Isabel's Cantina

$25 - $50

At Isabel's Cantina, Chef Isabel Cruz fuses Latin and Asian cuisine into sensual and creative concoctions that are both remarkably addictive and surprisingly healthy. By incorporating ingredients from spicy pork carnitas to tofu, Chef Cruz creates a vegetarian’s haven as well as a meat-lover’s paradise. The exotic dining space is at once dramatic and hip, with accents such as an enormous 15-foot Buddha statue staring down at the dining room. Casual booths, stark lines, and warm colors create an atmosphere not found elsewhere in Pacific Beach, attracting crowds for brunch, lunch, and dinner.

Cantina

If the Be Curious sign out front doesn’t pique your interest, the aura of Cantina Panaderia will. With the Balinesian Buddha carved from teak holding offerings of money or flowers and reaching over seven feet high in the corner, the intricately carved piece from Indonesia -that was once a pagoda and is now used as a coffee bar, and the Italian plaster walls with red, velvet drapes – you know you’re in for an extraordinary experience. And if the atmosphere was any indication – and the fact that everyone who walks into Cantina feels like they’ve discovered their very own Shangri-La - I knew the food was going to be sublime. 
 
This Asian-cool space is dedicated to “hip-comfort food” created by chef/owner Isabel Cruz. If you don’t know what hip-comfort food is, think of being nourished, body and soul. Think of the dishes that make you feel warm on a cold day, cool on a hot day, healthy on a sick day, and happy on a sad one. And then add her touch…sweet coconut milk, cinnamon-star anise, mojos - Puerto Rican style sauces, sweet plantains, wasabi sauces, and just a taste of spicy peanut sauce.
 
Cantina Panaderia has seen a steady rise in devoted regulars – a pattern akin to her other restaurant in La Jolla, the Coffee Cup. It seems that everyone who meets Isabel instantly falls for her and her food. Blending Latin with Asian influences, Isabel has come up with truly unique dishes. She has paired flavors in such a way as to indelibly mark them as her own; such is the effect of having an intuitive way with food that one doesn’t often see. 
 
Isabel has been creating beautiful and delicious dishes for over a decade here in San Diego. These days, with two successful restaurants in San Diego, one in Chico, and one in Ashland, Oregon, Isabel has taken on the role of author as well as chef. Her cookbook, entitled Bite This!, will be out this October and will feature a myriad of recipes she whips up everyday in her kitchen, not to mention some cooking basics that will make even the most inept cook feel like a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
 
Some of the dishes are traditional, almost. But most of them involve flavors and colors you would never find together. We started with the Plantains with Caviar – sweet, plantain fritters topped with sour cream and caviar – and the Ahi Wontons about which I had heard several people rave – wonton crisps topped with seared Ahi, strips of fresh avocado, and drizzled with sweet soy and wasabi cream sauces. 
 
For the entrée we had the Flat Iron Steak with Mojo Pico –char grilled skirt steak served with portobello mushrooms marinated in soy ginger, cilantro-garlic mojo pico and roasted red and sweet potatoes. The steak was perfect, the mojo cool and a bit spicy, and the potatoes were like sweet little treats. If want something a little more traditional, you could try the rotisserie chicken served either Latin style - with black beans, brown rice, crisp, salted plantains, and chipotle sauce - or Asian style – with coconut-jasmine rice, edamame, and peanut sauce. Either way, this chicken – thanks to the smoky, delicious rub - is far from your run-of-the-mill poultry. 
 
Another item on the Cantina menu that I’d been hearing about for months are the bowls…Dragon Bowl, Brazil Bowl, or the Buddha Bowl just to name a few. We tried the Buddha Bowl – hot coconut milk broth, fresh lemongrass, shitake mushrooms, vegetables, and fresh udon noodles to which you can add grilled tofu, chicken, or steak. Not only did it look beautiful but the sweetness of the coconut milk with the savory flavors of the mushrooms and steak was incredible.
 
Although one of Isabel’s main tenets in the kitchen is to create delicious – but healthy - food, she doesn’t let that stop her from coming up with some decadent desserts. We had the Flourless Chocolate Cake garnished with ganache and raspberry puree – a dense, rich, amazing cake that will satisfy any chocolate junkie – and my absolute favorite, Bananas Cantina – baked bananas swimming in spiced rum and orange juice, lightly sprinkled with chopped peanuts, and served with vanilla ice cream. And I don’t even like bananas. 
 
Cantina Panaderia is still relatively young and, as such, is still growing. They are currently in the process of getting their beer and wine license – a particularly tricky process since the freeze on new licenses in Pacific Beach – as well as laying the foundation for Isabel’s kitchen ideal. Soon she will be offering her Chef’s Table experience: a combination cooking class and delicious dinner with the chef of your choice in the kitchen of Cantina. Not only could you learn a few things, but it will be a great twist on the traditional dinner party.
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  Restaurant Info

  • 966 Felspar Street
    San Diego CA 92109
  • Address: 966 Felspar Street, San Diego CA 92109
  • Cross Street: Cass Street
  • Location: Pacific/Mission Beach | Pacific Beach
  • Cuisine: Asian | Fusion | Latin |
  • Cost: $$ | Inexpensive | $25 - $50
  • Category: Casual Dining
  • Star Rating:
  • Reservations: Available
  • Dress Code: Casual
  • Meals Served: Breakfast | Brunch | Lunch | Dinner |
  • Parking: None |
  • Payment Options: VISA | Amex | Mastercard |
  • Corkage Fee: N/A
  • Staff: Isabel Cruz | Executive Chef
  • Phone: (858) 272-8400

  Business Hours

Monday
Main Dining Room | All Day 8 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Tuesday
Main Dining Room | All Day 8 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Wednesday
Main Dining Room | All Day 8 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Thursday
Main Dining Room | All Day 8 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Friday
Main Dining Room | All Day 8 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Saturday
Main Dining Room | All Day 8 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.
Sunday
Main Dining Room | All Day 8 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.

Features

Occasion

 


  F.A.Q. - Frequently Asked Questions


 User Reviews

Unique and delicious  

My husband and I found Cantina for breakfast, and have been happy each time we've gone in the A.M. Last week, we wandered in for dinner and were even more please with our experience. This is becoming one of my favorite restaurants in San Diego because it's the only place I've found with a truly creative mix of tastes, as well as an abundance of healthy items to choose from. Plus, the atmosphere is fun and the service is great. Hard to beat...

Excellent food and Service!  

My husband and I found Cantina Panaderia on-line. We decided to check it out. We had a very enjoyable time. Appetizer, entrees and desserts that we tried were all excellent. Very relaxing atmosphere and attentive service. We are already setting a date to go back with friends.

not easy to say but easy to love  

Wow! I went to Cantina...with some friends last night and loved it.Great food for us vegetarians and my meat loving friends were also very impressed.Ambiance,creative menu,wonderful service and a 20% off coupon,it just does'nt get much better.I'm just trying to come up with an easier name to call it when i recommend it to friends.

Great Fresh Food  

We had a great dining experience at Isabel's Cantina Sunday evening. The service was friendly and attentive and the food was great. I ordered the Flat Iron Steak which was done to my liking and the potato ensemble side dish was delicious. My husband ordered the Cod daily special which he said was outstanding and the green beans so fresh! Our dinner guest ordered the roast chicken and liked it just as well. The Coconut Flan we shared for desert was a fine finale. We would dine here again and want to come back and visit for breakfast.

Isabella's Disappoints!  

Upon entering the restaurant we were inhospitably guided to our table. The menus were given to us with nary a smile. We never mind service that is not perfect, but the front of the house of this restaurant is untrained, and unobservant. We were never told about the specials, I guess you have to be a regular, to know to read the blackboard as you come in. The food was decent. Though our soup came out of the kitchen almost frozen. It seems to me that Isabella's needs a kick in the pants, and the owner needs to be there, more often to get the service in line with the food. The staff to guest ratio was atrocious which may have had something to do with the waiter's inablity to sell the specials or know the soup of the day.......Attention to detail is needed immediately!

Disappointing specials  

I went here with my wife, she ordered one of the big bowls for $15 which was very good but I think that they must have thrown mine on a plate while hers was being made. I decided to try the fish tacos which were on the special board at the entrance. $18.00 for three tiny bite size tacos with a minuscule piece of breaded fish...seriously the size of a stick of gum and stone cold! It was almost as if they walked over to Ralphs, bought some frozen fish sticks, sliced one into three pieces and threw it on three tiny shells with some lettuce. I won't go back.