We love to attend Taste Of events throughout San Diego, with a little group of our friends, and those friends’ friends and plus-ones. One of our favorite events is Taste of Adams Ave, so in the past we haven’t attended Taste of Gaslamp, as it is always held the week prior. This year we decided to go hard-core and attend both! Our small OG friend group attended today’s Taste of Gaslamp, and next week a large group will attend Taste of Adams Avenue, so expect another recap next week.
There are only a few bloggers in San Diego who write regular recaps from Taste Of Events, so although my photos are quickly and awkwardly snapped in mostly-bad lighting while pushing a stroller and carrying a sleeping human on my back in an Ergo, I thought I would post some of our favorite stops. I also posted these photos on my Instagram for local eats, @grannywordsmithapples , so be sure to follow me there as well.
Taste of Gaslamp Quarter is held the 3rd Saturday in June (the 16th this year), and this year was the 24th Annual feast. Tickets were $35 for General Admission ($45 day of, but tickets were sold out by this morning), and we elected not to purchase an extra VIP package which offered more drinks, an after-party, and six additional larger-portion supplementary tastings. Tasting began at 1:00 PM and went until 4:00 PM, which was plenty of time to visit most of the restaurants. Parking was held a block away, at 6th & Parkade in one of our favorite parking structures downtown, and was an easy in and out; we ended up paying only $4 to park for the whole event ($1/hour) and they had plenty of staff onsite to help with check-in, which went quickly and smoothly.
The Taste of Gaslamp seemed well-organized and the restaurants were all ready to go at the start of the event (we’ve encountered otherwise at some other Taste of Events). We rarely experienced stalls in the lines or had to wait for restaurants to make new batches of food.
Tickets came with tickets for 5, 5-ounce pours of beer, but the drinkers in our group were disappointed that the Beer Garden completely ran out of three of the five complimentary beer types by 2:30 pm (the event started at 1 PM), and then temporarily ran out of even the available beers, although the beer garden did ultimately offer them tequila shots to help make up for it.
We didn’t quite make it to every stop, but we hit 23 of the 26 locations – which was a valiant effort – and we were generally pleased with all of the offerings by restaurants. (We really enjoyed the event and we will definitely be back; I really enjoyed that the organizers published a menu the night before, which was something I hadn’t seen before at other Taste Of events in San Diego, and really was a nice touch!
Taste: Smoky pulled pork with just the right amount of faintly sweet bbq sauce, topped with coleslaw with a light, fresh dressing. The meat was tender, juicy, and hot: a great bite.
Taste: House-made chili, topped with scallions, sour cream, and crushed Fritos chips. The meats were house-smoked and the chili was super flavorful; a friend in our group commented that although she usually is not a fan of chili, she really liked it. The restaurant ambiance was bright and the staff were super friendly and engaging.
Taste: A slice of pizza (Cheese, Buffalo Chicken, and Supreme). This was one of my favorite bites of the day. The buffalo chicken had a fantastic crust, just the right amount of spice, and was very flavorful. I’ve always driven by Circo’s, but haven’t stopped; I will definitely be back. San Diego can be an overwhelming food scene, and I think that overall one of my favorite things about the Taste Of events is that they’ve introduced me to numerous places, especially small places, I never would have thought to try otherwise. (It’s worth noting that they gave really generous samples — I’ve been to other Taste Of events where pizza places gave a 2″ square of pizza, and ain’t nobody got time for that. With pizza this good, it was great to have more than a bite.)
Taste: Ceviche, papa rellena (stuffed potatoes), and arroz con marsicos (chicken and rice dish). There were three tastes at this stop, and although the staff graciously offered that guests were welcomed to try one of each, we decided to limit ourselves by each selecting something different. I had the chicken and rice dish, which seemed to be a fusion take on fried rice, as it included veggies, rice, chicken, and scrambled eggs. It was a generous serving and the rice was flavorful. My husband said that the potato dish was served cold, which was unique and interesting.
(Don’t mind the fork mark — The Mister didn’t realize I wanted to snap a photo of his sample!)
It was a real blast from the past to walk into a Melting Pot; I hadn’t been to a Melting Pot for ten years, and it was just as I remembered it. I’m avoiding sugar so I didn’t partake at this stop, but everyone else seemed to enjoy the strawberries with chocolate, cheesecake cubes, and marshmallows dusted in graham crackers. The plate put me in mind of a deconstructed s’more.
It was a bit of a maze to get to the eating area at Analog Bar, but the brussels sprouts they served, with balsamic glaze and bacon, were truly delicious. They were also cooked perfectly, and one of my top-five bites throughout the day.
Gaslamp Fish House (formerly Spike Africa)
Taste: Fried Calamari with sweet chili sauce; salted butterscotch pudding. I am not usually a fan of calamari, but it was nice and not chewy or rubber-band-ey, and I was pleasantly surprised. The serving of pudding was so generous that those in our party who aren’t avoiding sweets, couldn’t finish the whole portion, but they said it was nice.
Taste: Jambalaya, Mac and Cheese. This photo cracks me up, because I was taking a photo of the jambalaya as held by a friend, while my husband reached in front of the camera for his mac and cheese. She said the jambalaya was great, and the restaurant seemed to have a nice menu and an open, fresh format (some folks in our party said they would like to go back, just based on the vibes); I think the mac and cheese unfortunately suffered from a surprisingly (and delightfully!) chilly Saturday, as it wasn’t quite hot, and I am partial to piping-hot mac.
Taste: Chicken & Waffles Bits. This was one of the more unique bites of the day; served in a cup, it had cubed waffles, tiny salty fried chicken bites, bacon, and just the lightest drizzling of maple syrup. It was really good! (Worth noting: they had live music starting at 2:00 PM, definitely a perk!)
Taste: Citrus Braised Carnitas Tacos with avocado-lime crema, pickled onions and cotija cheese with micro-greens. This taco was definitely a winner. I loved the flavors, and the tacos were assembled freshly in front of us, which I thought was a really nice touch. I have never been to Whiskey Girl before, and probably wouldn’t have considered going in, but the tacos made me want to go back. The staff was so friendly, and even the security guard, who re-carded everyone before they went in, joked and made the waiting/line process better.
Taste: Sesame Crusted Ahi Tostadas with Hoisin Aioli, pickled ginger, sweet soy, and micro cilantro. Our party liked these little bites, and they were one of the more sophisticated bites of the day. The staff seemed to really put care into the assembly of each.
Taste: Crispy Rock Shrimp: lightly breaded with sweet aji amarillo chili sauce. I had never heard of American Junkie before, and I just loved the interior of the restaurant! I’m glad that Taste of Gaslamp Quarter introduced me to the restaurant, and it seemed to have such a cool vibe. I’m sure we will be back! The shrimp was a nice little bite, and the shrimp was tender and well-cooked; the sauce had just the right amount of sweetness and spice.
Taste: Chef Carlos’ Fish Tacos – lightly fried Alaskan cod in warm flour tortilla with shredded romaine lettuce, avocado, pico, and yogurt lime sauce. I am a sucker for fish tacos, and this one was generously-sized, with toppings that really complimented the cod. They even included little lime slices on the side – which our daughter loved.
Taste: House made tuna salad on a bagel crostini with fresh avocado, lemon, jalapeno and micro cilantro. We’ve been to Barleymash a number of times, because they have the best Mac and Cheese I’ve had around San Diego. (Seriously, you need to order the Brussels Heaven mac they serve, piled with fried brussels sprouts, balsamic jeager glaze, and crispy bacon.) We had no idea that they had a downstairs area, where they had a live musician just for this event – a nice surprise – and an extra tasting of Golden Ale by Ballast Point, served in the world’s tiniest Red Solo Cup. Our group thought the bite was fresh and a departure from what we have previously enjoyed at Barleymash.
Taste: Fish n Chips with house caper tarter sauce. Little Love really enjoyed the French fries, and the breading on the fish was more of a panko-based crust (vs. a beer batter), and was interesting. I despise mayonnaise with my whole soul so I didn’t partake in the tartar sauce, but my daughter kept hollering, “Dip, dip!” so I’m pretty sure she thought it was great.
Taste: Corned Beef Mac & Cheese. We had several subpar mac and cheeses at Taste of Gaslamp Quarter, but this one was decent – after just a sprinkle of salt we snagged from a nearby table, it was flavorful and good. The Mister loved the atmosphere and remarked about the ambiance and Irish feel – he would love to go back and sample the rest of the menu!
Taste: Media Noche Cuban Sandwich: slow roasted pork, ham, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard on a sweet roll. This little bite was so amazing, and I gobbled up the sandwich so quickly that I forgot to take a photo, so I went back for a photo of the whole display. Everyone around us seemed to enjoy the Cuban sandwich as much as we did – seemed like a crowd favorite!
Cold Beers & Cheeseburgers
Taste: Mac and cheese. Note: this location was also supposed to offer sliders, but when we arrived at around 3pm, they were only serving mac and cheese. I wanted to like it, but it was, “meh,” at best, and none of our party made it through their sample. The mac may have suffered from cooler temps outside, but it did pretty legitimately taste of just coolish noodles and Velveeta.
Taste: Crawfish Beignets. I expected to like these, and I did. They had just a hint of sweetness that complimented the crawfish nicely, and a dipping sauce. They were seasoned strongly in the best way, and although not deliciously piping hot, they were inoffensively warm, and I thought the bite was perfect and made me wanting more, even though this was one of the last stops we made and we were already stuffed.
Taste: Paella Valenciana: mussels, clams, calamari, shrimp, prawns, chicken, and grilled sausage. Tortilla Espanola: potato tart, garlic and goat cheese. Datiles Rellenos: medjool dates, cabrales blue cheese and applewood smoked bacon. Tasters had three options, and we all chose the dates because they looked so fantastic. I think it was late in the day, because the dates we got were missing blue cheese, and really suffered for it. The tastes would have been perfectly balanced if the blue cheese was present, but unfortunately without a filling, they just felt really rich and sweet.
When we visited after 3:00 pm (the event started at 1:00 PM), the Burger Lounge had run out of its featured sample (grass fed beef sliders) but they were offering house fries. As a joke, someone in our party said, “What, you guys are giving us fries but there’s no ranch dressing?!” Another person in the party added that she likes mustard with her fries. Although the comments were totally in jest, the restaurant staff immediately rustled up ranch and mustard samples for our friends! It was such a nice touch, and so even though we didn’t get sliders, the customer service really made the fries all that much better! (pc: @hannah_moenyan).
Taste: Meatball Sandwiches. Note: the published menu said that this location would be offering, “Awesome Fries,” which I was looking forward to, but we were served Meatball Sandwiches. The tasting was up a flight of steep stairs, through a dark hallway and into a large, vastly empty upstairs carpeted area which gave me a bit of a Stranger Danger feel, but the meatball sandwiches were fine, and the bread-to-meat ratio was okay.
Taste: Cochinita Pibil Boroles I really enjoyed this bite (and as a side note, the place offered a vegetarian version of the dish, which was nice) but several folks in our party were a bit skeeved out by food being set out on a platter without tongs, as people were all grabbing it with their fingers. I am not a germophobe and the food looked so beautiful that I didn’t really care if it had been lightly brushed by someone’s fingertips as they were reaching for a nearby bite. It was a corn sope with slow-roasted pork and toppings; quite good.
Taste: Chicken Souvlaki (kabob) tzatziki sauce and pita bread. Our party got the last tastes offered by Meze before they ran out of food, and it was also our last bite of the day. The tzatziki sauce was tart and sour in a good way, and had a lot of dill, which was a highlight. The staff also poured generous cups of icy cold water and offered them to us with our food, which was refreshing. The staff seemed especially friendly, even at the end of a very long day, which made a good impression on me.
Overall, a great Taste of Gaslamp Quarter, and I think we will be back next year! The weather was just perfect, and if the beer garden situation had worked itself out better, I think the event really would have been perfectly executed. Since I was in exile from the Beer Garden due to the tiny human on my back, I asked my good friend @hannah_moenyan to send over a few of the photos she took at the Beer Garden, and she graciously agreed that I could include them in this post:
We had a great time, and the lines were never more than five minutes long – and more like 1-2 minutes, most places, which made it feel relaxed and easy to carry on conversations with friends.
Be sure to check back next week for my recap of Taste of Adams Ave, upcoming on June 24! It will be a guest post with my good friend, @journeyscript.