Now more than ever, restaurants and other small businesses need our support. In California, we’re entering another strict lockdown, forcing restaurants to cease outdoor dining and offer takeout or delivery only. Many restaurants are on the brink of closing. This is the time to order takeout, buy gift cards, and support your favorite spots however you can.
These are some of the San Diego restaurants I’ve been returning to again and again for takeout during this pandemic.
Tribute is one of those local establishments that I ate at once or twice pre-pandemic, but started recommending to everyone during the pandemic. They have perfected the art of adapting for curbside takeout and delivery.
Early on during the pandemic, they started offering specials, like freshly baked everything bagels on Sundays. The takeout menu is extensive, but somehow effective at the same time. Besides pizza, perhaps Tribute’s greatest triumph is their to-go cocktail menu. Large-format cocktails, delivered to your door. Their tropical rum painkiller is possibly the best canned cocktail I’ve ever had. I hope this innovation continues long after we return to normal.
As the pandemic dragged on and operations matured, daily pizza tributes became weekly or seasonal pizza specials. The iconic cheese and charcuterie board returned to the takeout menu. Packed beautifully to go in a pizza box, this Instagram-friendly board contains five cheeses, four cured meats, pickles, nuts, jams, fruit, whole-grain mustard, and a sizable loaf of house-made focaccia.
Weirdly enough, a pizza restaurant is also where you’ll find one of my favorite salads in San Diego. I Kale, I Saw, I Conquered is the most successful play on a Caesar salad I’ve ever had, perhaps because it isn’t really a Caesar. It’s a definition of its own, with hearty purple kale, preserved lemon, Aleppo pepper, Calabrian chiles, and croutons made from Tribute focaccia. Order it dressed, even for takeout.
Tribute Pizza was recently named best pizza by San Diego Magazine. Don’t snooze on the everything bagel pizza crust or the house-made harissa ranch.
The first time I dined at Common Stock was the day before we were all sent home for the first lockdown in March 2020. Recently named the best chicken sandwich in California, Common Stock serves my favorite fried chicken in San Diego—Nashville hot, regular, or comeback style.
Although they’re known for fried chicken, that’s not all they’re good at. The warm brussels Caesar is another favorite. It’s hearty, comforting, and just indulgent enough to undo the pat on the back you gave yourself for ordering brussels sprouts. The best part is, you can add fried chicken on top of any salad.
The bone-in ribeye is also rumored to be good… but I always get the fried chicken.
The decadent pastries from this bakery used to be a treat for birthdays and other special occasions. It has become a place where I spend way too much of my takeout budget. All the pastries are delicious (the everything bagel croissant is my dream breakfast), but the sandwiches here are on my regular lunch rotation too. The croissant and cookie flavors occasionally change with the seasons.
The service at Blackmarket Bakery is almost even better than the food quality. Always kind, always friendly, the staff has endless patience. They have always given me recommendations when I’m indecisive, explained in detail the fillings that go into each pastry, and offered me cookies when I ordered items no longer on the seasonal menu.
If your pastry habits are getting the better of you, Blackmarket Bakery has happy hour every weekday from 3-6pm, when breakfast pastries, cookies, and bread is 50% off. I’ve started buying all my bread for the week here, and I have the pandemic to thank for this new staple.
Pop Pie has made me love savory pies again. Every pie has an all-butter crust and perfectly flaky pastry. They are made fresh daily, and you can clearly see how detailed this labor of love is in the passion of their chefs, staff, and social media team:
“It takes a lot of time and preparation for all of the ingredients in our pies to come together. Our savory pies are made with a short crust for the base and our signature laminated all-butter pastry on top—both of which are handmade in house every single day. The doughs get portioned and shaped in preparation for filling, and each filling is carefully prepared following the proprietary recipes you know and love. Each pie base is filled and lidded with our laminated pastry, which we then crimp to lock in flavor. Then, they are finished off with an egg wash and a garnish that’s specific to each pie filling.”From the Pop Pie Instagram account
Their sweet pie game is equally good, if not better. They serve one of the best key lime pies I’ve ever had. Both sweet and savory pies get seasonal spins as well—honey bourbon pecan for fall, cranberry apple ginger for winter—which is why I never run out of reasons to visit.
Stella Jean’s Ice Cream
The sister shop to Pop Pie, Stella Jean’s is located right next door. It’s virtually impossible to order from one without stopping at the other.
This small-batch ice cream shop is one of my favorite small businesses in the area. Early in the pandemic, they were only selling pints of ice cream for takeaway, which I happily splurged on every time they introduced a new flavor. They are now open again and scooping as usual for takeout.
While they do make their own versions of classic flavors, like rocky road and butter pecan, the reason to visit Stella Jean’s is for their unique flavors. Ube & pandesal toffee is a bestseller. My all-time favorites are Earl Grey citrus tea cake and s’mores, but the real innovation happens with their local collaborations and seasonal flavors. Autumn included pumpkin cornbread & pepita brittle and apple butter crumble. I can’t wait to try the winter flavors.
Juniper & Ivy
Named best restaurant in San Diego Magazine for 6 consecutive years, Juniper & Ivy is one of the fine-dining restaurants that has pivoted and adapted gracefully during this pandemic. During the first lockdown, they launched Juniper & Ivy At Home, a set menu that rotated every week. Curbside pickup ran like a well-oiled machine. It was almost everything restaurant goers could want—except the restaurant going.
When onsite dining reopened, Juniper & Ivy developed arguably one of the city’s best outdoor seating arrangements called “Under the Stars.”
During this winter shutdown, J&I has adapted yet again to offer not only Juniper & Ivy At Home, as before, but also a to-go menu of some of their popular dishes. They’re also doing some local collaborations to offer even more options.
What you can do to support local restaurants
- Order takeout—The most obvious one. And tip generously, at least as much as you would if you were dining in the restaurant (if you can afford to).
- Buy alcohol from restaurants instead of grocery stores—Stock up on wine for holiday gifts. Order cocktails to go. Beer won’t go bad anytime soon.
- Buy a gift card—For yourself, or as stocking stuffers this season.
- Buy merch—Another gift idea for the foodie in your life.
- Leave them a great review—It’s free and only takes a minute.
- Follow local restaurants on social media, and post about them on yours—Instagram is the main way I hear about new menu items, specials, happy hours, etc.
- Consider ordering your holiday meal from a restaurant—This year, my family decided to skip cooking for Thanksgiving and order takeout instead. It’s the perfect year to take a break from the stress while supporting a spot you care about.
- Make a list—Eater offered this simple but effective advice. Make a list of the places you want to see still standing at the end of this pandemic, and start ordering.
Fried Chicken Fridays in Quarantine
A few of San Diego’s notable fried chicken sandwiches to spice up quarantine dining.
My California Foodie Road Trip
My solo road trip up the California coast in search of some small towns, beautiful hikes, and great food.