(Perfectly captured photo by attendee Christina Orlovsky Page)



What a day. Months and months of meetings, planning, dodging obstacles, ditching our day jobs to file permits, staying up late after the kids go to bed to post updates on social media, making trips to the printer again and again and again… all for this incredible day! SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off 2015 was definitely one for the books, and although we are still tying up loose ends and putting supplies away (and gearing up for our committee after party, yee-haw!), we are taking a moment to reflect on the day.

This event blows us away every year; the Chefs bringing their a-game and loads of awesome chili, the brewers delivering donated kegs of the best beer in town, all the hard-working craft vendors setting up their 10×10 shops in the street and the team of tireless parent volunteers arriving at the wee hours of the morning and staying late into the deep, dark night on a Sunday to make this all happen. Our gratitude overfloweth.

We don’t call this event a Chili Cook-Off for nothin’! A little friendly competition between 40 of San Diego’s most generous Chefs to determine who can create and serve the best chili in the coolest ceramic bowls did not disappoint this year. The chili game was strong, and the judges had no easy task awarding first place winners in the following categories:

Best Overall: Toronado San Diego 

“Totally Rad” Chef Missy Sandoval // Smoked Lamb Leg, Tri-tip Chipotle Chili

Best Vegetarian: Monkey Paw Brewery

Chef Onan Davis  // Vegan “Blairsteak” Chili with Mushrooms, Peppers and Monkey Paw Corneilius Stout

Most Unique: South Park Brewing Company 

Chef Luis Aguirre  // Shrimp and Seafood “Sausage Style” Smoked Chili Topped with Roasted Corn Bread and Smoked Jalapeno Cream

People’s Choice (awarded by attendees!): West Coast Tavern

Chef Abe Botello  // West Coast Style Chili with Short Rib, Tri Tip and White Navy Beans


Congratulations to all the winners, and a big shout out to all the Chefs and their teams for participating. Hauling chili is no small feat!


Finally, on a personal note if I may… one day post-SoNo my 1st grade son came home from school ecstatic that he had learned some cool new words in Spanish (we are now only saying colors in Spanish around the house..) and that he got to partner with his best friend in dance class. These are just a few of the programs offered to our McKinley kids because of the funds SoNo Fest raises! They are called “enrichment” classes for a reason- they really do enrich the lives of the students. If you attended SoNo and bought a bowl, a beer, a kids zone wristband or a gift from a vendor, you have personally contributed to the programs these kids love. If you donated your time, spread the word about this event, made food, popped tents, picked up trash or let this event take over the street in front of your house, you have personally contributed to enriching the lives of the students at McKinley! Our hearts are full of gratitude. And from my happy 6 year old to you: Thank You.



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Feeling the URBN St. Brewing love…


Urbn St. Brewing Co. opened its doors in El Cajon just last year, but it’s already making an impact on the San Diego craft beer scene. Co-founded by Executive Chef Alex Carballo, Restaurateur Jon Mangini, and Head Brewer Callaway Ryan, this was a natural progression for Mangini, who is responsible for bringing us Basic as well as three Urbn Coal Fired Pizza restaurants.

Having had the opportunity to drink many delicious Urbn St. beers while noshing down on Mashed Potato pizza (yes, that’s mashed potatoes, bacon, fresh mozzarella and parmesan pizza heaven), the two that stand out for me are their IPA (6.5 % ABV) and their Saison (6.8% ABV). The IPA is well balanced with floral and citrus notes and was exceptionally easy to drink for this hophead. The award winning Saison is also a delight! With hints of grass and apricots, this farmhouse ale was dry, yet oh-so refreshing.


We are super grateful that Urbn St. Brewing is joining us in the Beer Garden at this year’s SoNo Fest. So make the trip to El Cajon, or hop on over to Urbn Pizza in North Park for some of their delicious beer and some of the best pizza around!

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Do you ever pull your SoNo Fest SDCC ceramic chili bowl from your cupboard and feel transported back to last year’s event? Can you still taste your favorite recipe when you close your eyes? Yes, us too.

We are feeling all the feels about how many talented Chefs have signed on to return to the #ChiliSmackDown competition this December. Without the generosity (and mad ladle skills) of these local culinary artists, the SoNo Fest would be no more. All hard labor and chili is graciously donated by the 40 participating restaurants! What they get in return (besides our lifetime adoration and praise) is a chance to reign supreme in the SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off Hall of Champions. Professional judges and “the people” will honor their favorite dishes with awards like Most Unique and Best Overall, and the restaurants will have bragging rights for years to come.

2014 winners Small Bar (best overall), Kensington Cafe (best vegetarian), Waypoint Public (most unique) and Carnitas Snack Shack (people’s choice) are all rolling back in this year to defend their titles! Winners of years past Urban Solace (most unique 2012), Ritual Tavern & Blind Lady Alehouse (tie for best overall 2012), Sipz (best vegetarian 2013) and Rebecca’s Coffee House (best overall in 2009- our first year of competition!) will be at this year’s event, dishing up their best chili yet.

Newbies Streetcar Merchants, Hope 46, Kindred (in Alchemy’s former space in South Park), Cafe Madeline and Panchitas Bakery will be bringing the heat with some tough new competition. South and North Park has blossomed with new restaurants recently and these Chefs are in it to win it.

What’s your restaurant dream team for the upcoming smack-down? Make your predictions for who will be victorious in each of the 4 categories: Best Overall, Best Vegetarian, Most Unique and People’s Choice (hey, you have a say in that one!). We’ll meet you on 32nd street and Thorn on December 6th and see who comes out on top!

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Get ready for Beer and Chili from Monkey Paw Brewing!


Another acclaimed brewery joining us in the SoNo Fest beer garden this year is Monkey Paw Brewing. They’re going be in the beer garden and competing in our chili-cook off and we couldn’t be more excited!


Situated in the East Village, in what used to be a dive bar called The Jewel Box, Monkey Paw’s pub and tasting room retains all of that laid back charm while offering killer bar food and truly outstanding beer. Although they serve beers from many other breweries in the area, they have stand-outs from their own lineup that shouldn’t be missed.


Sweet Georgia Brown (5.8% ABV) started out as a traditional, Southern English Brown ale but has evolved into a caramel nosed rustic brown ale, heavy on the malts, light on the hops and incredibly drinkable. This beer has won numerous awards and medals and is a superior pair to the fried pretzel that they have on their menu.


Another one of their stand-out beers is Mighty Joe Young (6% ABV), an American Stout with a full bodied yet not too rich flavor profile. This stout might be hoppier than your average stout, which is probably the reason why I love it so much, but it’s still incredibly balanced with a malt-forward flavor that is reminiscent of iced coffee, dark chocolate and toast.


Monkey Paw is more than just beer though. Their menu of inspired bar food includes gooey cheese steaks, spicy wings and “stoner fries” which are waffle fries topped with any meat, cheese and veggie that you want. Yum!

We are super thankful to these guys for their SoNo Fest support, so stop by their pub the next time you are in the mood for a beer and a bite!

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SoNo Sponsors: Buona Forchetta + Community Realty Co. show their local love


Where would any of us be without the warm, plucked-out-of-Italy twinkle of lights and goodness that is Buona Forchetta? One shudders to think of the corner at 30th & Beech before owner Matteo Cattaneo transformed it into the lively, cozy, family dining destination that it is today. One ‘Buona Sera’ from any of the very friendly employees makes you believe you’ve crossed the Atlantic as you’re swept to a table under the lights and instantly transported to a little piece of Italia perfectly situated in South Park.  The always-packed pizzeria has been been turning out authentic wood-fired pizzas (thanks to the famed Sofia, a hand-crafted pizza oven) and handmade pastas since its inception in 2013 and it just keeps getting better.

Not only is the food something to marvel at (and eat too much of and maybe even bathe oneself in), owner Matteo Cattaneo is himself a neighborhood treasure. Ever present around South Park as a resident and business owner, his success hasn’t changed his amiable and genuine demeanor. He is quick to raise a hand in greeting or flash a wide smile to anyone he comes across.

It’s a natural fit then for Cattaneo to sponsor SoNo Fest (he’s also a McKinley dad) and bring the ever-popular Dante, his wood-fired pizza oven on the go, to serve the masses some of Buona Forchetta’s delectable goodness on wheels. Thank heavens, because I for one, wouldn’t want to imagine a world without Buona Forchetta in it.



Another local devotee, Community Realty Co., established in 2014 by Realtors and McKinley parents Jorge Vega and Jean Rivaldi, proudly lends its support as a SoNo Sponsor this year. Vega and Rivaldi forged a business relationship after a playground conversation turned to shop talk. Vega, an Altadena resident and Rivaldi, a South Parker, focus their attention and expertise on the local San Diego urban center that they both know and love so well.

Together they combine their varied backgrounds (marketing + product development + branding and real estate brokerage management + community housing) to bring a boutique real estate concierge service to the local area that focuses on detailed attention to each and every client.

Rivaldi hailed originally from Chicago and fell in love with South Park and North Park at first sight, “It reminds me of the urban walkable neighborhoods I was used to in Chicago, but almost with the hometown feel of Nebraska where I grew up. What we have here in these neighborhoods is very unique and special.”

Vega grew up in Northern California, but made his way to San Diego for college, and ever since it’s been home, “I love knowing all of my neighbors and really feeling like I belong to part of a community that comes together as friends.”

Vega and Rivaldi also feel strongly about supporting public education. In 2014 they started the Buy>Sell>Give Back campaign to support San Diego’s urban center public schools. For every transaction closed with Community Realty Co. in the area a minimum of $500 is donated to the public school of the buyer or seller’s choice. When a client doesn’t have a school preference, the funds go to McKinley School Foundation.


Thank you to both Buona Forchetta & Community Realty Co. for your generous support of SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off 2015!

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Our mouths are watering already: the list of confirmed participating Chefs for this year’s SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off is in! Get ready for the #ChiliSmackDown, happening Sunday, December 6th!

Who served your favorite chili last year? Soda & Swine’s short rib, milk stout chili with guajillo peppers? Underbelly‘s spicy pork & beef with pickled scorpion peppers? Come see who is cooking up what at this year’s big event. All of 2014’s champions (Small Bar, Kensignton Cafe, Waypoint Public and Carnitas Snack Shack) are returning to battle it out again!

Find the complete list of participating chili participants on our website. The countdown to SoNo has begun!


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We are thrilled to announce a new judge to SoNo this year; Nathan Odom, an alumni of McKinley Elementary and Roosevelt International Baccalaureate Middle School. Nathan started cooking at the age of 6 and further honed his skills in the McKinley after school cooking club “Scratch” funded by SoNo. Nathan also just so happens to be the winner of MasterChef Junior, Season 3! He fought off fierce competition and helped to further put North Park on the Map for culinary genius with his incredible talent. He is the perfect person to judge our amazing chili entries from some of the best restaurants in town. Who better to participate than a McKinley alumni and Chef?

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Restaurant Guest List for SoNo Chilifest 2015: Shaping Up!

Our amazing restaurant community is back on board for SoNo 2015! Here are a few big guns that have rsvp’d:

BFD Big Front Door (returning for third year)
The Blind Burro (returning for second year)
Bub’s at the Ballpark (returning for second year)
Small Bar (Last year’s winner of BEST OVERALL Chili)
Toronado San Diego (returns for the 5th year)
Waypoint Public (returns for the third year fresh off a win in 2014 for Most Unique)

New this year: The Deck at Moonshine Flats, a new BBQ place (part of the the family of The Blind Burro and Bubs)

We can’t wait for these Chefs to dish out their best chili for us on Sunday, December 6th. Stay tuned for more additions soon!


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San Diego Ceramic Connection


The San Diego Ceramic Connection Community Chili Potluck is one of our favorite parts of the SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off!

Thanks to all those who came out to volunteer, contribute and taste the chili at the 18th Annual San Diego Ceramic Connection Chili Potluck. They had a total of 27 entries of cornbread and chili that came in both crock pots and stock pots totaling roughly 50 gallons! We are touched and proud of the support of our community and the dedication to making this event a success and to supporting our local McKinley Elementary School.

All of the chili and cornbread dishes were fresh and delicious…and there wasn’t a drop left by 4:00 pm. The chili champs are listed below; each first place winner was announced at the SoNo Fest and received a chili champ apron handmade by a McKinley grandparent just for this event. Honorable mentions were also announced and included Max and Larry, for their on-going dedication and support to this event and the community, and Carmen Costello for her entry in memory of a beloved McKinley teacher (Rittko Chocolate Chipotle Chili).


Here are the winners of the 2014 competition:

Best Omnivore (with meat!): Brick Wall for his Turkey Chili

Best Vegetarian: Clint White for his Vegan Chili

Most Unique: Theresa Talley for her San Diego Fisherman’s Chili

Best Overall: Brick Wall for his Turkey Chili

Best Cornbread: Sarah Scalo for her Grace’s Cornbread Pudding


Honorable Mentions:

Max & Larry for their Spicy Beef Chili

Carmen Costello for her Rittko Chocolate Chipotle Chili


Thank you to everyone who brought chili!

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Competition was fierce and the chili was flowing! 39 local restaurants served up their best chili for us! Our 15 esteemed judges were divided into groups and taste-offs were had to determine the winners for the following categories:


Best Veggie:

Kensington Cafe’s Vegan Chili


Monkey Paw Pub & Brewery’s Vegan, Medium Heat Dark Beer Chili


Most Unique:

Waypoint Public’s House Made Chorizo & Brisket, Smoked Porter No Bean Chili with Jalapeno Crema


Underbelly’s Spicy Pork & Beef Chili with Pickled Scorpion Peppers

True North Tavern’s Hawaiian Style Medium Heat Chili with Pork & Roasted Veggies


Best Overall:

Small Bar’s Short Rib Mild Chili


Underbelly’s Spicy Pork & Beef Chili with Pickled Scorpion Peppers,

Soda & Swine’s Short Rib, Milk Stout Chili with Guajillo Pepper and 70% Dark Chocolate ,

City Tacos served up 2 chilis: Australian Leg of Lamb, Pinto and Kidney Bean Mild Chili with Jalapeno Cheddar Cheese & Cornmeal Croutons AND Carnitas, Habanera Sauce, Beans & Chicharron Chili with Cotija & Monterrey Cheese and fresh cream

Carnitas Snack Shack’s ‘Smokehouse Kings’ Mild Chili made with Smoked Brisket, Prime Rib Eye, Kidney and Pinto Beans


The People’s Choice winner (438 people texted in their vote for people’s choice!) for the 39 Chili entries this year:

Carnitas Snack Shack’s ‘Smokehouse Kings’ Mild Chili made with Smoked Brisket, Prime Rib Eye, Kidney and Pinto Beans


Did your favorite win? Is your mouth already watering for next year’s SoNo Fest & Chili Cook-Off? See you in 2015!

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