Last weekend, FH and I were invited to join in a Bite San Diego tour of Hillcrest. Bite San Diego is a food walking tour company which offers tours in various parts of San Diego. We participated in the Hillcrest one, since Hillcrest has so many hidden food gems we haven’t yet gotten to try.
Our tour included stops at six different restaurants. Walking tour groups are limited to 15 people, which creates a nice environment to get to meet people who share at least one common interest with you: food.
Our tour guide, Dani, was very cheerful, friendly and energetic. She did a great job keeping the group together and checking up on everyone throughout the tour to make sure everyone was still happy. Everyone introduced themselves at the beginning, with a little bit of background as to their favorite food and where they were from. I was surprised to learn that so many people were from San Diego, but there were also people who were just visiting, including a couple from Britain.
Our tour was a mix of food and background into Hillcrest’s history and sites. First we passed through part of Balboa park. I was surprised to learn that Balboa Park is actually the largest urban cultural park in the US spanning 1200 acres.
After some history, we were off to our first eating spot.
Jimmy Carter’s Mexican Cafe
We learned a little about the restaurant history, including that the owner, Jimmy Carter, was born and raised in Hillcrest.
The tour website states that the food are bite portions and so we aren’t expected to get too full from the tour experience, so the entire group was surprised when we were presented with so many bites at Jimmy Carter. I think the amount of food varies for the different tours though because one person mentioned that he had been on the La Jolla tour and while their had been a good amount of bites, it was nowhere near the amount we were given on the Hillcrest tour.
First we were given some chips and four different kinds of salsa to eat them with.
Beef quesadilla, Tostada
The highlight of this spot, and also of the tour, was definitely the calamari tacos. Everyone seemed to be in agreement that this was one of the best bites of the tour. The calamari was lightly battered. There was also a creamy cilantro japaleno sauce to accompany the taco, which I definitely recommend adding.
We left this stop already getting full, and there were five more to go! Luckily the tour included a lot of walking. By the end of the tour, I felt like I had walked all the way around Hillcrest and then some.
Local Habit is known for its farm to table organic food and craft beer. All the food, down to the sauces, are made fresh in house. While beers weren’t included with the tour price, we were allowed to order some to try while we dined here.
At this spot, we actually were served more of a “bite,” though it was a delicious one. Everyone was given a taste of their Muffuletta sandwich. The sandwich is popular in New Orleans and is meant to be quite long and thick. It was really hard to actually take a bite of the sandwich because the bread was so tall.
I loved the bread though. It was so soft, and a little bit crispy on the bottom.
Waters were served at the tables in these brown beer bottles, and water glasses were these cute jars.
While we were eating, the owner came out to talk to us and answer any questions. I really enjoyed that personal touch. We would get similar treatment at all the other tour stops. It’s something I haven’t experienced on other food tours and it’s definitely something I really enjoyed about this tour.
If there was an award for nicest owners on the tour, the owners here would have won the award hands down. Opened just a little over a year, we got to meet both owners, Larry Malone and Susie Baggs, who met while working at Starbucks and decided to open their own restaurant.
The restaurant is small and cozy, creating a friendly intimate atmosphere. The wall decor was quite quirky. I was trying to take a picture, but heads were constantly in the way.
I took a look at the menu and found several items that looked interesting and I’ll have to be back to try them.
BBQ bacon burger caster
Our “bite” here were their “casters” which are like burger sliders, except cooked in a cast iron. Each caster was actually a pretty hefty amount, especially after all the food we’d already ingested.
The bbq sauce was voted best bbq sauce by San Diego Magazine, but the real highlight for me was their fresh pickles.
The cucumbers are only pickled for 36 hours, creating a pickle that still tastes like a cucumber. It’s also made with three types of chilis, adding a little kick to the pickles. Everyone at my table loved the pickles. It made me want to start making my own.
You may recall that I paid a visit to Brazen shortly after the grand opening and wasn’t impressed. But I’ve heard the food has gotten better, so I was willing to give it another shot.
Here, we again met one of the owners, and we were treated to samples of their brisket, ribs, and pulled pork sandwich.
The food was so much better than our first visit. The brisket was tender, the ribs were moist and the pulled pork was very flavorful. If I had room I would have grabbed seconds.
Here’s a picture of their smoker and wood:
We took a much needed quick coffee break to wake us up out of our food coma. Here we sampled a banana hazelnut and a kona blend. The banana hazelnut smelled amazing. Sorry not pictures of the coffee. We had to drink these while standing outside and it was just too hard to get a picture.
Lotus Cafe and Juice Bar
Lotus Cafe is a fairly new restaurant and offers organic foods, with quite a large vegetarian menu.
We had some of their homemade pita and hummus.
And because it was the last spot, we ended on a sweet note with the strawberry smoothie and vegan lemon macadamia cupcake.
I really enjoyed the cupcake, even finishing FH’s share as well. It was the perfect ending to tour.
Overall, we had a fun experience and it seemed that everyone else on the tour enjoyed it as well. We got to try some gems of Hillcrest we’ve never tried and we left pretty stuffed; we didn’t even have room for dinner. I am definitely curious to check out some of the other tours. Getting to meet and talk to the owners of each restaurant was a nice touch that I haven’t seen on previous food tours I’ve been on. Our guide was really friendly and so were all the people who joined us on our tour.
Some notes: There is quite a bit of walking. Because we parked our car near the first spot, we had to walk about 12 blocks back to our car. Several people on the tour actually had groupon deals, so definitely be on the look out for those to save some money. The tours are only given on weekends and they fill up really fast. We actually were invited several months ago, but March was the first opening spot they had. You can read more about Bite San Diego here.
Disclosure: Our tour tickets were complimentary. I was not paid to write this review and my opinions are my own.