Food & Drink

San Diego's Best Spots for Latin American Foods (That Aren't Mexican)

Published On 12/08/2016 Published On 12/08/2016
Sirena Cocina Latina

Sirena Cocina Latina

Little Italy

Sirena Cocina Latina is led by Executive Chef Jaime Chavez who hails from Chile. His mostly seafood creations are inspired by his journeys through South America, as well as his technical training in Spain and Mexico. Extensive Latin American flavors are reflected in dishes like the red aguachile, the Peruano -- a white fish with glazed sweet potato -- and even beer-battered fish tacos for those who just can’t let go.

El Salvadoreño

Barrio Logan

A local favorite in the heart of Barrio Logan, El Salvadoreño serves up authentic Salvadorian food in a casual, family-friendly space. In operation since 1995, the restaurant serves delights for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The pupusas are not to be missed. I repeat: do not leave here without having a cheese, pork and cheese, or any of the house-made pupusas, or you will have messed up. Other fan-fare include the casamiento (mixed rice with beans) combos, carne guisada (beef stew), and platano (fried plantains) with everything.

Azucar

AzĂşcar

Ocean Beach

Looking for a taste of Cuba is easy if you head to Azúcar in Ocean Beach. Owned and operated by Vivian Hernandez-Jackson, this intimate bakery and café is a reflection of her cultural upbringing and French culinary training. Azúcar serves Cuban classics like papa rellenas (stuffed potato balls) empanadas, and pastries stuffed with guava and cheese, as well as modern additions like coconut cupcakes and a mojito cookie that’s deliciously made with mint, lime, and sugar.

Q'ero Restaurant

Q’ero Restaurant

Encinitas

This bistro is billed as a Peruvian kitchen, but the menu features flavors and inspiration from across South America. Located in Encinitas, the intimate space is adorned with indigenous images and décor inspired by the owner’s many adventures to Peru. The lomo saltado is a traditional meal of marinated flank steak with an ají sauce -- a spicy sauce utilized in many South American dishes -- and the yuca frita, fried spears of yuca root served with aioli sauce that shouldn't be missed.

Puerto La Boca

Puerto La Boca

Little Italy

Little Italy may seem like an odd location for an Argentinian steakhouse, but Puerto La Boca rocks the corner of India and Hawthorn street with its flavorful cuts of meat. A popular spot for watching the World Cup or any Argentinian soccer game, Puerto proudly reps its culture. Try the churrasco, a sirloin center cut of steak with fries a la Provencal, or one of its many traditional empanadas dipped in the chimichurri sauce, which you can buy to take home with you to daub on everything.

Andrés Restaurant

Linda Vista

When looking for Cuban dining in San Diego, AndrĂ©s is the synonymous go-to. The first Cuban and Puerto Rican restaurant to open in the city, it’s been family-owned and operated for 30 years. Sitting on Morena Boulevard in Linda Vista, the AndrĂ©s space welcomes large family parties, and even a banquet facility for rent. Traditional dishes include a ropa vieja and macitas de puerco, as well as desserts like the empanada de guayaba and the famous flan that you shouldn't leave without trying.  

Rei Do Gado Brazilian Steakhouse

Rei Do Gado Brazilian Steakhouse

Gaslamp

Located on 4th Avenue in the heart of the Gaslamp, Rei Do Gado has been serving meat-lovers since 1999. This churrascaria -- a restaurant that serves cuts of meat cooked over a grill -- uses a mesquite charcoal grill for every tender bite of lamb, pork rib, filet mignon, and more. Cuts are served table-side, while an extensive salad bar features everything from leafy green salads, to Brazilian classics like feijoada -- a black bean stew.  

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1. Sirena Latin Seafood 1901 Columbia St, San Diego, CA 92101 (Little Italy)

Sirena Cocina Latina is led by Executive Chef Jaime Chavez who hails from Chile. His mostly seafood creations are inspired by his journeys through South America, as well as his technical training in Spain and Mexico. Extensive Latin American flavors are reflected in dishes like the red aguachile, the Peruano -- a white fish with glazed sweet potato -- and even beer-battered fish tacos for those who just can’t let go.

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2. Restaurante El Salvadoreño 2845 Imperial Ave, San Diego, CA 92102 (Logan Heights)

The chef at this Salvadorian outpost on the border of Logan Heights and Grant Hill honed her pupusa preparing skills alongside her mother, who was born and raised in rural San Miguel. You can taste the authenticity that resulted in tortilla round cakes filled with pork, cheese and peppers that are served hot in trios. If you retained any of your high-school Spanish, order one of the fruit drinks (an Ensalada is a chunky medley of fruit in cashew juice) and a pile of pupusas or fried plantains before any of the main plates (essentially different arrangements of meat or fish, rice and beans). It's easy to get comfortable in the slightly dated dining room, all wood paneling, tile work and yard-sale-style still lives.

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3. Azucar 4820 Newport Ave, San Diego, CA 92107 (Ocean Beach)

Azucar, translating from Spanish to 'sugar,' brings lots of just that to Ocean Beach from within a Cuban-style patisserie that draws customers in with a tantalizing display case. The goods fuse French technique with Latin island flavors: passion fruit scones, mojito cookies and pastries stuffed with guava and cream cheese. Those looking for something con mas sal can opt for savories like cuban sandwiches and ham croquetas to cover lunchtime cravings.

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4. Q'ero Restaurant 564 S Coast Hwy 101, Encinitas, CA 92024 (Encinitas)

Inspired by the Q'ero people of the remote Peruvian Andes, known as spiritual ancestors of the Incans, this colorful Encinitas eatery aims to offer San Diego a window into a distant cuisine. Here, yuca root gets speared and fried with panca aioli; empanadas are stuffed with torn chicken with onions and spices; and typical rice and beans are blanketed in chismol salsa. As if the food wasn't enough, the chef even leads fortnight-long Peruvian food adventure tours, offering enthusiasts an even more complete understanding of the culture.

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5. Puerto La Boca 2060 India St, San Diego, CA 92101 (Little Italy)

The seductive blending of Latin American and European influences that defines Buenos Aires style and cuisine also defines Puerto La Boca, a steak-heavy retreat for those wishing to sojourn just for an evening in the "Paris of South America." It's fitting that the popular spot among steak-lovers is in San Diego's Little Italy: Italian flavors are a pillar of BA dining, and the menu reflects as much with ricotta-basil ravioli, roquefort-spiked fettuccini, and cannelloni alongside empanadas, churrasco, and chimichurri toast. The parillada grill platter could feed many, with short rib, skirt steak, sirloin, chicken breast, and blood sausage char-grilled with pinches of salt. No meal here would be complete without a couple bottles of Mendoza Malbec, and the experience is better during the weekend live music.

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6. Andres Restaurant 1235 W Morena Blvd, San Diego, CA 92110 (Mission Bay)

Andres is a lifeboat for Cuban cuisine in a region that tends to look South of the Border, rather than off the coast of Florida, for its Latin food fix. The highway-side staple is large, with tables draped in cloth and a glass-roofed atrium where you can in tuck into Cuban paella (which you'll have to request a day in advance) or the emblematic ropa vieja (shredded beef with simmered onions and peppers in a wine pan sauce). Puerto Rican flavors (the nationality of the Cuban owner's wife) pop up here and there, notably in the pollo a la plancha (a lemon-garlic chicken breast with lots of onion). Finish with a flan and a Cuban espresso, señor. You can stop into the next-door latin market should you be inspired to pick up spices to make Cuban food at home, plus authentic additions from Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Costa Rica and Venezuela.

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7. Rei Do Gado 939 4th Ave, San Diego, CA 92101

Meat, meat, and more meat is what draws diners to Rei Do Gado, which lives up to the primary expectation we place on Brazilian Steakhouses: that they provide virtually unending supplies of red meat cuts dripping with flavor. A per-person cover charge opens the door to as much as you can eat, with a seafood, salad and hot food bar to supplement all the meat (but, really, why would you even). The waiters, donning costume-y, gaucho-style kerchiefs (again, this is a Brazilian steakhouse), ferry out some twenty cuts, from bacon-wrapped filet mignon medallions and sirloin tops rubbed in garlic to poultry hearts and pork loin. Depending on when you visit the restaurant, live piano from a white baby grand, or a feather-adorned carnival showgirl dancing under Velazquez reproductions in the dining room can entertain you while you consume you body weight in steak.

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