Our recent trip to California made me realize how much my itinerary revolved around eating at the best restaurants. I think I have successfully turned my boyfriend Joey into a foodie. Most of the restaurants were amazing, some were just okay. I’m not going to mention those. Toronto has a pretty awesome food scene so my expectations were high for California. You’ll probably read me saying dishes were ‘special’ quite a lot, which is my way of saying it was exceptional so instead of repeating it too often, I’ve starred all of the dishes below to identify their ‘special factor’. If they’re starred, it means I am currently day dreaming about them, quite possibly salivating and would 100% order the dish again (which I rarely do). Enjoy.
We arrived to San Fran in the late afternoon so our first meal was dinner. I chose Coqueta because it was highly rated and in an excellent location. I was so impressed by the decor and location upon arrival. I was initially hesitant as we were seated at the bar, and comfort is important to Joey and I (him especially) at a restaurant but was I was pleasantly surprised at the comfort of the high bar stools. We sat right in front of the exposed kitchen and had the opportunity to see how the meals were prepped (appetizers mostly) and which ones were the most popular. This helped us choose the following items:
- Salmon Ahumado* (smoked salmon)
Croquetas de pollo (chicken croquets)
Pulpo a la Parrilla (grilled octopus)
“Gaucho” Bistec* – possibly the best steak I’ve ever had
Setas al ajillo (wild garlic mushrooms)
We also ordered a pitcher of Sangria, which is by FAR the best Sangria I have ever had. It wasn’t too sweet, or too fruity, or diluted with orange juice (which I dislike). It is safe to say Coqueta was my favourite meal in San Fran and one of my top favourites of the entire trip – very special.
The next morning, before taking the ferry to Sausalito, we walked over to Farm: Table. The spot is really small and we sat outside. We both ordered the steel cut oats, which were good – pretty standard – but had a homemade jam on top that made it special. The service was fantastic, and I would definitely go back for breakfast.
We had seven meals in San Francisco and the rest were underwhelming. Some places I had on the itinerary turned out to be very overrated and/or overpriced. The two mentioned above were both Joey and I’s favourites in the city.
We drove down the Pacific Coast Highway from San Francisco, stopping in Monterey, Big Sur, San Luis Obispo, Solvang, Santa Barbara and Malibu before spending five days in LA. We had two formal meals during that drive, one at an overly hyped restaurant, that were not special but still an interesting experience nonetheless. Our first meal in Los Angeles was dinner at Son of a Gun. I had major Queen West (a trendy neighbourhood in Toronto) vibes and was impressed at the full house for a pretty quiet night. It was a Thursday around 8:30 that we sat down to eat and the place was bumping. Service was awesome and with the help of the waitress, we ordered the following dishes:
Lobster Rolls (2)*
Blackened Rock Cod*
Fried Chicken Sandwich
Heirloom Tomato & Avocado Salad*
The waitress recommended I get the Relax, don’t do it (but do it!) cocktail which was a vodka, lavender, lime drink and it was delicious! I would get it again. Son of a Gun was a great spot, and I highly recommend it.
The next morning we ate breakfast at Huckleberry Cafe which stayed on my farm to table theme I had going on for most of the meals on this trip. The cafe was busy, which is usually an indicator of its success. I ordered the Green Eggs & Ham* and Joey had the House made Granola*. We both ordered coffee, which was pretty standard, but my dish definitely stole the show. It was my favourite breakfast on our entire trip. I think it was the basil pesto tying it all together that made it special.
Later that evening we visited the Grove, which I must say is such a gem. I was pleasantly surprised. It gave me Forum Shop vibes (Caesar’s Palace in Vegas) except it was actually outdoors, not with painted skies. We ate at Umami Burger and although I wasn’t too happy with my burger choice (mostly because it was way too heavy and I felt like rolling over and dying after), I decided to include it in this post because Joey loved his burger so much. He ordered the Manly Burger and was very happy with it.
Breakfast the following morning was at the very popular Urth Cafe on Melrose. I didn’t think my dish was very special but I was impressed by the coffee. I had an iced almond milk latte, made with their mild espresso, and it was definitely the best coffee I have ever had in my entire life – and I drink a lot of coffee! We ended up going here for coffee again before continuing our road trip down to San Diego, and I bought a pack of their mild espresso beans. I know it won’t be the same – it never is – but I can’t wait for nostalgia to kick in once I make a cup at home.
Joey didn’t ask for much to be added to our itinerary – he gave me full control of this trip (which was great, thanks for letting me tell you what to do!) – but he did ask that I add lunch at Roscoe’s. He had visited Roscoe’s previously on another trip years ago, and was looking forward to having it again. I must say it was definitely worth the wait. He has been talking about it regularly over the past 4.5 years of us dating, specifically the thin waffles and how they can make or break a chicken and waffles dish. We both ate like piglets – it was wonderful.
That same evening we went to Gracias Madre for dinner. What a beautiful spot! It was SO Instagram worthy and the service was amazing! Our waitress was a sweetheart and made the experience very pleasant for us. We shared the guacamole, Joey ordered the Dos bowl and I had the burger. While Joey was very happy with his bowl and I was content with my burger, the star of the show was my spicy margarita. Every margarita I had after that just did not compare. I’m wishing I had one right now.
Skipping to dinner the next evening, which was one I was very excited for. We went to The Nice Guy – a spot frequented by popular people – and it definitely gave me exclusive vibes. We walked past a ‘No photos please’ sign and through thick black curtains into a overly dark restaurant. We ordered:
- Castlevetrano Olives* – I would go back just for these olives
Blue Crab Arancini*
Short Rib Pappardelle – if it wasn’t so salty, it would’ve been special
I would definitely go back to The Nice Guy and order the Burrata, Bacon Wrapped Dates and the Branzino (see, already looking forward to it!). A table next to us ordered the truffle fries and the portion was large, perfect for sharing. The drinks were also great – I had a glass of wine and Joey had a cocktail.
On a whim, we decided to go to Animal for our last night. It wasn’t on the itinerary because it was holiday Monday and I wasn’t sure what would be open. I’m so happy we ended up going because it was worth every penny! We were both pleasantly surprised and left very satisfied. It also gave me major Queen West vibes and was really full for a Monday at 9 pm. We ordered:
- Bone Marrow
A burger special not on the menu*
Woah was this meal ever special! Even though some of the items above aren’t starred, doesn’t mean I didn’t love them! Joey was cool with me ordering all of my favourites off the menu and we loved all the dishes. The only reason the bone marrow and pig ears aren’t starred is because they had other flavours in the dish that didn’t necessarily need to be there. Those two are delicious with just a simple rosemary salt. The poutine had an amazing oxtail gravy on it (huge oxtail fan over here!), the pork ribs had a yummy balsamic glaze and the burger was incredible.
As I mentioned earlier, we stopped for another coffee at Urth on our way to San Diego. So amazing. Throughout our stay in San Diego, we had good meals but nothing to rave about, until we went to Cucina Urbana. It was very much a King St. West type of spot and we loved every minute of it. We ordered:
- Burrata & Prosciutto ‘Caprese’*
Tagliatelle (in a bolognese sauce)*
I was so impressed with my pasta dish – there is nothing that beats handmade pasta. The sauce was hearty but not too heavy. It was perfect. If you’re in San Diego don’t go home without eating here!
So there you have it – my favourite restaurants in California (from the cities I visited). There are so many other ones that I would love to try next time. Let me know your recommendations so I can hit them up on my next trip, because I am definitely going back. Post-vacation depression is real, people.