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Main Dish: September 2022

Best known as a bedroom community for both San Diego and Tijuana, Chula Vista's food scene is worth a visit in its own right
Madeline Yang

By Mario Cortez

Ichiban Sando, hero

The spicy chicken katsu at Ichiban Sando

Madeline Yang

The second-largest city in San Diego County was long considered drive-by territory on the way to and from Tijuana, though always good for a water park visit. Now, longtime locals who grew up through the food revolution are opening creative spots, and Baja cuisine has become San Diego’s lingua franca.

Bayfront improvements (a $250 million redevelopment project just got greenlit), a thriving beer scene, legal weed, and a strong sense of local pride have kicked this predominantly Mexican-American suburban border city into high gear.

The action concentrates on Third Avenue, home to beloved spots like Grindhouse (Cuban sandwiches, cold brews, craft beer) and the area’s biggest block party, Amps & Ales—which brings bands like B-Side Players and brass and cumbia musicians, plus samples of beers and wines from San Diego and Baja.

Main Street is lined with tacos and Mexican-style seafood trucks like Mariscos Y Birria El Prieto, serving both hankerings in one truck. Even far-out suburb Eastlake is turning up with decent places to eat, like Chef Budda Blasian Soul Food, which might just serve the best chicken strip in the San Diego metro. Here are five things to eat in Chula Vista right now:

Adobada at Mr. Adobada

Tacos el Gordo is still king in Chula Vista, but the lines can be punishing. Enter Mr. Adobada, a truck around the corner with a spinning trompo of—wait for it—adobada and grilled taco meats. While the namesake steals the show, the asada is worth a try, too.

Sando at Ichiban Sando

Nashville hot chicken sandwich fatigue is real. Ichiban’s spicy chicken katsu sando is a welcome twist that stacks a panko-crusted breast slathered with a house chili sauce, slaw, and jalapeños between thick, house-baked Japanese milk toast. There’s also pretty good milk tea boba to sip on.

Fish Tacos at TJ Oyster Bar

Chula Vista is stacked when it comes to mariscos options, but TJ Oyster Bar’s Baja-style fish tacos taste especially divinated: perfectly battered, perfectly fried, and perfectly paired with a michelada. Tack on a side of the tuna fries and venture into the unreal.

Chilaquiles at Talavera Azul

The Curiel family recipe for chilaquiles keeps locals coming back to this Third Avenue institution. Crispy tortillas get tossed in your choice of two sauces: chipotle, red, green, poblano cream, mole, or divorciados. Protein add-ons include shredded chicken, machaca, avocado, chorizo, chicken breast, or arrachera (skirt steak).

Pho-Men at Izakaya Naruto

Find a very South Bay meeting of Asian and Mexican flavors at this strip mall Japanese kitchen. The “Chula Vista Pho-Men” is a mashup of chicken broth, cha-shu chicken, and rice noodles, all with a nice cross-border accent coming from cilantro, jalapeno, and lime.

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