It has been a couple of years since we’ve participated in a “Taste of” walking/eating/tasting event. But apparently my renewed, intermittent, and occasional blogging has put me back on the PR radar and I was invited to participate in this year’s Taste of Downtown. This year, I tagged my Instagram posts with #tasteofdtsd but I also saw others using #tasteofdowntown (but you’ll also see posts from totally different cities since I guess there are downtown areas outside of San Diego?!?)
This year we have T’s nephew visiting us for a couple of weeks, so we opted to bring him along (although, we still only used our 2 tickets… shh… I think sharing is against the rules.) It turned out well since you can honestly only eat so many little bites, no matter how light your lunch is or how much walking you do.
Speaking of walking, Taste of Downtown does have a shuttle that goes along the route so you can hop off at some of the more outlying areas, but I never saw the actual shuttle and I wasn’t sure how often it goes by the designated stops. Plus, it’s really not THAT much walking, so we just hoof it. We also start right at 5pm when the event starts because I like to avoid as many lines and crowds as possible, and one year when we went, by the time we made it to some of our last stops, they were already running out of food. I am also an over-planner and had already reviewed the map and list and marked out where I wanted to stop so we could see what route would be more efficient.
On to the food! Please note, these are the exact same photos from my (I’m sorry if I overloaded you) Instagram feed and I do not ever claim to be a fantastic photographer. I’m too busy eating for that kind of thing.
Clockwise from top left: a Maryland crabcake on top of a corn sauce from Florent, carrot cake and a bison meatball from Rustic Root, and a pork empanada from Don Chido
The crabcake was fantastic, and I was told it’s also on Florent’s regular menu as a larger serving. The bison meatball was pretty dry and the carrot cake buttercream frosting (in between the cake layers) was way too firm for me.
The empanada from Don Chido, though, was hands-down the next bite I ate the entire night. You could tell someone handmade that tortilla, and as we were walking out, we saw a lady making flour and corn tortillas! I’m a little sad it was one of our first stops because I would have loved to end on that bite. I’ve never eaten at Don Chido, but now I really want to explore their menu!
Clockwise from top left: with our 2 tickets we chose a mini cheesecake and mini raspberry cupcake from Heavenly Cupcake (the other choice was a fruit tart), a pork something from Blush Ice Bar, margherita pizza from Ciro’s, and housemade chips and onion dip from Knotty Barrel
As someone who does not necessarily love cupcakes, the vanilla cupcake with raspberry frosting was actually really good. The cake was tender and light and the frosting wasn’t too heavy or buttery. I almost considered buying a full-sized cucpake.
At Blush Ice Bar, I asked the guy assembling the pork bite what we’d be tasting and was told “pork”. So, then I asked what the pork was being assembled with and the answer was “There’s this crispy part, and some cucumbers, and cilantro.” He even looked to the girl behind the counter with him for help, and she had nothing to add. I wasn’t expecting a dialogue on how everything was cooked, or what cut of pork, but something like “mini pork tostada” or “pulled pork with cucumber salsa” or something would have been helpful. What if I liked it? Am I supposed to come back and ask for the pork on crispy thing? I was less than impressed with Blush Ice Bar, but MadHungryWomen had some delicious things to say about them so maybe I’ll go back and pretend to be hip one of these days.
The pizza and chips and dip were nothing special, but the onion dip was pretty tasty and I appreciate that they make it themselves.
Clockwise from top left: tom kha soup and a taro roll from Lotus Thai, a bbq wing and a buffalo wing from East Village Tavern+Bowl, fried risotto balls from Bottega Americano, and chicken tinga from The Blind Burro
T loves Thai food, especially tom kha, so he was enamored with these bites. I didn’t think it was anything better or worse than that Thai we get in Poway. Also, this stop and Tavern+Bowl were not on my circled list – we stopped here because it was on the way to Bottega Americano.
Speaking of their risotto balls, they were a little underseasoned and someone had to assemble each plate from scratch (either that, or they were just getting set up and didn’t have their little assembly line ready) so you had to wait a while to get your plate. I’m glad we came in before the group of 6 did, plus I noticed that they only got 1 risotto ball while each of our plates had 2.
The chicken tinga from The Bline Burro was tasty and I actually finished my bite… considering this was, like, our 12th bite, I thought that was impressive.
Clockwise from top left: salmon poke from Cat Eye Club, a pulled pork slider from The Deck at Moonshine Flats, a carnitas taco from La Puerta, and grilled chicken and cilantro hummus from Meze Greek Fusion
Cat Eye Club and The Blind Burro were sharing the food-passing-out space along the side of the resaturant(s), which is the main reason you even see the salmon poke here. I know nothing about the Cat Eye Club but I know I haven’t heard anything about their famous salmon poke. Ahem. The cucumbers were tasty, but the salmon was a little mushy and over-“cooked”. We also saw people come over from Bub’s and learned that the taste was some sort of bbq chicken wrap, which solidified my decision to not walk over there.
For some reason, we then walked through Moonshine Flats to get to The Deck, and saw the pork sliders being handed out. I tried the pork, which was meaty and decent, and T enjoyed the slider since the roll was soft and squishy. It’s a little too bro-y inside for my tastes, but I can see how it would be a fun hangout.
Since Meze was also not on my pre-circled and marked list, I don’t mind saying the chicken was pretty dry.
The carnitas taco from La Puerta was a good taco, although not as impressive after eating Don Chido’s amazing tortilla. I like the salsas at La Puerta… I kind of which we had been given some chips and salsas. Oh, and I enjoy their margaritas!
Clockwise from top left: a brisket slider from Quad Alehouse, compressed melon and 48-hour pork belly at Parq, not-so-secret deconstructed pina colada at Parq, and caramel latte and chocolate donuts from Donut Bar
First, I want to say that on our way to this last group, we passed Jolt’n Joes Bar & Restaurant and I have no idea what possessed us to go in and get a taste. We were given a chicken tender and dynamite sauce and as soon as I put a bite in my mouth (why did I do that?!?) I was immediately sad. It was dry and flavorless, except for the salty coating on the outside, and then I swallowed it because I had nowhere to spit it out discreetly. We also stopped at Mint Thai (because of T) and he did enjoy their chicken curry over rice, but I still think it’s not anything better than your average Thai place.
I’m also sad we didn’t stop at Rockin’ Baja Lobster because someone posted a photo of their surf and turf bite and it looked good. We didn’t stop because the last time we did this, we DID make an effort to go in and stand in line and I think we walked away with some sort of fried eggroll-type thing that I did not like at all. But I like their slipper lobsters (and spicy honey butter) so I bet the surf and turf bite would have been worthwhile.
Okay, so T wanted to go to Quad Alehouse because he thought it would be a fancy Belgian beer bar. It wasn’t. It’s a decent beer stop, with a good and varied selection, but not what he was hoping for. There was a line of people staring at an empty wooden board when we got there, but when they brought out the sliders, the girl started trying to hand them out and no one was really taking them. So, I don’t know what was going on. We took a couple, but I only ate the brisket because the roll was pretty bready. The brisket was meaty, but a little too dry for my tastes.
We passed Parq on the way to Donut Bar, and I’m glad we went in! They definitely had the fanciest bite, with compressed yellow watermelon and slices of pork belly they cook for 48-hours and then sear. The melon was sweet and refreshing and the pork belly was the perfect crispy bite – not too crunchy, not too meaty. While we were there, I saw a sign that said if you post a photo and tag them, and show them, they’ll give you a special dessert for free. Since I had just posted their photo AND tagged them, we got to try some deconstructed pina colada, which was nitro-frozen coconut ice cream with compressed pineapple. Very nice on such a hot, muggy evening and well worth posting a photo! Parq has happy hour specials all night long on Wednesdays AND Thursdays, and it’s a pretty fancy space to check out.
Now, I’m not the hugest fan of Donut Bar (I know, I know) but I like to end things with something sweet. I do prefer their cake donuts since I feel like their raised donuts are all the same just with different glazes and sugary toppings. The caramel latte was way too sweet for me, but the chocolate glazed one had nice dark chocolate shavings on top that balanced it out a bit. Still, if Sidecar ever opened up in San Diego, they would blow Donut Bar out of the water.
In the end, we made it to about 20 spots. Some of them I wasn’t interested in for the food, some were too far (like The Headquarters), and some I was waffling on and since we were full and tired at the end of the night I didn’t feel like walking out of my way to check them out. Maybe next time. It’s kind of a fun way to see what’s new downtown, and since we had a guest in tow I hope he got a good (if not tiring) tour of the Gaslamp and beyond. Plus, now I have 2 new spots I want to check out more, so that’s pretty cool.
Disclosure: I received two complimentary tickets to Taste of Downtown from McFarlane Promotions. No compensation was received for this review. As always, all opinions are mine.