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.
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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.
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.
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?