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The Eight Best Places to Eat on the Drive from LA to San Diego

Sometimes it’s worth taking a small detour from the freeway

Seasonal frittata from Wide Eyes Open Palms
Seasonal frittata from Wide Eyes Open Palms
Joshua Lurie

The road from LA to San Diego has plenty of variations depending on the point of departure. There are plenty of freeways to take from LA to San Diego, including the 710, 110, and 405. It’s a better idea to stick to 405 and 5, since that leads one through Little Saigon, Long Beach, and frankly, far better options. For the most part, this guide will keep close to the highway so one reaches the destination in semi-timely fashion. No need to make dinner plans upon arrival in San Diego considering how much eating will happen en route. Updated July, 2018: Big Mistas and Restaurant Marin are now closed so Wide Eyes Open Palms and Mr. Kebap are new additions.

Here’s a handy map of all the restaurants on this guide.

Long Beach: Wide Eyes Open Palms

Seasonal frittata from Wide Eyes Open Palms
Seasonal frittata from Wide Eyes Open Palms
Joshua Lurie

Wide Eyes Open Palms is a partnership between chef Kat McIver and barista Angie Evans. Their tiny space with twin counters and sidewalk tables is a located a bit further from the freeway, but is worth a minor detour. Their rotating menu has made Wide Eyes Open Palms a brunch destination. Frittatas, grain bowls, soups. Toasts and jams all shift with the seasons. Pastries like carrot banana pepita muffins keep pace. Evans clearly created one of Long Beach’s best coffee programs, brewing beans from multiple roasters and serving specialty drinks like The Schmancy, a cold brew mocktail with Angostura bitters, soda water, orange zest, and Luxardo cherry garnish. 416 Cherry Ave., Long Beach, 562.386.2031, www.wideeyesopenpalms.com

Westminster: Kim Hong Eggrolls

Egg Rolls Little Saigon
Egg rolls are the main attraction at Kim Hong
Joshua Lurie

Kim Nguyen has stuffed, rolled, and fried egg rolls on Little Saigon’s west side for the past 16 years. The current Kim Hong Eggrolls location contains just three faux wood tables and houses fridges bursting with 100-packs. Icons on a wall-mounted menu decode egg rolls, which cost $1 each, with a $10 minimum. Cha Gio Dac Biet = crab + chicken + shrimp. Cha Gio Tom Cua Canada = crab + pork + shrimp. No matter what, crisp coats with good give yield peppery fillings that also include carrot flecks and glass noodles. Dip into sweet chile sauce. Call ahead, since they fry egg rolls to order, to save time. 14115 Goldenwest St., Westminster, 714.895.0030

Fountain Valley: Mr. Kebap

Kofta from Mr. Kebap in Fountain Valley
Kofta from Mr. Kebap in Fountain Valley
Joshua Lurie

Izmir native Lora Star and husband Eric tout Mr. Kebap as “America’s best Turkish restaurant” on their website, and while it’s impossible to either dispute or support that claim, their family’s food is fantastic. Each meal starts with jajek, cooling yogurt with cucumber and spices that’s served with grilled pita. Spicy kofta features char-grilled ground beef patties folded with onion, garlic, red pepper paste, and spices, plated with buttery rice pilaf and crispy French fries. They also serve mild and mozzarella-stuffed versions. Shish kebap skewers alternate chunks of filet mignon and Turkish lamb fat, to super-savory effect. Fridays bring fried anchovies and chopped lamb intestine sandwiches. 16937 Bushard St., Fountain Valley, 714.369.2001, www.mrkebap.com

Laguna Hills: Break of Dawn

Breakfast Laguna Hills
Smoked salmon and an oatmeal galette are new school.
Joshua Lurie

Five days a week, Break of Dawn specializes in elaborate brunch dishes in in Laguna Hills. Chef-owner Dee Nguyen moved the restaurant across Oakbrook Village in 2014 and further dialed up already grand ambitions. Now composed plates include smoked salmon on a crispy oatmeal pancake with herb poached eggs, cucumber, fennel, and preserved kumquat. Looking for something on the sweet side? Consider French toast crème brûlée with Mexican chocolate and chocolate-soy caramel sauce. Track Break of Dawn’s Facebook feed for BoD pop-ups, no-holds-barred tasting dinners built around themes like “Raw,” “Pinoy Summer,” and “Joseon: The Land of Morning Calm.” 24291 Avenida De La Carlota, Laguna Hills, 949.587.9418, www.breakofdawnrestaurant.com

Encintas: Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon

Pie Encinitas
Lasso Betty’s strawberry rhubarb pie in season.
Joshua Lurie

Elizabeth Harris ran with a Wild West theme at Betty’s Pie Whole Saloon next to Sunshine Gardens Nursery in Encinitas. Pass by wagon wheels, grab a horseshoe-branded chair, and revel in a blackboard menu with over 20 savory and sweet pies. In season, lattice topped strawberry rhubarb pie is a sweet tart masterpiece. Year-round, Grandma Lucy’s chicken pie showcases juicy chicken and vegetables in light gravy beneath Parmesan herb crust that’s accented with rosemary. “Eat-yer-greens” pie arrives in a buttery crust branded with BPW, loaded with kale, spinach, mushrooms, Fontina, mozzarella, ricotta, and Parmesan cheeses. 155 Quail Gardens Dr., Encinitas, 760.230.6781, www.bettyspiewhole.com

Cardiff: VG Donut & Bakery

Donuts Cardiff By The Sea
VG’s donuts are old school, but special.
Joshua Lurie

The Mettee family has made sure that VG Donut & Bakery remains “Very Good” in a Cardiff-by-the-Sea strip mall since 1969. The aqua façade and donuts themselves are decidedly old school, which is refreshing in this era of over-the-top, Instagram-inspired monstrosities. Raised, maple-glazed rings feature great ratio and chew. Their cinnamon crumb coated caked donut is nice and soft, and judiciously sweet. Raised and glazed twists are also tantalizing, as is the gooey spiral-shaped cinnamon roll that they call a “flower.” 106 Aberdeen Dr., Cardiff, 760.753.2400, www.vgbakery.com

Solana Beach: Hide Away Café

Danish Solana Beach
Hide Away Cafe’s fruit and cream cheese Danish is shareable.
Joshua Lurie

On a side street near the Solana Beach train station, ivy-covered walls leads to a tiny patio with sea blue Tommy Bahama umbrellas and dining room with a mural depicting nearby cliffs and crashing waves. Hide Away Café debuted in 1984 and continues to dole out comfort food at breakfast and lunch. Their potato pancake is the perfect foil to bacon and eggs, with crispy shredded potato bolstered with onion, scallion, and Parmesan cheese.

House-baked breads include pumpkin, banana, apple sauce, or cranberry, and don’t get me started on the fruit and cream cheese Danish. This behemoth is served warm, with crusty edges and icing and thick edges similar to an old fashioned donut. Choose between blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, or apple. 150 S. Acaia Ave., Solana Beach, 858.755.3388, www.hideawaycafesb.com

Rancho Santa Fe: Chino Farm

Vegetables Rancho Santa Fe
Eggplant takes many forms at Chino Farm.
Joshua Lurie

If the Chino family ever decided to sell their farm, which resides amidst grand gated Rancho Santa Fe homes, they’d no doubt earn a fortune. Instead, Makoto Chino, son of current patriarch Tom and a UCLA law school grad, will take over the family business that his grandfather Junzo Chino established. Wolfgang Puck, Jonathan Waxman, and Alice Waters are longtime proponents, and luminaries still make public appearances at the farm.

The Vegetable Shop, Chino’s farm stand, grows pristine specimens of produce like strawberries and tomatoes. Also find more esoteric fruits and vegetables like star-shaped Chinese winged beans, French black turnips, and golden snow peas. Grab a healthy snack or stock up on edible souvenirs to cook upon arrival. 6123 Calzada Del Bosque, Rancho Santa Fe, 858.756.3184, www.chinofamilyfarm.com

Savory, a restaurant

220 1st Street, , WA 98260 (360) 221-7106 Visit Website

Taco Maria

3313 Hyland Avenue, , CA 92626 (714) 538-8444 Visit Website

Farm Stand

422 Main St, El Segundo, CA 90245 (310) 640-3276 Visit Website

Restaurant Marin

3321 Hyland Ave, Costa Mesa, CA 92626 (949) 402-3974 Visit Website

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