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Sublime Exploration at Donna Jean: Where Vegan Excellence Thrives


Our West Coast food tour led us to the doors of Donna Jean, a place where the potential of plant-based dining reaches new heights. The restaurant is located near Balboa Park in the heart of San Diego, California, and has earned the distinction of the "Best of the Best" award for the best pizza that we have tried. Blending innovative recipes with a strong sustainability ethos, Donna Jean appeals not only to vegans but to all who love good food.



Stepping inside, we were embraced by an ambiance that echoed refined rustic charm, setting the stage for an experience that left a lasting impression. Here, the dishes weren't just combinations of ingredients; they were meticulously crafted works of art and magic, each bite unveiling nuanced layers of textures and flavors that defied conventional limits.



Founded by Mitch Wallis, a trailblazing figure in the vegan world and San Diego restaurateur, Donna Jean is an extension of his unwavering commitment. His lifelong involvement in the vegan rights movement and creation of multiple vegan enterprises, including Evolution Food and Plant Powered Food, echoes his dedication. Wallis champions the belief that food profoundly shapes our relationship with the world, guiding Donna Jean to prioritize fresh, sustainable ingredients, local sourcing, and environmental responsibility.



The Pizzas!


Your persistent requests for an in-depth exploration of Donna Jean’s pizza offerings have been heard, so let's talk about the star—Donna Jean's pizzas. Their dough undergoes a special 72-hour fermentation process, yielding an immaculate crust, flavorful sauce, and generous, delectable toppings. What truly distinguishes these pizzas is the quality of their vegan cheese, a creation by Chef Howe, which is available for purchase under the label Scratch House. Crafted from beans and employing a blend of traditional cheese-making, lacto fermentation, and innovative methods, these cheeses embody bold, creamy, gooey richness. Paired with thoughtfully selected fresh ingredients, carefully curated fresh ingredients, the cheese elevates the pizzas to an unmatched level.


Our good fortune in savoring every pie on the menu has granted us a firsthand, tantalizing insight into each delightful creation.


#1 Crush is a classic pizza with tomato sauce, mozzarella, parmesan, and oregano and basil. It's the perfect pizza for those craving a simple, wholesome pizza with flavorful depth. Among our favorites, it evoked a delightful nostalgia for the classic margherita pizza, making it a standout choice.


The Four Horsemen stood out with its foundation of ricotta and the flavorful addition of pesto, alongside a blend of mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan. The robust ricotta base became the hero, accentuated by the harmonious touch of pesto. Often challenging to find exceptional ricotta and perfectly balanced pesto, this pizza exceeded expectations, while the combination of cheeses elevated it to sheer perfection.


The Bad Motorfinger is quite the spicy escapade. Crafted with a zesty sun-dried 'nduja sauce, the pie boasts a fiery kick harmonized by the tang of pickled peppers, the crunch of red onions, and the earthy freshness of spinach. It’s ideal for those seeking a flavor-packed pizza with thrilling heat and an energetic kick.


The Thunderkiss '65 is a celestial white pizza adorned with a luscious white wine garlic cream sauce, embraced by velvety richness of ricotta and mozzarella. Complemented by the delightful crunch of pistachios and the subtlety of spinach, it's the perfect indulgence for those craving a decadently rich and creamy pizza.


The Fungazi is an opulent pizza crowned with a luxurious truffle cream sauce that harmonizes exquisitely with the creamy notes of mozzarella and ricotta. Enhanced by fiery spicy red onions and refreshing spinach greens, it’s a delicious delight tailored for aficionados who revel in the captivating essence of truffle.


The Widow, true to its enigmatic name, boasts a distinctive flavor profile with a black garlic date puree lending a rich, sweet depth to each bite. Balancing the delicate essence of ricotta, the zesty punch of pickled peppers, and the robust presence of kale, this pizza is a standout choice for those seeking an intricately layered taste experience that masterfully blends sweet and savory elements.


The If Trees Could Talk pizza is a masterpiece interweaving bomba calabrese, mozzarella, roasted broccolini, fennel sausage, spiced tempeh, and an infusion of bay leaf syrup. This pizza is a poetic ode to the forest’'s secrets, where each bite narrates an intricate tale of diverse flavors and textured whispers, akin to the mystic legends shared by the woodland's ancient inhabitants.


It’s worth noting that Donna Jean has a diverse range of crust dips, each boasting unique flavors. From the robust crushed tomatoes to the unmatched garlic butter and the masterfully crafted Za'atar ranch, the variety was impressive. We also loved how the truffle cream provided a luxurious dipping experience, and how the classic pesto and the distinctive bomba calabrese offered delightful bursts of flavor to each and every bite.




Appetizers & Pasta!

For a delectable start, we’d recommend diving into the Hot Shrooms. These perfectly fried mushrooms, accompanied by a lively assortment of pickles, provided a delightful mix of flavors and an exquisite, satisfying texture. As for the Fancy Garlic Fries, they reimagine a classic: every slice is meticulously flattened and seasoned with a delightful blend of garlic and aromatic spices, resulting in a crispy, flavorful delight.




Moving on to the pasta dishes. The experience of Donna Jean's handmade pastas was unparalleled—each dish offering the freshest and most flavorful pasta imaginable. The Cast Iron Shells & Cheese was a decadent, comforting delight, featuring flawlessly cooked shells coated in a perfectly seasoned and creamy cheese sauce.


The Bucatini Funghi provided a delicate treat, featuring a light mushroom cream sauce and parmesan cheese. 


Likewise, the Strozzapreti Con Broccolini delivered a refreshing sensation, combining a white wine garlic cream sauce with the vibrant crunch of broccolini.


The unique and spicy Cavatelli 'Nduja, with its sun-dried tomato 'nduja sauce, mozzarella cheese, and crushed tomato, presented an explosion of flavors. 


Meanwhile, the Lasagna, with its perfectly cooked lasagna sheets embraced by a trio of cheeses, truffle cream, zucchini, and mushrooms, offered a hearty and satisfying experience.


What truly set these dishes apart was the attention to detail—the pasta itself differed in size, shape, mouthfeel, density, and taste, tailored to complement the unique flavors of each dish. This intentional pairing highlighted the culinary excellence found only in the most exceptional restaurants.




Desserts!

Donna Jean’s dessert selection was a delightful conclusion to your meal. The Pumpkin Cheesecake is a divine choice for pumpkin enthusiasts, featuring candied pumpkin seeds, a heavenly coconut whip, and a crust that’s simply irresistible. This cheesecake is delicately light, boasting a subtle pumpkin essence that beautifully balances the flavors.


The Pear Crisp is another dessert gem. Crafted with Asian pears and a whole wheat crumble accompanied by Donna Jean's signature whipped cream, it delivers an experience akin to a deconstructed pie. The whole wheat crumble, melded with the pear, crafts a textured mouthfeel, offering a reminiscent taste of enjoying a home-baked pie.


On our way out of Donna Jean, we ventured next door to its sister restauarnt, Evolution Foods, which offers quick-service wholesome, plant-based fare. Notably, it housed Mitch Wallis's CPG creations—air-popped popcorn and rice crispy treats. We tried the caramel and cheddar air-popped popcorn, and the chocolate and peanut butter rice crispy treats, each embodying delectable and nutritious simplicity. With just a handful of ingredients, these treats provided a comforting, nostalgic delight, offering a satisfying taste of familiarity.



Our Take: Donna Jean Is A Must-Try!


Our exploration of San Diego's culinary scene revealed Donna Jean as a beloved establishment, revered by both peers and customers alike. Their acclaim extends beyond city limits, boasting an additional location in Los Angeles. Words cannot adequately express the culinary excellence we experienced at Donna Jean, the resolute dedication of Mitch Wallis, and the urgent need to experience their exceptional cuisine. Donna Jean is a one of a kind and exceeded our culinary expectations in every way. With its delicious food, inventive recipes, and commitment to sustainability, Donna Jean is an essential destination for all food enthusiasts and champions of humanity, irrespective of dietary inclinations.

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