I’ve spooned up these purple treats for breakfast, lunch and as a reward for a long bike ride. The acai bowl. The essential ingredients are strawberries, bananas and the namesake Brazilian super-fruit. It’s pronounced AH-say-ee, and is rich in antioxidants, amino acids and essential fatty acids. There are myriad spots in downtown San Diego that serve acai bowls—some add blueberries, others include coconut and all have a different way of mixing and presenting the recipe. With the help of a very hip, knowledgeable and picky teenager, I sampled more than a dozen fruit bowls. Here are my top 5 places for the best downtown San Diego acai bowls:
My new favorite spot for an acai bowl is in Little Italy, on the main drag of Little Italy in the spot that formerly housed Pete’s Meats. What a turnaround—from sausages and sides of beef to acai, green acai and berry blast bowls. The remodeled brick exterior and interior are as welcoming as the employees. These guys and gals wear fedoras and flash arms and necks covered in tattoos. But they also smile while they’re creating organic cold-pressed juices, smoothies and acai bowls. The prices are higher ($10-$13) here, but the bananas and strawberries are pristine. My daughter digs the shaved coconut while I go for granola (not too lumpy, just crunchy enough). The plastic bowls are adorned on top with a “Stay Classy, San Diego” sticker. You don’t have to be a Ron Burgundy fan (but who isn’t?) to appreciate the reference.
It’s easy to miss this storefront on First Avenue in the Marina District (across the street from Ralphs, just off the corner of G Street). Founded by San Diego locals, Vitality Tap offers a variety of ways to fill an acai bowl, or “superbowl.” The classic comes with acai, banana and coconut water; the tropical includes pitaya (dragonfruit) strawberry, pineapple, banana and coconut water; an almond butter offering adds almond milk and almond butter to acai and banana; and a half-and-half has acai, pitaya. Banana and coconut water. For $8-$9 total, you can pick three toppings. The ambiance is workmanlike, but the product is no factory second.
My daughter eschews the granola, but I like mine crunchy. Neither of us opt for coconut. The price is decent ($8.50) and the portion is enough for a full breakfast meal. This coffeehouse on the Gaslamp Quarter/East Village border is tiny, but has an outside patio and earns big points for ambiance. It’s a regular gallery space for Mark Richmond Art, and the pieces are rotated regularly.
There’s a full menu offered at this East Village eatery, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Zanzibar is the fanciest of our top choices. The granola is house-made. We were completely full when we finally finished our big bowls for lunch ($9.95). Dad and daughter were impressed with the friendly service and speed of our waitress.
This Hawaiian chain coffeehouse is in the Marina District. While my progeny went for her usual granola-free acai bowl, I went wild and ordered the similar (but much pinker) pitaya bowl. Pitaya is less sugary than acai, and also considered a super-fruit. They do put out a container of agave (similar to honey) so you can soak your bowl to your own taste. We were wowed by the price: $6.95. Note: We love this place despite service that operates on Island Time.