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Okay. Fine. San Diego’s a Brunch Town

Our publisher and food critic, Troy Johnson, gives the final word on breakfast vs. brunch

For years, one of my core religious beliefs was that San Diego was not a brunch town.

We are sun hoarders. With an average of 266 days of pure, uncut UV a year, we don’t waste it dawdling over fancy eggs. We want to surf, hike, bike, skate, play sportsball, or just sit on some drought-resistant landscaping somewhere and marvel at the prohibitive cost of housing. So we “power down” granola in our activewear, and our acai bowls ride shotgun. Sure, on a big day we’ll find ourselves a carving station, or go bottomless mimosas at our local place. But we are properly, I long argued, an efficient breakfast town.

And now I am wrong. Brunch has become a religion of its own in San Diego. I think there are a few reasons for this.

First, very few young cooks go to culinary school with the dream of becoming a pancake chef. The “show”—the realm of ornate parties and food art and Fantasia-like cocktails—has always been dinner. But as more and more talented chefs came to San Diego, the dinner scene became crowded. So some pivoted to the morning shift, creating lavish shakshouka or Japanese soufflé pancakes or charcoal waffles. Throw in the fact that locals expend most of their energy during the day and call it a night at precisely 10 p.m., and brunch makes even more sense.

Second, most good restaurants depend on alcohol sales to survive. That’s why they’ve historically done dinner, to serve those of us who’ve entered the martini stage of our daily life goals. But something happened during the pandemic. Namely, day drinking went from naughty dalliance to “yep.” And brunch is the realm for phrases like “I’ll have the breakfast old-fashioned.”

Third, over the last decade or so, San Diego restaurants tore down walls, removed entire roofs, went overboard with the alfresco. Every surface separating guests from our famous climate was either rolled-up or rubbled. Then the pandemic gave every restaurant a patio (which are, awesomely, here to stay, per city government). So brunch in San Diego is officially an outdoor activity.

Finally, brunch is a hell of a good time. It is breakfast with all the cowbell. It turns the part of our day most associated with mundanity— the laundry hours, the jogging hours, the “sorry for the delay in responding to your email” hours—and pops the cork over Broadway eggs.

Serea Coastal Cuisine

By Troy Johnson

Troy Johnson is the magazine’s award-winning food writer and humorist, and a long-standing expert on Food Network. His work has been featured on NatGeo, Travel Channel, NPR, and in Food Matters, a textbook of the best American food writing.

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