Taste of North Park

So its been a few weeks now and I wanted to give everyone my impression on Taste of North Park.  If you’ve never been before the concept is simple.  Pay one price and sample many different things from all the participating restaurants or businesses.  Kathleen was able to work with Angela and Alessandra from North Park Main Street to score us exclusive tickets to cover the event.  I actually had never gone to this Taste of event so the opportunity couldn’t be passed up! There were 39 different restaurants and another 15 galleries/boutiques that participated.  It looked like the other 15 galleries/boutiques served beer or wine.  Anh and I managed to try 26 different places.  Right about at 20 I was going strong but then I hit the wall and the last 6 were a struggle.  But it had to be done just for you guys.  Here’s our food report. The first stop was URBN.  Jason the roommate always talks about this place so this was a good opportunity to try it.  Too bad they didn’t serve their pizza which they are known for but the little samples were very good nonetheless.  There was a white bean hummus and a cold cucumber salad with mozzarella, cilantro, onions, and tomatoes.  Very tasty.  We’ll have to try the pizza next time.  Anh thought this cold salad was one of the best of the day. The place is pretty simple and there’s a huge amount of open space.  I imagine it could get loud like a beer hall at night.  I dig the decor since I’m a simple kind of guy. Next up was the halibut ceviche from El Comal.  Wow.  This was good.  Corn, cilatro, olives!, tomato, onion, lime, jalepeno, and halibut.  I didn’t see it on their regular menu so I hope they have a secret menu you can order from if you are in the know.  But this was up there for top bites of the day for sure.  Both of us have a special place in our hearts for good ceviches and this one was quite well done.  I thought the olives would take away from the flavors but they were milder than most olives and I loved the addition.  Two for two we were and away we went to the next stop.

I was joking the other day with some friends that Wang’s looks like a nicer PF Changs.  I had never been so I wasn’t speaking about the food, just the decor and feel of the place.  And I still stand by that statement.  It’s pretty nice in there!  The lettuce wrap had chicken, pine nuts, water chestnuts, onions, garlic, oyster sauce, and white wine topped with a plum and sweet hoisin sauce.  The filling had an appealing glow to it and they managed to keep it juicy in their serving plate.  But the mix was a little too sweet for me.  It would have been better if they cut back on the sweet sauce and added a pinch of salt.  But still it wasn’t bad.

Side Street Thai Kitchen was serving their two samples… on the street.  They had chicken satay with peanut sauce and papaya salad.  The chicken itself was a little cold at room temperature, or I guess outside temperature in this case.  But the papaya salad was well balanced.  It was a little sweet and a little spicy with a good crunchy texture.  Anh and I like our papaya salads and we enjoyed this one.

There was a huge line for Urban Solace so most people were lining up for True North first so they could eat while waiting for the plate Urban Solace was serving.  We bahh’d like the sheep we were and followed the packs lead.  True North was serving loaded tots with chicken and bacon.  To be honest the sign did not evoke many great food memories for me but who am I kidding, I love potatoes.  I noticed they were overloading the tots with their sauce so I asked them to go light on it.  The woman serving me didn’t hear so jokingly I threw out the “can you go light on the sauce…orrrr not” line.  Another guy serving tots did hear me and told his fellow server my request and he took a stab at me saying I’d be wanting more of the sauce once I tried it.  Anh got the regular amount of sauce and I managed to get one with about half the sauce.  Mine > Anh’s.  BUT, regardless the sauce was good so I have to give him that.  It almost was like a thick gravy you serve on mashed potatoes.  This entire dish was actually surprising.  I wasn’t expecting much but the tots were nicely cooked, the sauce coupled with the bacon and chicken was actually pretty delicious.

We finished our tots and before we knew it we were through the longest line of the day to receive a corn breaded, fried green tomato with goat cheese aleppo creme fraiche.  Nice and crispy, not greasy, with a fresh green tomato inside.  I’m not sure I’ve had aleppo peppers before but it wasn’t very spicy or strong.  Being it was fried I expected heaviness but dare I say it was light and refreshing.  Solid. 30th Street Cafe quenched our thirst with some black tea and iced coffee! Then it was back to the grubbin’ at Lefty’s.  The pizza had ricotta cheese, tomato, and pesto.  The pasta had spinach and tomatoes mixed in.  The pizza tasted pretty good but we got the end of the pizza box so it was a little cold.  I’ve been here before and gotten the meat pizzas and liked them a lot so I was hoping for a little more. Cardamom served bread pudding with whiskey sauce.  Another surprise of the day!  Yum.  Some bread puddings are super duper dense and dry.  Others are a little less dense but remain moist.  This one was definitely moist as you can see the sauce on the bottom of the cup.  Didn’t taste the alcohol from the whiskey at all which I liked. Next door was Zensei sushi.  There’s not many fish I don’t care for but salmon is one of them.  They served an OMG roll which had salmon, popcorn shrimp, spicy crab, avocado, OMG sauce and eel sauce.  I’m not sure what OMG sauce consists of but if I had to guess it would include mayo and siracha.  The other roll was a roasted red pepper roll with tofu, avocado, roasted red and yellow peppers, and a vegan jalapeno aioli.  Both of these were okay.  I wouldn’t come back to order these but I would be open to trying other rolls.  The guy serving us was really friendly and it was nice chatting with him for a while, while we digested everything so far. Last stop on the most southern point of our Taste of adventure in North Park was Sea Rocket.  I’ve heard a lot about Sea Rocket and almost booked my birthday there but things didn’t work out.  So it was a great opportunity to see what they’re all about.  I saw the Bizarre Foods episode with chef Chad White and it made me wonder what they were going to serve.  On this day we’d have mussels steamed in a creamy beer broth with bacon, garlic, shallots, leek, chili flake, and herbs.  The mussel itself tasted good.  I’m not a huge mussel fan but the texture and flavor of the actual mussel was good.  The sauce was very strong.  I thought it was white wine at first but then I read the sign that said beer.  It didn’t appear as if any of the alcohol had burned off which was a little off-putting for me.  In any case, I’d come to try some other items hoping this wasn’t a good representation of the other items they serve.

We came up to Eddie’s and never noticed the place before on 30th Street.  It’s been there since 2009 and they specialize in Philadelphia cheese steaks.  Having never been to Philadelphia I can’t really compare.  The only remotely close sandwich I’ve had is a Chicago Italian beef sandwich.  Eddie’s cheese steak had ribeye and you guessed it, cheese!  It wasn’t bad, but the meat was a little overcooked for my taste and was dry.

Heaven Sent Desserts had a bread pudding of their own and red velvet cake.  Their bread pudding had a bourbon sauce.  I preferred Cardamom’s version to this one.  This one was much denser and didn’t have as much flavor.  The red velvet was okay.  I’ve had other desserts here before and they didn’t live up to their normal standards that I’ve grown accustomed to over the years.

So I guess it was time to give Cafe Calabria a shot again.  See Jady’s post for our last experience.  The ones with green stars on the menu they offered either iced or hot.  We tried the mocha and viennese.  Both were piping hot made fresh to order.  You could notice the cinnamon in the viennese and it had a nice aftertaste.  We didn’t know you could order it iced and realized it after when others were getting theirs at the counter.  Too bad since it was starting to get hot and we wanted to cool down.  But any type of liquid at that point was welcomed and we did not have any flying friends in our cups when we finished!

The farthest North restaurant on the list was Ritual Tavern.  Never been before and the menu had plenty of scrumptious options to try on another day.  But on this day we’d get to try a crab etouffee which had a roux base with habanero, bay scallops, and red peppers with rice at the bottom of the bowl.  This brought me back to New Orleans with the strong Cajun flair. It was thick, spicy, powerful, and had the all around depth you look for with a dish like this.  Ritual Tavern was another highlight of the day and one of the places I’d go back to solely based on this offering.

Sicilian Thing Pizza was offering a meat slice of pizza or a cheese.  I opted for the meat.  They didn’t skimp on the portion and this was a full slice of pizza.  They had a leg up on Lefty’s as it was served fresh out of the oven.  But it didn’t have all of the features I look for in a good pizza such as great tomato sauce and the right amount of dough to topping ratio.  Additionally I look for toppings and cheese that just rock your socks off.  Perhaps it wasn’t fair that Michael and I recently went to New York and had some really good pies over there.  Ahh New York, New York!

Tornado served smoked mac and cheese.  At this point I wasn’t super thrilled with another heavy food entering my body so it may have tasted better 15 dishes before.  The smokey part was there (maybe too much) and it was pretty heavy to deal with given how much we ate throughout the day so far.

Wow a salad!  Red Wing also offered a shot.  It was time to try to muster the space left in the stomach and dig deep.  We were almost there and these little greens wouldn’t take up that much space.  The salad with onions, mushrooms, and egg couldn’t have come at a better time.  It was a standard salad and that was a-okay.

I really don’t know what this was.  The person that served this to us didn’t seem to know either.  They described it as a beef bacon crab ceviche with jalepenos.  It really wasn’t good.  The only thing I didn’t eat more than one bite of all day long.  El Take It Easy didn’t impress with the one bite they offered.

Another restaurant that I avoided in North Park: Sipz.  I’ve been to the Sipz off of Clairemont Mesa Blvd. but never this location.  They did a great job with their salt and pepper tofu and sweet and sour “chicken.”  They somehow managed to keep the tofu intact and the chicken moist but not soggy.  I never noticed those options on the menu before as I tend to order soups if they offer them.  Maybe I’ll order something different next time…
 Ranchos Cocina served a chicken quesadilla (or vegetarian) and a vegetarian ceviche (or fish).  Biting into these didn’t bring me back to my last experience there which was very good.  The mass production probably hurt them a little bit since the filling for the quesadilla didn’t all make it in the tortilla.  Surprisingly the vegetarian ceviche wasn’t all that bad.  It had a nice crunch and lime zing just like a regular fish ceviche would.
Almost there folks!  If you’ve made it this far you either love food or someone paid you a lot of money.  This fancy vegan bite is from Casa de Luz.  I don’t know much about this restaurant but their tagline is “plant based cuisine.”  Their mission is to serve healthy food.  The cucumber with a pumpkin spread and beets were certainly no exception.  I supposed I’d come back here if I had friends with certain dietary requirements or was feeling healthy.  However, nearing the end of our Taste of North Park adventure it was very easy to put this one down.  Someone must be pulling the right strings and creating a path for success.
Next door Claire de Lun had options.  They let you choose from either a quiche, turkey sandwich, or chocolate chip cookies and iced tea.  The smallest option was the cookies and iced tea.  Although the cookies were no Jacques Torres, they were soft and chewy.  Nothing wrong with that.
Last stop!  Wow.  Can’t believe it.  West Coast Tavern had a blueberry brownie.  I’m sure there were blueberries in here because they wouldn’t lie, but I couldn’t taste them.  So essentially it was a chocolate brownie.  Again it was soft and chewy and had a nice density to it.  The guy who greeted us noticed we were physically spent and gave us some water while we sat down.  We didn’t even ask and it was really nice to recognize our time of need.
So there you have it.  Taste of North Park in a nutshell.  I’d have to say food wise it more than holds its own compared to other Taste of Events I’ve been to.  Since I don’t get out to North Park as much as other areas of San Diego , it gave me a chance to get a good feel for it.  There were plenty of places that impressed us enough to try again and we can’t wait to come back!  Thanks to Angela and Alessandra for the experience!

About Darren

Fooood! I love it if you can't tell already. I love everything about it. The taste, the smell, the look, the feel, the satisfaction, the gratification, and ultimately: the fun! I've been in San Diego for about 10 years now and it amazes me that there are still places to uncover. Traveling, eating, and taking pictures of food has always been a hobby of mine. So naturally Michael and I thought it made sense to share what we found with all of you. I tend to side with the savory but never shy away from a knock out dessert. If you have a place you think we haven't tried let us know! We're always on the lookout...

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2 Comments on “Taste of North Park”

  1. What an awesome food crawl that was! Too bad that URBN didn’t have any pizza samples! Next time, try their mashed potato pizza! Love it!

    So many diff’t offerings for this tasting expedition. I recently tried Ritual Tavern for dessert and really liked it there. Will have to try their actual food next time.

    After seeing this post, I want to try West Coast Tavern and True North (loaded tots here I come!)…

    Great writeup! And I’m glad you didn’t have any “flying friends” in your coffee!

  2. Ohh thanks for the suggestion! Potatoes plus pizza sounds like a great combo.

    There seem to be many a taverns in San Diego now. They could almost have a Taste of The Taverns event. 🙂

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