review: isabel’s cantina

Lately, it’s been all about the brunch. Two weekends ago (on the heels of a work trip to New Jersey) I took a short jaunt over to New York to partake of the hipper-than-thou world of Brooklyn. My host said people call it Never Never Land because of all the young folks.

It’s true. Brooklyn is teeming with cool. I stayed in a converted toy factory, partied with strangers, sang out loud in the subway, and ate oozy pizza at 2 a.m.

But most of all, I brunched.


Round one was to be had at The Lovin’ Cup Cafe, a dark little Williamsburg noshery filled with 20-somethings staving off hangovers. I was in the company of Newhousers, so decided to indulge in the relatively rare-in-my-world occurrence of day drinking. I chose the Hot Lovin’ Rancheros to fill my belly—channeling my San Diego roots—and washed it all down with two Bloody Marys and a beer. The food was a few notches above decent, and the Marys tingled down the pipes with just enough burn to render them memorable. I was far too busy catching up to take pictures.


After sleeping off the brunch that launched our most entertaining evening, the next morning (er, afternoon) we headed over to the late Heath Ledger’s Bedford Ave. creation, Five Leaves. As we’d been so informed the previous night, this place was quite the “scene.” (Given the tone it was said in, we took that to be a bad thing!) But as my friend (never one to shy from frankness) stated, “it might have been a scene, but it was a delicious scene.”

The sun was warm, the house-made ricotta breathtaking, and the sage eggs/veggie sandwich Brenna and I shared was vivid with savory flavors.

isabella's cantina

Just when I thought I should put the weekend indulgences to rest and reach for the usual (multigrain oatmeal with toasted walnuts and bananas), another foodie friend popped into the mix: My former partner-in-crime in the D.C. food blogger scene, the illustrious Ms. Jimbo of the Unpaid Gourmet. She swooped into town and whisked me (and our men) off to Isabel’s Cantina down in Pacific Beach.


Isabel’s is San Diego’s answer to 5 Leaves’ “sceney-ness”—we had to wait about 40 minutes to get in and another 40 for our food. It was good catch-up time, however, and the food (not the coffee, mind you) was well worth the wait.



I chose the sweet tamales with tomatillo sauce, eggs, and black beans (two photos up), and Mark settled on the apple sausage breakfast burrito special. There was an avocado scramble and coconut-bread french toast at the table as well, along with a bowl of chips and salsa brought as an apologetic appetizer. Everything was hot, fresh, whole, and healthy.


This time, I left the three-drink brunch variety out east and opted for water. I’m sure I’ll be glad about that later this week, which is heavy with training and travel.

Read more about Chef Isabel and her creations on her personal website, or find out more about the San Diego location here.

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