Red Card Café, Serving the Unexpected this Summer

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Tucked into a quiet, industrial space at the north end of San Diego’s Morena Boulevard, Red Card Café is a hidden gem amid San Diego’s dining scene. Opened in August 2016, the family-owned and operated restaurant was built around the concept of blending popular international street foods with contemporary fare – and the result is a gastropub serving up a little something for everyone, from Fundido Mac & Cheese to Country Duck Pate.

Given its focus on popular dishes from around the globe, Red Card fittingly pulls its name from the game of soccer, considered “the world’s game” and a personal interest of Parisian-born restaurateur Caroline Sternberg, who resides in San Diego. In soccer, the term “red card” equates to a penalty, but at the restaurant it is more often a reminder of international flair and a crisp black and white theme accented with pops of vibrant red.

Housed in an industrial space that once served as a catering kitchen, Red Card boasts a raised ceiling with exposed air-ducts atop walls adorned with oversized mirrors and historic prints of early 20th century European football. Entering the main dining room, guests can opt for comfy booths, café-style and high-top tables or a concrete finished bar with a cherry red tap pouring fourteen local craft beers. Through a rustic, sliding barn door The Back Lounge centers itself around a king’s table crafted from reclaimed barn wood, while the far corner offers white sofas and black leather chairs under starburst-style chandeliers. Outside, an umbrella shaded patio provides the alfresco dining experience San Diegans crave.

Since its opening, Red Card’s menu has welcomed guests to explore the flavors of the world through a startlingly wide range of fare including a street food section comprised of several exotic small plates like Chicharrones, Tofu Agadashi, Shrimp Beignets, Char Siu Steambuns and Poke. This season, Executive Chef Alfonso Arellano debuted a new menu boasting revamped fare and a trendy section dubbed “Jars” (think: pickled vegetables, aguachile and ceviche). Arriving simultaneous to the recent menu relaunch are two plates primed to become carb-laden stars of the show: Red Velvet Waffles with whipped cream cheese frosting and Chicken n’ Waffles available during Saturday and Sunday brunch.

Chef Arellano’s ability to pivot between such varied fare is no surprise given his varied background. As a native of San Diego, his first glimpse of other cultures came from his Mexican and American Irish family. As a boy his grandmother provided his earliest cooking lessons using family recipes; in those moments, he learned that the kitchen was where he always wanted to be – though not before also serving in the United States Marine Corps, an experience that exposed him to many international destinations and cultures long before he ever set foot inside culinary school.

This past month, Red Card has also rolled out new weekly specials including Fried Chicken Mondays, an embrace of the current fried chicken movement featuring a Southern recipe paired with Nashville style spicy BBQ sauce with braised kale and rainbow swiss chard. On Taco Tuesdays, Red Card celebrates every San Diegan’s favorite meal of the week with three tacos for $8 or five for $12, plus happy hour pricing on craft beers from 3:30 p.m. to close. Insider tip: order at least one chicken mole taco; the unique recipe is reflective of Chef Arellano’s upbringing.

Oenophiles can also now raise a toast to Burger & Wine Wednesdays, featuring half price bottles of wine (no corkage!) when ordered in conjunction with any of Red Card’s four burgers, like the Fried Onion Burger with frico and mushrooms, the Gorgonzola Burger with bacon jam and balsamic reduction, the Red Card Classic and a weekly-changing Chef’s Choice burger.

“We envision Red Card Café being a gathering place or melting pot of sorts,” says owner Caroline Sternberg. “We have created a concept and menu that reaches beyond the typical boundaries of casual dining to exhibit an array of cultures.”

Red Card Café is open daily at 4140 Morena Boulevard in Bay Ho. The restaurant serves lunch and dinner Monday through Friday, and brunch and dinner on Saturdays and Sundays. Visit www.redcardcafe.com or socialize on Instagram at @RedCardCafeSD for the latest dining news including an “Ode to Beers, Bacon & Ribs” coming up for Father’s Day on Sunday, June 18.

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