Soon after brunch became a national obsession, it became the meal we loved to hate. Brunch is big and it’s bold—breakfast’s obscene, over-the-top cousin. Food critics, mostly, hate brunch. Anthony Bourdain railed against the meal in Kitchen Confidential, revealing that chefs would repurpose leftovers, top it with a couple of eggs and bacteria-laden hollandaise and overcharge eager customers.

But, brunch isn’t meant for food critics, it's meant for friends. Brunch is a judgment-free zone where you can eat dessert for breakfast in public, head held high. There isn’t anything wrong with devouring a plate of tiramisu pancakes bigger than your floppy hat. A Bloody Mary isn't less delicious just because it's garnished with fried chicken, lobster claws, or grilled cheese sandwiches. Moët at 10am is just as satisfying out of a Champagne vending machine, maybe more. And we can all agree that the slow-motion pour of real maple syrup could inspire its own sonnet.

Since some restaurants shorten your life span with grandiose portion sizes and dishes that are more Instagrammable than edible, you shouldn’t judge a brunch by its cover. Instead, look for thoughtful brunch spots that feature seasonal ingredients, local sourcing, sunny patios, and fresh ideas, like these San Diego spots

Serẽa for a Sustainable, Seaside Brunch

The brunch menu features locally sourced fruit, vegetables, and herbs.

Serẽa at the Hotel Del Coronado has a bright and buzzing patio with spectacular beach views. While the dinner menu focuses on sustainable seafood, the brunch menu features locally sourced fruit, vegetables, and herbs incorporated into lighter takes on brunch favorites.

What to Eat

For an elevated take on a smoked salmon everything bagel, Chef Torres switched out the cream cheese for burrata and deconstructed the breakfast sandwich into a board, loaded with sumac onion, Persian cucumber, and herb salad.

Chef D’ Cuisine Tony Torres points to the Roasted Vegetable and Ricotta Omelet as a seasonal favorite since it allows him to highlight summer squash from Tutti Frutti Farms along with eggplant, Fromage blanc, and pesto. The Socal Benedict offers a gluten-free spin with griddled heirloom tomatoes from Tamai Family Farms instead of an English muffin. For an elevated take on a smoked salmon everything bagel, Chef Torres switched out the cream cheese for burrata and deconstructed the breakfast sandwich into a board, loaded with sumac onion, Persian cucumber, and herb salad. For a sweet start, share the Cinnamon and Sugar Cruffin, the love child of a croissant and a muffin, served with house-made jam and honey butter.

What to Drink

One way to break the day.

For a refreshing start to the morning, try the Daybreak with Casamigos Reposado tequila, Cointreau, rosé, guava, citrus, and mixed berries.

You & Yours Distilling Co. for Spirited Small Plates

The Verde Mary.

You & Yours Distilling Co.'s weekend brunch (Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 3 pm) centers around small plates that complement original craft cocktails. While small plates are not common for brunch, they are a great way to try several different items with distinct flavor profiles. With a limited menu of only five dishes, You & Yours might not be the right choice for picky eaters who are looking for a traditional brunch menu, but each plate is a thoughtful addition. Not only do dishes often incorporate the Y&Y spirits, their zero-waste cocktail program intentionally repeats ingredients between their cocktails and the kitchen to maximize utilization.

What to Eat

With such an abbreviated menu, you can’t go wrong with any of the brunch dishes. Try the Brûléed Grapefruit with Greek yogurt, honey, and maple pecan granola; the Y&Y Vodka-Cured Salmon Toast with cornichon cream cheese, cherry tomato, celery, and lemon; or Fried Chicken Biscuit with roasted jalapeño gravy and quail egg-in-the-hole.

What to Drink

As you might expect, You & Yours Distilling Co. excels at cocktails. For brunch, order their Verde Mary with Y&Y Vodka or the Up & At 'Em with Provisional Gin, Modern Times Bourbon Barrel Aged cold brew, and Topo Chico.

Fried chicken biscuit. Image: You & Yours Distilling Co.
Brûléed grapefruit. Image: You & Yours Distilling Co.
Fried chicken biscuit. Image: You & Yours Distilling Co.
Brûléed grapefruit. Image: You & Yours Distilling Co.


Cafe 21 for a Leisurely, Fusion Brunch

Cafe 21 has created an exceptional fusion brunch, incorporating spices and techniques from Azerbaijan, where restaurant owners Chef Leyla and Emran Javadov are from, into SoCal favorites. The restaurant is many San Diegians' first introduction to Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic tucked into the Caucasus Mountains, bordering Russia, Iran, Georgia, Armenia, and the Caspian Sea. The brunch menu incorporates local produce seasonally, some from Chef Leyla’s own garden. Cafe 21’s homemade bread is created with a special starter named Lola based on naturally occurring yeast in organic grapes. The flavorful, scratch-made food has made both Cafe 21 locations so popular that there is usually a line. Combined with service that is, at times, uncomfortably slow, it is ideal for a leisurely brunch when you aren’t in a rush.

What to Eat

The Short Rib Cast Iron Omelette is a foodie favorite for good reason. The three-egg omelet is a flavorful combination of short ribs braised with sangria fruits, bell pepper, onion, and blue cheese, served in a personal skillet. Split an intoxicating Tiramisu Pancake with your table, loaded with mascarpone cream and espresso maple syrup topped with cocoa.

What to Drink

You can’t go wrong with a mimosa flight for the table, a rainbow of fresh flavors served in a stunning tower. Just as picturesque (and delicious) is the Ol’ Yello’ Mary, made from fresh yellow heirloom tomatoes from Tom King Farms with a hint of horseradish and topped with pickled vegetables and a grilled cheese sandwich.

Morning Glory for the Trendy Brunch Goer

Japanese soufflé pancakes.

Morning Glory is unapologetically flamboyant, an explosion of art deco and humor with wait times so long you might need to pack a pre-brunch snack. Whether you hold court in a pink banquette or sit at the bar and stare at the stunning custom-made espresso machine, Morning Glory’s brunch experience is worth the wait. The indoor-outdoor space lets in the Little Italy light and energy, complimenting a stunning design by Paul Basile.

What to Eat

Pork belly fried rice at Morning Glory.

The Morning Glory food menu can be hit or miss, the only weak spot in an otherwise impeccable experience. Standouts include Japanese soufflé pancakes and the pork belly fried rice.

What to Drink

Start the day with a fluffy orange juice.

What consistency Morning Glory lacks in its food menu is more than made up for with its drink offerings. Order courses of drinks, starting with a turmeric latte, moving to a Bloody Mary with celery foam, and end with a more spirit-forward Morning Wood Old Fashioned with bonded rye, blueberry brandy, house barrel-aged maple, and rosemary bitters. Then, at some point, dare a friend to get a mini-bottle of Moët from the pink Champagne vending machine.


Other Notable Summer Brunches in San Diego

Little Frenchie

Little Frenchie is a Parisian-style café in Coronado with fantastic brunch options like smoked salmon benedict on a croissant or avocado tartine with poached eggs.

Breakfast Republic

Breakfast Republic is one of the most prolific (non-franchised) breakfast concepts in San Diego, for good reason. Try the Cluck Madame Benedict with ham, gruyere cheese, and a creamy béchamel sauce or the Shrimp and Grits. The gouda-infused grits are topped with fresh sweet corn and shrimp, plus three eggs any style.  

barleymash

The Rancher barleyhash. Image: barleymash.

Executive chef Kevin Templeton just relaunched barleymash's summer brunch menu featuring breakfast burgers, French toasts, and barleyhashes.

Toast Gastrobrunch

Although they specialize in variations of “toast” (avocado, smoked salmon, etc.) using bread from Bread and Cie and Deanna’s Gluten-Free, Toast Gastrobrunch also has heartier brunch dishes like the flavorful Eggs in Purgatory, poached eggs in a sourdough bread bowl, sitting in spicy shakshuka sauce with mushrooms, pork belly, feta, scallions, and mint.

Craft & Commerce

The relaunch of the Craft & Commerce Southern-inspired menu this year extends to brunch with treats like Anson Mills Jalapeno Cornbread with a cheddar cheese skirt and Chicken Fried Steak.

El Cruce + 241

For a Baja-inspired breakfast, El Cruce + 241 in Chula Vista offers weekend brunch every Saturday and Sunday. Try the Enfrijoladas—black bean enfrijoladas with lamb chorizo, scrambled eggs, and cotija cheese; or the Chilaquiles de Chile Morita served with tomato and chile Morita sauce and topped with a fried egg.  

Seasons Restaurant

Churro Waffle. Image: Seasons Restaurant.

Enjoy the outdoor veranda at Seasons Restaurant during weekend brunch service featuring local ingredients. The indulgent Churro Waffle topped with house-made vanilla cream, local Carlsbad strawberries, and cinnamon sugar is one item not to miss.  

Fig Tree Café

Fig Tree Café’s leafy patio is a shady spot to let summer mornings extend all day. Look for the unusual breakfast sushi wrapped in bacon and their seasonal mimosas.

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Michelle Stansbury
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