Cafe 21 (University Heights) - San Diego, CA

Cafe 21 is a popular farm fresh and locally sourced restaurant with two great locations in San Diego. Their gracious menu also offers vegan options as well as wild, hormone, and free range meats to please everyone. We've visited the University Heights location a few times for lunch and dinner and rounded up our eats below!

Brunch visit

When I first heard of this restaurant, I only knew of it as a brunch spot. Finally, we found a free weekend to come in for a midday meal!

monte cristo at Cafe 21 monte cristo at Cafe 21

Monte Cristo - egg battered challah bread, roasted turkey breast, fontina cheese

The combo of turkey and jam (especially cranberry) has always been irresistible for Dennis. Other than the sangria jam being slightly too wet for me, the mix worked beautifully with the fluffy french toast and hormone free, all natural, free range turkey. The side of seasonal fruit was a big plus for us too!

lamb cast iron omelettes at Cafe 21

Lamb Cast Iron Omelette - house made Coriander Lamb Kufta, bell pepper, tomato, mozzarella, goat cheese

This omelette felt like a deconstructed egg dish with the individual items as toppings. The skilled browned the egg crust while the insides stayed fluffy soft. A meatball styled lamb was earthy, lean, and slightly drier. The local farm veggies had a little resistance to them. I enjoyed the seasoning and consistency as a whole package.

sangria pitchers at Cafe 21

sangria flight at Cafe 21

Flight of Sangria

What is brunch without a fun drink? If you're a fan of Sangria, this place has a pleasing rotating selection! The flavors on this visit were cranberry cardamom, traditional (orange, apple, strawberry, pear), strawberry chili, and kiwi lime basil. My favorite of these was the strawberry which had a slight spice sliding down your throat. It is offered for both lunch and dinner so you can get it any time you please!


Both times we had a birthday dinner here, the rain followed! At least this didn't keep us from enjoying our "buy 1 get 1 free" meal as a member of the Cafe 21 email list. With all these made-from scratch options, it was hard to decide what to eat!

duck wings at Cafe 21

Duck Wings - sweet and spicy glaze

Few places have duck wings so we had to give these a try! This half order had a fantastic zesty marinade to them which got all over our fingers. Duck is not as meaty as chicken but we did our best to suck off every savory bit of meat from the bones! All meats used at Cafe 21 are hormone free and free range!

cauliflower quinoa at Cafe 21

Mushroom Tart - quinoa and pecorino cheese crust, cauliflower, wild mushrooms, feta mousse

The combo of healthy ingredients led me to ordering this dish but it was overshadowed by a few of the other dishes I tried. I think the flavor was too flat for my tastes though I did find the tortilla-like crust to have a grainy intense bite to it.

poke at Cafe 21

Albacore Poke - ginger, avocado, sesame seeds, taro root chips, sweet chili glaze

This sushi grade wild caught tuna was served with fresh ginger, avocado and had a heavy sesame oil taste to it. The super thick taro root chips held well under tuna. These were also a bit sticky from the sweet chili glaze but we enjoyed this.

scallops at Cafe 21

Curry Seared Scallops - scallops, potato leek mash, curry yogurt sauce

The flavor combination sounded too interesting to pass up. The wild caught scallops were nicely seared and buttery. Dennis added a little more salt but I preferred it as cooked. These were served on top of a yummy potato leek mash that combined well with the citrus notes of the curry.

short rib at Cafe 21

Braised Short Rib - braised short rib, yam puree and pea tendrils, red wine sauce

Portions were plentiful for the short rib and it looked quite beautiful. The meaty chunk was moist with some fat on the ends. We worked our way through slightly firmer edges and hit pockets of saltier areas, which could be cut down with the sweet potato mash. The top had roasted carrots and a pea tendril for accent. In general, there were no strong flavors one way or another.

cabbage roll at Cafe 21

Beef Cabbage Rolls - grass fed beef, vegetables, herbs, arborio rice, tomato sauce

This aromatic dish came as three sizzling pieces in a cast iron pan. The cooked ground beef and tomato sauce were slightly saltier for me but otherwise tasted flavorful and light, though my favorite is still at Kafe Sobaka Pomegranate. I wished there were a few more leafy greens in this plate.

lemon curd crepe cake at Cafe 21

Lemon Curd Crepe Cake

To finish off one of our dinners, we had the lemon curd crepes covered with a semisweet cream. The blend of barely tart lemon plus plus mellow sweet from the strawberry sauce was so good without feeling heavy! You know it's fresh when you find a lemon seed in there!


outdoor seating at Cafe 21 outdoor seating at Cafe 21

The patio area is filled with adjustable umbrellas to cover from the sun but there are still a few hot spots here and there. Ask the servers to help out if needed. The coveted spot was where the greenery draped around the pergola. Maybe we'll get to sit there next time!

holiday mood at Cafe 21

Here was our bar seat view shortly after the holidays so it still carried that festive spirit. Time for a cocktail or two!

Cafe 21 in University Heights

This family owned restaurant is a gem to have in the neighborhood, doing their part to support the local farms and provide a healthy organic meal to patrons. We enjoyed the food served here and plan to support this business with future visits. Do you have a favorite item from Cafe 21? What other organic and/or local farm supporting restaurants do you recommend?

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Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table's picture
Submitted by Laura @ Sprint ... (not verified) on Mon, 08/21/2017 - 8:38pm

We drove by here last week and I wondered about it. I'll have to try it next time! That scallop dish is calling my name.

lynn's picture
Submitted by lynn on Tue, 08/22/2017 - 12:52pm

we first found out about it because of their birthday offer! i haven't visited too many places in that area yet.'s picture
Submitted by (not verified) on Sun, 08/27/2017 - 10:49am

Mmm... I wanna pair those duck wings with the braised short rib. :-)

lynn's picture
Submitted by lynn on Fri, 09/22/2017 - 3:23pm

Sounds like a good dinner pairing! :)

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