessories like hats and crossbodies. It’s proof that there’s indeed light at the end of the pandemic for our retail industry.

2146 Logan Avenue, Barrio Logan

BEST GRILLED CHEESE

Bread and Cheese Eatery

Two local buddies, Justin Frank and Devin Gneiting, are committed to sharing their love of all things cheesy. Their East Village specialty shop is located within Ale Tales Taproom, on the ground floor of Shift Apartments. These gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches are Comfort Food 101. Crunchy sourdough bread is filled with melted cheddar, provolone, pepper jack, or Swiss. Feed your inner dragon with a salami-stuffed Burn-a-Nator, or go vegetarian with the red-peppers-and-arugula-laced Cali Gold.

1520 J Street, East Village






Best of SD - Tribute pizza

BEST CURBSIDE PICKUP

Tribute Pizza

When restaurants had to convert to takeout service only, Matthew Lyons and his team quickly came up with a contactless curbside pickup system. They instructed customers to drive up and call, and a server would place the food in the trunk of their car or on the hood. Lyons even gave away the restaurant’s stock of toilet paper during the shortage. They’ve been running a solid takeout business for over a year now, and Lyons released a statement earlier this summer that he and his team wanted to improve the overall operation before they welcomed diners again (they recently reopened for in-person dining). 

3077 North Park Way, North Park






Best of SD - Roxys Tacos

BEST NEW TACO SHOP

Roxy’s Tacos

Get lured in by the deep pink sign near downtown’s trolley tracks, stay hooked by the food and friendly ambience at Roxy’s Tacos. From behind the counter, owner Roberto “Junior” Bermudez amiably chats up customers who come for legit street tacos. Junior marinates his meat for 24 hours with a secret recipe of seven spices. Top off your order with his mom’s version of hot sauce, made from fresh toasted tomatoes.

815 C Street, East Village; 619-349-4839






Best of SD - Rollin Roots

BEST CHARITABLE EATERY

Rollin Roots

Avonte Hartsfield shows that vegan food can be indulgent, satisfying, and—most importantly—affordable. He slings Buffalo “chicken” po’boys (made with oyster mushrooms), deep-fried mac and cheese, and loaded fries topped with jackfruit out of his food truck in Kearny Mesa, and it became a hit even with carnivores. During the pandemic he gave free meals to help people who’d been laid off, and offered patrons the option to pay a meal forward. A “pay what you can” special is now a permanent part of the menu. His efforts haven’t gone unnoticed: This June, he won a $25,000 grant from Guy Fieri to open a full-scale restaurant.

8040 Armour Street, Kearny Mesa; 8665 Miralani Drive, Miramar

BEST RESTAURANT REVAMP

Neighborhood

Neighborhood’s redo is the latest ostrich feather in the cap of Consortium Holdings maestro Arsalun Tafazoli. He’s never met a rule he couldn’t bend or break. The revamped space is noisily intimate, with fewer seats but double the number of speakeasies. Come for the familiar craft beers and elevated bar food (the crispy potato is not to be missed), but stay for the eye-catching new decor—cowhide bar stools and a black-and-white photo of Alice Cooper meeting Colonel Sanders, to be specific.

777 G Street, East Village






Best of SD - Shell

BEST OUTDOOR MUSIC VENUE

The Rady Shell at Jacobs Park

The San Diego Symphony’s long-awaited $85-million facility opened this month at Embarcadero Marina Park South, becoming its first permanent outdoor venue. More than 40 concerts are planned between August and November; pop highlights for 2021 include Grammy winner Jason Mraz, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Motown icon Smokey Robinson, The Who’s Roger Daltrey, and Beach Boys cofounder Brian Wilson.

200 Marina Park Way, Embarcadero

South






Best of SD - Birria Kings

BEST NEW BRICK-AND-MORTAR EXPANSION

Birria Kings

The beef birria from this food truck has been a hit ever since it opened on E Street in Chula Vista. Founded by Albert Calderon, Birria Kings serves the spicy stewed meat in a variety of fun ways in addition to traditional tacos and consommé, and hungry diners have been happily lining up for the birriamen (with ramen noodles), quesadillas, burritos, and the birria-stuffed pizza. Calderon expanded with a second truck on Oxford Street this year, and soon the eatery will have a permanent home at 2333 Highland Avenue in National City, where he plans to serve beers and micheladas along with the current menu.

642 E Street, Chula Vista; 635 Oxford Street, Chula Vista

BEST COFFEE FOR A CAUSE

Pau’s Place Coffee and More

At this Chula Vista pop-up, your daily coffee order can help make a difference. Owner Carmen Saucedo opened Pau’s Place in honor of her late daughter, Pauline. The nonprofit churns out mochas, blended coffee, baked goods, and more to raise money for low-income locals of any age to visit Disneyland (her daughter’s favorite place) for the first time.

225 Third Avenue, Chula Vista






Best of SD - Hellote

BEST NEW OUTDOOR DINING

Hellote

The story of Emmanuel Favela’s career pivot is one for the books. A trained designer who studied at the New School of Architecture, he worked for collectible figurine maker Funko, and then at architecture firms. After he was laid off in 2020, he found himself unsure of his next step when Tony Haro, a local architect, presented him with a business opportunity in a fi eld where neither of them had any experience. What resulted is Hellote, an outdoor eatery serving elotes (Mexican street corn) in Chula Vista.

Haro (pictured, right) found an empty lot on Main Street and saw its potential. He and Favela (pictured, left) pondered opening a café—neither of them owned a restaurant before— but Favela felt it wasn’t the right move. That’s when he considered the elote. “Corn is very humble. You don’t think much of it, you just see the guy with the cart,” he says. “We wanted to take it to the next level.”

Favela came up with the name, and Luis Cardenas, a chef from Valle de Guadalupe, developed a menu of elotes served both on and off the cob, with a twist: Along with the traditional preparation of roasted corn topped with mayo, lime, salt, and spices, some inventive options include elotes topped with chicharrones and black ash mayo (mayo mixed with the ashes from charred habanero peppers), crushed Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, or serrano sauce and grilled nopales (cactus). There’s also “monster nachos,” baked potatoes with arrecherra (grilled skirt steak), and dessert tamales.

In just a few weeks, they transformed the lot into a space made for hanging out. Diners are greeted by yellow marquee lights that spell “Hellote for the heart” in Spanish, comfy seating areas, games, and a sound system. Corn roasters from Texas cook the ears on-site. Hellote has been a hit since it opened in late 2020, and Favela and Haro are already looking for a second location.

3124 Main Street, Chula Vista






Best of SD - Sun Outdoors

BEST RV RESORT

Sun Outdoors San Diego Bay

The Chula Vista Bayfront Project got a kick-start in April, when this mixed-use vacation property set up shop. Sun Outdoors has a lot going for it: There are 197 fully equipped RV rental sites, 49 beachy vacation cottage rentals, a swimming pool, and courts for tennis, basketball, and pickleball. But the main draw is its proximity to Living Coast Discovery Center just across the street, where you can walk the trails and plan a private animal encounter.

825 E Street, Chula Vista






Best of SD - Grasshopper

BEST NEW DISPENSARY

Grasshopper

Chula Vista’s fi st cannabis dispensary lit up this spring, stocking its shelves with flowers, prerolls, edibles, topicals, and more. Shop popular California brands like Camino and Almora Farm. Grasshopper offers delivery options in select regions south of I-8 and in the Imperial Valley, and aims to ingrain itself in its local community by giving back a portion of its daily sales to cultural arts programs in San Diego.

376 Trousdale Drive, Chula Vista

BEST NEW CAMPGROUND

Tijuana River Valley Regional Park

Summer is for camping! Just south of the Tijuana River, pitch a tent at this 79-acre campground that has views of the valley and over 20 miles of trails to explore. There are traditional campsites to choose from, but it’s the first campground in the county to also provide yurts, which sleep six to 10 people. Elsewhere on the grounds you can find a nature center, an amphitheater, and a community garden. There are restrooms and showers, but no RV hookups, and reservations can be made online.

1942 Monument Road, San Ysidro






Best of SD - Mujer Divina

BEST NEW QUICK BREAKFAST

Mujer Divina Coffee and Burrito House

This new café is the second business for chef Priscilla Curiel, who owns Tuétano Taquería in San Ysidro and received national acclaim for her birria tacos topped with bone marrow. Curiel is a coffee lover who always wanted to start a café, and at the end of 2020 she and her husband decided to convert a deli he owned in National City into Mujer Divina. Start the day at the cheerful shop with a café de olla (a Mexican coffee flavored with cinnamon and cane sugar), a snack-size breakfast burrito (the machaca ranchera is popular) or a latte combo that comes with a colorful conchita (shell-shaped pastry) or scone. If you want to beat the morning rush or sleep in, it’s open until 2 p.m. every day.

310 East Eight Street, Chula Vista






Best of SD - Greg Cox Park

BEST BIKE PARK

Greg Cox Bike Park

The county’s second-ever bike park pedaled into Otay Valley Regional Park earlier this summer, opening up more trails and terrain to tackle on two wheels. The 3.2 acres have paths fit for both beginning and intermediate riders, including a jump line and modular pump track larger than any other in California. Start in the beginner’s zone, then work your way up to the more challenging tracks—there’s also a rest area on-site for when you need to take a break from breaking a sweat.

325 Rancho Drive, Chula Vista

BEST NEW GREEN SPACE

Millenia Park

Chula Vista’s new luxury development, Millenia, added another green space with the opening of Millenia Park in June. It’s the largest recreational area in the project—which is slated to have off ice space, retail, dining, six parks, and bike paths among its 3,000 residences—spanning 3.6 acres with a soccer field, athletic courts, and a jogging path along the exterior. Families with kids will also want to take advantage of the picnic areas and community space for gatherings, and check out the two play areas for the little ones.

1902 Millenia Avenue, Chula Vista

East County

BEST NEW BREWERY

Mcilhenney Brewing

In 1999, brewing legend Patrick McIlhenney put unincorporated East County on the map when he created Alpine Beer Company, which achieved cult status by helping establish the hop-forward style now called West Coast IPA. He sold the brand in 2014, but this May, he and son Shawn (an influential brewer in his own right) launched a new family brewery from the original Alpine Beer location. Once again, beer is the top reason to visit Alpine.

2363 Alpine Boulevard






Best of SD - Chandelier

BEST NEW FINE DINING

Chandelier Lounge Cuisine

White tablecloths, green plants, and a baby grand piano add to the charm of this laid-back fine dining spot. Caterer Georgina Marquez’s initial opening was paused by the pandemic, but now it’s back in full swing with beer and wine, Sunday brunch, and live music on weekends. Lunch stays casual with hot sandwiches and burgers, while dinner entrées include steaks, fish with lobster sauce, and lamb chops all under a winsome assortment of mismatched chandeliers.

13881 Campo Road






Best of SD - Hamlett

BEST YET TO COME

The Hamlett

Coffee, wellness, community—they’re just a few of Shacole and Zachary Hamlett’s favorite things. It takes courage to open a business around your favorite things while the world is on fire, but that’s exactly what the siblings did when they brought their multipurpose coffee and apothecary shop, The Hamlett, to life.

“All of the protests and discussions on race last year really hit home for our family,” Shacole says. “We had a lot of conversations about what we could do to support our Black community, and a few major points were the importance of self-determination, ownership, and economics. We don’t get to shop in that many Black- owned businesses. So we thought, ‘How can we create opportunities for business owners to support themselves?’ And our answer was to open up The Hamlett.”

It was no easy feat. Shacole (pictured, right) is 31 and Zachary (pictured, left) is 19; neither had any previous experience in starting a shop like this, and the process came with its own hurdles—namely, raising money and dealing with two acts of vandalism during construction earlier this year. But the duo had a vision, and even while they await a city permit to open their doors (which they anticipate this month), they’ve gone ahead and launched an online shop for a few of their products.

When the brick-and-mortar does open on Broadway in Lemon Grove, you’ll notice that The Hamlett wears many hats. On one hand, you’ll be able to pick up your morning coffee or shop wellness products made by local artisans of all ages and ethnic backgrounds (their youngest is a 10-year-old). On the other, Shacole and Zachary have created a business incubator program specifically designed for Black entrepreneurs to get their ideas off the ground and onto shelves. Their goal is to create a community hub where people can connect with friends, get inspired, and put their dreams on paper.

“It’s been a really long but exciting process to see The Hamlett come to life,” says Shacole. “We’ve watched this idea morph into something tangible. We’re looking forward to seeing people experience it, and to ultimately see businesses that work with us here, then move on to even greater things in the future.”

7801 Broadway, Lemon Grove

BEST NEW SANDWICH SHOP

Deli Belly

The best sandwich shop in Rancho San Diego is expanding into other parts of East County, beginning with this new outpost near Grossmont. The purveyor of Boar’s Head meats excels at producing California-style subs (avocado, chipotle), though the expansive menu takes its cues from a range of sandwich-making traditions. That includes the famed delis of New York City, whence it found the secret to its success: steaming meats for maximum moisture.

8396 Parkway Drive, La Mesa; 619-303-0943






Best of SD - Smokey

BEST NEW BARBECUE

Smokey and the Brisket BBQ

Vintage cars and motorbikes set the scene for barbecue, brews, and flatbreads at this new gathering spot near the shores of Lake Murray. A 1960s Dodge van has been cut into a custom bar, while retro car upholstery is repurposed as bench seating. It’ll make you grateful for the return of in-person dining, but mostly you’ll remember the smoked meats from Alberto Morreale, the chef behind Farmer’s Table restaurants— especially the eponymous brisket.

5465 Lake Murray Boulevard, La Mesa

BEST NEW SHOP

The Corner Store

This OB antique shop moved east this year to settle into La Mesa’s main thoroughfare. Here, you’ll find the same farmhouse- inspired and antique inventory that made The Corner Shop a local favorite, along with some new additions like chalk paint products and workshops to teach you how to use them.

8360 La Mesa Boulevard, La Mesa






Best of SD - Little Miss Brewing

BEST NEW TASTING ROOM

Little Miss Brewing

Owners Greg and Jade Malkin have expanded their Miramar-based business to six locations around the county over the past few years, and the Lakeside brewery is now the largest. Find kettle sours, porters, hazy IPAs, and blonde ales on tap, along with special beers made from Australian hops. Cheers, mate!

12245 Woodside Avenue, Lakeside

BEST NEW PET HANGOUT

The Dog Society

This all-new puptopia was made to give San Diegans a completely unique place to hang with their dogs. For your four-legged friend, check out the play and training areas, and grooming and boarding services. For you, a beer garden, workspace, and coffee shop await. Varying price packages are available.

6331 University Avenue, Rolando

BEST OUTDOOR EXPANSION

Tin Fish at Santee Lakes

A weekend by the lake just got a whole lot better. The Santee Lakes Recreation Preserve unveiled its new expanded dining deck and kitchen, run by Tin Fish Restaurant, just in time for the preserve’s 60-year anniversary. While overlooking the water, guests can dig into fish tacos, check out the remodeled general store, and enjoy the 4,000-square-foot deck.

89310 Fanita Parkway, Santee