NORTH PARK has consistently been my second city. North Park has a bit of everything—an urban charm and an up-and-coming spirit. I have heard from locals that this neighborhood has made great strides: from the rough-and-tumble border between City Heights and Hillcrest, to a vibrant locale perfect for a night out. I recommend dinner/pub grub and drinks. This neighborhood also offers some of the best low-cover dancing in the city. One more plus: If you fear going east of the 805, you’re in luck; North Park is just to the west. The heart of the neighborhood is at the intersection of 30th and University Ave.
Start at Urban Solace for dinner, or head to Splash and/or Toronado for pub grub or appetizers. Splash is a futuristic wine bar where vino lovers load up a debit-type card (Get this from the bar) and select one-ounce tastes from dozens of wines. Pop the card in the slot, hold your glass underneath the spout, and press the corresponding button. A perfectly measured one-ounce taster will appear. This allows you to choose a number of different wines for a little money. I usually splurge on a $4 ounce, which comes from an $80-100 bottle. Or, grab a full glass from the bar and a cheese plate. Next, make your way over to Toronado, a beer haven. Toronado’s beer selection is excellent and focuses mainly on Southern and Central California breweries.
Bar Pink is quirky and worth a look, and usually comes with free or very cheap live music. While not on University, Eleven (formerly the Radio Room, now owned by Small Bar/Hamilton’s) is an intimate venue with an increasing beer selection. A popular hot spot, True North changes crowds like a Chameleon. You really never know what you’re gonna get, but I’ve enjoyed their back patio during the daytime when it is practically empty. Comfortable patio furniture, TV’s, and an outdoor bar make it a solid spot for watching a game.
I promised dancing, and here it is. The Office and U-31 are some of the best low-cover (often free, especially if you’re in early) dance jams on weekends. While U-31 has a tendency to be surprisingly poppin’ any night of the week, the Office on a Friday or Saturday is never a disappointment. The Office ranks up there as one of San Diego’s top hip hop bars (Bar Dynamite, Tina’s). Friendly folks, hip hop, and a casual atmosphere draw the crowd. If you took my Bar Dynamite recommendation and had a good time, you’ll absolutely love the Office.
Back to food. Lefty’s, a Chicago-style pizzeria is a little slice of the Midwest in the West. Lefty’s is tiny, with only a few outdoor tables and loud Cubs games. Grab a slice of deep dish sausage, a Pabst, a Vienna beef dog, and a basket of fries. While I love the pizza and the atmosphere, I come back for the fries. I don’t know why it’s so hard to find good French fries, but search no further, find them here. These aren’t special or unusual in any way, just tasty. For burgers, take your pick between Crazy Burger and Western Steak burger. If you’re all about creative burger toppings, check out Crazy Burger. The Cajun burger is a personal favorite. Crazy Burger also offers alternatives to those who don’t eat beef: kangaroo, rattlesnake, buffalo . . . and garden. Western Steak Burger is more simplified but is a local favorite. Western Steak Burger is easy to miss but is worth the u-turn.
As with every neighborhood, I’m sure I missed something great. But I don’t want to rob you of the opportunity to discover the perfect new spot! It’s been a great year eating, drinking, and writing for you all. Cheers! (Dramatically drops laptop and walks off stage)
See also “Best of the Best: A Year in Review”