Mo’s Universe encompasses several LGBTQ-owned and operated restaurants

 A brunch bowl at insideOut in Hillcrest. Photo courtesy of Lukas Volk
For almost three decades, some of the most commonly frequented restaurants and bars in the Hillcrest neighborhood of San Diego have been those under the umbrella ownership of Mo’s Universe.

Whether locals want a night of clubbing and cocktails or craft brews and sit-down dinners, they can find a variety of experiences and flavors at the Mo’s Universe businesses scattered throughout the neighborhood.

“Each location has different food stylings, and we kind of cater toward different crowds,” Marketing and Events Director Lukas Volk said.

Each year, during San Diego’s Pride celebrations, an army of pink flamingo floaties hover around the eaves of each restaurant in the group.

“The history of the pink flamingos was we wanted to stand out during Pride,” Volk said. “Since everyone does rainbow flags, our flamboyance brought us flamingos.”

Mo’s Universe has upgraded the bar crawl concept by creating the Mo’s Mobile — a golf cart that cycles between all five locations on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Crawlers can hop on when it pulls up in front of the location they’re at, or summon it by texting the driver.

Varying from location to location, there is something for everyone within the family of businesses.

“They’re all LGBTQ-owned and operated, but each one has its own little niche,” Volk said. “Depending on what someone’s looking for, if they’re looking for a lounge or more of a party atmosphere, we pretty much cover all of it.”

Urban Mo’s

On the west end of Hillcrest, lies the eldest of all the restaurants in the group — Urban Mo’s. Serving the neighborhood for more than 27 years, Mo’s is best known for its typical, All-American gay bar vibe by day, and for its nightclub scene at night, Volk said.

“(Urban Mo’s) caters to pretty much the entire LGBTQ community,” Volk said. “Depending on the night of the week, there could be 21-year-olds to 55-year-olds and everyone in the community. Urban Mo’s is open and welcoming to all.”

For dinner, patrons can explore the hefty list of salads, sandwiches, burgers and wraps, or dive into a plate of red wine-braised short ribs, surf and turf or homemade truffle chicken pot pie. Urban Mo’s all-you-can-eat brunch buffet on Sunday’s features bottomless mimosas and a variety of items, such as the make your own waffle station and southern-style items like biscuits and gravy.

Hillcrest Brewing Co.

Touted as the “first out, gay-owned and operated brewery in the United States,” Hillcrest Brewing Co. has been brewing and serving beer for the past six years, Volk said.

Hillcrest Brewing Co. has 24 tap handles, with six to eight house-brewed beers on tap at any given time, in addition to other locally-brewed drafts.

“It’s more of a lounge, brewery-type of feel,” Volk said of the location.

Stop in to snack on pizza and wings, or to try the breakfast-style pizza with eggs, bacon and sausage during Sunday brunch. Traditionally flavored pizzas like the Margherita Mary (made with garlic white sauce, basil, cheese tomato) are featured alongside the buffalo wing-style “Mother Clucker” pie.

From the beer menu, try the Banana Hammock Scotch Ale, the Long and Stout Russian Imperial Stout and the Hop Sucker Double IPA.

Gossip Grill

Promoted as the lesbian bar branch of the restaurant group, Gossip Grill caters to all with its fun, comfort food-style menu.

Often listed as one of the top lesbian bars in the nation, the continent and the world, Gossip Grill is one of only a few remaining women-centered, LGBTQ bars in America, Volk said.

“Gossip Grill is our women’s-focused bar — we really focus on the lesbian community and giving a space for women,” he said. “We’ve really been working on messaging, giving women and those in the transgender community a safe space — really identifying that this is an open, welcoming place and they can feel safe coming to our bar.”

Using the bar’s theme, Gossip Grill has a house cocktail menu splattered with dirty innuendos and puns.

Try the truffle mac and cheese, deep fried pickles, BBQ bacon burger and turkey apple brie panini.

Baja Betty’s

Mexican and Latin American-themed Baja Betty’s has been a community staple for more than 12 years, Volk said. Stocked with more than 150 tequilas, Baja Betty’s is a go-to spot for anyone interested in agave-based spirits.

“We do a tequila club once a month, where people get to sample some of the finest tequilas in the world,” Volk said. “They get to sample six different varietals and also sample some of our food.”

Exploring the brunch buffet at Baja Betty’s on the weekends can be an adventure in itself. Taco stations, a waffle bar and American-style breakfast foods are woven into the Mexican-themed smorgasbord on the weekends.

Bottomless mimosas are served every day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and bottomless sangria is available during brunch on Saturday’s and Sunday’s.


The newest brand in the Mo’s Universe is insideOUT, which offers an elevated dining experience in a vacation-like atmosphere on the east end of Hillcrest.

Designed in a non-local fashion, the space is more reminiscent of restaurants in Los Angeles or Las Vegas than it is of other San Diegan establishments.

“It’s a little bit more elevated — we call it our ‘urban oasis,’ and it is a really catered menu,” Volk said. “We thought it was a perfect fit for the neighborhood and for our group.”

Executive Chef Mary Jo Testa takes the lead on the menu at insideOut, developing her own creative symphony of flavors.

“The cool thing about Mary Jo is she isn’t afraid to try new dishes and to put her own kind of style on it — she always puts a little twist on traditional dishes,” Volk said. “She’s traveled the world and brought back some of her Mediterranean-inspired dishes to our location.”

One of Testa’s creations is her Fideo Rosa, a Spanish paella-style dish made with vermicelli pasta, chorizo and shrimp tossed in a sofrito sauce and accented by lemon aioli.

Since opening about six months ago, insideOUT has been the venue for a fashion show, baby showers, private parties and political events, Volk said.

“Everyone just loves the space and loves utilizing it,” he said.

Happy hour specials on martinis and wine are available Monday through Friday from 2 to 6 p.m., and brunch is served Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. During brunch, try the mimosa flight, which includes variations of the classic morning cocktail enhanced with different juices and syrups.

This article appeared in The Daily Aztec.


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