Vista is located in the middle of the three extremes of San Diego County: it is neither as rural as Fallbrook nor as coastal as Oceanside or Encinitas, nor as far inland as Ramona. Established in 1882, Vista is a small town in the geographic center of the United States. It is the location of numerous technological enterprises, residential neighborhoods, a thriving craft beer culture, and a wide variety of delicious cuisines. In Vista, there is more variety in dining options than you might expect, from hidden gems in strip malls to the rapidly gentrifying streets of downtown (watch out for that construction). Here’s a rundown of some of the most cutting-edge fare in a compact metropolis wedged between two bustling seaports and a desolate wasteland.
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When Sam and Nina Feliccia decided to retire last year, they closed the popular Italian restaurant that their family had run for 40 years. But Ciao has stepped up to fill the void, with a solid new remodel and two restaurants in one: a more traditional Italian joint on one side, and an enoteca (along with a new banquet room) on the other. The pizzas here are beautiful, the bread, desserts, and gelato are all homemade and delectable, and if you’re a fan of charcuterie, the deli has plenty of great cheese and meat to sample. If you go during mealtimes, expect a wait, but the happy hour specials are worth it.
Owners Dale and Tammy Ginos attended a country music festival as competing BBQers to save money. While Tammy initially thought they would win “when pigs fly,” they went on to win the competition and open not one but two successful BBQ restaurants as a result of their efforts. The original is in a service station on Vista Way, but the new one opened in the middle of 2017. And here’s a BBQ pro tip for your tri tip: You can grab your food to go and enjoy it at one of Vista’s food-friendly microbreweries like Mother Earth down the street or the excellent science-themed Wavelength Brewing right next door, where you can watch a rocket launch while sipping on a tasty IPA and feasting on some award-winning meat.
Microbreweries used to have to sell out to AB InBev in order to become successful, but now they can shine on their own. One of the biggest (still private) success stories in Vista is Belching Beaver, which has a beautiful tasting room called Pub 980 near San Marcos (and other rooms down in Ocean Beach and North Park) but this Tavern and Grill right in downtown has revitalized the entire area. The famed Mexican Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout may be the most well-known beer on tap, but the screens above the bar make it easy to try something new. The fact that they list vegetarian avocado toast alongside the Tator Tot Dam (braised chuck, cheese curds, gravy, and a fried egg) should give you a good idea of the variety of dishes available. Who needs a multi-national corporation to buy you out when you have all that and a beautiful outdoor patio?