I’ve walked by Hanna’s Gourmet in the quiet neighborhood of Normal Heights a handful of times. Cute, intimate bistro, small space, multicultural menu—those were my first impressions. But the menu was what always held me back. I think the notion of “if they do everything, they do nothing well” often holds true, and I assumed that a menu that pulled from cuisines all over the world was bound to be a misstep. Now that I’ve tried Hanna’s, I can get the foot out of my mouth, apologize to dear Hanna, and tell you that this place is one of the best restaurants in San Diego. In fact, the meal I had there was one of the best in my life! (And I’ve been fortunate enough to eat at really spectacular places, so I’d like to think my opinion carries decent weight.)
Ethiopian-born Hanna Tesfamichael moved to the States in 1983 and went on to study food and nutrition at SDSU. Once she accumulated all those culinary skills, she worked at a catering company in La Jolla and finally launched a brick-and-mortar restaurant on Adams Avenue in 2011. That global perspective and nod to nutrition is evident in her menu that pulls from South Africa, India, France, and other countries. In addition to the eclectic menu, Hanna also offers a rotating selection of a few dishes from one country each week. When I first came across the restaurant, the “world tour” menu was from Iran. For the World Cup’s first week of games, it was Brazil.
Best of all, there’s now more room to sit! Back in 2011, Hanna’s Gourmet was just a couple of tables with a to-go counter. Now there are about a dozen tables with a roomy patio. The space itself feels like home. Hanna brings out the dishes and checks on your experience, while the patrons are regulars who aren’t afraid to champion the restaurant as San Diego’s best. (One guy wasn’t shy to stop and tell me that.) From what I’ve heard, many have done the brunch thing at Hanna’s, but you should definitely check it out for dinner. Here’s why:
Crostini sounds like a boring appetizer, but not the way Hanna prepares it. Made with focaccia Hanna bakes herself, it’s a great blend of soft and crunchy with juicy toppings. The quesadilla was good, not great, but I did love the creativity of mango as a filling.
Lasagna is very hard to photograph well, but trust me when I say this creamy, pesto-dressed version is just about the best vegetarian lasagna you’ll ever have, thanks mostly to the sauce. Because Hanna studied nutrition, she pays attention to quality of ingredients and doesn’t make her creams and sauces with heavy ingredients. You can taste the difference. (You also won’t feel as sluggish after the meal.)
This was our favorite entree and so very unique. Bobotie is an African dish similar to meatloaf with an egg souffle-yogurt topping. There’s a curry flavor to it, so it may remind you of Indian food. The rice and salad are also excellent, so all around, this is a great choice for dinner.
Hanna is a trained pastry chef, so it’s no surprise that the baked goods are the best I’ve had in the city. I’m not a crème brûlée fan, but I thought the goat cheese-cardamom blend in hers is an inventive take. The carrot cake was phenomenal. It’s also the bestselling dessert at the restaurant, thanks to the spongy cake consistency and very airy whipped cream-cream cheese frosting. Some love the candied kumquats, but they were too sweet for me. That said, the frosting is the highlight here. Hanna said she tweaked the recipe for a long time to ensure that it wasn’t fat- and sugar-laden like most frostings, but still tasty. I think you should go to Hanna’s for the carrot cake alone.
Also super cool is the restaurant’s monthly family dinner series. For $30, you’ll get a multi-course meal themed to one country each month. Coming up next on July 17 is an Indian dinner. Everyone sits together like we used to, as Hanna says, and you can find more info on the Hanna’s Gourmet website.
My meal was gratis, but all opinions are my own. Seriously, I love this place. Of course the opinions are my own.