San Diego’s Soul Food Scene Finds the Right Climate
by M'Liss Hinshaw
San Diego is known for beautiful beaches and year round pleasant weather, plus, yes, soul food. There was a time when soul food lined the streets of the now predominantly Mexican food environment of southeast San Diego. Today, most of those original places are gone, but soul food and barbeque restaurants are making a comeback and I found three places truly worth a try.
Bradrick Cooper began his barbeque restaurant when he realized San Diego didn’t have the right style of authentic barbeque and knew it was time to open his own place. After searching restaurants for sale, he found his current location when he laid eyes on the smoke pits. Cooper learned to cook at his grandmother’s knee by helping her cook beans and rice and, with his mother, he picked the greens and stirred the gravy. His dad taught him barbequing techniques and all this combined family training has made his restaurant the talk of the town.
Opening the brick and mortar restaurant didn’t happen overnight. He peddled his foods inside beauty salons and other places until he had a following and then took the next step and invested in a restaurant. Word of his brisket, ribs and buttermilk pie spread around the city and then fried chicken came to his mind. Cooper grew up on fried chicken and, with a great demand on the horizon, he bought the building next door and turned on the fryers. Fried fish, gizzards, okra and chicken keep his walk-up window hopping.
I gathered my friends, some from the South, and we tried just about everything on the menu. From the sounds of "yum" and "oh yes," the brisket, greens, ribs and pie passed with glowing approvals. A craving for fried chicken came over me weeks later and I returned to Da Chicken Coop. Two upstanding community leaders ordered fried catfish and chicken wings and sat outside as we talked. They were happy a small business owner such as Cooper served his food in a neighborhood hungry for more.
Getting there is easy using Uber or Lyft and there is limited trolley service on the Orange line. Don’t be surprised when arriving if the parking lot is full of fire trucks, police cars and Mercedes because their drivers also know good food when they taste it.
Both restaurants are open Tuesday to Friday, 11 am - 9 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11 am - 8 pm and both are closed on Monday.
Coop’s West Texas BBQ and Da Chicken Coop
2635 Lemon Grove Ave
Lemon Grove, CA 91945
You wouldn’t think of a popular Louisiana café being located in a business park area of San Diego, but customers craving gumbo find their way here. Bud Deslatte, owner and chef of Bud’s Louisiana Café, has been cooking Cajun/Creole-style food for twenty plus years in San Diego after moving west from the Big Easy where he skillfully learned his trade.
On the day I dined at Bud’s, his business partner Rob told me “Southern food” is the big umbrella and New Orleans food has its own distinctive character. Oh yes, plenty of shrimp po’boys and catfish but no greens or mac 'n' cheese. Serving authentic food is most important and he has crawfish, Tasso ham, alligator and andouille sausages regularly flown in.
The signature seafood gumbo was placed before me and the cup was brimming with shrimp, crawfish, sausage, okra and rice. I then moved on to A Taste of New Orleans which was a hearty plate of mouthwatering crawfish etouffee over rice and a fried soft-shell crab. The foods were pleasantly spiced and bathed perfectly in a roux-based, house-made sauce. Meals can be enjoyed inside the subtly decorated restaurant or on the outside patio to catch a typical San Diego breeze while munching on a warm beignet.
Breakfast is served Monday-Friday, 7 -10 am. Lunch is Monday and Tuesday, 10:30 am-2:30 pm. Lunch and dinner on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday are served from 10:30 am-9 pm; Saturday, 12 -9 pm and the restaurant is closed on Sunday. Uber and Lyft are the best transportation options to use.
Bud’s Louisiana Café
4320 Viewridge Ave, #A
San Diego, CA 92123
Bourre’ Southern Bistro
Jazz music and spirited singers entertain during dinner at Bourre’ Southern Bistro in the Rolando area of San Diego. It is a supper club reminiscent of the old times where eating comfort food and swaying to live music make for an enjoyable evening.
Mark Jensen and Gil Johnson, together with their wives, oversee the food and drinks coming out of the kitchen and the guests’ satisfaction with music and ambiance. Open jazz sessions are the first Thursday of the month with drop-in local talent and even a Grammy Award-winning artist who blend their talents much to the liking of dining patrons. I recently joined others on a busy Saturday evening while Michele Lundeen, known as “The Queen of Steam,” belted out songs while we finished our meals. People didn’t want to leave their seats and meanwhile a line formed outside with others waiting to come in. Jensen told me his motto is to treat people like you would like to be treated and that approach is obviously working here. Reservations are a good idea for this intimate dining scene.
Alcoholic drinks are served on performance nights only and the crispy fried green tomato appetizer served with Cajun aioli sauce set the tone for our delicious meal. Although it was dinner time, I ordered the highly recommended chicken and waffles. The coating on the chicken was light and flavorful. Bourre calls itself “California Creole and Southern food with a twist”, like the stuffed pork chop and short ribs. Watching the orders being delivered, I noted that jambalaya, gumbo, shrimp po’boy and dirty rice were in high demand. And of course, the meal had to be completed with bananas foster and pecan pie.
Bourre’ is available for special events such as birthdays, graduations and anniversary parties. Dinner is offered Wednesday through Saturday, 5:00-9:00 pm and Sunday 1-8 pm. Uber and Lyft are the best options to use for transportation.
Bourre’ Southern Bistro
6523 University Ave
San Diego, CA 92115
San Diego’s barbeque and southern cuisine restaurants bring to mind lazy days sitting on the porch with a glass of sweet tea, yet transported to the west coast.
Thank you to Cuisine Noir where this article first appeared.
Photo credits: M’Liss Hinshaw