Heat Bar & Kitchen Turns It Up in Hillcrest

July 5, 2013

By Megan Gallagher | SanDiegoVille Contributor

Living in the beach area, it's easy to become trapped in a bubble, experiencing only a fraction of what San Diego has to offer. Convincing friends to drive to Encinitas to check out a new breakfast spot when they can just as easily bike to Bird Rock for some good brunch can be a challenge. To get in a car or pay for a cab when perfectly good grub is just a stroll away seems counterintuitive. As an ever-curious freelance journalist, I am constantly on a quest to get my friends to step outside of the beach bubble and experience all that America’s Finest City has to offer. My latest discovery?  Heat Bar & Kitchen in Fabulous Hillcrest.

Heat, located right on the border of Hillcrest and North Park, entered the San Diego dining scene five months ago after owners Sam Khorish and Pasqual Courtin completed a total transformation of the space formerly known as Urban Grind. With red and orange tones, highlighted mainly by what is known as the LED-lit “lava wall,” a spacious patio, and a centralized communal table, Heat has the versatile characteristics of both an intimate date night setting and a happening happy hour spot.

We checked out the place on a quiet Tuesday evening and were seated at a corner table, giving us views of the scene throughout the night. From the start, it was apparent that this place is already frequented by regulars. Many guests were greeted by Khorish and Courtin with a handshake or even a hug. The crowd at the bar, a handful of people who seemed to linger and chat as though they were enjoying a glass of red in their own living room, gave off the vibe that Heat could soon be a place where everyone knows your name.

White Spring Sangria
We were promptly greeted by our server, who offered up his recommendations on their go-to cocktails. Heat has a license to serve only beer, wine and sake, but that doesn’t stop them from featuring their version of the most popular drink choices, such as sangria, mules, and bellinis. And, allegedly, the sake doesn’t dilute the alcohol percentage either - they use two shots in each drink, giving the drinks the same kick as your typical hard liquor cocktail.

Given the increasing popularity of Jalapeno-infused cocktails, I decided to spring for the Cucumber Jalapeno Rickey with house-infused cucumber Soku, jalapeno, organic agave nectar, fresh lime and seltzer. My partner chose White Spring Sangria, a blend of white wine, green tea, Kobai plum wine, cherries, honey syrup, mandarin orange and lychees. Unlike other bars, Heat doesn’t muddle the jalapeno in their Rickey, giving diners complete control over the spiciness of the drink. And, just as promised, the drink hit the perfect spot between a cool summer cocktail and turning up the spice. Be forewarned non-spice seekers, letting the drink sit too long will definitely give those last few sips quite the kick. The White Spring Sangria was cool and refreshing, and the lychee garnish was an added sweet treat.

For appetizers, we went with two signature choices: house-made smoked potato chips with sea salt and Suzie’s greens and vegetables. The restaurant sources all of their greens from Suzie’s Farm and is always able to keep their offerings fresh and seasonal. The vegetables were lightly tossed in a Dijon mustard vinaigrette, which thankfully didn’t distract from the flavors of the beets, radishes and other greens. Being the salty snack lover that I am, the potato chips were as tastey as I had imagined when I first saw them placed at a table next to us. And, the texture was spot on.

After salty appetizers, it was already time for cocktail number two. I selected The Heat Cocktail with Gekkeikan sake, Kobai plum wine, serrano chili pepper, organic agave nectar and fresh lemon juice. Perhaps it was because my Rickey was so spot on, but, in contrast, this signature cocktail lacked flavor. Though enjoyable and refreshing, it won’t be my choice on the next visit. Sticking with his sangria theme, my partner selected the Red Sangria. Though his disdain for rosemary was telling him otherwise, our server assured us that it wasn’t overbearing – and he was right. Made with red wine, citrus, rosemary and ginger beer, the red spring sangria had a unique flavoring, much like a sangria-mule hybrid.

Moving on to the main course, Heat has a little bit for everyone. The range of offerings is quite impressive, from burgers to salmon to risotto. The menu is also gluten-free friendly - in fact, seven of their ten entrée choices are gluten free, as are five of their appetizers.

Duroc pork chop
Though I’d heard much about their burger, prepared with bacon jam, gruyere and peppery greens, I decided to step out of my comfort zone for the main entrée, and selected the spicy lamb ossobuco at the suggestion of our server. Seasoned with grated horseradish, manchego and gremolata, the lamb was flavorful and tender—no knife needed. The lamb was served over a generous helping of polenta, which, though tasty, was a bit too grainy. I should note, however, that my partner found the texture of the polenta to his liking so, like many things, it is all up to the individual.

My partner went with the 12 oz. Duroc natural pork chop, which is pepper crusted, and served with roasted garlic and sage, pickled golden raisins, pan seared polenta and a whole grain mustard sherry cream. Full disclosure, my dining partner owns a family restaurant back East and is such a fan of pork chops that he is sometimes called “pork chop.” By the end of the meal, there was not a trace of pork chop to be found. If that’s not a testament to the excellent preparation and balanced flavor of Heat’s offering, I’m not sure what is.

Stuffed from our generous helpings, we were ready to call it quits and save dessert for next time around, but our server’s pure excitement when describing their dessert special, a Ballast Point Sea Monster Imperial Stout mousse with a hazelnut crunch, served over Vietnamese coffee ice cream, made it hard to walk away. “You’re going to die when you taste this! It’s amazing!” he exclaimed. How could one resist? The unique dessert was definitely worth the food coma that ensued. Topped with a strawberry sauce, it was sweet, rich and delicious.

The Takeaway:

Our two-hour visit to The Heat was just a sampling of a handful of their vast, unique menu and it is without a doubt that we’ll be back to check out more of their offerings. It’s an excellent option for above-average dishes at a reasonable price, and seeing the owners’ genuine interaction with their guests makes it a spot that’s easy to support, and where you’re happy to spend your cash.

In addition to serving dinner from 5pm Monday-Saturday, The Heat has a much buzzed about brunch on weekends and is set to roll out a lunch menu in July.  They also have a happy hour that can’t be beat with $5 house wines, craft beer, and apps. Their beer list is rotated weekly and includes a handful of local craft brews. Check them out at http://www.heatbarandkitchen.com or on Facebook.

3797 Park Blvd., Hillcrest
(619) 546-4328


Tue - Thu: 11 AM - 10 PM
Fri: 11 AM - 11 PM
Sat: 9 AM - 11 PM
Sun: 9 AM - 4 PM
Closed Mondays
Lunch 11 AM - 3 PM
Dinner 3 PM - Close
Brunch Saturdays: 9 AM - 3 PM
Brunch Sundays: 9 AM - 4 PM
Happy Hour: 3 PM - 6:30 PM

Heat Bar and Kitchen on Urbanspoon