Restaurant Review: Uptown Tavern

    Dishes like Pork Schnitzel Sliders ($10) and Charrel Brussel Sprouts ($10) proudly stray from the traditional. Just an easy 20 minute drive from campus leads to the stylish Hillcrest area, a well-known mecca of hipster-approved eateries and vintage stores alike.

    Uptown Tavern is sister restaurant to the popular North Park spot, West Coast Tavern, and walking up to this younger sibling can leave some questioning whether they’re in San Diego or uptown Manhattan. The exterior and front patio are arranged with sophisticated detail, using white umbrellas, blue-hued lighting and fire pits to situate evening diners. To stand out, a spotlight projects the signboard onto the front of the restaurant, and a wide lifted garage door acts as a welcoming entrance. Diners and drinkers are invited inside to the main dining room and bar: an area with a clean and unassuming vibe.

    With ‘tavern’ in their name, it should be expected that the liquor choices at the Uptown Tavern are plentiful. The fully stocked bar offers 20 beers on tap along with an extensive list of creative cocktails. Their Mule ($8) is a concoction of vodka, ginger beer, lime juice and bitters, and the Hibiscus Lemon Drop ($10) mixes ginger vodka, triple sec and fresh lemon juice poured prettily into a martini glass with a sugared rim. Seasonal flavors are highlighted in their Maple Old Fashioned ($10), which is their merry mixture of maple syrup, whiskey, muddled oranges, maraschino cherries and bitters. Uptown Tavern also has happy hour for $3 from 4-6pm every day, offering a variety of well drinks, domestic drinks and house wine. Premium drafts are offered for a dollar more.

    The bar, which is undoubtedly the focal point, doesn’t just impress with their liquor collection. Yellow-orange lighting underneath the seating counter adds to the restaurant’s sultry, dimly lit atmosphere, and young couples and singles just off work mingle among each other. The rest of the dining area presents alluring juxtapositions: plush cushioned booths with hanging tin water coolers that have been converted into lamps to provide table lighting, along with uncovered mason jars holding tea candles to create a DIY candlelit ambiance. Beams cover the ceiling and the walls are sparsely decorated—mostly a collection of vintage pilot portraits. Soulful vocals from Ray Charles and the late Ms. Winehouse softly fill the space.

    Uptown Tavern’s food menu is as generous in variety as its bar menu, with creativity also embraced. Unconventional ingredient pairings such as the Quinoa and Farro Saute ($14) and the Maple Bacon Creme Brûlée ($7.50) are sure to ignite some curiosity, and classics like the Tavern Chicken and Waffle ($11) can satiate the soul food cravers. The Burnt Cheddar Mac’n’Cheese ($10), a crowd favorite, is a harmony of textures and flavors that can help erase thoughts of unsatisfying Easy Mac dinners that college students are much too familiar with. Corkscrew noodles get cozy with a blend of white Cheddar and Manchego cheeses and are topped with a layer of burnt cheese crumbs to result in a crunchy and creamy union.

    An excellent pairing to the mac is the Angus Chuck Beef Sliders ($9). Two small Angus patties are topped with red onion marmalade, manchego cheese, bacon strips and garlic aioli. Their size is deceiving—these miniature burgers pack in a lot of food and flavor. It doesn’t stop at the patties—even the buns are grilled so there’s crunch with the bite. Better yet, during happy hour, the Angus sliders are only $5. If burgers aren’t sounding good at the moment, there are wings, fries, flatbread and salad that are also $5 during 4-6 p.m.

    For those in a festive mood, the Pumpkin Creme Brûlée ($7.50) is hard to ignore. It’s rich, as most creme brûlées are, emphasizing a pumpkin flavor, but not too excessively. The consistency is slightly more liquified than the traditional brûlée, though most can overlook this. It’s served with a shortbread biscuit on the side, an addition that the dish could probably be without but does help in balancing the sweetness.

    College students may be wary that a trendy joint like Uptown might be out of their price range, but most of the plates are affordable and decently sized. Happy hour deals are a shame to miss. A plus: the restaurant is open until 1 a.m. every day, a good excuse to extend late night Hillcrest shenanigans anytime during the week.

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