Local Wally's Guide to San Diego

Local Wally's Guide to San Diego

restaurants

Alfonso's of La Jolla Reopens in Solana Beach (and boy are we happy!)

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Alfonso's of La Jolla (now open in Solana Beach)

437 South Highway 101,  Solana Beach  |  (858) 454-2232


The original Alfonso's of La Jolla

San Diegan's are lucky. Mexican food, real Mexican food, has always been at your a part of your world. Not so for those of us who transplanted here. I came to San Diego to go to SDSU (Go Aztecs) way back when, originally from the Bay Area where tacos where filled with hamburger meat and tamales came out of cans. I am not kidding!

Ultra crunchy chips with the best salsa - seriously, I would drink this salsa with a shot of vodka and a straw!

Flashback to La Jolla 1977 when my hair was long, my car was an MGB, and Supertramp was my band of choice. My buddy Barry lived up the street in a rental with 4 or 5 other guys and one night we stumbled down Prospect in search of cheap eats, ultimately seduced by Alfonso's of La Jolla, a restaurant that looked like it had more in common with Tijuana than La Jolla. It was that night I had my first carne asada taco, grilled strips of marinated steak topped with guacamole and salsa fresca and double wrapped in a fresh tortilla.

It was life changing. Literally one of the best things I have ever eaten.

Over the years I revisited Alfonso's of La Jolla, always to eat there first and then heading across the street to Chucks Steak House to listen to live jazz and then to Bratskeller for a Zombie before driving back to State. Hey, I'm not saying this was a good plan, I'm just telling you that a trip to La Jolla always meant a stop at Alfonso's to get a carne asada taco. And a margarita. A good margarita.

So nearly 40 years later (holy cow!) when I heard that Alfonso's was closing I was more than bummed. But here's proof that there's a God, or at least a Taco God, because Alfonso's not only reopened, they opened near my house! Their new location in Solana Beach is open, airy, a bit more urban contemporary than the original restaurant but with the same owner and same waiters. And there's even parking, something that was hard to find in La Jolla.

Alfonso is back!

Alfonso's of La Jolla captures the north county beach vibe.

This is it! The Carne Asada taco at Alfonso's of La Jolla

I went on opening day and ordered a carne asada taco and a margarita. Heaven! Throughout the years I've eaten perhaps 10,000 carne asada tacos, give or take, and none of them are even close to Alfonso's of La Jolla. Their new location has music at night on the weekends, happy hour specials, and a North County beach vibe that's sure to make this a popular spot with locals and tourists. Go. This Weekend. And you tell me if this is not the best Carne Asada Taco in San Diego.


The Vibe: Beach friendly

The Price: Very reasonable - a couple of fish tacos, rice and beans, $12, less than ten bucks gets you 3 rolled chicken tacos with rice and beans, a serious bargain.

Margaritas: Lots of options, the house margarita still the best value for a real margarita with enough punch to make you happy!

Wally Says: North County has some very good Mexican restaurants - Fidel's, Tony's Jacal, La Especial Norte - but none of them beat Alfonso's carne asada taco!

Where to Find San Diego's BEST Burgers!

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I'm not dissing on In N Out Burger because frankly I think they make one of the BEST burgers in the world. I mean, come on, even Thomas Keller of The French Laundry fame, the place where dinner for two will set you back $1,000, says that In N Out is his favorite burger and one of his favorite meals.  But today we're talking San Diego homegrown burgers, the best burgers in town made by local joints so while I love In N Out, and I really do, we're going totally local here.

"Double Double" at Juniper and Ivy in San Diego

Juniper and Ivy

It's not on the menu but 30 people every night, and only 30, can get Chef Richard Blais' version of a Double Double Animal Style burger for under $20. I love all of the food at Juniper & Ivy but this burger is outrageously great. When the small plates start arriving at the table protect your giant burger from those around you who are eyeing your fries with envy. Shoo, shoo!

Tavern

Tavern has been welcoming big crowds in for drinks, dancing and sport-watching since 1997. With a revamped menu created by Chef John, beach-goers are also flocking to the hotspot for delicious food. You’ll surely crush any burger cravings with the B.E.A.T. Burger; an all-natural beef patty that is surrounded by applewood smoked bacon, arugula, bourbon-roasted tomatoes, garlic herb ale aioli and topped with a fried egg. This is the best way to B.E.A.T. your longings for a juicy patty!

1919 San Diego Suicide Burger

1919

1919 is known as one of the best sports bars in downtown, but it’s menu image002.jpgis equally as brag-worthy. There is no better way to celebrate National Burger Day then with their Suicide Burger in-hand. Made with jalapeno jam, cayenne-candied bacon and pepper-jack cheese, this burger is sure to spice up your night… and your taste buds!

Barleymash

The burgers at barleymash follow suit with the restaurants innovative theme – everything is better with a little alcohol, especially food. The Surf ‘n’ Turf Burger combines multiple proteins as well as multiple alcohol-infused ingredients. A grilled beef patty combines with Añejo tequila n’ butter-poached Maine lobster meat to make an elaborately messy burger of epic proportion. It also includes cream cheese, baby arugula, whiskey-caramelized onions and white truffle aioli.

Backyard Kitchen and Tap

Backyard Kitchen & Tap grills better burgers than your average backyard cookout, and the Bison Burger is renowned in Pacific Beach for “changing the game”.  It is a free range bison patty with Shaft bleu cheese, rocket arugula and basil aioli on a brioche bun.  If that’s not enough, add a fried egg for $2 – and then wash it down with a beer from one of their 20 taps.

Duck Dive in Pacific Beach

Pacific Beach Duck Dive

Pacific Beach’s Duck Dive is an eatery of surf and coastal culture.  The signature Duck Dive Burger is served with an all-natural beef patty, tomato relish, caramelized onions, butter lettuce, garlic aioli and pimento cheese (a southern U.S. specialty made of sharp cheddar, spices and greatness) on a toasted brioche bun.  Swim, surf, drive, bike or run on over to Duck Dive for a bite of a burger and the sun.

Barrel Republic

Barrel Republic’s Oceanside location is serving a burger that’s big on taste and a big win for cheese lovers everywhere! The Barrel Burger entertains the company of 100% chuck black wax cheddar, lettuce, tomato, pickle and onion, all served on a brioche bun. Order this burger cut in quarters, and share the juicy bite with your friends.

Pacific Beach Ale House

Pacific Beach AleHouse, providing beautiful views of the ocean from their Skydeck, is grilling up a patty of picturesque Brandt all-natural beef (raised in the California sun without hormones or antibiotics) for the Mushroom Truffle Burger.  Mushrooms of course, with Cambozola (a mix of cow’s milk cheese from Italy and France), arugula, truffle butter and a fried egg all fit onto a brioché bun. AleHouse provides you plenty of options to accompany the burger; a choice of seasoned fries, tator tots, sweet potato fries, salt and vinegar chips or cottage cheese is included.  Another courteous option the kitchen offers is switching out any beef patty for chicken breast!

Brazen BBQ's Jalapeno Burger

Brazen BBQ

It seems like the Smokin’ Jalapeno Burger, a meal-sized sambo, was made to show off during National Burger Month.  It’s been contributed to the patty craving community by Brazen BBQ . This burger is topped cheddar cheese, friend jalapenos, and B.R.A.G. BBQ sauce to make this burger a San Diego favorite. Yes, it can get messy, but like the five house-made BBQ sauces (ranging from sweet or smoky to spicy) – a roll of paper towels is on every table for stress-free availability.

Common Theory

One very uncommon take on the burger is at Common Theory in Kearny Mesa.  It’s simply and appropriately titled the Chicken-Fried Cheeseburger; a panko breaded beef patty is skillfully fried and topped with a horseradish Havarti, charred scallions and an aioli-style country spread.  Common Theory sports one of the best rotating selections of unique drafts in the craft beer capital of the world (30-34 taps at all times!).

Looking for San Diego's BEST Desserts? Here They Are!

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Ditch your diet for decadent desserts! We’ve rounded up some of San Diego’s most satisfying sweets that will put the cherry on top of any meal. 

Brian's 24 Root Beer Float - not flat, float!!  :-)

Brian's 24 Root Beer Float - not flat, float!!  :-)

Brians's 24

Whether it is 2:00 p.m. or 2:00 a.m. Brian’s 24 will satisfy your sweet tooth if you’re in the Gaslamp. Enjoy their Root Beer Float served in a gigantic 32 oz. mug filled with root beer and three scoops of vanilla ice cream.  Cozy up to their Joan Crawford’s mahogany bar beneath their crystal chandelier and rest easy knowing you’re at a family-owned diner with family-inspired recipes.

Pillbox Tavern

Apparently an apple a day keeps the doctor away, so go crazy for Pillbox Tavern’s Apple Pie Crisp. Sit down on their dog-friendly patio and wind down the day with this carefully-crafted dish that’s made with sliced apples mixed with brown sugar oatmeal, vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Pillbox Tavern is a retro modern beach bar that only serves fresh and locally-sourced ingredients, so you know this crisp is some of the best around.

Tavern in Pacific Beach

If you appreciate the finer things in life and agree that crème brulee is most certainly one of them, visit Tavern in Pacific Beach. Tavern’s Crème Brulee is proof that patrons are provided with nothing but the best. Enjoy your desert inside the comfort of Tavern’s laidback bar or catch some rays on the lively street side patio.

Pan Bon

Another heavenly dessert worth ditching your diet for is Pan Bon’s Tirami-Su’ a creamy coffee treat that is baked with mascarpone image004.jpglayers and coffee soaked sponge cake that’s dusted with cocoa. Stepping inside Pan Bon is like discovering a little sliver of Italy and their wide variety of baked desserts won’t disappoint.

Taco Stand

Are you looking for something warm, sweet and easy to eat? Chomp on some Churros from the Taco Stand, with locations in both La Jolla and Downtown, while you’re on the go. The Taco Stand also offers south-of-the-border, flavored popsicles for you to cool down with in the image009.jpgSan Diego sun.

Wait - This is from Woodstock Pizza???

Woodstock Pizza

Contrary to popular belief, Woodstock’s Pizza serves more than just pizza. They also serve one of the best (and shareable) desserts in San Diego. Their Cinnabread is a warm pie smothered with brown sugar, cinnamon and icing. Add apple, bacon or caramelized pecans to truly make it a savory treat. There are seven Woodstock Pizza locations across Southern California so swing by and taste one of America’s best independent pizzerias.

S'More Sandwich from Barleymash

S'More Sandwich from Barleymash

Barleymash

Let barleymash give you that campground experience with their Grilled S’Mores Sandwich. It’s crafted with toasted cinnamon swirl bread, bourbon chocolate ganache, vanilla bean marshmallow, cinnamon crunch ice cream and graham cracker cookies. barleymash is restaurant and bar that encourages a good time with the help of entertainment and a menu that celebrates the richness of American culture.
 
Treat yourself and don’t skimp out on the good stuff. San Diego is America’s finest city so naturally it offers some of America’s finest desserts. Ditch your diet because life is too short to not eat sweets.

Good Eats San Diego: Seasons 52 at Seaport Village Headquarters

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Nice dining room at Seasons 52 in San Diego's Seaport Village

Nice dining room at Seasons 52 in San Diego's Seaport Village

I normally avoid chain restaurants. It's not that I'm a food snob it's that when I want consistency I go to McDonalds. I like restaurants where the chef makes a difference, where food isn't cooked on a conveyor belt. That perfectly describes Seasons 52. With 43 locations, 2 in San Diego alone, there's no getting around it - this is a chain. But with a seasonally changing menu prepared by talented chefs, Seasons 52 rises above and places itself squarely into Good Eats territory, certainly a contender for your next night out. I was lucky enough to check out their new Spring menu - let's have a look.

Start with the Flatbreads

Lobster and Mozzarella Flatbread

Light and crispy flatbread at Seasons 52

Flatbreads are the rage at so many restaurants but so many fail. I'm no flatbread expert but many of them are just bad pizzas. No so at Seasons 52 where the flatbreads are thin and crispy and topped with super high quality ingredients. My favorite has to be the Lobster and Fresh Mozzerella with roasted sweet peppers, slivered scallions, lobster sour cream, and paired with a glass of Chartogne-Taillet Cuvee Sainte Anne Champagne. That's right, don't forget that Seasons 52 has an extensive wine list with 52 wines by the glass always available - try them all!

Oh My Cod! 

Asian-glazed Sea Bass at Seasons 52 in San Diego

Ordering something new off a menu is a bit like internet dating. It looks good, it sounds good, but will it meet your expectations when it arrives? Well let me tell you, the Asian Glazed Chilean Sea Bass is one of the most beautiful, best executed fish dishes I have ever experienced, a true 10 on the 1-10 scale, a knockout in both looks and flavor. The black rice was insanely delicious and the glaze was just sweet enough without being cloying. Order this an watch the heads turn at the tables as it passes by, it's that stunningly perfect.

Mmmmm, Meyer Lemon Ricotta Ravioli

Ravioli at Seasons 52 in San Diego

Say it - Wow! Yes, this is another example of why I love Seasons 52. The lemon ricotta ravioli was topped with a brown butter sauce, some roasted peppers and English peas and so tangy delicious that its memory is forever embedded into my taste buds. 

Even More Good Eats at Seasons 52

Grilled Scallops at Seasons 52 in San Diego

Rack of Lamb at Seasons 52

Grilling scallops could be a disaster but Seasons 52 knocked it out of the park with their Caramelized Grilled Sea Scallops with Lemon Risotto. Scallops were delicate, the risotto complimented, the fresh peas and roasted asparagus cooked perfectly, this is a top dish. Get this one if you love seafood.  But wait... there's more?

Yes, a serious Wood Grilled Rack of Lamb with spring vegetables, Yukon Gold mash and shallot jus. It was gorgeous, perhaps a touch of finishing salt would make it pop. You do bring your own Maldon Salt with you to restaurants, don't you? 

Meet the Chef

Chef Mo at Seasons 52

Chef Mo is the guy who makes it all happen at Seasons 52 at San Diego's Seaport Village Headquarters. With a resume from some of the best restaurants in San Diego he knows his way around the kitchen. So thanks Seasons 52 and thanks Mo for an awesome meal. Chain restaurant? Perhaps. Predictable chain restaurant food? No way! Seasons 52 is good enough to rival the best in San Diego and deserves to be on your foodie bucket list.

Local Wally

SMASHBURGER GIVEAWAY

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WIN THIS BURGER!

Smashburger and Local Wally are giving away burgers!  In fact, you can win 2 entrees of your choosing just by posting your favorite photo of San Diego in Local Wally's instagram (just hashtag #localwally when you post) or on my Facebook page (www.facebook.com/localwally). 

Stop Drooling on my Sin City Burger!

So what's cool about Smashburger is that there are local burgers in every town.  The San Diego burger has a definite SoCal vibe with fresh avocado, cilantro, pepper jack, lettuce, tomato, onion, sour cream & chipotle mayo on a telera roll served with a wedge of lime. 

The Sin City burger was a local Las Vegas creation, a certified Angus beef patty placed on an egg bun, then topped with a fried egg, applewood smoked bacon, melted American cheese, grilled and haystack onions, and the signature smash sauce (ALWAYS ask for extra sauce!) and was so good that it's now available for a limited time in the San Diego locations.  Should you get it?  What do you think?  Look at it! 

AND WIN A TRIP TO VEGAS ON TOP OF THAT!

As if it wasn't enough to win a couple of burgers on Local Wally, you can also win a trip to Vegas for two through Smashburger!  Check out the rules here and enter.  See, you knew that your love for burgers would pay off someday! 

So remember, post those photos on instagram (just add hashtag #localwally) and you might be the big winner of 2 Sin City burgers!

Local Wally

 

Good Eats San Diego: El Agave Mexican Restaurant & Tequileria in Old Town

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El Agave in San Diego Old Town is possibly unlike any Mexican restaurant you have ever been to.

This is baffling to me.  I thought I knew Mexican food.  After all, I've lived in San Diego nearly my entire life and have eaten so many tacos and burritos that there should be a sign over my house  ("One Billion Eaten So Far").  I also know that San Diego's Old Town borders on tourist trap territory and have been known to cringe when out of town guests insist we dine there the way a San Franciscan must cringe when you force them to eat at Red Lobster or Joe's Crab Shack.  I mean, come on, San Diego Old Town is to Mexican food what Donny Osmond is to rock and roll.  

And then I went to El Agave Restaurant and Tequileria and got my mind blown.  

EL AGAVE RESTAURANT & TEQUILERIA (SAN DIEGO OLD TOWN)
2304 San Diego Ave, San Diego, 92110
(619) 220-0692
MAP

Inside El Agave in San Diego.  This is Old Town?

This is Old Town?

So let me put this out there for anyone, whether you are a local or tourist, looking for tacos and burritos and mariachi bands.  This is not the place.  In fact, though it is officially "in" Old Town it has nothing to do with the the festivities down the street.  It could be - and probably should be - in a different part of town, maybe even a different country, so that you could avoid comparisons to places like Fred's Mexican Cafe or Casa de Reyes, two of the most popular tourist spots known more for their atmosphere than their food.

But here at El Agave, food matters.  In fact, food is all that matters here.  So let's dive into the chips and salsa.  Yes, they still have chips and salsa.  This IS a Mexican restaurant, right?  

Super delicious chips and salsa (El Agave Old Town San Diego).

Chips and salsa tell you a lot about the food to come and these chips were light, crispy, without any hint of the heaviness that happens when their cooked in old, used oil.  The trio of salsas, which included a nice bean dip, were deep in flavors, rich and complex.  So they passed the first test.  Excellent chips and salsa.  But how about a margarita?  Down the street the margaritas are the size of a bird bath and filled with brightly colored frozen ice slushy concoctions.  

The El Agave house margarita - on the rocks with salt, of course.

I always like to try the house margarita.  A lot of restaurants in town use a margarita mix, a corn syrupy artificially flavored formula, but El Agave uses fresh ingredients.  Tourists beware, it can be a bit more sour than what you might be expecting but to me this margarita was perfect.  But wait, how does it compare to a perfect Cadillac margarita?  

For a few bucks more, upgrade the margarita to a perfect one!

Adding a bit of orange and Grand Marnier made the El Agave margarita even better!  Without crossing the line to sweetness, the Cadillac margarita might get my vote for best margarita in town, certainly the best in Old Town.  I mean, really the BEST in Old Town.  If you like margaritas, if you can taste the difference between a fresh margarita and one made with artificially enhanced green goo, then you need to try one of these.

So I never do this!  But after one of their margaritas this seemed reasonable, even logical and somewhat mandatory.

El Agave has a couple billion tequila bottles decorating the walls, a real tequila museum, and plenty of the good stuff to sample.  I admittedly know virtually nothing about tequila that Costco doesn't carry so I put my trust into their sampler of their own house tequila and it sure beats out the stuff I've been drinking.  Tequila is the type of drink that can lead to serious trouble so in a way I was glad when the food started to arrive because I was nearly ready do something really stupid and ask for another round.  Oh Waiter.....

Bring on the Food!

Is this the most beautiful Mexican food you have ever seen?  (El Agave, Old Town San Diego)

Is this the most beautiful Mexican food you have ever seen?  (El Agave, Old Town San Diego)

Some of you might not realize this but I am the first guy to take photos of his food starting way back in 1998 when I first launched Local Wally.  I tell you this because I have taken a lot of food pics in a lot of great restaurants but this calamari stuffed with shrimp and chorizo is possible one of the most beautiful dishes I have ever seen.  I just wanted to stare at it, marvel at the artistry of it, but then I could not resist and I - yes - I ate it! 

And wow, what a great starter, the calamari cooked perfectly tender, the filling so very flavorful, I felt a little guilty eating something so beautiful but like they say in the Doritos ad, don't worry, they'll make more.  And I will come back, just for this along.

El Agave's specialty, mole. 

I have a buddy from North Carolina who went to a Mexican restaurant and wanted to know what a mole tasted like.  A mole.  Like a blind rodent Mole.  Well El Agave specializes in mole (as in "mol-lay")  but it's not a creature but a sauce, and a very complex sauce at that.  I got mine with pork though you could also go with chicken. 

Look, don't trust me.  I don't know nothing about mole sauce.  But trust the people behind me, grown men making yummy sounds like Rachael Ray and saying things like how this is better than momma used to make and how they haven't had anything this authentic in years.  Of course they were also ordering shots of tequila so maybe trust me as the rookie who tells you that this trio of mole sauces was, well, yummo.  I'm going to hate myself later for saying that.

Another beautiful and flavorful dish, this time sea bass from El Agave.

Before I was asked one more time by my wife to put the camera away, here is a shot of her sea bass with a garlic chipotle chilli sauce.  Let me remind you that this is a Mexican restaurant, this is Old Town, so what the heck is this plate looking like it came from a high end foodie restaurant doing in front of me?  And once again, the flavors were spot on, fish deliciously cooked, just amazing.  

Dessert at El Agave in Old Town San Diego.

We ended with a bit of dessert, a creme brulee sort of thing with chocolate flavoring and it was decent, though not quite in the same caliber as the rest of the meal.  Next time I would skip the dessert and just walk down the street to get a churro.  Look, I like churros!  In fact, I'm going to get me one right now!

See, I wasn't kidding about the churro!

El Agave Mexican Restaurant and Tequileria surprised me.  It's not your typical Mexican restaurant, it really falls into the gourmet category, a foodie sort of experience that you don't expect to find in Old Town.  Tourists looking for carnitas tacos and carne asada burritos should probably dine elsewhere but if you're looking for a different take on Mexican food, or heck, if you just love food in general, then El Agave doesn't disappoint.  

Local Wally