Welcome to San Diego Blog | February 27, 2020
Perfect Date-Night Restaurants in San Diego
There’s the one you love, the one you can’t imagine life without, the one that’s unpretentious and charming, intimate and comfortable, occasionally even quite romantic. That’s your favorite neighborhood restaurant — even if you don’t live in the neighborhood.
One of them is The Smoking Goat in North Park. Among the staff, four couples have met and gotten married, and customers have met and fallen in love there, too. The restaurant celebrated their tenth anniversary last Feb. 19
Along with Jaynes Gastropub and the now-closed Urban Solace, the Goat helped put North Park on the culinary map as a destination for great neighborhood restaurants with elevated eats. The Smoking Goat’s classic steak frites is a 14-ounce bone-in New York strip with duck fat fries. Pair it with a red (perhaps a Charles Joguet cabernet France from Chinon?) from the restaurant’s well-curated wine list.
Ever since the delightful French bistro opened in 2010 as a cozy, 850-square-foot spot for escargot, steak frites, duck fat truffle fries, goat cheese cheesecake and expertly chosen, well-priced wines, the Goat has been embraced by locals and out-of-town visitors alike. And the Piehls, who have been married for 13 years, have been hugging them right back with their hospitality and excellent fare.
Something the couple agrees on is that love seems to be in the air at The Smoking Goat. Among the restaurant’s staff, at least four couples have met, dated, and gotten married in the ten years it’s been open. Customers have met there, too. Two got engaged at the Goat this past New Year’s Eve.
Fred Piehl is one of San Diego’s pioneering chefs whose neighborhood restaurants set the bar for community, service, quality, and sustainability.
Though he was born in the U.S., Fred’s family spent time in Switzerland when he was a child. As he grew up, he moved fluidly between the East and West Coasts and Europe, learning to understand both familiar and unfamiliar food customs and traditions.
After receiving his business degree, Fred decided to pursue cooking seriously. He moved to Paris to attend Le Cordon Bleu, where he studied both cuisine and patisserie and received his Grand Diplôme. After culinary school, Fred landed in San Diego, a city that offered a small respite from bustling metropolitan living and plenty of access to the outdoors. Plus, the local food bounty is incomparable to other regions.
Here are a few more of San Diego’s charming and intimate go-to restaurants:
Bo-Beau Kitchen + Bar
As inviting and delightful as a French country inn, the original Bo-Beau is a quintessential date night locale. Standout dishes include the crispy brussels sprouts with pancetta, parmesan and balsamic, mussels in lobster bisque with sherry crème fraîche, and a soul-satisfying boeuf Bourguignon. 4996 W. Point Loma Blvd., Ocean Beach. (619) 224-2884. cohnrestaurants.com/bobeaukitchenbar
There’s a relaxed vibe at this airy taverna, and the regulars all seem to know each other. No doubt they’re drawn to the expertly made Greek classics, like smoky baba ghanoush, lamb and onion bourekia, baked lamb and eggplant moussaka, and the two best desserts this side of Santorini — rose water-topped baklava and galaktoboureko, oven-hot phyllo rolls of farina custard and orange zest. 1846 Garnet Ave., Pacific Beach. (858) 274-1140. cafeathena.com
Practically from the day, it opened in 2016, John Resnick’s rustic open fire-focused restaurant on State Street became Carlsbad’s most popular restaurant. It’s a hit with foodies, who crave its roasted vegetable and meat dishes, and parents with small children who can relax on the tent- and firepit-decorated patio. Last year, it also earned a coveted Michelin Bib Gourmand honor. 2725 State St., Carlsbad. (760) 637-5121. thisiscampfire.com
Russ and Pam Taylor opened this popular neighborhood Mexican restaurant in north Escondido in 2004. Named for the cenote (“sink hole”) caverns, lakes, and wells in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, it’s one of the Escondido/San Marcos area’s favorite go-to spots for a delicious sit-down Mexican lunch or dinner. It’s known for large portions, reasonable prices, and delicious sangria. 1896 W. El Norte Parkway, Escondido. (760) 740-9911. cenotegrill.com
A bright new star on San Diego’s burgeoning Italian food scene, the instantly popular Cesarina buzzes with energy, thanks in no small part to its trio of enthusiastic owners. Can’t-miss dishes include fior di zucca, crispy octopus, short rib pappardelle, tonnarelli cacio e pepe, and the made-to-order tableside tiramisù, one of the best desserts in San Diego. Or anywhere. 4161 Voltaire St., Point Loma. (619) 226-6222. cesarinarestaurant.com
Opened 22 years ago by Giuseppe and Gloria Di Giovanni, this Italian restaurant is an institution in north Vista. Last year, the family completed a three-year renovation that tripled the size of the property to 12,000 feet, adding a second modern Italian restaurant as well as a wine bar, delicatessen, bakery, gelateria, and a 250-seat ballroom. Ciao is known for its large portions, lasagna, tiramisù, and fresh-baked Italian bread. 2015 E. Vista Way, Vista. (760) 630-7333. ciao2.com
The sweet little sister of the Cucina restaurant group, this family-friendly local hangout has excellent food and perhaps the most welcoming manager in San Diego, Gracie Valtierra. Sorella lets you create your own pasta dish and serves deliciously crusty deep-dish-ish pizza. Don’t skip the luscious salted caramel budino with cocoa nibs for dessert. 4055 Adams Ave., Kensington. (619) 281-4014. cucinasorella.com
A perfect slice of Paris in North Park, nothing disappoints on Et Voilà’s menu. Settle in for irresistible ravioli aux champignons, coquilles Saint-Jacques, warm, crusty French bread, moules marinière, escargots, reblochon cheese in flaky phyllo, profiteroles and Et Voilà’s signature soufflé du jour. It’s also a top pick for French wine lovers. 3015 Adams Ave., North Park. (619) 209-7759. etvoilabistro.com
Flying Pig Pub & Kitchen
One of the first fine-dining restaurants that opened in Oceanside in 2011, the “Pig” is known for chef Mario Moser’s housemade bacon, pasta, focaccia, chili, and gazpacho. It’s also revered for the “Cheers”-like the hospitality of owners Roddy and Aaron Browning, who know most of their customers by name. Weekend brunch and a speakeasy cocktail program have just been added. 626 Tremont St., Oceanside. (760) 453-2940. flyingpig.pub
San Diego’s original British-style gastropub, Jaynes is more of a global culinary adventure, with such eclectic menu choices as bangers and mash, lamb shepherd’s pie, crispy eggplant tikka masala, gambas al aljillo, wiener schnitzel, and the classic Jayne burger. Snag a seat in the charming patio garden and enjoy the trip. 4677 30th St., North Park. (619) 563-1011. jaynesgastropub.com
Coronado’s loveliest newcomer is a beachy take on the French bistro. There are lightened-up versions of dishes like smoked salmon rillette, but Little Frenchie pays proper homage to such standards as cassoulet, escargot, croques, frites, moules, the simple omelet, and, bien sûr, le fromage. Pair it all with bubbles from the “Champagne altar.” 1166 Orange Ave., Coronado. (619) 675-0041. bluebridgehospitality.com/little-frenchie
Everything is scratch-made at this homey, Mexican-flavored breakfast-all-day diner at Mercado del Barrio. Run by two generations of the exceedingly sweet Granda family, if Maggie’s sunflower-yellow walls don’t make you smile, the food will. Top picks include the South of the Border Benedict, the Guaca burger, chile Relleno omelet, and the stuffed French toast. 1985 National Ave., Suite 1129, Barrio Logan. (619) 241-2660. maggiescafe2014.com
Romesco Mexiterranean Bistro
This long-running, stylish spot was founded by Tijuana’s legendary Plascencia restaurant family. Blending the best of Baja and Mediterranean cuisines, Romesco is perfect for casual tapas grazing or dressy date nights out — particularly with its tableside service. We can’t get enough of the pulpo tostadas and Grandma’s fideo tacos, with spaghettini and Spanish chorizo. 4346 Bonita Road, Bonita. (619) 475-8627. romescomexmed.com
RoVino Restaurant + Wine
If we had a dollar for every time someone wrote to us to recommend RoVino, we could retire. Fans hail the unpretentious Italian menu of pastas, flatbreads, roasted meats and more. But what touches people is how they’re treated like family from the first time they walk into the intimate dining room. 2034 Kettner Blvd., Little Italy. (619) 269-9341. rovinosd.com
With a patio overlooking Powerhouse Park and the Pacific Ocean, Sbicca has been a popular date night spot for Del Martians for more than 20 years. It’s known for its award-winning wine list, crab cakes, pasta Bolognese and Burgundy-braised short ribs. 215 15th St., Del Mar. (858) 481-1001. sbiccadelmar.com
Elevated comfort food and warm, invited service are the hallmarks of Terra American Bistro in La Mesa.
Terra American Bistro
Chef Jeff Rossman’s homage to locally sourced American comfort food is the kind of comfy, casual neighborhood spot everyone wants near them. Don’t miss his flavor-packed Salty Peppery Calamari, addictive truffle fries, the better-than-mom’s Jeff’s Meatloaf, and two of the best sides in town: mac and cheese and jalapeño cornbread. 7091 El Cajon Blvd., La Mesa. (619) 293-7088. terrasd.com
Tony’s Jacal Mexican Restaurant
A Solana Beach institution, Tony’s Jacal, has been a popular watering hole for Del Mar Racetrack bettors since it opened in 1946. The restaurant occupies the converted former home of restaurant co-founders Tony and Catalina Gonzalez. Their children now run the old-school eatery, which is known for its colorful Mexican décor, festive patio, turkey tacos, and chile Rellenos. 621 Valley Ave., Solana Beach. (858) 755-2274. tonysjacalsd.com