You’ll find Middle Eastern eats at Café 21, in the heart of San Diego’s historic Gaslamp Quarter at 5th Avenue and F Street. It is owned and operated by a husband and wife duo, Alex and Leyla, whose journey began by selling homemade baklava in a friend’s Persian restaurants. With the success of their baked goods a bigger dream unfolded, and their first Café 21 restaurant located in University Heights was established.
The duo’s Azerbaijani roots are the inspiration behind not only their menu, but also their décor. This unique culinary style with Eastern European and Western Asian influences, is what has allowed them to expand, and open their Downtown location. They offer a delectable daily brunch menu as well as an expansive dinner menu; both feature a wide variety of exotic and flavorful cuisine. As an added bonus they are committed to using only organic and local ingredients. They are “invested in creating the most memorable dishes from the finest ingredients our Mother Earth can offer.”
Café 21 Ambiance
Café 21 offers an interesting and complimentary blend of urban funk, and Azerbaijani style with touches of industrial functionality. The main dining room has dark wood floors, light wood and white bistro tables and chairs, floor to ceiling windows, brick walls, funky shelving, booths with bold-patterned textiles in a Eurasian style, and industrial-looking tin chandeliers. The bar area features an intriguing geometric custom wine rack display system on one wall, the bar is backed by a brick wall with shelves that light up, making it pop.
The outside patio is simple and efficient with lightwood tables, white patio chairs, and fun floor to ceiling chalkboards with daily specials and happenings. Lush greenery accents the space throughout the restaurant and patio areas. You’ll find displays of pitchers with different flavored sangria, and fresh juices that add pops of color from their natural ingredients. Café 21 has a casual, rustic-chic ambiance.
Café 21 Food
At Café 21, Leyla created a flavorful menu that is built from the best local and farm fresh ingredients. Her creations are mouthwatering, focusing on her cultural roots and local organic sources. The restaurant gets their fresh fruits and vegetables from Susie and Tom King Farms, their fresh bread locally from Con Pan Bakery, and their meats from local free-range and grass-fed organic sources. This socially conscious way of cooking her delightful dishes ensures you’re also having a healthy culinary experience.
The brunch menu offers a wide range of selections such as café cakes; a twist on the traditional eggs benedict, pancakes, crepes, cast iron omelets, French toast, burgers, sandwiches, salads, house specialties and more. Try the Prosciutto crepe filled with grilled prosciutto, sour cream, feta and avocado, or dive into a lamb burger, with Swiss cheese, tomato, onion, garlic goat cheese aioli on a brioche bun. The menu is a great example of traditional entrées with a modern twist; you will not be disappointed.
Expect the same high quality offerings on the dinner menu – flatbreads, salads, sides and bites, and diverse main entrées. Vegans, vegetarians, seafood lovers, and meat eaters will all find menu items that tease the taste buds. Vegan sauté, whole grilled sea bass, a house burger, vegetable cabbage rolls, and stuffed chicken breast are just a few of the choices. For those looking to connect with the roots that make this restaurant unique, try the Azerbaijani Steak Kabob Platter – steak kabobs, lamb sausage, kufta, and marinated chicken with avocado pesto, beet hummus, black eyed pea hummus, and a rice pilaf. End your dining experience with one of their freshly whipped desserts like gluten free, flourless chocolate cake served with vanilla ice cream.
Café 21 Details
Café 21 is open daily for brunch, happy hour with a tapas menu, and dinner.They have a full bar with signature drinks, sangrias, mimosas, craft beers, and wines available all day. They do not deliver, however you can order take out. The only available parking is street parking, but they do have bike parking out in front. The restaurant is ADA accessible. Café 21 allows dogs on their patio seating area. Kids are welcome in this family-friendly restaurant, however, take note that there are no televisions and there is no Wi-Fi here.
Café 21 Neighborhood
There are a multitude of things to do in the Downtown Gaslamp Quarter. Café 21 is located in the heart of the action, so you have plenty of options within walking distance, or a short cab ride away. The Westfield Horton Plaza is three blocks from Café 21 where you can enjoy a day of shopping and entertainment. The state-of-the-art Padres Petco Park is seven blocks away heading toward the harbor; you can catch a game or simply walk around Park at the Park between J and K streets, and surrounding area.
The San Diego Convention Center is across Harbor Drive; take the Harbor Drive Pedestrian Bridge, which at 550 feet is one of the longest pedestrian suspension bridges in the world, to get there. The New Children’s Museum is back across the bridge on W Island Avenue between Front and Union Streets. Seaport Village is a few doors down from the Convention Center and offers an eclectic mix of 54 shops on 14 acres. You’ll discover the rich architectural history and interesting boutiques, lounges, outside patios, and hotels simply walking around the Gaslamp Quarter.
If you’re planning to stay in the neighborhood, try one of these historic and boutique hotels – Horton Grand Hotel, Sofia Hotel, The Keating, Andaz, or Hotel Solamar.