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Restaurant Reviews

Hidden in plain sight

Posted: September 2nd, 2016 | Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews, Top Story | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

A three-dimensional sign perched on a metal eave above the front door spells “Cabais.” The building’s façade is nondescript, and the remaining title of the business, “Mexi-Deli,” is stated only online, hence the reasons I’ve passed the place a zillion times without realizing it is home to a small family-run eatery that makes much of its food from scratch.

Owners Silvia Cabuto and her husband, Martin Aispuro, combined the first three letters of their surnames for branding the restaurant when they opened it 11 years ago. Unlike most taco joints, Cabais weaves into its menu atypical offerings such as deli sandwiches, an Asian chicken salad, and Cajun-spiced pork roasted onsite.

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Two men and a bistro

Posted: August 19th, 2016 | Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews, Top Story | No Comments

Gay-owned San Diego Desserts widens its niche

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

What began as a modest wholesaler of pastries and cakes in a storefront situated on the cusp of El Cerrito and Rolando has come to include a stylish bistro, where “sexy steak” burgers and chicken Diane are served to live entertainment held on most nights of the week.

San Diego Desserts was launched in 1999 by Mark Leisman, a graduate of Scottsdale Culinary Institute, and Arturo Juarez, who worked with the homeless for San Diego County. They met nearly 20 years ago at Numbers in Hillcrest.

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 A new 24/7 diner is born  

Posted: August 19th, 2016 | Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews, Top Story | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

“Welcome to 1955,” said our waiter when serving us a milkshake with a chunk of apple pie protruding from the rim of the glass. The shake, named Bye Bye Miss American Pie, is among nearly 20 flavors available around the clock at the long-awaited Buddy’s Diner in Pacific Beach.

Like a tamer version of the Corvette Diner, and designed with pristine detail, it took Buddy’s a couple years to materialize due to a series of bureaucratic obstacles owner Vito Tutino encountered from the city of San Diego. Though now with a month-long soft opening behind him, Tutino’s retro-themed diner officially joins a shortlist of restaurants in the city serving breakfast, lunch and dinner fare 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

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A pioneer of contemporary sushi

Posted: July 22nd, 2016 | Featured, Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr. It wasn’t long after Café Japengo opened in 1990 that the stylish Asian-fusion restaurant began crafting sushi rolls many considered flamboyant at the time. No where else locally did consumers encounter things like shitake mushrooms, zesty aiolis and tempura batter swirling raw fish. Though commonplace today, Japengo still endures as ground zero for the craze.

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Uncommon dining on Convoy Street

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

Color us surprised when hubby and I entered a boxy structure in aesthetically joyless Kearny Mesa to find scads of craft beer and eclectic fare in a hip environment resembling a converted warehouse that could easily belong to North Park or Downtown.

Located in a busy strip plaza, Common Theory Public House is an astonishing misfit to the scads of car dealerships and fast-food restaurants flanking it. Not far up the street are numerous Asian kitchens and markets, which have been the sole reason for my trips into the area until now.

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A taste of Indonesia

Posted: June 24th, 2016 | Featured, Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr. The widely rooted concept of a “gastropub” has arrived to Mission Valley, in a tucked-away segment of Camino del Rio South that dead-ends at TGI Fridays. Situated at the base of a low-rise office building, the Mission Valley Gastropub is the re-branded version of Bali Thai Café under the same ownership. So for customers who grew fond of the café’s Asian-fusion cuisine and small craft beer selection, most of it still […]

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Game changer at a popular North Park landmark

Posted: June 10th, 2016 | Featured, Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr. The restaurant inside North Park’s LGBT-friendly Lafayette Hotel, named Hope 46, just got a whole lot sexier with its new lunch and dinner menus that put the old ones to shame. Gone are the “easy foods,” as described by marketing manager David Chan, when referring to the pre-manufactured meatballs, chicken fingers and other freezer grub that executive chef Ryan Gilbert enthusiastically axed when revamping the menus last month.

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Italian meals cooked Joe’s way

Posted: May 27th, 2016 | Featured, Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr. For three decades, the Busalacchi name has been associated with the kind of Italian food that satisfies the whiniest of back-East transplants who claim they can’t otherwise score a decent plate of rigatoni in San Diego if their lives depended on it. Though despite a glut of comparably notable kitchens that have emerged in recent years, the family’s patriarch, Joe Busalacchi, still leads the pack with five Italian restaurants flourishing within […]

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The evolution of an iconic sandwich

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

What type of cheese makes for an ideal grilled cheese sandwich?

I used to think only one — processed American that melts rapidly into orange goo before the outer slices of white bread finish toasting in the skillet. I’ve eaten them like that since childhood and always will.

Yet the five-cheese blend that Grater Grilled Cheese uses in all of its sandwiches doesn’t meddle with nostalgia. Surprisingly, neither does its use of sourdough bread or gourmet additions like clover honey, green apples and butter-fried lobster. After trying three different constructs over two visits, it struck me as overdue that somebody grabbed the concept and ran with it.

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The Hive @ Hillcrest to open this summer at prime location

Posted: April 29th, 2016 | Featured, Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews | No Comments

By Ken Williams | Contributing Editor George Flint has a delightful sense of humor. Just check out his LinkedIn profile, where he describes himself as a “real estate and serial entrepreneur.” Now that’s a killer promotional line! In real life, Flint is more Clark Kent than Superman, wearing eyeglasses and sandals, and carrying himself like the Gen-X’er that he is.

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Where bigger is better

Posted: April 29th, 2016 | Featured, Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr. Admittedly, I didn’t go running to Rolled Up when learning the Hillcrest eatery specializes in burrito-size sushi rolls that are stuffed with things like carne asada, blue corn chips and ginger-spiked guacamole. The thought of chomping into Asian and Mexican ingredients concurrently seemed inelegant and screwy.

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Food and architecture unite on Park Boulevard

Posted: April 15th, 2016 | Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews, Top Story | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

We hit a trifecta at Madison, where the food and service didn’t take a lazy back seat to the restaurant’s stunning interior. With the exception of Trust a half-mile down the road, it’s been a while since I’ve seen a newcomer impress in these three essential categories before getting through the first several months of dress rehearsal.

This used to be Lei Lounge, which was known for its fantastical overhead lightshows and Asian-inspired fare that I found overly ambitious at times. Madison, which opened New Year’s Eve, presents a completely different experience. It’s visually calmer and more streamlined in its culinary approach.

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A thousand bottles of booze on the wall

Posted: April 1st, 2016 | Featured, Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr. I’ve eaten inside liquor stores before — pizza at Fiori’s in Mission Hills, a lobster roll at Corner Liquor in Normal Heights, and a memorable “meter feeder” ham-and-Swiss sandwich in the presence of attorneys making liquid purchases at Mixon Liquor and Deli near the Downtown courthouse. But in terms of ambiance, nothing beats KnB Wine Cellars in Del Cerro.

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Props to a legendary waterman

Posted: March 18th, 2016 | Food & Drink, Restaurant Reviews, Top Story | No Comments

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

It isn’t until you descend several steps from the sidewalk and pass through the nondescript entrance of Duke’s La Jolla before realizing the restaurant is a shrine to renowned surfer-swimmer Duke Kahanamoku and his native Hawaiian cuisine.

A five-time Olympic medalist known globally as “the father of modern surfing,” Kahanamoku’s name and photograph loom prominently beside the hostess desk. Further inside, along a wide corridor leading to the indoor-outdoor dining areas, a photographic chronology captures his illustrious career, which also included gigs as an actor, ambassador and promoter of aloha shirts. (Saunter in wearing one and nobody will bat an eye.)

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