Sippin’ In San Diego: North Park Part 2
Known to many as a prominent craft beer city, San Diego, California, has been atop my list of places to visit since I got into craft beer in 2006. After surviving the pandemic, and the lack of travel for beer opportunities over the last year, I am happy to finally immerse myself in the craft beer culture of this amazing city. I will be exploring San Diego for two weeks. By the time my trip concludes I want to understand why so many cherish this place. I want to discover how a city can support an embarrassment of brewery riches when many contend that craft beer is reaching a “saturation point.” Lastly, I want to recapture the invigoration and soul-satisfying serenity that traveling for beer has brought me over the years.
North Park: The Epicenter of Froth, Food, and Fun
If you want to see what my first day in the North Park neighborhood of San Diegoa was like, check out Part 1 of North Park collection. As I am becoming more familiar with the geography of North Park, my wanderlust is kicking into high gear. I find myself ping-ponging my way up and down 30th street in search of diverse and mouthwatering things to eat and drink. There is a comforting and familiar neighborhood feel in North Park. I love walking the streets and marveling at the historic nature of the homes. The landscaping in San Diego is breathtaking. Dazzling flowers that span the color wheel brighten this already sunny place, making it that much more vibrant.
The flowers, bushes, and trees make the streets of North Park a veritable wonderland. In fact, unlike previous beercations to Denver, Portland, New England, and Grand Rapids, I find myself walking the neighborhoods more to try to get lost on purpose. With every new block I traverse, my eyes are impressed with nature’s beauty. However, this is not a Better Homes and Gardens blog, so I should probably get back to a little bit of the North Park beer scene.
More Tacos, Please!
After my first glorious encounter with the tacos made in San Diego, I feel like a shark swimming fifty feet away from someone unaware that they cut themselves shaving. My appetite for tacos seems to be ever-present in the back of my head. So, I am stopping into The Taco Stand in North Park. They make their corn tortillas right in front of you, and they have a bevy of taco options. I am in the mood for Al Pastor tacos, so I order a pair of those and then two of the Baja fish tacos.
The Taco Stand-North Park Location
I grab a seat at the stone counter and wait for my number to be called. The smells emanating from behind the plexiglass partition are enticing and titillating. The sounds of the meat sizzling and hissing on the grill, the wheel of the tortilla press squeaking, and the sounds of the tacos hitting the paper in the plastic bins are all melodious and in rhythm with the growling of my own stomach.
Finally, my order is up. I grab my two plates and survey the lunch landscape ahead of me. I would classify these as simple street tacos. Each handmade wonder one has cilantro, onion, and tomatoes accompanying the proteins and sauce. The Baja-style fish tacos look like they are entire filets of fish that have been fried to crispy perfection. The first bites into it and the combination of crunch fish and cabbage along with the sauce creates a perfect textural contrast. The Al Pastor tacos are flavorful and have a perfect spice level for my palate. The meat is juicy and and the marinade flavor combined with the kiss from the grill is just wonderful.
Thorn Street Brewery-Thorn Brewing’s North Park Location
One of the many positive things about North Park, and San Diego, in general, is that they have a lot of satellite locations for breweries that started in other places. This is the case for the Thorn Street Brewery. Thorn Brewing also has a Barrio Logan (production facility) location and a Mission Hills location. The Thorn Street Brewery is located smack dab in a residential part of town.
The walk from my Airbnb to the pub-like location is a pretty meander through over uneven concrete sidewalks and under all sorts of beautiful foliage. I keep seeing more flowers that are new to me. Eventually, the robotic voice of my GPS lets me know that I have arrived. I am glad I am walking because I probably would have driven right by the place. Thorn Street Brewery is painted in white on weathered wooden boards above a wooden door. The windows are wide open and there is a food truck parked in front of the place. I step inside and see socially distanced tables and a handful of people drinking beers.
I snap a few pictures and set my belongings at one of the hightop tables meant for four people. If the travel gods are with me, I might be able to make a new friend are two if it gets really crowded tonight. I wish that the option to sit at the bar was available because this seems like a place that would be filled with regulars. However, it is the day after 4th of July and it is not too busy.
Do It Yourself Flights-Two Tasters At A Time
I ask if they do flights and am told that is not an option, however, I can order all the tasters that I want, it just has to be no more than two at a time. Well, that will give me plenty of opportunities to stretch my legs during trips to and from the bar. There are a lot of things that I want to drink up on the wall. Each beer name is accompanied with an eclectic illustration.
The Lighter Side
I start off with the Golden Hills Pils. It is a nice 5.6% Bohemian pilsener. It has a bit of a grassy aroma with a doughy bread note in the aroma. In the flavor, there is a bready sweetness that finishes crisp. Next up, the Barrio Baja-style lager. This is also drinks crisp and clean with a sweet hint of corn in the flavor.
The Hoppy Side
Time for some hoppy beers of their list. I am sticking to classic styles and not going out of my way to do too many Hazy IPAs. The pale ale and the West Coast IPA grab my attention right away. The Rock the Pale is a clean pale ale with a nice grapefruit pith bitterness that I think is bright. The Relay IPA has a minty herbal aroma along with a bit of citrus. The flavor is a bright tangerine flesh with a bit of pine. I think that these two might have been my favorite beers of the night.
The Malty Side
For the malty offerings, the Cocomotive Coconut Porter is extremely delicious. The coconut comes across as perfectly roasted. There are also accompanying flavors of molasses, dark chocolate, and coffee. The last beer of the night is the Golden Goodness milk stout. This is amber-colored and has the texture of a milk stout. However, instead of roasted malt bitterness and chocolate, the flavors are toffee and caramel.
The Bartender Can Make Your Taproom Experience Better
As I sip my way through the board, I notice many patrons come and go. Many people are picking up food at the food truck and then popping for beers to bring out to the patio. Inside, there are a couple regulars who seem to know the bartender quite well. The bartender, and I forgot to catch the gentleman’s name, is quite helpful and friendly. He knows a lot of the people stopping in and out. At one point, with wild eyes, he appears to size up whether or not he can hop the bar. I say, “I think you’ve got it if you want it.” He is quite lanky and I am at least 40% sure this feat of strength will not end in bodily harm for him. He decides that caution is the better part of valor and everyone collectively lets out a disappointed, “Aww.”
The Drink That Binds Us
A couple comes in with bike helmets and seem to be craft beer fans. The one guy is wearing a Societe Brewing shirt and his bike helmet is emblazoned with a Societe sticker. I take these visual signals as a an invitation to ask a few questions about the local scene. Also, to be quite honest, after the pandemic and not being able to sit in a brewery and talk to people, the extrovert in me is dying to make a couple of new beer friends.
Well, their names are Trevor and Erika and they are delightful. My assumption that they might have helpful opinions about the local scene is correct. They provide me with a wealth of information of places to visit in San Diego. They also gave me some good information on some of the beaches in town. It was a little bit of a “When Harry Met Sally” moment when they were explaining the differences about all the beaches. They would be finishing each other’s sentences and correcting one another about details. It was really funny. In total, they provided me with more than enough help to really get to the cream of the crop of what San Diego has to offer.
After a fun chat and tasting my way through 2/3 of the 15 beers on tap, I decide it is time for a late dinner. I thank Travor and Erika for their conversation and travel tips. I close my tab and tip the lanky bartender. Then, I make the bold decision to not dial up anything on my GPS and just walk. My time in North Park has emboldened me to just go where the night takes me.
No Spoon For You!
After a very laissez-faire route back to the main drag of 30th Street, I see, hear, and smell the surefire unctuous aroma of ramen. The synapses in my brain are connecting to an earlier conversation with my Airbnb host. She was telling me about her love/hate relationship with Underbelly, a ramen restaurant that many of the locals champion as the best. Her issue with the place is that they don’t provide you with a spoon to eat your ramen. Rather, in her words, “They pretentiously ‘invite’ you to sip the broth out of the bowl.” She says, “Well, that’s bullshit; I don’t want to do that. So I bring my own spoon. Screw them.” The more stories my Airbnb host tells me, the more she seems like a character from Seinfeld.
So, despite the fact that I do not have my spoon to smuggle in, I get in the 15-person Underbelly line to get in. I ask the pair of ladies in front of me in line if the wait is really worth it. They assure me this will be time well-spent. The people watching in North Park is a fantastic amalgamation of the hip and young as well as dinosaurs like me in their early forties. There is a ton of diversity here and that also helps me feel welcome in this area.
Looking at the menu so early in my time in line was definitely a mistake. Holy cow, so many different options of things to eat. I am eyeing the bowls of what people are slurping out of to see if anything really catches my fancy. Well, that is also a stupid thing to do because now I want one of everything.
If you go to Underbelly and see a line, don’t be discouraged, it moves pretty fast. I am guessing that when a restaurant is bereft of ways to spoon broth to your mouth, that cuts down the seat time by at least 50%. My time has come and I order the Belly of the Beast Ramen and some Edamame. Now, before I describe the Belly of the Beast Ramen, you have to promise to not do anything stupid like lick the screen or drive from wherever you are to come and get a bowl of it.
The Belly of the Best-A Bowl of Heaven Sans Spoon
The Belly of the Best comes with a soft-boiled egg, oxtail dumplings, beef brisket, and hoisin-glazed short rib. The thing I love about Ramen is that the noodles are so rich and fulfilling. A good Ramen noodle has a chew to it along with an egg-yolk richness that is almost buttery. I have to say I agree with the locals who claim this is one of the better Ramen options in San Diego. The broth is unctuously comforting. Whether you bring your own spoon or not, this Ramen will change your life for the better. The oxtail dumplings are so smooth and rich that I am happy that they only give you two. The brisket is tender and the short-rib is just fall-apart amazing.
As I am going back and forth between using my chopsticks and just diving into the bowl, I am also observing those around me. I am seated at a huge communal table to the left of 3 younger ladies who are going all out with cocktails. Across from me is a family of three. The mom and dad are sitting on each side of their son who appears to be a late teenager. The dad and the son are obsessing over the Padres game on their phones while the mom sits there. I feel bad for the mom because thanks to an exciting late-inning comeback attempt she really just appears to be along for the ride.
When the game is tied in the later innings, dad and son make the executive decision to try to get home to see the home half-inning of the 7th. Mom looks quite annoyed. As she gets up, she looks me dead in the eyes and says, “We have to go watch the end of the Padres game.” There is so much indignation in her tone that I almost dump my bowl of ramen all over myself laughing.
I figure that my night won’t get any better than my front-row seat to family night gone awry thanks to the baseball game. So, I silently rejoice that my shirt is not speckled with splashes of broth and make my way to the exit. By now, the sun is gone and the air is crisp. The pace of life in San Diego is laid back and peaceful. As I walk back to my Airbnb, I smile because I am really starting to love it here.
Dan Beaubien has been involved with Beerploma since 2014 although his passion for craft beer dates back to 2006 when he started traveling for beer. Dan mostly covers craft beer events, festivals, brewery openings/releases, and beer reviews. Dan has a soft spot in his heart for authentic British Style ales, IPAs, and all things barrel-aged. If you have any questions or comments about this article feel free to email Dan at email@example.com .