Six Things We Miss About San Diego

Torrey Pines

Torrey Pines State Reserve

What?! San Diego is awesome? Breaking news, I know. But, we’ve been to the ol’ Sandy Eggo three times in the last fifteen months and we’re never ready to leave. The weather is perfect, traffic is minimal, you’re never more than 30 minutes away from a good time, and the FOOD. OH, THE FOOD. And, it’s cheap. The ratio of deliciousness to inexpensive is probably the highest in the U.S. Look it up in the census stats, it’s in there.

I also highly recommend buddying up to a local, as we’d probably end up eating at an Applebee’s* if it wasn’t for our friends Mike and Ashley. It’s like having our own personal food tour guides and surf instructor. Speaking of which, if you enjoy witty and sometimes sarcastic writing (which is why you’re here, right?), check out Mike’s surf blog, The Flying Peanut. Warning: It will make you want to quit your day job, move to San Diego, and learn how to surf.

Yeah, so picking five things wasn’t easy…so we picked six.

1. Oscar’s Mexican Seafood     Oscar's Mexican Seafood on Urbanspoon

Oscar's Mexican Seafood

Spicy Shrimp Tacos from Oscar’s. Yeah, this was from the second round of ordering. Should’ve gone back for a third…

If you’re looking for a reason to visit San Diego, I’ll give you two: The smoked fish taco and spicy shrimp taco from Oscar’s Mexican Seafood. They are not good. Nor are they great. The only way to describe them would be LEGENDARY. They are the type of tacos you will weave into the lore you tell your great grand children; and while you’ll most likely exaggerate your own amazing feats, you will not need to use any hyperbole with these two corn tortillas filled with magic. As we chowed down on these tacos during our final hours on the West Coast, I put some serious thought into how I could bring a dozen of them home with us on the plane. And although I couldn’t figure out a sanitary way to accomplish that feat, at least I was left with the fond memories of fish, shrimp, cheese, cabbage, pico de gallo, and avocado on a fresh made corn tortilla, topped with habanero crema. This restaurant is the sole reason why my app has a lot of recent “San Diego” searches.

2. Staying at the Secluded Studio with Canyon View (

Airbnb Canyon View

Waking up to this sure beat the cookie-cutter town houses we see at home.

We have found our unofficial second home in San Diego. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, the Secluded Studio with Canyon View in San Diego is a great place to start (click here for $50 off your first Airbnb trip!). Aside from being a clean, bright space with beautiful canyon views from the balcony, the location is perfect and is just a short 5-10 minute drive to all of the restaurants on this list. It’s great if you want to avoid the crowded beaches and packed downtown area, while still being pretty close to everything. You’ll feel like you’re staying with family, as the hosts provided us with bagels, cream cheese, yogurt, tea, coffee, milk, and juice. As much as I enjoy maximizing our food adventures by eating breakfast out, it was nice to enjoy a bagel and coffee, whilst sitting on the balcony over-looking the canyon.

3. Working on a Food Truck for Animals

Giraffe San Diego Zoo Safari Park

I found our next pet!

As much fun as it is to feed ourselves, feeding giraffes and rhinos at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was pretty freaking cool. Have you ever looked into the eyes of a giraffe?! They make human eyes look like garbage disposal sludge. And rhinos are just like giant puppies who have horns and could kill you if they wanted, but they won’t ’cause you’re on a truck and they LOVE apples. Spend the extra money for the Caravan Safari and make friends with some wild beasts.

4. El Zarape Restaurant     El Zarape Mexican on Urbanspoon

El Zarape California Burrito

California Burrito from El Zarape. Notice the holy trinity of hot sauces.

This hole-in-the-wall-ish restaurant is exactly the type of place you’d expect to find a solid Mexican meal. Although it might not have won any burrito awards, I have a sentimental attachment. I’m going to get a little mushy here, so get out the tissues and crank up the Journey. El Zarape was the site of…sorry, I’m tearing up a bit here…it was where I had my first California Burrito. I feel like I should mail them an anniversary card every year. I seriously crave this place at least once a month and the pain is compounded by the fact that California Burritos cannot be found anywhere in Northern VA or DC. It’s not a difficult food product to make, but for some reason it’s a freaking unicorn out here. So, to be safe you better eat at least two while you’re there.

5. Coin-Op Game Room     Coin-Op Game Room on Urbanspoon

Coin-op Game Room San Diego

Here’s to my dead homie, Michelangelo.

Barcades aren’t specific to San Diego, but we had a good time drinking and time traveling back to the 90s at Coin-Op Game Room. The beers and drinks were top notch, bartenders were friendly, and they had Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! And it’s the only place that encourages drinking and driving (MarioKart, of course). Just stay out of the way of the pinball masters. They do NOT mess around.

6. Hammond’s Gourmet Ice Cream     Hammond's Gourmet Ice Cream on Urbanspoon

Hammond's Gourmet Ice Cream

Front Row: lychee, chocolate orange, peanut butter and guava jelly. Back Row: toasted coconut, peanut butter brownie, lemon cream

You know how when you go to an ice cream shop and you try a bunch of flavors and then you have to settle on just one or two? Well, Hammond’s has solved this problem with…(drum roll)…Ice cream flights! Hell yes. Choose up to six flavors, each small scoop is perched on its own mini cone for you to enjoy. It even comes on a cool stand that looks like it was designed by Apple. I don’t know why every ice cream shop in America isn’t stealing this idea.

*Just kidding, we will never eat at Applebee’s. Sorry, John Corbett.


Pumpkin Sage Empanadas

pumpkin empanadas

When you think of sage, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Turkey day stuffing? Raviolis with brown butter sauce?


Yup, probably longer than we’ve been stuffing bread into turkeys, sage has long been thought to have the power to ward off evil. Which honestly makes evil look pretty weak. I could understand being afraid of something like habanero peppers or Hákarl (Icelandic fermented shark). But ‘lil ‘ol sage? Seriously, evil, grow a pair.

Cutting dough

Whether or not you believe in the cleansing power of sage, it still has to make you wonder how broad of a spectrum it works within. “Warding off evil” is a pretty general description. If I saw that on a résumé, I would want some elaboration and at least two legitimate evil references. For example, does it work on bullies? What about evil siblings? Or the condescending waiter at that pretentious restaurant downtown? Where is the line drawn?!

Maybe it’s as ambiguous as simply “bad stuff.” Like if you were to make a pair of socks out of sage, it would ward off the evil of stubbed toes. (Anyone with an ottoman at the end of their bed knows what I’m talking about. Its legs are the spawn of Satan.)

Empanada dough

And with that nondescript definition of “bad stuff,” couldn’t we extrapolate the powers of sage and apply them elsewhere? Because doesn’t ALL food ward off evil? Comfort food is so named for a reason. And a rough day at my office typically results in multiple trips to our Peanut M&M dispenser. Who cares if you have 73 borderline redundant emails in your inbox if you can escape for just a few precious seconds to feel that soothing crunch of candy shell, chocolate, and peanut. It feels SO GOOD to ward off those evil emails with every bite.

Not surprisingly, whenever Tina and I want to cheer someone up we tend to try to accomplish the cheering with delicious foods. Sometimes cookies. Occasionally beer. Many times deviled eggs.

pumpkin sage filling

Recently my west coast cousin, Stephanie, was in town helping out with some family matters. Those who can read between the lines can figure out that “family matters” is a euphemism for some really freaking hard weeks that her, her sister, and their parents have had to go through. Needless to say, she was in need of a culinary escape to help balance all the “bad stuff.”

Cooper and Toph

Gratuitous picture of Toph and Cooper watching us cook. #dogcousins

We’re always trading Facebook likes at each other’s food, but we’ve never actually had an opportunity to cook and eat each other’s food together. So after enjoying a nice afternoon at a winery, we went back to our place to make Pumpkin Sage Empanadas to continue the culinary exorcism.

Pumpkin sage empanada

For many people, cooking can be as therapeutic as eating, so Tina was quick to put Stephanie to work as her sous chef. Which meant I got to take the day off (and by that I mean I had to go to the grocery store to pick up forgotten ingredients). Toasting almonds, opening cans, measuring, stirring. All seemingly insignificant tasks, yet all great therapy techniques to help ease the mind.

This recipe is also fitting since we discovered it after falling into an empanada kick spawned from a visit to San Diego’s Papa Luna’s (a post solely dedicated to this Pacific Beach spot coming soon). So, inspiration from the west coast fueled some comfort food for our west coast visitor. It was a perfect match.

Pumpkin sage empanada

The empanada crust recipe is one you’ll want to keep in your toolkit FOREVER. Yes, I know everyone says that about their crusts, but the buttery, flakiness is so good you’ll want to experiment by filling it with everything in your kitchen. We’ve had great success making apple hand pies and even spicy corn cotija empanadas. And you could even cram thanksgiving dinner into one, but fortunately Papa Luna’s has already done that.

Although this recipe’s filling might taste a little bit like autumn (aren’t you proud that I haven’t used the phrase “kick off fall with…”), these can be eaten year round. And are especially delicious right after a vacation to San Diego in which you have fallen in love with empanadas (We’ll see you again soon, Papa Luna).


So, if you ever find yourself surrounded by evil spirits, whip up a batch of these empandas. I can’t guarantee they’ll actually scare the evil away (in fact it may be drawn to the scent), but at least you won’t be hungry.

Pumpkin sage empanada


Makes 24 empanadas (Note:  The filling makes enough for about 48 empanadas, but we’re only making 24 with this recipe. Freeze the left-over mixture to use later, or make some ethnically confused enchiladas with it.)

This recipe is adapted from Give Me Flour’s Pumpkin Goat Cheese Pies. The dough is a real keeper. (seriously, WRITE IT DOWN) and you can experiment with the filling to try different variations.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/3 sticks cold unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 5 tablespoons heavy cream (more if needed)

1.  Mix flour, salt, and butter in your favorite large mixing bowl. Get your hands dirty and combine the ingredients into a coarse meal, while ensuring that you can still see pieces of butter to facilitate maximum flakiness.

2.  Beat together the egg and heavy cream, then pour the liquid mixture into the bowl with the dry ingredients.

3.  Using your fingertips again, make smooth circular movements to mix the dough, but DO NOT KNEAD. Continue mixing until the dough comes together, adding another splash of cream if necessary. It shouldn’t take long. If all worked out correctly, you’ll still see some pieces of butter and ribbons of cream in the dough.

5.  Form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes. (The dough can also be frozen for up to a month, simply let it thaw for 8 – 12 hours in your refrigerator before use.)


  • 15 oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped sage
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1/4 cup roasted chopped almonds
  • 4 oz feta or goat cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

1.  In large sauté pan, brown the chopped onions in the olive oil. Toss in the sage and cook for a minute or so, then add the pumpkin, cayenne pepper, currants, and almonds. After mixing well, taste it and add salt and pepper to your liking. Remove from heat and let cool completely.

2.  Preheat oven to 350F˚.

3.  Place dough on a floured surface (we love our marble pastry board) and roll it out until it is 1/8 inch thick. Using a 4-inch scalloped biscuit cutter, cut the dough into circles. Place the dough circles onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.

4.  Place the pumpkin mixture in the center of each dough circle, followed by a dollop of the cheese. Next, fold the dough over and lightly seal the edges with your finger tips. We like to line one edge with egg wash or a bit of water before folding over to help with sealing. You want the empanadas to have an almost rounded edge after they’re done baking, so make sure not to press the edges together so hard that they’re flat.

5.  While you brush each with egg wash, have a friend help you make it rain sesame seeds on top.

6.  Bake for approximately 30 minutes; the empanadas will have a nice golden color.

7.  Let cool for a few minutes, then insert into your mouf.

Pumpkin sage empanada