Years ago, a quick visit to Pedro’s Taco’s was my only reason to stop in San Clemente. These vapor-cooked morsels of Mexican goodness are still an institution, even with the impending carne asada doom inside the car as tasty bits seemingly spill everywhere. These days, San Clemente seems quite content being off on its own island, quietly making a culinary and brewing name for itself, for the locals, by the locals. Here are some must-stop places, along with something new.
The New Guy: Lost Winds Brewing Co. offers a fresh take on Belgian-style beers alongside classic American. Some blend the two styles together, creating something unique, such as the Surfing Pelican Belgian Pale Ale. Telltale Belgian yeast aromas like bubble gum and spiced banana bread are present, and do a great job complementing this malty sessionable beer. If you’re in the mood for something stronger, definitely try the Belgian Golden Strong, St. Lasuen, which is a lighter take on the style at 7.2 percent ABV. Like the Pale Ale, the Belgian yeast gives an inviting fruity aroma. The tasting room is similar to most SoCal breweries–in an industrial area with a simple layout centered around the brewery and coldbox. Lost Winds has ample seating, thanks to a nice-sized loft.
The Classic: Pizza Port San Clemente doesn’t change much; it turns out that pizza and beer is indeed the best pairing of any solid and liquid. The formula is simple: make great pizza, brew award-winning house beer, and provide solid guest taps from the area’s best breweries. This mission-style brewpub with a view of the Pacific has been craft beer ground-zero in south county for years and is a must-stop for any weary beer traveler. Pick up a six-pack of cans or a growler fill of something hoppy to go along with your leftover pizza.
The Big Guy: Left Coast Brewing Co. just celebrated the fourth anniversary of its tasting room this past weekend, complete with a band, a special anniversary beer, and quite possibly the fluffiest dog I’ve ever seen. Locals ate tacos, danced, and sampled a dozen or so beers. While ordering a beer at the counter, a local said it best, “I’ve lived here all my life and never knew this place existed,” followed by a head-explosion gesture. Family owned and operated, the Left Coast/Oggi’s team makes South County IPA, a beer that seemed to send signals that the well-established brewery welcomes new hops and techniques.
The Small Guy: Artifex Brewing Co. may be small, but growing by leaps and bounds thanks to its incredibly solid brews. Don’t be fooled by the lack of beer name puns, No Name IPA and Holi-Dave Imperial Stout are some of the best in the county, with Holi-Dave receiving silver at the World Beer Cup, in crowded competition. Check out their latest coffee beer, with local roaster Bear Coffee, or their single-hop Amarillo Happy Pale Ale, which smells like a big bowl of Fruity Pebbles.
Lost Winds Brewing, 924 Calle Negocio c, San Clemente lostwindsbrewing.com
Pizza Port, 301 N. El Camino Real, San Clemente, pizzaport.com
Left Coast Brewery Tasting Room, 1251 Puerta Del Sol, San Clemente, leftcoastbrewing.com
Artifex Brewing Co. 919 Calle Amanecer A, San Clemente artifexbrewing.com