The flavors of the American South haven't just migrated to San Diego, they found a permanent home there. At Sonny's Southern California BBQ, cooks take a page out of ole' Dixie's recipe book and whip up succulent portions of beef short ribs, tender pulled pork, and catfish sandwiches. They can even cater to vegetarians with favorites such as barbecue beans, collard greens, and creamy mac and cheese. In good Southern fashion, they pair all of these savory eats with cold, house-made glasses of traditional sweet tea and lemonade.
The historic Golden Hill district is settled with Craftsman mansions retrofitted into offices and apartments that cater to the downtown doctor and musician set. Those disparate groups tend to overlap at the corner location of Influx Café at Broadway and 20th. The building is a pale-colored antique that cleverly masks the streamlined, northern European décor inside this funky coffee house. Along one wall, pendant fans hang over a bank of small tables packed with laptop-focused customers, while a long and low, curving couch curls around the opposite side. Seating tends to be sparse inside Influx, which means most folks grab their espresso and move on, but in-the-know folks come by early for the renowned croissants, which some say are the best in the area. While the location is in earshot of the freeway, the side patio makes a calm retreat or pleasant spot for an intimate breakfast.
The owner of Bonnie Jean's Soul Food Cafe did more than name the restaurant after the woman who taught her to entertain and cook—she also continually serves up her mother's recipes and hospitality. Today, when patrons step into Bonnie Jean's, they fill with the aromas of chicken and waffles, fried catfish, homemade barbecue sauce, and pork ribs steadily flowing from the kitchen. Chefs prepare the sides with the same amount of neighborly care, from the corn bread and collard greens to the yams and peach cobbler. Even the dining room could be mistaken for a living room, with photos lining the plum walls, a chessboard waiting for two players to match strategies, and the warm glow of a chandelier illuminating smiles and giving diners plenty of light to make macaroni portraits.
Organic and locally sourced ingredients give the French, Italian, and Spanish-inspired meals at Rustic Tapas and Meatballs a California twist. The dinner menu centers on oven-baked meatballs, made from scratch according to the owner's grandmother's recipe. Whether tumbled across spaghetti or slipped between bread, they burst with the flavors of fresh herbs and slow-roasted meats?or soy chorizo, in the case of the vegetarian option. Before or between meals, guests can snack on Spanish-inspired tapas or sip glasses of housemade sangria, craft beer, and organic wine.
Longing for the perfect gelato? So were the owners of the Chocolat Cremerie, which is why they imported an Italian master to whip up creamy perfection daily. Using shipped-in base ingredients and fresh fruits, plus infusions of rum and wine or swirls of crumbled cookies, Chocolate Cremerie has grown to become one of San Diego’s finest destinations for the Italian frozen treat. Many favor the dark chocolate or request berries with the Hazelnut gelato, while others seek out Oreos, but one thing is for sure: balance is key. That’s why the sunny fast-casual eatery also specializes in crêpes and offers a full coffee bar. Customers can enjoy the space, with its wall full of bedazzling, glass mosaics and swirling chandeliers that hang above the tables. Or, grab a quick cup on the way to a show, a film screening or just a walk through the Gaslamp district after dinner.
Operacaffe translates the impeccable flavors of Northern Italian fare into beautiful culinary presentations just as easily as it melts opera and caffe into one tangy word. The hand-picked wines rest firmly on solid wooden tables, setting the foundation for an intimate dining experience. Brick walls frame the surrounding views of green nature and incoming sunlight that punctuate any romantic gathering or refined outing with a rustic flourish.