Influx Café, on the San Diego scene in Golden Hill since 2002, has mastered the art of light, uncomplicated food while maintaining friendly, efficient service and a hip, casual atmosphere. Early this year, it expanded to a second location in the heart of Little Italy, and it's been a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
I still say the name is terrible. It makes me think “acid reflux” or “flush,” which are not words one should associate with breakfast or lunch. But, they didn't ask me what I would have named it (Madam Jenny's Emporium of Sparkles & Dreams & Salad—yes, you can totally have it), so I've learned to accept it while devouring their sandwiches, salads and baked goods.
I couldn't be any less of a hipster: I have no tattoos; I love Ricky Martin in a completely un-ironic way; and sometimes I watch The Ghost Whisperer. And Influx is definitely hipster paradise, full of Mac-using bloggers wearing vintage T-shirts, sipping Americanos and checking out the shelves full of postcards and flyers for the latest concerts and DJ appearances. It's a super-cool scene, yes, but the low-key and friendly staff keeps it from feeling exclusionary.
Both locations are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, and you can get whatever you want on the menu, all day long. Try one of the fresh-baked croissants—dense and buttery on the inside, and flakier than Matthew McConaughey on the outside. They do seem to run out of the morning baked goods quickly, which is a bummer, but it attests to their freshness and popularity.
I have yet to find a weak sandwich offering, but am drawn back again and again to the ones featuring cheese. The Feta 1 boasts sweet puréed eggplant with a thick layer of feta, bitter greens and red onion, all snuggled between two pillowy and peppery slabs of focaccia bread. The Mozz 1 is utterly simple: fresh slabs of mozzarella, a bit of basil, sliced tomato and a drizzle of oil and balsamic vinegar. The good people at Influx never mess it up. The ratio of salt and pepper is always consistent; there's never a bad tomato; a pungent whiff of vinegar is in every bite. It's perfect.
Their Goat salad with, yes, goat cheese, along with candied pecans, cranberries and a pucker-inducing vinaigrette offers tasty contrasts, although if you want any sort of substance added to it (chicken, turkey, etc) it starts to get a bit pricey.
Influx excels at soups, as well, and all of the daily offerings are either vegan or vegetarian. For a full-service restaurant, Influx also turns out some pretty amazing baked goods; the cupcakes rival any of the top cupcakeries in town. The seasonal pumpkin cupcake is dense and tender, and the Red Velvet offers a great buttermilk tang often lacking in other bakery versions.
Influx Café is hardly the new kid on the block. But years of cranking out really delicious, really consistent food to a large and loyal following proves it to be a San Diego restaurant that knows exactly what it's doing. Lousy name and all.