San Diego, CA

Cafe 21 - Small Plates Restaurant in San Diego

Dinh Lee

Café 21 is a restaurant revolving around a small plates (tapas) concept that allows guests to enjoy many different small dishes in hopes to create variety in their experience and try many flavors and tastes. Their style is derived from the culture of Azerbaijan which is where their spices and techniques come from. All their dishes are made with locally grown produce, hormone-free grass-fed meat, anti-biotic free, free-range chicken, and wild seafood. Their bread is also freshly hand baked! They have two locations, one in the heart of Gaslamp Quarter, San Diego, and one in University Heights, San Diego.

Upon arrival, I already noticed how lovely the decorations were and their outdoor seating area is very cute and well designed. There was definitely a great ambiance and was very comforting.

First of all, their shrimp corn cakes are made with a poached egg, shrimp, potato, corn, mozzarella, and cilantro cream sauce. This corn cake was absolutely delicious and the poached egg was made perfectly where the egg oozes out when you break into it. The egg yolk mixed with the cilantro cream sauce was heavenly and matched so well. The shrimp just worked with the corncake and overall, the dish came together very nicely and the textures were also pleasant. This was one of my favorite dishes from the meal.

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Their avocado toast comes with a poached egg, feta mousse, pickled onion, arugula, a lemon vinaigrette, and handmade sourdough bread. The poached egg is once again perfect and goes so well with the sourdough and avocado. They’re definitely generous with the avocado, but half of the toast is filled with green vegetables, carrot, and pickled onion, which is fine, but not ideal in my opinion. The bread is toasted perfectly golden brown, crisp on the outside but soft on the inside. Flavors were on point as well. Overall, not my favorite avocado toast ever, but you really can’t go wrong with avocado toast, for the most part.

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The lamb crumpet comes with an egg (made sunny side up), caramelized onions, and butter lettuce. The sunny side up egg is cooked to perfection, golden brown on the bottom, fully cooked egg white and a runny egg yolk that oozes out perfectly. The lamb itself is very well done and this is a trend that I noticed here. We ordered two lamb dishes and the lamb in both is made slightly different but both excellent. The flavors of the lamb were on point and the meat is very tender and comes apart easily. There’s not much to this dish, but it is a great lamb dish and if you’re a lamb lover like me, this would be a great option since it is sometimes difficult to find good lamb at restaurants.

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Next up is their lamb kufta omelet which comes with bell pepper, tomato, mozzarella, and goat cheese. Of all the dishes, this one was a bit mediocre to me, especially given that I had such high expectations for it. It’s served in a hot skillet and is entirely filled with the omelet. The lamb itself was great, as I mentioned before, but I didn’t love the addition of the bell peppers and the goat cheese was a bit overpowering, and that’s coming from someone who absolutely adores cheese and wants it on everything. Of course, I didn’t mind that it was so cheese forward, but it felt like the other main ingredients, like the lamb and the egg omelet, didn’t get to shine as much which is a shame.

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Next are the drinks! We ordered peas of mind and trained dragon which are both lattes and when I say I am in love, you got to believe me. Not only are these drinks absolutely stunning and make for a great photo, they also taste delicious and you get your daily dose of caffeine, too. Sounds like an absolute win, win, win to me! The peas of mind is made with espresso, butterfly pea (which gives it its pretty color) lavender syrup, and almond and coconut milk. The trained dragon is made with espresso, pitaya, rose syrup, and almond and coconut milk. Now, I have to say, both drinks tasted very similar, I definitely wouldn’t be able to tell them apart, but I’m not complaining because that just means they were both delicious. The main difference in flavors is one leans more towards lavender and one leans towards rose, but they’re both very floral so it is difficult to distinguish. In terms of what it tastes like, I found the mix of their coffee with the floral flavors to be very pleasant and it was not extremely bitter like some coffee drinks are, but it didn’t taste artificial or overwhelmingly sweet either which I like. The sweetness complemented the coffee so naturally and it just worked together well They are also all vegan friendly, too!

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Another drink we tried was the galaxy (this was the drink that came in that really pretty teapot that I mentioned earlier) which is part of their palmers line, which is all made of iced organic tea and fresh-squeezed lemon juice. The galaxy is made with butterfly pea flowers and lavender syrup. Again, the flavors aren’t particularly distinguished, but the butterfly pea makes for a very pretty color and the drink was just very pleasant and refreshing. There’s nothing unique about this drink, the ingredients are very straightforward, but it is very pretty and if you’re looking for a refreshing drink, this is a great choice.

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There are still so many more delicious-looking dishes here that I have to try so I can’t wait to go back!

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Join me on my quest to eat at all the best restaurants in town and around the world! Follow me on Instagram @sanfoodiego for more food recs.

San Diego, CA
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