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Restaurant Reviews

Destroying stereotypes

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

There is much to absorb at Kindred, a bustling plant-based restaurant and cocktail bar that pays exceptional detail to food, mixology and design.

Whatever your dietary preference, if you haven’t dropped in for at least a shrewdly crafted intoxicant to wash down a bowl of popcorn seasoned brilliantly with dill, chives and garlic-chili “cologne,” you’re about three years late — just as I was.

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Beyond coffee and muffins

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

Few cafes in San Diego are entrenched in the residential sections of the neighborhoods they call home. Mama’s Bakery & Deli on Alabama Street and El Comal on Illinois Street come to mind, although both sit a stone’s throw away from commercial thoroughfares.

Mystic Mocha takes you deeper into an area lined with houses, trees and sidewalks. It’s a colorful little place with a Bohemian feel famous for its crafty, homemade muffins and assorted coffee drinks using beans from Café Moto.

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The power of garlic

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

Two graduates of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) just took over the kitchen at Garlic Shack, a peculiar but alluring little eatery that makes no apologies for messing with your breath.

Garlic in one form or another finds its way into about 75 percent of the dishes across an American-Asian menu from which you’ll discover steamed burgers, the item that mainly led me here because of its obscurity — at least within San Diego.

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Pizzas of many stripes

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

Tribute Pizza can’t be stereotyped for specializing in only one style of pizza. The wood-fired pies beckon to everywhere — from one of the oldest establishments in Naples, Italy where the Margherita was supposedly invented to a joint in Brooklyn, New York that raised the ire of critics opposed to pineapple as a topping.

The “tributes” point to a dozen varieties and weekly specials based on co-owner Matthew Lyons’ travels around the globe and his longstanding love of the dish.

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Breakfast revelation

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

Just when I put the kibosh on waiting in long lines to score a solid breakfast on weekend mornings, Ortega’s Bistro in Hillcrest came to the rescue.

Famous for its Puerto Nuevo cuisine, especially grilled spiny lobsters, I recently spotted through profuse bougainvillea a banner out front stating breakfast is served from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. It has actually been happening for years and I regrettably never noticed.

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Meal discoveries inside a liquor store

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

Other than ducking into Fiori’s Pizza & Deli for an occasional Lotto ticket and a fast slice of pizza, I never focused much on the menu board hanging over the food counter until recently.

To my surprise, the nearly 40-year-old liquor store conceals a grill and deep-fryer in a room behind the pizza ovens, which means items such as burgers, Philly cheesesteaks, Buffalo chicken wings, fried shrimp and veal-lamb gyros are sold here.

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Wharf food on Adams Avenue

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

Take away the nearby palm trees and toss in a view of Casco Bay, and Beerfish would resemble any number of seafood eateries dotting the banks of Portland, Maine.

Or maybe not once you experience the California spins on clam toast accented with salsa verde or a lobster roll dressed in brown butter sauce instead of mayo and assembled with thick, buttery slices of toasted bread rather than the usual hot dog roll.

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Catapulted to France

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

There we were dining for the first time at Et Voila French Bistro just hours after friends touring Paris had taunted us on social media with magnificent pictures of the Eiffel Tower, as seen from their hotel balcony.

And earlier that day, my dining companion saw Disney’s adaptation of “Beauty and the Beast,” set within a fairytale French village and castle. We were in a Francophile state of mind.

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A familiar address reinvented

By Frank Sabatini Jr.

Prior to closing the cherished Tractor Room last year, restaurateur Johnny Rivera assured he would hold out for a buyer committed to “enhancing the neighborhood” before selling it.

He made good on his promise with Concept Two Seven Eight, which opened in early January with a concise menu of “new American” cuisine and a cocktail program that puts things like dragon fruit and pink guavas into your glass.

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