Words & Photos by James M. Coyle

Public Square Coffee

La Mesa Village is quaint, charming and mellow. It’s almost as if the streets are speaking to you, telling you to be home by 4 p.m. It’s a little sleepy, there’s no denying that. But that has become their greatest advantage. La Mesa Village is making it cool to “cruise the village” on a lazy Sunday afternoon. After all, the main drag is now lined with contemporary restaurants that are the new home for several renown chefs, cafes that sell local specialty coffee, and shops that sell all things crafty like yarn, vintage lamps and woodcut signs.

But the coffee guys, that’s a whole different story. Like Public Square Coffee for example, they’re a game changer. They are the kind of coffee house that becomes the focal point of a neighborhood. The one that gives it the “Cool” stamp of approval. The one that restauranteurs crave to be neighbors with, and the ones that other local cafe’s aim to be like.

It starts with their coffee. Offering some of the finest speciality coffee roasters in the country like Olympia, Augies and Huckleberry, these guys are on track to take the coffee world by storm. Or the east San Diego county world by storm, at least.

To accompany those heavy hitters, you’ll find one of the more knowledgeable staffs in the county. In this part of San Diego, consider yourself lucky to be served by these fine folks. Even luckier if you have the chance to try one, or all, of their house butters. From maple cayenne to Nutella bacon flavored, lather them onto some house-made popcorn or a cinnamon roll and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Space wise, it’s a gem. The natural light coming in from the scenic Village landscape just outside their floor to ceiling windows casts beautifully onto their clean, white walls littered with hanging house plants. And the way the shop is laid out with the coffee bar in the back left corner, the self-serve station in the middle, and a sectioned off lab area in the front right corner makes for a well-balanced seating area. With plenty of 2-person, or ‘1 person, 1 laptop’ tables, there’s plenty of space here to get comfortable and talk, or of course, bury yourself behind your screen.

And when you’ve had enough, cruise the village. Craft beer, fine dining, thrift stores, you name it and it’s there. La Mesa Village after all—as some have said—could be the next 30th St.

Sheldon’s Service Station

I don’t know about you, but I like things that are old. Yes, coffee, something that dates back to the 15th century is one of those things. Oh, and gas stations too. Yes, I like old gas stations. An old American gas pump is as classic as a bottle—or the machine that it comes from—of Coca-Cola. I know what you’re thinking. What the hell is this guy talking about? Where’s the connection?

It’s not that complicated. Combine a 1930s La Mesa gas station—pristinely preserved with its original wiring, some rustic copper piping, a neat window with a view and the station’s original front door—with coffee (from Cafe Moto) and you get the present-day Sheldon’s Service Station.

At this vintage coffee marvel, you’ll find a small coffee counter with a large outdoor seating area overlooking La Mesa Village. They say the old gas pumps used to be right beside the patio. At first glance, you’ll notice the trendy garage-style doors with reclaimed-metal light fixtures overhead. Interior designer or not, this place is loaded with vintage vibes. Roll up on your 1970 Yamaha and you may even make the cover of a magazine.

Sheldon’s, a more family-centric café, offers a pretty straightforward coffee menu. Their cold brew hits the spot on a warm La Mesa morning, and for those with a sweet tooth, I’ve heard the Sheldon’s Sweetie will hit the spot. Then, you make your way to the breakfast and lunch menu. Loaded with locally inspired items like blue corn chilaquiles and a fat BLAT sandwich (thick-cut bacon, lettuce, avocado, sundried tomato pesto) for lunch, you can’t help but want to take a long lunch and soak in some east county sun on the patio. You will also find some other impressive menu offerings for a cafe, like their albacore-egg salad sandwich, quinoa salad with butternut squash, and breakfast latkes (a potato pancake) with vegan créme fraiche and an apple/pear compote.

Clearly, Sheldon’s Service Station is an impressive must-visit that is highlighting La Mesa Village’s recent influx of cafés, bars and restaurants. Be it their local coffee menu, their robust breakfast and lunch offerings, or their classic Americana theme, there is something for everyone at this shop.

S3 Coffee Bar

With local wholesale roasting powerhouses like Café Moto, and more recently, Global Coffee Trading Co. and The WestBean, independent coffee houses in San Diego are now more than ever able to get their hands on quality coffee, and quality coffee training. Like at S3 Coffee Bar in Mission Gorge (across the street from Kaiser Zion Medical Center), whose name refers to the “three sisters” that inspired this shop.

S3 is your typical neighborhood coffee shop. Its business banks on the foot traffic that comes in from the nearby hospital, a few schools in the area, and occasional students from SDSU.

Hidden away in a packed strip mall, between Souplantation and Subway, you will find them and their nifty coffee and food menus scattered across teal chalk boards and a classic brown butcher paper scroll. On them, you’ll find a rotation of local drinks like a cold brew from The WestBean (#drinklocaldrinkoften), and more speciality offerings like Mexican mochas, Vietnamese iced coffees, a blended banana nut drink with espresso, acai bowls, and local pastries. Most of their hot coffee comes from Global Coffee Trading via their custom roasted “Ka” blend, a medium roast that includes 60% Brazil, 20% Sumatra and 20% Sidamo. It’s also conveniently sold by the bag.

Though small, S3 Coffee Bar is intimate and is beaming with natural light, making you want to sit at the bar run by Claudia, her two coffee-loving sisters and their mother. Sit and enjoy the local art on the walls, or the thoughtful handwritten messages offering coffee grounds to take home as compost for your home garden. 

S3 also has a pretty solid happy hour from 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. On that menu, you’ll find buy-one-get-one-free pastries, $1.50 coffee (any size) and $1.00 off blended drinks. Doctors, families of patients, and students, this coffee shop is perfect for on your way to work, break times or your end-of-the-day cup!

Tech Outfitters

So a guy walks into a bar…well, a coffee bar. And a staff member asks, “what kind of phone you got?” I told him, “uh, an iPhone Six Plus. Why?” He smirks and tells me, “check this out.” End of joke, because I am now in love. Yes, no punchline, no cackling. Just a man, his coffee and this awesome indestructible phone charger/dock that I never even knew existed.  

As I sipped on my bottled cold brew from The WestBean, and listened to the tech guy rattle off the specs of the Titan iPhone cable by Fuse Chicken, which claims to be the toughest cable on earth, I knew I had found this weird but awesome coffee-tech utopia.

To start, let’s talk a bit about the coffee. The kinda of coffee that a tech outfitter would serve alongside of indestructible phone cables, waterproof cases, battery packs and even phone and mobile repair. One word: local. Again, this is becoming a theme in San Diego, and it’s really exciting for local coffee fans, and now, gadget geeks alike. On their shelves, you’ll find beans from Café Virtuoso, Swell Coffee Co., West Bean Coffee Roasters, and Revolution Coffee Roasters. And behind the counter, you’ll find everything from single-origin pour overs to pumpkin spiced lattes. You may question the concept for a minute, but upon one sip of their locally crafted coffee, the clouds will part and all will just make sense.

So broken device or not, head to Tech Outfitters in Point Loma for your daily dose of speciality coffee and yes, gadgets. Lots and lots of gadgets.

Lazy Hummingbird

Ocean Beach, known simply as OB by local San Diegans', a genuine beach town where closed-toed shoes and sleeves will signal your visitor status. OBceans will tell you the place to go for coffee is the Lazy Hummingbird, a cafe that embodies the spirit of this beach town. Tucked away on Santa Monica Avenue just a couple block’s from OB’s main drag, Newport Avenue, you’ll find this humble café sharing a space with a local print shop. Its Sister location, referred to as "The Nest," shares its large open space with a clever gift shop offering cards and Urban Outfitters-like gifts and fresh cold pressed juices in addition to coffee. All just a few blocks from the beach.

Their flagship location offers just the right array of coffee drinks, such as the iced Vietnamese and “Santa Monicano.” Lazy Hummingbird blends coffee shop and healthy Ocean Beach café perfectly. Locals love their locally sourced kale chips, bottled cold pressed juices, or their famous acai bowl.

Why not enjoy your morning coffee and healthy bites on the beach just a few blocks down Santa Monica Avenue.

The Nest

Coffee in a warehouse? Sure! The Nest, inside the same high-beamed-ceiling building as the Teter gift shop, will be sure to satisfy all kinds of coffee and crafty craziness. Order your coffee, then peruse the shop for all kinds of Urban Outfitters-like goodies.

And if you’re like me, you will order about five different things at once because the drink and food menu with names inspired by wanderlust looks so damn attractive. For example, cold brew and coconut ice cream! Uh, duh! A drink called “Aloe You So Much?” Punny and tasty too. Boasting a mixture of aloe, lime, honey, mint and soda water, which makes for a refreshing beachside concoction. We also ordered an espresso butter muffin that local bake shop, Bake Sale, makes.

"Aloe You So Much” isn’t the only standout out item on their robust, cleanse-centric menu. You’ll also have the opportunity to test your gut with other drinks like the “Golden Brick Road” where they throw in tumeric, coconut oil, cinnamon, almond milk and black pepper. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself looking up flights to Hawaii upon your first sip of a drink called “Take Flight” or “Golden Sunset.”

So if you have the time, and want more than just coffee (think craft goods and cold pressed juices), go to The Nest. Just a half block from the beach too. So it’s kind of a win-win go-to location.

Modern Times

Modern Times Lomaland Fermentorium Tasting Room and Café in Point Loma, is a craft beverage connoisseur's playground of dreams. The perfect marriage of craft beer and craft coffee with the recent addition of a full service coffee bar cafe. Modern Times is one of the few craft breweries that roasts their own coffee beans for their coffee-beers. It started with the company founders’ deep love for coffee.

True to the quirky larger-than-life mural on the tasting room's wall, the café has some eye catching features that won't leave your tastebuds unsatisfied. Just a few feet from their line of sixteen beer taps, the eye is drawn to a copper retro diving helmet from which floweth three different cold brews: choose their barrel-aged Black House Blend on tap, or a tasting flight trio of their daily offerings. And for the kid in all of us, they have a slushi machine that churns out cold brew horchata. Cold brew FREAKING horchata! The horchata is house made chocolate spicy goodness.

There's something for all craft coffee lovers. In addition to cold brew, at the Modern Times Café you’ll also find a pour over bar and a mini-mart to purchase your own bag of freshly roasted whole beans (as well as specially released beer too). With coffee and beer, you could come for breakfast and finish it all off with a refreshing early afternoon beer.

About the Author

James M. Coyle is the creator behind @globalcoffeecounter. Follow him on his global coffee adventures one cup of coffee at a time.