Category Archives: San Diego
I’m not what you would call a Pizza snob. You’ll never hear me use words like “traditional”, or “authentic” in regards to pizza, because I just don’t care about that stuff. I only care about if it tastes good. Plus, big words are hard to spell. I’ll stick to “mmmm”, and “yum”, thank you very much.
When we stumbled across (literally stumbled, as we had just left happy hour at Ortegas) Project Pie in the Hillcrest neighbourhood of San Diego, it looked so unique and interesting that we had to try it out.
The concept of Project Pie is so simple it makes you wonder why somebody hadn’t thought of it sooner. You walk up to the counter and order either a pre-designed combination of sauce and toppings, or build your own. The price is the same ($7.50), no matter how many toppings you get. If you just want a straight-up cheese pie, it’s only $6.
Choose either white or red sauce, and proceed down the assembly line adding as much, or as little of everything as you want. What a concept! I’ve seen it referred to as “The Subway of Pizzas” in a few online reviews, and as much as that would make me cringe if I was a restauranteur, it’s a very accurate description of the process. Thankfully there is no “Subway Funk”, which is the term I have assigned to the strange, sickly odour of Subway’s bread. Yuck.
When I first saw the dough I was a little nervous about how this pie would turn out. It had the appearance of those dreadful grocery store pre-made pizza shells, with the mathematically uniform perforated surface.
Proving yet again that life’s best decisions are made after a few margaritas, I went ahead with my order.
Like a kid in a candy store, I went down the line surveying each possible topping as closely as the scratches on a rental car. I finally settled on Pepperoni, Mushrooms, Sausage, Feta, and fresh Basil on half, with tomato sauce.
A mere 2 or 3 minutes later I had my pie in hand and let me tell you, it looked delicious! The crust had a nice crispiness to it, and wasn’t too thin or too thick. It was surprisingly very good. Purists would whine about it to be sure, but I say if it tastes good, eat it.
Anytime a pizza is “cheap”, the first thing I think is that the cheese will be skimpier than a teenagers mini-skirt. It wasn’t. In fact, my pizza was quite the opposite in that my wife Robyn actually thought there was too much cheese on it for her. (She must have been off her meds) In fact, none of the toppings disappointed the way you might expect they would on a “value” pizza. I was impressed.
I’m a little sad that I didn’t make it back for a second sampling before the end of our holiday, but at least now I know where I can get some good late-night pie next time I’m in San Diego.
Is 3 trips to the same restaurant during a paltry 1 week holiday too much? Is that too narrow minded in focus, robbing you of precious opportunities to sample more of what the local dining scene has to offer?
If you answered yes, then clearly you’ve never been to the Carnitas Snack Shack, in beautiful San Diego.
Before our trip to Southern California, I put out a request to SD locals to tell me where to eat in their fine city. The folks on YELP came through big-time with more great suggestions that we could possibly sample. When a few of them checked out my blog to get an idea what I’d like, the Carnitas Snack Shack became the overwhelming recommendation.
I’ll tell you what….. that recommendation could not have been more spot on.
True to it’s “Shack” moniker, the building itself is pretty underwhelming, and would be easy to miss if not for the giant iron pig that adorns the roof. If you were just driving by, you could easily miss the epic swine-tastic delights being created inside.
We had heard that the lineups could be long at peak times, and our first visit at 7pm Sunday evening confirmed that. We about 45 minutes before we go to the order window, then waited another 40 minutes to get our food. Although there is no indoor seating, there is a beautiful outdoor seating space out back. As you might have guessed, the menu is heavily pork-centric, which is A.O.K. with me.
On our first visit, my wife Robyn went for the BLT. I have to admit that when she ordered the BLT I thought “Really? A BLT? Did you see all the other great sounding stuff on the menu?” Though, one stolen bite later I was converted.
A couple things make this much more than your standard BLT for me; the addition of crispy ham (I guess it’s actually a BLTH?), and a delicious a concoction called Shack Aioli. According to Robyn, it’s the best BLT, and one of the best sandwiches overall that she’s ever had. That’s a pretty good introduction to the Shack.
I of course couldn’t decide on what to order since I literally wanted to try everything. I settled on a Pork Belly App, with sweet and spicy glaze and a frizee salad. I rarely meet a pork belly I don’t like, and this one didn’t disappoint. I loved the crispy crust and the sweet glaze on the side was a perfect topper.
I also ordered the Triple Threat Pork Sandwich. Over 3 visits, this was the one thing that we found underwhelming. Since we took that first meal to go and ate it in the hotel room, I think it suffered from the extra 20 minutes in the take-out container. Piled high with bacon, pulled pork, and pork loin schnitzel, topped with pepperoncini/pickle relish, and shack aioli, it sounds like a pork lovers dream come true.
The thing that threw off the sandwich for me was the schnitzel. If it had been crispy it would have changed the texture of the sandwich (which was what I didn’t like), and I’m sure I would have enjoyed it much more. I wish we had thought about that at the time and ate it at the restaurant, because it probably was crispy when first served. Based on that amazing BLT alone, we knew another visit to the Snack Shack was going to be in the cards before heading home.
Our second visit to the Shack was late Wednesday afternoon after a day of relaxing on the beach in La Jolla. We had asked while waiting for our food on the Sunday when the best time to come would be to avoid line-ups, and mid afternoon sounded like the most likely bet. Sure enough, we arrived around 3pm to find we had the order window to ourselves. Score!
We ordered the special of the day; a Pork Burger with candied bacon, gorgonzola, mixed greens, and shack aioli and we paired it with an order of seasoned french fries.
The french fries were darn good in their own right and the homemade bacon ketchup (yeah…bacon ketchup) was stupendous, but in all honesty one whiff and subsequent bite of that Pork Burger and the fries were all but forgotten.
Simply put, this was the best burger either of us has ever had. Seriously, I couldn’t help licking the screen 3 times while writing this thanks to the picture. The pork was super juicy, the bacon was crunchy and sweet, the gorgonzola was mild and oh so creamy, and they grilled the brioche bun to give it perfectly crispy edges.
I have no idea how you could make a burger better than this.
Most people would have stopped while they’re ahead, but as we were sitting in the courtyard waiting for our food, we watched as a lot of other delicious looking food was being delivered to other lucky guests.
Hence a third visit on Friday.
This time I was determined to try the Steak Sandwich I had seen brush past me like a sultry vixen the last 2 visits. Just the sight of this sandwich causes me to drool uncontrollably and moan inappropriately. This baby has sliced ribeye, pickled serranos, tomatoes, chipotle aioli, and pepper jack on a jalapeno cheddar bread.
I loved every single thing about this sandwich. The spicy kick, the tender beef, the bread, and the juiciness of the sandwich is just unparalleled. Without a doubt, this is the single best hot sandwich I’ve ever had. I’m thinking about getting a medic alert bracelet and instead of medical info, I’m listing The Ribeye Sandwich at the Snack Shack as my critical medication. For real, look at the picture and tell me you could resist.
Robyn decided that since the Pork Burger was so fantastic, she’d try the Shack Burger from the regular menu.
Different burger, similar result.
This one had bacon jam, white cheddar, butter lettuce, and that delicious shack aioli. This is starting to be a running theme, but this would also make our list of best burgers. Possibly even #2, right after the pork burger.
Despite all that meat, Robyn still wanted chocolate. I wouldn’t have thought that a place specializing in pork products would have had any desserts (let alone anything good), but when Robyn saw Chocolate Pot de Creme on the menu, she had to try it. Rich and creamy, with a nice crunch from the bacon brittle on top, even I had to admit this was pretty darn good… and I’m not a dessert guy.
We typically suss out the best comfort food a city has to offer whenever we go on a holiday, but I have to say that for me the Carnitas Snack Shack has jumped straight to the top of my list. Almost 2 weeks later I’m still completely obsessed with 4 different items from their menu. You can’t get a better recommendation than that…except to say that it was simply balls-out awesome (having your balls out at the Shack is frowned upon).
P.S. Be sure to check out the Carnitas Snack Shack website for much more professional pictures than mine to make your mouth water.
We’re always up for a great burger, so when we got suggestions from from San Diego locals to check out Burger Lounge, we couldn’t resist.
The look and feel of The Burger Lounge reminded us a lot of Clive Burger in Calgary. Fittingly, just as the Custard Shakes at Clive caught Robyn’s eye first, at Burger Lounge it was the Brownie Shake. This is now in my top 3 favourite shakes, along with the Chocolate Cake Shake at Portillos in Chicago, and the aforementioned custard shake at Clive Burger. I’d probably give the custard shake the nod, but all 3 are fantastic. I swear there was a half pound of chunked brownie in that shake!
We both got the Lounge Burger, which BL proudly proclaims is made with 100% single source, grass-fed beef. The Lounge Burger is topped with Organic cheddar, fresh or grilled onion, lettuce, tomato, and house made 1000 Island. It’s served medium unless requested to be cooked more. I’m generally a “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” kinda guy, but the Canadian in me just couldn’t willingly order a burger medium, so we went med-well.
You know how I gave Clive the nod on the shake? Well Burger Lounge gets my nod for the burger. The juicy, gristle-free patty was delicious, the bun was soft and the grilled onions were a nice touch.
I wish I could say I was as happy with the combination of Onion Rings and French Fries we had to accompany the burgers.
The Onion Rings were pretty much flavourless, and although the rings and fries both had some specks of green on them suggesting a herb of some sort, neither of us could distinguish any flavour from it. The saving grace for the fries was the little side of homemade bbq sauce that we used for dipping. Tasting heavily of chipotle, they gave the fries and rings a nice kick and helped us finish them off.
Although the Fries and Onion Rings were a miss for us, I could definitely foresee a late night burger and shake in our future before we come home.