|One of the most exciting and sophisticated metropolitan regions in the country, San Diego is a colorful tapestry of rich ethnic and cultural diversity. Set along the Mexican border at the southernmost tip of California, San Diego is home to a multiethnic population, represented by ancestry from Central and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Pacific Island nations.
San Diego is composed of more than 100 colorful and unique neighborhoods, each with a style and personality of their own. However, it is the ethnic neighborhoods where visitors can discover unique dining, cultural, nightlife and shopping offerings in the city.
The following are San Diego’s five most popular and colorful ethnic neighborhoods.
Originally a refuge for Mexican residents fleeing the revolution in the early 20th century, Barrio Logan today is both the epicenter of San Diego’s Hispanic community and a welcoming neighborhood where young urbanites and artists are spurring a creative renaissance.
- Diners and food aficionados flock to Barrio Logan for authentic Mexican food made from old family recipes. San Diego’s freshest handmade tortillas can be found at Las Cuatro Milpas, an unassuming eatery known for having some of the city’s best Mexican food with lines of hungry patrons usually extending around the block. Salud! By San Diego Taco Company serves up authentic Mexican food, specializing in award-winning tacos. Locals also pack Panchita’s Bakeryfor their Mexican pastries baked fresh daily, including pumpkin empanadas and bolillos stuffed with jalapeno and cheese.
- The Chicano Art Gallery brings life, beauty, art and culture to the Chicano community through many different varieties of art forms, including poetry and the spoken word, photography and other visual arts, and musical performances. Barrio Logan’s diverse art galleries host a regular Barrio Art Crawl on the second Saturday of every month. The Barrio Art Crawl is a free, self-guided tour that showcases the area’s dynamic art scene, with the neighborhood’s galleries, studios and business owners hosting independent events throughout the day (start times vary), from artist talks to intimate concerts.
- In the early 1970s, the Hispanic community of Barrio Logan established Chicano Park beneath the San Diego-Coronado Bridge overpass, as part of a community empowerment effort. Representative of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, Chicano Park has become a cultural and recreational gathering place for San Diego’s Chicano community and is the location of the Chicano Park Monumental Murals, an exceptional assemblage of master mural artwork painted on the freeway bridge supports. Chicano Park is home of the largest collection of outdoor murals in the country and was recently designated a National Historic Landmark.
- Every April, the local Hispanic community celebrates its rich and colorful heritage during the Chicano Park Day Celebration with traditional music and dance performances, food, a classic lowrider car show and more.
Located northeast of downtown and previously known as East San Diego, City Heights is celebrated for its ethnic diversity. Along the colorful neighborhood’s main streets, University Avenue, El Cajon Boulevard and Fairmont Avenue, visitors can find Hispanic, Northeast African, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian immigrant businesses and residents working and living together in harmony.
- Diverse ethnic eateries and markets can be found throughout City Heights with foods from all corners of the world, including Vietnamese, Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Somalian, Ethiopian and Middle Eastern culinary traditions. Awash Ethiopian Restaurant and Market is one of many popular Ethiopian eateries in the area, while the shelves of the Mid East Market are filled with imported canned and dry goods from the Middle East, India and Africa. El Borrego Restaurant serves authentic Mexican food with many vegetarian specialties, while El Salvador Pupuseria Y Restaurtante is known for their famous, mouthwatering pupusas.
- The six-block stretch of El Cajon Boulevard from Highland to Euclid avenues is called Little Saigon and chock-full of Vietnamese and other Asian restaurants with delectable dishes to discover. Saigon Restaurant offers a vast menu of Vietnamese and Chinese dishes, while Pho Hoa has been serving great tasting pho for nearly 40 years. Minh Ky Chinese Restaurant is a local standout noted for its delicious daily specials like shrimp with black bean sauce and kung pao beef, all at very inexpensive prices.
Centrally located and just a short drive from downtown, Kearny Mesa is home of the Convoy District, the heart of San Diego’s Asian community. Convoy is unique in the number of diverse businesses owned and representative of different Asian cultures including Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese and Thai.
- Convoy Street is lined with an almost endless number of Asian restaurants, which can be intimating for newcomers upon first arrival. Local favorites include the traditional Jasmine Seafood Restaurant, popular for dim sum, and the Dumpling Inn & Shanghai Saloon, serving fine Northern Chinese meals. Rakiraki Ramen & Tsukemen is a trendy eatery with a vast menu, from sushi rolls and rice bowls to Japanese curry and a large variety of ramen with chicken, pork and miso broth made with more than 20 herbs and species imported from Japan. At the Taegukgi Korean BBQ House, guests indulge in kalbi (beef ribs) and spicy pork belly to their heart’s desire at this all-you-can-eat spot where they grill their own meat right at the table.
- Popular Asian markets and retail shops in the Convoy District provide visitors an opportunity to mingle with locals as well as shop for unique services and specialty items. Zion Market is a sprawling Asian shopping center and fun spot to shop for imported snacks and sushi-grade fish or grab a bite at one of its on-site eateries. At the Happy Buddha Foot Reflexology Spa, guests can enjoy a relaxing foot massage at an affordable price, while The Face Shop is popular for guests seeking Korean makeup and skin care products.
Once home to San Diego’s flourishing tuna fishing industry and generations of Italian families who made their living on the sea, Little Italy in downtown San Diego is a quaint and lively neighborhood filled with outdoor patio cafes, restaurants, pubs, art galleries, boutique shops and the beautiful Amici Park.
- India Street, Little Italy’s main thoroughfare, is lined with restaurants featuring the neighborhood’s namesake cuisine. Bencotto Italian Kitchen takes a modern approach to classic Italian home-style dishes, while longtime local favorite Filippi’s Pizza Grotto features an old-fashioned Italian-American dining experience along with a busy delicatessen and market.
- Along Fir Street, a number of colorful cottages house boutiques that offer ultra-stylish clothing, accessories and shoes, while along India Street, shoppers can find a diverse selection of art galleries and design stores. Held every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., the Little Italy Mercato is part farmers market, part food festival and part street fair. The market has everything from fresh produce and seafood to organic beauty products and local artwork to purchase.
- Little Italy is host to a number of annual cultural celebrations and festivities including the Annual Little Italy Festa in October which transforms the streets of Little Italy into a traditional street festival with music, food, dance, culture and the colorful Chalk La Strada, a classic Italian street painting exhibit with chalk. In April, ArtWalk San Diego combines live entertainment and a wide variety of art on display in local venues, studios, galleries and businesses.
With a history dating back to the early 1900s through late 1940s when large waves of Filipinos came to the area to work on local farms and U.S. Navy bases, San Diego is currently home to one of the largest Filipino-American populations in the nation. The inland neighborhood of Mira Mesa is even referred to as “Manila Mesa” for its large Filipino community.
- Mira Mesa is the culinary sweet spot where diners can find some of the best examples of authentic Filipino food outside of Manila. Popular restaurants include Manila Sunset Grille, a cafeteria-style eatery known for its old-fashioned home cooking, and Nanay’s Best BBQ, an intimate, family owned restaurant serving delicious Filipino, American, Asian and Indian cuisine. Manila Fastfood and Desserts has been serving authentic Filipino cuisine for more than 15 years, while the Red Ribbon Bakeshop is known for their delicious desserts like the ube overload cake, butter and cheesy mamons, and mango halo-halo.
- The Mira Mesa Farmer’s Market takes place 3-7 p.m. every Tuesday in the parking lot of Mira Mesa High School. Appealing to a vibrant Asian community, the farmer’s market is the go-to place for some Asian staples that are hard to procure at mainstream American supermarkets like jackfruit, balut and sea urchin. The farmer’s market also offers more traditional items like fresh local produce and seafood along with international specialty items like Moroccan hummus and delicious Japanese dumplings.
Happiness is calling in San Diego. For more information on San Diego’s offerings, including exciting vacation packages and valuable coupons for attractions, restaurants and more, visit the San Diego Tourism Authority’s website at www.sandiego.org.
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