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I'm so appreciative to have a great food community here in San Diego. As soon as I asked where to go celebrate, I received several suggestions. Cueva Bar was on my to-do list but with renewed recommendations from two friends, I knew this was the time to finally stop in for a bite!
Cueva Bar is almost hidden away on a quiet street in University Heights. The entrance is under the stairway but you can already spot the artsy appeal of this tapas bar from the outside.
A long bar inside allows visitors to order drinks and mingle with others. The opposite wall has tables with cozy cushions or arched chairs for a more private affair.
We sat outsite on the small patio though there was a brief chill that evening. Since it was a celebration meal (my first raise in two years), we ordered a round of drinks. My white wine was peachy, crisp dry and appropriate for an afternoon sip. The hibiscus sparkler seemed to have a tea / wine mix feel with a more tart base but Dennis detected a slight metallic taste to it as well. Since we were here during happy hour (5-6:30pm), both of our drinks were only $5! Cheers to that!
D' Adobada tacos ($5 hh, $8.50) - Braised chicken, simmered in a spicy tomatillo sauce, garnished with avocado, cilantro, cotija cheese and pickled onions.
There were plenty of options for happy hour foods too so multiple items were ordered. These chicken tacos were winners with a lovely char atop moist chicken chunks. The pineapples added just a touch of sweet while the pickled onions gave a nice contrast against the creamy guacamole.
Norteno Flatbread ($5 hh, $13.50) - House pork chorizo, garlic oil, mozzarella, cilantro garnish
It's surprising that these are reduced to a third of the price before 6:30pm! Deal hunter in me said yes to this bread. Once again the pickled onions were well received plus we delighted in the addition of savory chorizo toppings. The oval flatbread had a thin crispy crust with more prominent toppings. Two of these could be enough for a light meal!
Guacamole Tower ($5 hh, $8.50) - Avocado, cilantro, jalapeños, red onions, lime juice,tortilla chips
The guacamole seemed more like a chunky avocado tower with very light lime zest and salted well. It carried a light flavor (but not heat) from the jalapenos. Chips were perfect with that soft crisp that doesn't hurt the roof of your mouth but still keeps it crunchy (similar to La Puerta).
D' Andouille Sausage ($5) - Grilled Andouille sausage, caramelized onion jam, warm focaccia
This sausage skewer gave off a peppery heat. Underneath each end was a dense but soft foccacia that paired well. The corners of carmelized onions were very sweet, almost as if they were soaked in sugar instead of vinegar like the rest! The temperature was surprisingly chilled as well. Carmelized onions did help cool off the minor heat of sausage like a palate cleanser.
Portobello Mushroom ($5 hh, $8) - Portobello cubes, brushed with a spicy and tangy soy sauce, garnished with a piquillo/gorgonzola relish
I'm always interested in portobello mushrooms so this was next on our list to try. The cubes had a char flavor with a spicy tang on the outside and were juicy and squashy in your mouth. The cheese really gave it that unique oomph of salted creaminess for each bite. I also found myself scraping off tasty balsamic glaze from every plate we ordered. All the flavors were unique but still unified somehow.
D' Camaron Tacos ($9) - Sautéed shrimp with diced onions and jalapeño, melted crispy cheese,avo-slices pickled onions, and cilantro cream
Despite being regular priced, this highly recommended shrimp taco made it to our table as well. This one seemed more packed with ingredients than the other set of tacos. The citrus zest was so playful against the pickled onions. The shrimps had a seared touch that happily pow-wow'ed with the rest of the taco. Dennis thought the shrimp was slightly alkaline but I didn't notice anything in mine. We were quite happy to have added yet another "winner" to our meal.
Beef Brisket Empanada ($7) - Braised brisket, sautéed onions and mozzarella cheese
Our second non-happy hour item was the beef brisket empanada. That golden toasted crust had us drooling ASAP and it tasted like a sweet layer was brushed on before being baked. Star anise or some kind of cinnamon seasoning was on the meat which we enjoyed. The underlying meat was that fatty kind of delish you want to soak through into the doughy pocket. More please! On the side was an herby chimichurri sauce with a strong parsley taste. Dennis was dipping everything into this!
Arriving right at 5pm on a Sunday gave us a little peace and quiet on the patio as people slowly drifted in. Our initial rounds of food came out quickly and kept us wanting more. It only slowed down a little once the dinner folks filled up the place. I can't believe we missed out on this cozy nook for so long but now it's easily a top pick! Cueva Bar is open Tuesday - Sunday from 5pm to 9 (or 10pm on weekends). This restaurant is sure to please for happy hour, an evening with friends or even a mini-celebration like ours. Do you have a go-to spot for tapas?
2123 Adams Ave
San Diego CA 92116