Vista is a halfway city — it’s not as remote as Fallbrook, it’s not coastal like Oceanside or Encinitas, and it’s not way out in the desert like Ramona. Founded in 1882, Vista quietly sits in the middle of everything. It’s home to tech firms, residential areas, an excellent craft beer scene, and lots of great food. From strip mall diamonds in the rough to the quickly gentrifying streets of downtown (watch out for that construction), there’s more to eat in Vista than you might expect — if you know where to look. Here’s a guide to some of the latest and greatest bites to find in a little city that sits right in between the busy coasts and the desert beyond.Read More
Where to Eat in Vista
In between the coast and the mountains, there’s food to find
1. Ciao Ristorante Italiano
Feliccia’s used to be the Italian place to go in Vista -- it was a family-owned spot for 40 years, but the owners, Sam and Nina, finally decided to retire last year, and they’ll be missed. Ciao, however, has stepped up to fill in the gap, with a solid new remodel and two restaurants in one: there’s a more traditional Italian joint on one side, and an enoteca (as well as a new banquet room) on the other. The food might not taste just like the Feliccias made it, but the pizzas here are gorgeous, the bread, desserts, and gelato are all homemade and delicious, and if you’re a charcuterie fan, there’s lots of great cheese and meat to sample in the deli. The place does get busy if you arrive at mealtime, but some solid happy hour deals can make the wait worth it.
2. When Pigs Fly BBQ
Owners Dale and Tammy Ginos decided to save money on a country music festival by attending as competing BBQers, and while Tammy thought they’d win “when pigs fly,” they’ve since parlayed the venture into a Grand Champion competition win, and not one but two successful BBQ joints. The first one is inside a gas station up on Vista Way, but this second location, opened mid-2017, is right in the heart of downtown. The ‘cue is delicious, of course, and here’s a pro tip for your tri tip: Take out your order to one of the food-friendly microbreweries in Vista, either Mother Earth down the street, or the excellent science-themed Wavelength Brewing next door, where you can watch a rocket launch while drinking a tasty IPA and digging in on some award-winning meat.
3. Belching Beaver Brewery Tavern and Grill
Once upon a time, microbreweries had to sell out to AB InBev to get really big, but nowadays, they can glow up all by themselves. Belching Beaver is one of the biggest (still private) success stories out of Vista -- they have a beautiful tasting room called Pub 980 near San Marcos (and other rooms down in Ocean Beach and North Park), but this Tavern and Grill right in downtown has revitalized the whole area. Everyone knows how great the Mexican Chocolate Peanut Butter Stout is by now, but you can also find a new favorite by picking a brew off of the screens above the bar. And for the food, the fact that they’ve placed vegetarian avocado toast on the menu right next to something called the Tator Tot Dam (with braised chuck, cheese curds and gravy, and a fried egg) should tell you all you need to know. With all of that and a lovely open air patio to boot, who needs a multinational corporation to buy you out anyway, right?
4. The Yellow Deli Vista, LLC
On one hand, The Yellow Deli is a global chain of down home restaurants, all tied to a Christian sect called the Twelve Tribes that started in Tennessee, has been labeled a cult multiple times across the world, and has even been raided in the US and abroad for child endangerment and child labor concerns. On the other hand, The Yellow Deli in Vista is a nice, lovely, local restaurant that serves a great mix of from-the-farm (in this case, Twelve Tribes’ Morning Star Ranch up highway 15 in Valley Center) sandwiches, salads, and breakfasts 24 hours a day during the week (they’re closed on weekends). The surroundings and staff are very charming, but you’ll have to decide for yourself whether The Yellow Deli’s proprietors are a cult or just people trying to go their own way.
5. 508 Tavern
The 508 Tavern opened in 2017, and it’s holding down Santa Fe Avenue as the city expands its downtown district south (construction still pending). The tavern itself is charmingly sparse (though the patio outside offers a nice cool hangout), but the food and beer are why you’re here -- they offer a great mix of sliders and tavern standards along with some interesting inclusions like a chef’s choice hummus and an ahi tuna poke bowl. The beer selection goes for quality over quantity, with some good local choices like Garage Brewing and Abnormal matched up with other West Coast neighbors like Kern River and Northern Pine. In five years, 508 might be in the heart of downtown Vista if the construction continues southwards, but even right now, it’s worth the walk to try it out.
6. Partake Gastropub
Partake feels like one of Vista’s worst-kept secrets. Initially, it seems like your very own little out-of-the-way spot, off the beaten path down Santa Fe Avenue. But then it becomes apparent how just how fast Vista is growing around it (and you happen to drive by it packed with people for a music event or brunch), and you realize that Partake might be a little less exclusive and hidden than you thought. That’s no one’s fault at all, however! Chef Aaron Love and company do such a great job creating cozy, intimate meals (with multiple homemade hummus options, duck fat fries, and a must-try chicken and brie pear dish) that it’s no wonder you thought Partake was created just for you.
7. Rosa's Kitchen
There’s no shortage of great Mexican food in Vista -- you can pull through almost any drive through and get yourself a tasty and huge California burrito or street tacos as good as (or better) than anything you’d find down in TJ. But Rosa’s Kitchen has its own charm. Yes, it’s nestled in a corporate strip mall, so you’re surrounded by chains like Islands and Jack in the Box, but Rosa’s crew makes their food with far more love and care than any of those pretenders. They’ve got Mexican standards like great burritos, tacos, and a full salsa bar, but Rosa’s also goes the extra mile with some impressive menudo, chicken, and albondigas soup as well. Everybody in Vista has their own favorite for Mexican food, but when you want a place with something that everyone likes, Rosa’s is the one.
8. Mama 'n Papa's Pizza Grotto
Owner Fred Mozzani cut his teeth working for the DePhilippis, owners of the Fillippi’s Pizza Grotto chain all around San Diego, but when the time came for him to go off on his own, he started this Grotto with his wife Lynn back in 1986. The place is named after the pizzas, of course (and they range from the traditional to the SoCal -- yes, you can get a ham, pineapple, and jalapeno if that’s what you want), but the Italian standbys are also great, the portions are big, and the prices are low.
9. Pizza On Tap
Pizza Port is for the tourists in North County, but Pizza on Tap is for the locals. It’s a raucous little pizza and craft beer joint started by the folks who own the liquor shop next door, and they combine a rotating list of great craft beer choices with piled-high pizzas like the Green Crack pesto pizza, the Garlic Chicken (with alfredo sauce) or the legendary SOB (South of the Border) pizza, with your choice of chicken or chorizo, along with avocado, jalapenos, mozzarella, and a ranch drizzle. Wednesday night, they offer pint nights ($4 for your first beer, keep the glass, and $3 refills), and they just started offering a CBD option for pizzas, so you can get fake stoned while you chow down and watch the big screens. Excessive? Sure, but if you’re going out for pizza and beer, who needs moderation anyway, right?
Pho is really meant for a cold wet day much further north of here -- the kind of chilly Fall day where it’s a little rainy outside and winter’s bite is just starting to be felt. We don’t get many of those in sunny SoCal, but it’s a testament to Pho-Ever’s owners that they make it work really well here anyway. With 20 different protein options, you can make the right pho for whatever day you’re having, and the menu is packed with other choices, too, including stir fry, lemon pepper wings, an excellent Bahn Mi, and even more obscure Vietnamese favorites like a Quang-style noodle bowl. Because, you know, you can’t always wait until it’s cozy outside before getting a pho fix.
11. Hungry Bear Deli
Making sandwiches is like playing chess -- easy to learn, tough to master. Anybody can put ham and cheese between two slices of bread, but only someone who has really thought about it knows how to add avocado, or mustard, or something called “Awesome Sauce,” or how and when to use not just salami, but Cotto, Genoa, or Hard Italian as it fits. Only a real artisan ends up baking their own bread, bringing the same philosophy to salads, omelettes, and burgers, or making a secret off-menu PB and J and bacon sandwich that’s unhealthy but heavenly. And it is just such masters that work here at the Hungry Bear -- you can see them perfecting their craft right behind the counter as you order.