As I drive to North Park from Downtown, I wind up Pershing Dr. with Balboa Park to my left, and the quaint homes of South Park to my right. As I make my way up to 30th, I’m welcomed by beautiful craftsman homes and a contemporary complex, which houses San Diego-staple establishments like Underbelly, Influx and Modern Times Brewery. Now, this is sooo San Diego. The main cross streets of North Park are 30th and University, and the vibe here is still up-and-coming, yet funky and busy. You’ll see that street art adorns many of the commercial building walls, and you won’t find many chain establishments. The culture of North Park screams independent style, and “screw mainstream!” This is why we love it. There are many reasons to come to North Park, but if nothing else, come for the food and events. And if you’re stuck on where to find the best, take a San Diego tour through this neighborhood!
San Diego has a long-standing Mexican background, and the culture reigns strong today. From Lucha Libre themes to a gourmet spin on the original street taco to the authentic flavors of mole and mezcal, in North Park, you can embark on the best Mexican food journey you’ve ever been on, and you won’t even have to take a car!
For great tacos, my favorite places happen to be almost right next to each other. City Tacos is a tiny hole-in-the-wall place, but the tacos will blow you away! The Borrego (Pulled lamb with wild mushrooms, cotija cheese, tomato, cilantro and fried leeks in a chipotle cream sauce on a house-made corn tortilla) is my favorite, but have at any of them. The menu is extensive on just tacos, including vegetarian options, but I promise you won’t want anything else. A couple of doors down, you’ll run into Lucha Libre, a Mexican wrestling-themed taco shop offering some of the best surf & turf tacos and burritos, in addition to at least 6 types of Cali-burritos in their menu! Just check out their yelp reviews for further praise.
The not-as-famous cousin of the taco is the tostada, which is kind of like an open-faced rolled taco; a crunchy tortilla topped with goodness. Tostadas North Park specializes in the fresh and bright flavors of raw fish and ceviche tostadas like the Sandia, which has ahi tuna and watermelon. The unique items on the menu will make you want to order one of each.
For more of a sit down Mexican food experience, you’ll want to check out these 3. Cantina Mayahuel boasts an incredible tequila and mezcal bar. Their cocktails are amazing, and the Pollo con mole special on Tuesday and Friday is made for days with true TLC. El Comal is a family ran restaurant, and you’ll feel as though you’re eating at your Abuela’s house with your extended family. Come for breakfast for Menudo or chilaquiles, or come later to enjoy one of their casserole dishes or chef specials. For the vegetarian or vegan in the group, you’ll want to check out Rancho’s Cocina, one of the first vegan-friendly restaurants in San Diego that continues to improve of their recipes with vegan meats and their own blends of grains and vegetables that substitute in for chicken, beef and pork.
I love eating gourmet, but who doesn’t? One thing about the idea of gourmet is that people reserve a really special meal for a special occasion or a romantic night out. In North Park, people love eating delicious food all of the time. It doesn’t matter who you’re with or when, people want gourmet food without the fancy. At these restaurants, you can come as you are. Dress up, or dress down, they will still serve you an impeccable meal. The Smoking Goat has been a staple in the San Diego foodie scene for a while. Get the Foie Gras and escargots to start, and then jump right into the entrees. The ½ Gone Straw Chicken is one of the best chicken dishes I’ve ever had, and the Compart Farms Duroc Pork Basquaise will make you melt. Alexander’s on 30th is one of the only true romantic, white linen restaurants in the neighborhood. They are an authentic Italian restaurant with fresh pasta, pizza, and main courses. I’ve never had a mediocre meal here. The staff goes above and beyond, and the cozy, romantic ambiance sets the tone for the perfect date night. Urban Solace has also been in the area a while and was one of the first restaurants in San Diego to promote their passion for sourcing the absolute best and most natural ingredients in the area, and you can taste it in their dishes. Some of their staples like the “Not Your Momma’s Meatloaf” will have people in a riot if it were ever take off the menu, and the Creamy Tomato Fennel Soup can turn any frown upside-down.
If you’re a foodie like me, you’ll enjoy the ultimate, self-guided food tour through North Park – Taste of North Park, which happens only once a year in October. You won’t want to miss out on this event, so be sure to get your tickets early because they do sell out. With one ticket, you have free reign to visit about 40-50 restaurants and taste their featured sample. It’s a great way to get to know the local establishments in one day and is a fun alternative to the traditional downtown San Diego tour.
Another signature event in North Park is the annual Festival of the Arts. The neighborhood is sprinkled with art installations that are commissioned each year for the festival, and during the festival, you can meet local artists, watch amazing performances, shop local art, and eat great food. It’s a free event that has the whole neighborhood lit up with excitement.
Hess Fest is the anniversary block party of Mike Hess Brewing, and each year they block off the parking lot next door to pour beer, feed food from local food trucks, and listen to live bands. One ticket will get you unlimited craft beer samples from several local breweries, and it also includes limited food samples from the food trucks. The bands are fun and local, and will have you wanting to get up on the dance floor.
If you come into town, be sure to check out the events calendar at the Observatory. The venue has featured the likes of Alicia Keys, Lauren Hill, John Legend, and so many others. It’s worth a peek to see who’s in town at this intimate venue.
With all of the interesting things to see and do in North Park, it’s definitely worth a visit. You won’t find much about this neighborhood in travel sites, but it certainly provides visitors an authentic look into the San Diego urban lifestyle. If you find that you love this neighborhood for the food and events, check out our favorite restaurants and bars in North Park! You can find out more about North Park and visit some of the better-known breweries with us on the Hipster Hops Tour every Sunday afternoon.