San Diego is heralded for its golden beaches, ceaseless sunshine, great surf, abundance of palm trees, and its historical title as the “birthplace of California”—although Will Ferrell had something else to say about its origins in Anchor Man. From Coronado to Balboa, SeaWorld to the Zoo, a list of the “best places to go in San Diego” will yield a barrage of iconic sites to visit in a San Diego tour. But all that’s just noise.
Every experienced vagabond will tell you that a city’s most prized locales rarely yield intimate experiences. Rather, it is the hidden gems in the countryside, the small towns away from the bustle that yield the most memorable experiences. And in the case of San Diego, that gem is a dash off the 163—the lovely community of Hillcrest. What makes this place a hidden trove of experience? What’s the history of Hillcrest that makes it such a special place?
Well, the answer lies in a facet of the culture’s lifeblood, a tangible representation of the way a people live, the sole reason some travelers travel… We’re talking, of course, about the food.
The Seven Deadly Places to Bring Your Taste Buds (by deadly we mean lovely)
Warning: If you’re hungry while reading this, we’re sorry. Upon reading our final words, please drive safely to the spot of your choosing.
Note: All “most popular dish” items were given to us by the restaurant themselves.
#1 Khyber Pass
Photo by: Khyber Pass Facebook account
To begin you on this journey, we present Khyber Pass, a restaurant that’s renowned for its dynamic food options and bloodline. First off, have you ever eaten Afghani cuisine before? If not, what better time to try than with the first ever Afghani restaurant to open in Southern California (back in 1984).
Zia and Angela—the founders—were refugees from Afghanistan who wrote the first page of Kyhber Pass’s story on scant more than a two-burner stove. They didn’t even have a dishwasher. Fast forward 30+ years and their Hillcrest storefront offers authentic kabobs, qormahs, and curries that spread happiness with each bite.
Kyhber Pass Most Popular Dish
If you love lamb half as much as Mary did, then:
v Chopaan Kabob: pasture-raised lamb chops—straight on the bone—marinated in their homemade sauce and grilled over a free flame.
#2 Common Stock
“Dine Different.” This is what Common Stock has to say to you. From their classic American dishes that your grandparents cooked, to their Nashville hot chicken and Hawaiian poke, this restaurant is a hybrid of many delicious Red-White-and-Blue culinary styles. And in a country where healthy and delicious are often divorced, Common Stock stands as a pillar of togetherness, a champion of Cupid.
The founders, Brian Douglass and Anderson Clark, set out to create an experience that, in their own words, is “where speed and efficiency meet grace and hospitality.”
Common Stock Most Popular Dish
You like sandwiches? You like chicken? You crispy? Cool, let’s throw it all together in one meal:
Crispy Chicken Sandwich: muenster, herbed buttermilk slaw, and served with bacon—the crispy chicken sandwich is one of their original items that the community continues to rave about.
#3 HiroNori Craft Ramen
Photo by: KHiro Nori Facebook account
HiroNori Craft Ramen is a solution to a problem—the problem being low-quality ramen in tandem with low-quality service. Hiro Igarashi and Nori Akasaka, the craft ramen pioneers, set out to create a taste that rivaled the restaurants in Tokyo.
If you ask critics, they succeeded. These two ramen heads combined their love and knowledge of the craft to create HiroNori. While there are plenty of appetizers and other dishes on the menu, the heart and soul of the restaurant relies on three specific ramens: tonkotsu, shoyu, and vegan.
This is hands down one of the best restaurants in Hillcrest San Diego.
HiroNori Most Popular Dish
Are you from LA? Because you’ll love this. Believe it or not, the most popular dish on the menu is:
v Vegan Ramen: The most dynamic aspect to this ramen is the use of a miso broth, which leapfrogs over “traditional” and enters some other delicious category that HiroNori lives in exclusively.
Photo by: arrivederciristorante.com
Looking for your VIP ticket to nirvana? With its Italian-stamped, hand-pressed dough and vine-ripe tomato sauce circles, you’re sure to be chanting om with this pizza—om my gahd, to be precise. And it’s not just because of their pizza.
Located side by side are Arrivederci Pizzeria and Arrivederci Ristorante, two restaurants in one, each capable of transporting you to the heart of Italy. For historical relevance, the restaurant opened in 1995, then opened the pizzeria next door in 2002. Point being: they know what they’re doing.
In terms of Italian Hillcrest restaurants San Diego, look no further.
Arrivederci Most Popular Dish
As stated above, it’s not just about the pizza. That becomes ever more apparent when the most popular dish is:
Pork Osso Bucco: Pork shank over risotto served with a red wine reduction sauce.
Not only is this place on our list for best restaurants in Hillcrest, but it’s also one of our picks for best brunch in Hillcrest! On April 2nd, 2006, in the beautiful city of Denver, Colorado, two brothers—Jon and Adam Schlegel—gave birth to a restaurant named after a button most of us push too many times before going to work. Their aim: transforming the A.M. dining experience.
Unlike pushing that button over and over again to silence our robots, Snooze actually benefits the lives of those who experience it. They donate 1% of their sales to surrounding local organizations, which means by eating brunch here, you not only seize the day, but you become part of something bigger.
Snooze Most Popular Dish
Do you go ham for Benedict Cumberbatch? If so, then we’ve got a terrible, unfinished pun for you!
Ham Benedict III—A classic originating from their signature English muffin, topped with shaved hickory smoked ham, poached (and cage-free!) eggs, and a smoked cheddar hollandaise.
#6 Veganic Thai Cafe
Winner of the “People Love Us On Yelp” award four years running, this vegan, organic Veganic Thai Cafe is the place to go for people that eat with their conscience. It’s traditional Thai food, minus the stuff that once had a heartbeat, done so in a way to fool even the most steadfast carnivore. They definitely don’t compromise taste when ditching the meat, which is why this is one of our picks for the best cuisine in Hillcrest.
Yes, their panang curry, pad thai, mock duck larb, and even their coconut ice cream are all made from plants. The community and travelers alike can’t rave about this vegan Asian bistro enough. If you’re a fan of Thai—vegan or not—you’re only hurting yourself by not going here.
Veganic Thai Café Most Popular Dish(es)
Ever heard of a cream cheese wonton made without dairy? What a time to be alive!
Appetizer: Cream cheese wonton, pot sticker
Salad: Green apple salad
Soup: Wonton soup
Curry: Yellow curry
#7 The Brazilian Guys
Before sending you on your merry way, we have one last carnival ride you need to experience—the local farmers market. The local farmers market boasts a fun dining experience you’ll be sure to return to. On the corner of Normal and Lincoln, you’ll find the self-titled “home of the stuffed hash brown.” The Brazilian Guys is a duo (surprisingly, they’re Brazilian) that wields a few cast iron skillets like 5th-century swordsmen.
When you go to order your meal, ensure that you’re not wearing an Argentina jersey. And if you’re going to talk soccer, don’t mention the 2014 FIFA World Cup game against Germany, or the last one against Belgium. In fact, maybe avoid talking soccer completely.
The Brazilian Guys Most Popular Dish
If you like acai bowls, healthy eating, attractive cooks, and juicy hash browns stuffed with even juicier, fresh ingredients, your heads in the right place.
Stuffed Hash Browns: You have 5 different stuffing choices.
It’s All in The Pudding
Eating the food of a place is like tasting a culture. The smells, preparation, atmosphere, even the communities that surround a spot are all an invitation for you to have a deep and insightful moment with a certain people. Being that you’re looking in Hillcrest, you have the blessing of being somewhere that’s slightly less mainstream—which means you’re going to eat like a local.
And there’s nothing better than eating like a local at San Diego’s best.
Fabulous Hillcrest. Homepage. https://www.fabuloushillcrest.com/
Wikipedia. Tonkotsu Ramen. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tonkotsu_ramen
Serious Eats. The Serious Eats Guide to Ramen Styles. https://www.seriouseats.com/2013/09/the-serious-eats-guide-to-ramen-styles.html