750 W Fir Street
San Diego, CA 92101
Stopping in Little Italy with a friend Friday for a birthday glass of wine and a mani/pedi before picking up one of our favorite Texans at the airport, K and I found ourselves at newcomer Underbelly. Love at first sight, without a doubt. Underbelly is THE realization of the kind of bar D and I have dreamt about, schemed and discussed a million times while buying lottery tickets.
Underbelly is a yatai-style bar & restaurant. Yatai are food stalls in Japan, the type you have seen under train stations or near commuter centers with stools around a tiny cooking area typically serving ramen and other hot food as well as beer and sake. Underbelly has a simple multi-Asian-inspired menu with many tempting choices such as Oxtail Dumpling with Hoisin Glazed Short Rib, Char-Sui Belly, Charred Spicy Kimchee Ramen as well as several other ramen choices. I almost talked D into driving to San Diego Sunday afternoon so I could eat there for a full meal and maybe have a little Gas Lamp pub crawl on three-day weekend Saturday night #2. Failure to manipulate. :-(
Menu above. There are some simple rules about seating in this tiny venue. Underbelly has a walk up ordering system at the bar, and you cannot order unless there is an available seat for everyone in your party. Seats surround the horseshoe bar, line the walls facing the street and are actually on the sidewalk facing into the restaurant through the open windows that make up the outer walls.
Facing in. K and I grabbed a fast glass of wine prior to our pedis at Lena Nails down the street, and returned post-pedis for a second glass and a snack. This is a serious beer list including beers I have never heard of as well as Hitachino Nest, Chimay, Alagash White, Serpent's Stout, and so on. A few well chosen wines are stored cask style for space saving, and Urbanist reports Suntory Yamazaki whiskey and a raw bar are both on the way.
K and I shared a couple appies, as we planned to eat later with EKD. Above, I nommed three smallish (but really not that small) Kurobuta weiners with whole grain mustard and kim chee. Inhaled.
K munched some beautiful Ahi Tataki with ponzu and sesame oil with definite flavors of yuzu hanging around the greens. Beautiful dish.
I loved the concept, the food, the friendly service from literally everyone working there and didn't even mind the funky ordering protocol...I just wish it wasn't 122 miles (exactly) away.