If you can’t tell your borscht from your ukha, spend an evening brushing up your Eastern European culinary knowledge at Pomegranate Russian-Georgian Restaurant in University Heights. Located conveniently across the street from The Lafeyette Hotel on El Cajon Boulevard, Pomegranate is a warm and friendly neighborhood restaurant where you can get a good beef stroganoff – Russia’s claim to fame according to the menu, or simply a dish of tasty Toad Sweat ice cream and a black Turkish coffee. Either way, Pomegranate will transport you to another place and time, if only for an hour or two.
The welcoming atmosphere at Pomegranate is as hearty as its Eastern European fare. Rather than a tuxedoed maître d’ escorting you to your table, you’re more likely to experience a congenial, open-armed invitation from across the room to come in, sit down, and be fed. The restaurant’s modest mauve, pomegranate red, and melon-colored façade with its lavender overhang, large picture windows, and neon “open” sign beckon neighbors and passersby to stop in for dinner. Large potted plants and a couple bistro tables define an intimate sidewalk patio.
Inside the quaint Georgian restaurant, marble top tables with ornate table lamps and bench seating covered with Turkish rugs line the restaurant’s front windows offering sidewalk views. More marble top tables with cherry wood bistro chairs, and a couple traditional dark wood family-style dining tables, are scattered throughout the cozy dining area. A long marble top counter with bar stools provides additional seating for diners. Colorful flags hang from the wood paneled ceiling, and a twig fence segments the dining areas. Walls are covered with the eclectic scribbles of past diners, and you are welcome to add your own. The mood can swing from quiet and romantic to lively and social.
The one-page menu at Pomegranate reads as much like a piece of prose as the description of Georgian culinary delights. It starts, “This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.…” Categories include Zakuski (starters), dumplings and pies, soups, main entrées, desserts, and specialty drinks. Dishes that reflect “the unbearable lightness of being…vegetarian” are indicated by the image of a red pomegranate, and there are plenty of them. If it’s your first time here, relax and enjoy the culinary voyage you are about to embark on; those before you consistently rate their dining experiences with five stars. It won’t be long before you will be writing your own compliments to the chef and immortalizing your name on the restaurant’s walls.
From the ikra badrijannaya – eggplant with an infusion of herbs, onions, olive oil, and garlic, referred to as “a vegetarian’s dream of heaven when in hell,” to the ajap sandal, a traditional Georgian vegetable ragout promoted as the “Georgian improvement to Western Civilization,” diners can’t make a bad choice of starters. However, newbies may want to go with the salad sampler platter, because you’ll get a sampling of five different kinds of salads.
Khachapuri, a Georgian cheese pie, paired with Russian borscht – deep reddish-purple beetroot soup with beef makes an excellent meal in itself. Chakhokhbili, a kind of chicken casserole made from the chef’s secret ingredients, is a fan favorite at Pomegranate. The chicken tabaka – Cornish hen with pomegranate sauce, beef stroganoff, and smoked rainbow trout or salmon are other top choices among diners. Shashlik, which are Russian kabobs with your choice of chicken, pork, or lamb roasted over charcoal are a special kind of deliciousness reserved for Thursdays through Sundays.
Many guests order the babushka’s surprise for dessert, which is a baked apple with sweet fruits, walnuts, and honey, and they love it, but the staff also regularly recommends the medovik torte. It’s a Russian traditional honey cake that diners rave about once they try it. Don’t be afraid of the Toad Sweat ice cream, it’s actually a tasty vanilla bean ice cream with hot chocolate syrup over it. If the description doesn’t scare you away, order the Turkish coffee that is “black as night, hot as love, sweet as sin, and powerful as damnation.” With five-star ratings on popular review sites across the board, Pomegranate seems to please even the fussiest eaters.
Pomegranate’s wait staff takes time to explain menu items, helps you pair your food choices with beers or wines, and alerts you if you are over ordering their generous portions for the number of people in your party, which makes for a confident dining experience. The restaurant is located between Louisiana and Texas streets and offers only street parking; bike parking is also available. The casual restaurant is ADA accessible. Families with children are warmly welcomed. There is no TV or Wi-Fi at Pomegranate.
This neighborhood makes a great home base for your San Diego vacation. Skip the tourist hotels of Mission Valley’s Hotel Circle, Downtown’s glamorous and pricey boutique hotels, or the local beach resorts and try something new. You can get your Old Hollywood groove on at The Lafayette Hotel, Swim Club, & Bungalows across the street from Pomegranate. The hotel has a variety of accommodations to suit you.
The University Heights restaurant is on the edge of North Park, one of San Diego’s trendiest and most diverse neighborhoods. The 30th Street Corridor serves as a connector through North Park between the historic neighborhoods of University Heights and South Park. The corridor has been dubbed a top craft beer destination by Food & Wine Magazine. Running parallel to 30th Street is the Ray Street Arts District, a cultural epicenter of the rising North Park arts community. The district is home to several galleries and studios, and is known as one of the most culturally rich districts in San Diego.
Explore the quaint shops of North Park during the day, have an amazing dinner at Pomegranate, and then indulge in North Park’s nightlife for the full neighborhood experience. You can also check out North Park’s online calendar during your visit to see what cool neighborhood events are happening while you’re here.