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Where Chef Socheath Sun Eats, Shops, & Plays

The name behind the Pan-Asian pop-up Angkorian Pikestaff shares her short list of San Diego haunts
Socheath Sun

Socheath Sun

In 2022, Socheath Sun was named “the best chef in San Diego you haven’t heard of—yet” in San Diego Mag’s Best of SD list. Hopefully by now, you’ve heard of her, or better yet, eaten at Angkorian Pikestaff, her pop-up inside National City food hall Market on 8th behind the Cafe Indonesia counter every Monday and Tuesday. Slinging traditional as well as inventive takes on Southeast Asian cuisine, Sun rewrites the menu every week in a never-ending, always delicious, totally underrated chase for hardcore San Diego foodies. With culinary flair like Sun’s comes high standards, for both herself and where she recommends. “I’m such a creature of habit,” she says, explaining she’s pretty selective of where she chooses to spend her time and money. She says her picks are tried-and-true—friends and colleagues who have earned her respect. “I like what I like, [and] I know what I don’t,” she promises. Here are a few picks with her stamp of approval (in her own words). 

Szechuan Chef

Szechuan Chef

Courtesy of Szechuan Chef

Szechuan Chef

Szechuan Chef is my favorite Szechuan restaurant in San Diego, if not my favorite restaurant all around. It might be intimidating with like 150 items. Everything on the menu is eclectic, but authentic to its region. No matter what you get, it’s gonna be fire. My go-to is their Triple Delight stew with fried pork—there’s literally every kind of protein, and the broth is subtle with hints of Szechuan peppercorn. Add their house made chili oil and get flavor blasted. Other recommendations: fish filet with tofu in garlic sauce, soft fish filet with saucy garlic brown sauce, or Szechuan special pork hock (a whole-ass ham hock braised to perfection), stir-fried Taiwanese lettuce, or beef wraps and dumplings are great choices. 4344 Convoy Street #F, Convoy District 

Pho Van

A true treasure. Pho Van is consistently good for pho. My secret to great pho eating is ordering a #12 [pho tái chín, or pho with rare steak and well-done brisket], making sure to ask for rare steak on the side. Then, dress the rare steak with limes, fish sauce, and absurd amounts of coarse black pepper before dunking them into the hot broth. IYKYK, pho lovers. 4233 El Cajon Blvd., City Heights (another location is in Santee) 

Esquina Wine Club

Esquina Wine Club

Courtesy of Esquina Wine Club

Esquina Wine Shop

This online wine purveyor service provided by Heidi Greenwood, Esquina Wine Shop, has some of the best selection of all natural wines in San Diego. Esquina is focused on sustainable wine in cool alternative formats, they are hyper-focused on giving back to the local community, and work regularly with nonprofits doing good work for our community. 

Spicy City

Another Szechuan go-to. Spicy City‘s food is fast and delicious. Everything looks spicy as hell—hence the name—but absolutely cooked flawlessly. I recommend ordering spicy sour cabbage, the sizzling beef plate, deep fried chicken cubes with hot peppers, and braised pork with pancakes. (Beth’s note: We actually argued about the merits of her favorite Spicy City versus my favorite Spicy House. Is a Sichuan eat-off in our near future? I can only hope.) 4690 Convoy Street Suite #107, Convoy District 

Electric Tiger Tattoo

Electric Tiger shop owner Arnie Santos and crew are the most low-key coolest tattoo shop in San Diego. All of the artists have their own specialty, but their range, versatility, and humbleness makes them my top shop for ink work, hands down. 4107 Park Blvd., University Heights 

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Lucky Sanh

Lucky Sanh is the only restaurant doing bonafide authentic Cambodian food—like foods only your momma makes. She’s keeping flavors and old school traditional Khmer food alive here in San Diego. Somnang started her business at the Aztec Food Hub a while back, but recently relocated to a micro home-based kitchen. You can order on Instagram and pick up five days a week. My favorite things to order are crispy ginger fish, Cambodian sour rice sausages, and lemongrass beef sticks. All of it is good. Spring Valley (DM for order and pickup details) 

Astra Bakehouse

Barbara Durazo is the vegan cake queen. Her cakes are some of the best cakes I’ve eaten—and I don’t do desserts. Astra Bakehouse operates out of a tiny kitchen in her home and bangs out some of the most beautiful, delicious gluten-free vegan cakes I’ve ever seen or eaten. Del Mar (DM for order and pickup details) 

Jomaru Korean Hot Pot

Jomaru Korean Hot Pot is a popular Korean stew chain with comforting hot pork bone soup. I just love the simplicity of this place. If you’re in the mood for no bullshit, straightforward, sexy, hearty soup, this is the place. My recommendations: gam-ja-tang [spicy pork bone soup in hot pot] with ramen with an egg add-on and a side of cheesy rice that comes on a sizzling plate they mix for you on-site after you finish your meal. 4681 Convoy Street, Suite D, Convoy District 

Diamond Palace

Diamond Palace

Courtesy of Diamond Palace

Diamond Palace

Diamond Palace is a new dim sum spot in El Cerrito that was built to cater weddings and parties, but what sets them apart from all the other dim sum spots is that it’s actually really good. Their servers are friendly with witty jokes and playful attitudes. They have all the dim sum bangers, along with my favorite items, like Chinese donut rice rolls, salt and pepper pork chops, beef chow mein, and sautéed snow pea leaves. 3993 54th Street, between Redwood Village and El Cerrito 

Avian Fresh Drinking Water

An unassuming spot in a Linda Vista strip mall. Avian Fresh Drinking Water is disguised as a purified water vending spot, but they’re making some really good wholesome bánh mìs [traditional Vietnamese sandwiches]. Their bread is crispy and airy, the meat is seasoned nicely—and make sure you ask for extra pickles. I like to do bánh mì đặc biệt [the house special], bánh mì bò nướng [grilled beef], and bánh mì nem nướng [grilled pork loaf]. 6937 Linda Vista Road, Suite C, Linda Vista 

Sang Dao

Talk about Lao food. Some of the newer spots popping up are quite disappointing, but Sang Dao stays tried and true. They’ve been around for over a decade now. I’ve been eating here since I moved to San Diego 16 years ago and still it never fails me. They do Thai and Lao food, but I like to stick to the Lao menu because they do it right. My go-to order is khao piak sen (chicken noodle soup with handmade noodles), nam khao (crispy rice salad), Lao sausage, papaya salad (ordered “Lao hot”), and red curry with mock duck. 5421 El Cajon Blvd., El Cerrito 

Thanh Tinh Chay

I’ve been going to Thanh Tinh Chay since everything on the menu was $5! The food is still consistently good—despite the changes in price—the service is always great, and since then they’ve added 30 new menu items. My favorite thing I get is the hu tieu (Cambodian-style noodles) with mock meats and a well-curated flavorful stock that takes hours and hours to develop with no flavor enhancers or MSG. I’m guessing what they use to make the stock includes daikon, apples, mushrooms, and cabbage. It’s worth the price you’re paying, and all of their rolls are tasty and good to share. (Beth’s note: Chef Phillip Esteban also picked Thanh Tinh Chay as one of his favorites, so now there’s no excuse. Drop what you’re doing and head over now!)4591 El Cajon Blvd., Little Saigon in City Heights 

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Winylclub Wednesdays

The Winylclub Wednesdays meetup happens every week in Balboa Park, where people gather to bathe in the sun while sipping wine and listening to dope tracks spun by local DJs. It’s a great activity to do and enjoy what Balboa Park has to offer. Wednesdays at Balboa Park 

Kyoto Gift & Food

My old friend Jeff Roberto from Sushi on a Roll is the owner and founder of Kyoto Gift & Food Japanese market, which offers hand-selected import goods from Japan. It’s literally the only Japanese market outside of Convoy (it’s located in National City) to get specialized Japanese products. 1727 Sweetwater Road, National City

By Beth Demmon

Beth Demmon is an award-winning writer and podcaster whose work regularly appears in national outlets and San Diego Magazine. Her first book, The Beer Lover's Guide to Cider, is now available. Find out more on

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