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If You Like Popeyes, Try Surf & Soul

The tiny takeout spot celebrates the best of Black soul food on the Eastside of San Diego
Surf & Soul, fried chicken sandwich

Surf & Soul, fried chicken sandwich

There are a few things I refuse to do at home: brew beer, sear scallops, and fry chicken. The equation of time plus effort plus cost to make any of these just doesn’t shake out, especially when there are a myriad of places to get much better versions made by people who are far more skilled than me.

In the case of fried chicken, I’ll admit that I’ll venture to a Popeyes when a craving hits. But I’m always inevitably disappointed with the blandly seasoned grease bombs accompanied by sad, soggy fries and biscuits that look (and taste) as though they’ve been sitting on a shelf for a month.

Thankfully, better fried food exists. If you like Popeye’s, try Surf & Soul instead.

Surf & Soul, Black soul food

Surf & Soul, Black soul food

Opened in 2019, Surf & Soul is located on the San Diego and La Mesa city line along El Cajon Boulevard. Blink and you’ll miss it—the small storefront is takeout-only, so there are no tables or benches inside or along the sidewalk.

Often, the most obvious sign is the crowd of anxious diners lingering out front, waiting for their order to come up so they can rush home and sink their teeth into whatever the day’s offerings are. They’re already privy to the fact Surf & Soul nails the quality of home-cooked fried chicken and fixings, plus the convenience of easy ordering and pickup, without putting in any of the effort yourself.

Founder and co-owner Sarajevo Amor, along with co-owner Sergio Bailey, celebrates Black soul food tradition by offering two completely separate menus, depending on the day.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are “surf” days, where classics range from a blackened shrimp and crab roll to a fried fish sandwich, plus sides like fries, garlic toast, and of course, plenty of hot sauce. Friday and Saturday are “soul” days, with items like fried chicken wings, smoked turkey collard greens, and red beans and rice.

Sides at Surf & Soul, San Diego

Sides at Surf & Soul, San Diego

Chef Amor has a few favorites for first-timers. “On our surf days, I recommend the catfish and grits,” she says. “On soul days, I recommend a combo plate with fried pork chops with collard greens and candied yams.”

But as solid as the standard menu items consistently are, it’s Surf & Soul’s specials that really take them to the next level. Amor says anything with lobster—like their decadent lobster rolls dripping with lemon butter—tend to go fast, as do their wing specials on Wednesdays. Past wing flavors include truffle butter buffalo, honey garlic chipotle, sticky jerk seasoning, and mango habanero.

She announces weekly specials on their Instagram account and I can attest to the need to get in line early, as the specials tend to go fast.

Don’t skimp on dessert, either. Their variations of pound cake have to be sold by the slice, otherwise I’m certain whole cakes would be snapped up within seconds of opening. Compared to the dessert pies at Popeyes, Surf & Soul is a no-brainer. Yes, you have to pick up your order for takeout rather than from inside your car, but they more than make up for the lack of drive-thru with wholesome, fresh, filling food for the body and soul.

Surf & Soul is at 7229 El Cajon Boulevard, San Diego. Check out their Instagram @surfandsoulspot for weekly specials and menu updates.

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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