Food ventures at 99 Ranch Market
Food ventures at 99 Ranch Market

With such a large Asian population in San Diego, it’s no surprise that an entire neighborhood is dedicated to fabulous Asian markets, restaurants and community events. As the undisputed Asian food capital of San Diego, Kearny Mesa has a bevy of fun places to explore along the main thoroughfare on Convoy Street. I like walking around the Asian markets to see what kind of yummy or interesting specialty items I can find. Sometimes I can’t figure out what the actual food product is because the label isn’t in English and the pictures are minimal and nondescript. It becomes a fun guessing game that I enjoy almost as much as the women’s clothing store game of “Shirt or dress? I have no idea!”

Grab a boba drink and take a stroll through these neighborhood markets:

While you’re there, head over to Tajima Japanese restaurant on Mercury Street for sushi, ramen, rice bowls, small plates, and other yummy Izakaya-style (Japanese gastropub) food. Tajima has four locations around town (the newest is in the East Village downtown), but the Mercury Street location used to be my favorite lunch spot when I worked in Kearny Mesa. They recently remodeled their bar area, launched a Japanese craft cocktail menu, and added 12 taps of craft beer (both Japanese and San Diego beers). As the manager explained to me, they added in this nice new bar, but then realized they had a lot to learn about making cocktails. They spent a long time mixing new concoctions and experimenting with different flavor profiles to come up with their current cocktail list.

Tajima on Mercury Street's new bar
Tajima on Mercury Street’s new bar

New cocktails include:

  • Hare of The Dog – a Japanese spin on the classic Bloody Mary with tequila, yuzu juice, ramen broth, sriracha, tomato juice, and a blistered shishito pepper garnish
  • Black Vine – vodka, yuzu juice, simple syrup, blackberry liqueur, and a blackberry garnish
  • Tokyo Buck – Japanese whiskey, lemon juice, strawberry liqueur, simple syrup, bitters, ginger beer, and a strawberry garnish
  • Lichi Collins – gin, lychee liqueur, lemon juice, Ballast Point Grapefruit Sculpin beer, and a lychee garnish
  • Osaka Pirate – black tea rum, simple syrup, lime juice and a lime garnish
  • Blood & Sand – Scotch whiskey, vermouth, cherry liqueur, orange juice and an orange peel garnish
Osaka Pirate cocktail at Tajima
Black Vine cocktail at Tajima

I love how inventive they got with the cocktails – it’s not very often that you see ramen broth, shishito peppers or yuzu juice on a cocktail menu. Although I haven’t tried them all yet, the Lichi Collins and the Osaka Pirate are my early favorites. The presentation of the cocktails (glassware, garnish, etc.) is thoughtfully beautiful. Enjoy happy hour drinks daily from 3 to 7 p.m. (plus food specials during the week), and late-night happy hour on Fridays and Saturdays from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Spicy tuna bowl at Tajima
Spicy tuna bowl at Tajima

For food, I recommend starting with the garlic edamame and either the spicy tuna bowl or a few sushi rolls. I really like the crunchy roll and the rainbow roll. Since ramen is one of their specialties, you need to save room for a big bowl of noodles with their authentic pork-based broth. Although I’m not vegan (or vegetarian, for that matter), I love their vegan ramen that comes with spinach noodles, corn, asparagus, mixed greens, radish sprouts, fried tofu, sesame seeds, red peppers, and topped with black garlic oil. I also like to add a soft-boiled egg to ramen any chance I get! Be sure to save room for mochi ice cream at Tajima that comes in four flavors (chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and green tea). Kanpai!

Vegan Ramen at Tajima
Vegan Ramen at Tajima