San Diego CityBeat’s annual “BEST OF” issue, this year, is dedicated to the HOT and the COOL. Here’s the first of my two contributions to the issue. The original is at: http://sdcitybeat.com/special-issues/best-of-san-diego/off-the-strip/
Din Tai Fung
Throw a stone in San Diego’s Convoy District and chances are you’ll break an Asian restaurant’s window. But some of San Diego’s best Asian eateries aren’t on Convoy or in Kearny Mesa or even particularly close to it.
One of the most anxiously awaited restaurant openings of the year was Din Tai Fung (4301 La Jolla Village Drive) at the UTC mall in La Jolla. Dim sum and Michelin stars wouldn’t seem to be obvious bedfellows but that’s exactly what this chain earned at its first Hong Kong branch. While their menu is unlike any in San Diego, their signature dish is truffle xiaolongbao (steamed soup dumplings). And the plain pork version may be better.
If, for years, dim sum in San Diego meant Jasmine or Emerald, it is now Fung Fung Yuen (10660 Camino Ruiz) that’s the town’s busiest. While the menu may not be the longest, they excel at some more exotic dishes: stewed beef tripe and chicken feet, for example. Both are tender, rich and show why some of the best flavors dim sum has to offer are to be found in places many Westerners wouldn’t choose to look.
One of the great pleasures of exploring other cuisines is tasting a beloved dish again as if it were the first time. That’s what happened at Bánh Mì Hội An (3145 Rosecrans St., Suite A) in Point Loma. The bánh mì was already my favorite sandwich on the planet and then I learned just how much better it could be when the proteins and cold cuts are house-prepared and cured. The Hoi An Special or the egg and pâté bánh mìs prove the point.
Phuong Nga 2
There is, perhaps, no more criminally under-recognized restaurant in town—of any cuisine or style—than Masala Street (915 Pearl St., Suite B/C) in La Jolla. Don’t expect a buffet with indistinct “curries” and fluorescent food coloring “tandoori” over steamer tables. Expect high-end Indian food made with care and love. It is the precision of technique that makes the difference and results in deeply flavored dishes that fire all the taste buds without becoming overwhelming.
San Diego has a lot of Thai restaurants but not a lot of great ones. Supannee House of Thai (2907 Shelter Island Drive) in Point Loma is one of the best. Thai food is all about balancing spicy, sour, sweet and salty elements. That’s one of the reasons American Thai food—which is often non-spicy and overly sweet—is often lacking. Supannee gets it. Their food is all about incredibly fresh ingredients from their own farm that bring all those elements of flavor into balance.
With only two items on its menu—bún riêu and bánh cuốn—Phuong Nga 2 (4016 54th St.) clearly has the courage of its convictions. The City Heights spot does those two things and does them well. The bun rieu is rich and meaty with tons of umami but also a pleasant sourness and hint of the sea. It features a meaty braised pork bone, crab and pork cake (light on the former and long on the latter), as well as fried tofu and pork blood cake. The entire dish feels both familiar and exotic at the same time. It’s pho for the next generation.
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