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East San Diego County rec's?

Okay, so I moved from North County to East, Santee specifically, and need some decent rec's for chow out this way or within a 15 minute drive. Looking for the good eats, the cheap and fast, to the expensive and slow, little hole in the wall mom & pop places, to some place I need to put on my best digs. Good pizza rec's would help too. I love it all, mexican, japanese & sushi, thai, italian, greek, vietnamese, cuban, middle eastern, chinese, steak & seafood, anything goes.

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  1. Trattoria di IV on Mission Gorge, a block north of Pinnacle Peak, and across the street from the new development called Treviso. Good sandwiches at lunch, good pizza. Very casual. Try the petite osso bucco.

    1. Oiishi sushi on Mast, close to Magnolia (across from the Albertsons).

      Middle Eastern- *many* on Main Street in El Cajon. Or on Bradley and 67 (SE Corner; it says "Greek Chicken"). That area of El Cajon was where the former Iraq residents came to vote from all of Southern California. Next closest voting place was in north LA.

      Mexican- In Santee, the Albertos at Carlton Hills on Mission Gorge is always good...or on Cuyamaca one block South of Mission Gorge (East side) is a sit down...Rosas I think... Down Magnolia to Bradley (southeast corner from In-N-Out for sit down, behind the Trifty gas station) or go down Bradley about 3/4 mile east and you'll see a sign for "SeƱor Taco", next to the 7-11. Home made tortillas there....Venture into El Cajon and go into the store called "Food Land" (its an IGA) on Broadway just west of 2nd (same parking lot as Big Lots) and inside they make tacos, home made tortillas, have a nice deli- all Mexican food...and a fresh bakery.

      Pho- Broadway and Second, SE corner next to the Starbucks.

      Not very good Italian or seafood out here- We go to Bronx when we want real good...but the Giant NY Pizza on Carlton Hills will let you put gyros as a meat on their pizza and I hit the Anthonys Grotto in La Mesa for lunch or Happy Hour appetizers. Welcome!

      3 Replies
      1. re: Cathy

        The Fish Merchant on Navajo between Jackson and Golfcrest does a better than expected job with fish. Technically, it's in San Carlos and not Santee, but is good, reasonably priced and service is very friendly.

        1. re: DiningDiva

          Totally forgot about Fish Merchant. Used to go there and then they closed for renovations (5+ years ago..?) and we started looking elsewhere. Went back once after it was redone and smelled bad fish when we walked in, we turned around and just never went back. It is still in business, so must be passing those inspections... We will try again. Thanks for the reminder.

          1. re: Cathy

            The Fish Merchant is never going to set the culinary world on fire, but for a neighborhood pretty devoid of anything approaching decent dining, it's pretty good. Around the corner from it, in the Keil's shopping center is Cheer's Deli in the liquor store which serves really good sandwiches. The wait is terminal, but when the sandwich is ready it kind of makes you think the wait was worth while. New in the shopping center is The San Carlos Creamery, a small ice cream store next to Sav-On serving up Double Rainbow ice cream. I really hope this place stays in business because their ice creams and sundaes are wonderful. Next door to San Carlos Creamery is Tivoli's which has been serving up so-so Italian for 30+ years in that location. It's certainly not bad, and once again, for the neighborhood, it's pretty good. And finally, there is the forgettable Megan's Cafe on the other side of Sav-On. It's a breakfast/lunch place that has been doing land office business for the last 2 years serving pretty mediocre food. I think this speaks more to the fact the neighborhood would support a good breakfast place, more than being popular because the food is good (it's not).

      2. Welcome to my neck of the woods! A dining mecca it's NOT, unfortunately. Two of my favourite places have already been mentioned: Trattoria di IV is wonderful for Italian food and Oiishi does good Thai and Japanese. Love their sushi! Be sure and order the BJ roll and the spicy crunchy albacore roll. For Mexican, we prefer Cotija's at Fanita and Mission Gorge. Panda Country and Michael's are both in the Von's mall on Mission Gorge. Panda Country has been turning out quality Chinese food for over 20 years. Michael's makes a wonderful panko-crusted shrimp and filet of sole that melts in your mouth. Good variety on their menu, too. I've heard the little Cafe 67 at Mapleview and Hwy. 67 makes a good breakfast, but I've yet to try it.

        Santee was without many restaurants at all - especially in light of their population - until Trolley Center went in. Unfortunately, the restaurants there are all chains. Fortunately, most people don't know any better so it's not unusual to see long lines at the Olive Garden out there. Oggi's and Mimi's are pretty good, though. Steer clear of the La Salsa in that mall. It blows. Again, welcome!

        1. Yay, thanks for the rec's and the welcomes everyone!

          Phee, I know what you mean about the long lines at the chain places. I met some friends the other night and they chose The Original Road House. It was ok for chain fare, but the wait was epic. Mimi's can be very good and very bad, you just have to know what to order and stick with it.

          I saw Tratori di IV and was wondering about it. I actually forgot about Cheers (yum!) and Tivoli, where I used to occasionally meet my sister for lunch.

          I've also been meaning to try the Fish Merchant, figuring if it's ben around for as long as it has, I should at least see why. I have not been to Anthony's since I was 10, when my grandparents took me. I am planning on trying Michael's, I love fillet of sole.

          I had brunch at The Brigantine, and the salmon with lemon buerre blanc with potato hash was very good, as was the cocktail del mar. For dessert we had this cranberry blondie with vanilla bean ice cream and raspberry sauce. I had that dessert before, and knew it was fabulous. The first time I ate there though, I was not terribly impressed. Thankfully this time was a much better experience.

          I met some friends at BJ's Brewery and thought the pizza was awful. The avocado egg rolls were interesting, everything else standard chain fare and they use bottled ranch, ew!

          We've had Cotija and Cazadores for our taco shop fix, was told to try Real Mexican which is next to Oishi, and considered Marietta's but my only experience with them was as a child, again with my grandparents.

          I asked my sister about Oishi and she said that she had them deliver some thai & sushi a few times before and she liked it. I will be trying them soon. I used to get this roll at Katsu in San Marcos, called the Mickey roll (named after my favorite sushi chef) which consisted of soft shell crab, cream cheese, chili peppers, glazed with eel sauce and sprinkled with sesame seeds. I have been hankerin' for such a beast, so I plan to see if they can hook me up at Oishi.

          Anybody have any breakfast rec's out here? I was not pleased with the Omlette Factory. As a child we had a Saturday morning family breakfast at Country Comfort, which was then in Spring Valley on Troy Street. I heard they relocated to El Cajon and plan to see if it is as good as I remember. My tastes and standards sure have changed since childhood, hehe.

          Oh and has anyone tried Fix Me A Plate?

          Thanks again for all the recommendations!

          12 Replies
          1. re: soulshine

            Go to Mariettas on a weekday, to avoid the strolling guitar playing guy who will *not* leave you alone until your food comes and use a coupon from the Pennysaver/Daily Californian, so if you don't like it, you won't have paid too much.

            Casa Picante, on Mission Gorge all the way east (past Magnolia) is OK also...and next door is the Iowa Porker, that has decent food and apparently still allows smoking when they know they won't be inspected (you can smell it when you walk in; the bar is to the left)...again, us a coupon the first time. It is *very* local; have seen Joan Embry and her hubby eating there regularly.

            I have never seen Fix Me a Plate with more than one table filled in the evenings...I am usually meeting someone at that Souplantation....I suspect that is why they are now trying the "reservation" thing in their ads...

            I will do Oggis, but again, not when its busy...and I get the 'make your own' calzone, usually without adding anything (its just the basic: 4 cheeses and costs $5.95)...

            As far as Asian goes, Panda Inn is Cantonese. It has been there forever (we moved to Santee in 1984) and I do like the shrimp toast and sizzling rice soups. Nothing else has ever been outstanding... If you want anything more authentic, just hop onto 52 and go West to the convoy Convoy Street exit. It won't even take you 10 minutes with no morning rush hour traffic....

            Basically stay away from Santee Town Center on Thursday evenings in the summer-unless you like crowds and waiting in lines- the free concerts over near the Starbucks are very crowded and people from all over come to that area of town...and eat before and after and during....from 5:30 to 9 pm on Thursdays, you can barely find a place to park...although it is fun and a great community event.

            1. re: soulshine

              We tried Fix Me A Plate a few months ago, and the night we went we had to wait about fifteen minutes for a table. It's very much a down-home kind of place, so don't look for imported table linens or fine china. The food was a very good example of a couple of different varieties of Southern cooking (who would've thought it in north-of-8 La Mesa?). My wife talked me into going, and I loved it; the only reason I haven't been back is I can't afford the increase in my cholesterol reading. If you like stuff like fried catfish, chicken with waffles, or gumbo, give it a try.

              Also, I'm a devoted fan of Trattoria di IV. You should be able to search out some of the uniformly good comments about them further down the board.
              . . . jim strain in san diego (La Mesa, actually)

              1. re: Jim Strain

                Thanks Jim! I actually tried it and yes, it was pretty good. I was not impressed with everything, but the catfish nuggets, snapper and collard greens were pretty tasty. I make far better yams myself, so I did not care for those. My dining partner liked the fried okra (I am not a fan of any okra) and thought the greens were pretty good, but again I like my own better. I want to go back and try the chicken and sweet potato waffle though. We tried the bread pudding because they were out of sweet potato pie. It was interesting, kind of salty with a strange yogurt sauce. It was a good treat, but certainly not something I would want to make a habit of ;o)

                First on my list to try is Tratorria di IV. Then I am heading over to Oishi to have Mike whip me up a mickey-type roll, yum. With gas prices being the way they are, I would prefer not having to drive all the way to San Marcos to have Mitzuru (Mickey) make me one.

                Has anyone tried the new Cuban place in La Mesa on University? We passed by there, but I can't remember the name. I am fairly new to Cuban cuisine, my point of reference being what I had at Azafran in Oceanside. I had this really good fish smothered in onions, capers, garlic and lime. It was very good, and I really liked the plantains. I still want to branch out and try other dishes.

                I also used to go to a very french influenced Vietnamese place in Rancho Bernardo called Cheu Ahn, I believe. They had the most incredible vegetarian egg rolls and shrimp on sugarcane. Sadly, they closed and I tried a few other places when I lived in San Marcos, but none were as fresh and tasty. Any pointers there?

                1. re: soulshine

                  The Cuban place in La Mesa (site of the old Jamar's) is called Habana. It's spotty. Kirk K wrote about it in his blog mmm-yoso. Jim Strain was there when it just opened. Both had pretty much the same reaction, unrealized potential. Whether they actually realize their potential or not remains to be seen.

                  Magnolia's, on Euclid a couple blocks south of the 94 (easily reachable for you via the 125) probably does better southern/soul food. Their greens are really good, as is the bread pudding.

                  There are 2 other good Italian places within a reasonable radius of Santee. One pricey, one moderate. The pricey one is Antica Trattoria in the Von's shopping center at Baltimore and Lake Murray. The other is Ciao Bella, next to the 7/11, behind the Shell station close to the intersection of Baltimore and Fletcher Parkway.

                  Skip AnaMaria Peruvian at Lake Murray and Navajo. Underwhelming. I have friend at work who is married to a Peruvian; neither cares for AnaMaria too much and the Peruvian says it doesn't much remind him of home.

                  1. re: DiningDiva

                    Ana Maria is closed I think.I tryed it twice and had the same poor results. I believe its a mexican food joint this week. ,

                    1. re: DiningDiva

                      We just recently tried the Cuban Place (Habana) and were very impressed. We found the food to be very flavorful and the pork and beef were exceptionally tender and well seasoned. The alcoholic drinks are VERY potent, so beware!
                      We will definitely go back. We live in the Mt.Helix/Rancho San Diego area.

                      1. re: PrincessLeia

                        Ana Maria was mediocre, agreed. We'd like to try the Cuban place, glad to hear you liked it. But that small stripmall at Lake Murray and Navajo where it's located is terrible...it's a no-man's land, small parking lot, out of the way, bad for a business IMO.

                        1. re: DBrooks

                          Ana Maria in San Carlos closed due to problems in family that owned it, not for lack of business. But, you're right, it wasn't very good. That space is about to be reincarnated as a taqueria, which, if it's a good taqueria will be an asset in that neighborhood.

                2. re: soulshine

                  Kirin Sushi is in Santee... and they were pretty good. Their Hawaian roll has mango on it, which I found interestingly different. (on Cuyamacha behind Sprout's)
                  Marechiaro's Pizza (on Old Hwy 80) has the best pizza!! Their sauce is homemade and makes the whole meal.
                  Hilberto's (on Cuyamaca) for your hole in the wall carne asada needs. :)
                  Welcome to the Valley!

                  1. re: tolsonhouse4

                    I haven't tried Kirin yet. We're big fans of Oishii on Mast Blvd., however.

                      1. re: phee

                        Kirin closed down.. we went back a few times and it was nasty..

                        We now go to Domo on Mission Gorge. Awesome sushi, awesome prices.

                  2. Tell Mike at Oiishi (he's the sushi chef) what you want for your roll, and he can do it. You'll see rolls on the board that have been named after customers (i.e., the BJ roll, Arden roll, etc.). Who knows - maybe you'll have one named after you!

                    1. I have visited the Greek Chicken off the 67freeway and give it a big thumbs up! I have the chicken, gyros, salads, and the gyro burger, which is awesome.

                      They have a clean dining room area, but they do mostly takeout.

                      Only complaint is that they don't offer any greek side dishes like hummus or dolmades.

                      1. Welcome to the E. County, we too are somewhat new to the area -we moved to La Mesa/Mt. Helix from Kensington about a year ago We haven't found too many places we like - we go to Saritas in Casa de Oro for Mexican Take out, and get pizza from Giovanni's, but other than that we pretty much eat at home or venture west.

                        The sushi joint in Santee sounds promising, we got takeout from Taka in La Mesa and it was pretty good, but not cheap. The Brigantine is always packed, and so are the chains over at Grossmont mall - East County is so underserved!

                        I do have one recommendation, especially in light of the hot weather - the peanut butter milkshake at the Beef and Bun on Fletcher Parkway, just E. of the 125. The fries are frozen crinkle fries, but the burgers and chicken sandwiches are pretty decent.

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: Alice Q

                          Alice, somewhere in Casa de Oro is Rana.com for Mexican. Phoo D - the poster formerly known as e.d. - discovered it a few years ago and posted about it. Jim Strain, another denizen of the dreaded East County, confirmed that it was well worth a visit. Having dined frequently with both of them, I'd trust their recommendations with few reservations. I believe it's in one of the strip shopping centers on Campo Rd.

                          Perservere at the Brigantine, the La Mesa branch is probably their best location. The La Mesa Anthony's is also worth the wait, but maybe not on weekends. Chain is not necessarily a dirty word with regard to these 2 local eateries.

                          Go early to Casa de Pico, like around happy hour, and sit on the patio. It's not about the food here, it's about family, meeting friends and connecting with people. The food and faux margaritas are just background for the greater social context. If I didn't know I was in the Grossmont Center parking lot, I could almost imagine being in a hacienda garden in Mexico, and I've been in enough of them to know. Casa de Pico lacked the patina of age and that lived in feeling, but it clearly understands it's filling that Mexican-Sunday-family gathering-at-a-restaurant niche.

                          1. re: Sonrisa

                            Thanks for the kind words. But I didn't discover the place. I was almost dragged there kicking and screaming by friends from Jamul. I was sure I didn't want Mexican food in the San Diego area when I get so much of it around home. But the visit was well worth it.

                            Ranas.com is in the back of a strip mall behind a Carl's Jr at the Kenwood exit off the 94. With the new CH search function, Alice or the OP or anyone else for that matter can find my original post if interested.


                            1. re: Phoo D

                              I third Ranas.com. Even after we moved farther away (from San Carlos to Mission Valley), we still go there. Some of my favorite Mexican food in the area, the folks who own it are so nice, and prices are great for the quality.

                          2. re: Alice Q

                            Heh Alice, that is the second recommendation I received today for the peanut butter shake at Beef & Bun ;o) My friend loves the BLT there and also said to try the fried zuchinni.

                            I met someone for dinner at Taka and it was good, but defintetly not cheap. I had the roll I had been craving made and it was enjoyable, but a little different than I was expecting. They slathered it in this white sauce I've never had anywhere else. It was not the usual mayo and masago mixture either. Anyhow, it was good but I think I am going to check out Oishi next chance I get and try again for that soft shell crab roll. I want the contrast of the sweet cream cheese and eel sauce with the crunch of the chili peppers, sesame seeds and crab.

                            Thanks for the continued rec's everyone!

                            1. re: soulshine

                              Maybe we have the same friend who recommended it to me. He lives in Santee, he's a chef, and he loves their BLT!

                              My comment about the Brig was mostly intended to express that there are plenty of diners out here, just not enough restaurants. I have eaten there, but personally for those prices I'd probably rather go somewhere else. I'm not a big fan of chains, generally.

                              The Casa de Pico is also overrated - but fun. A good tip is to sit in the bar instead of in the dining room - they serve the same food and you can usually just wait a few minutes for a table to open up, if at all. Their guacamole is good, but their margaritas are crummy - even the expensive ones.


                          3. forgot to mention Las Parillas in Rancho SD for great cheap Mexican food.... and the Jamacha Bar and Grill for a great Prime Rib sandwich and interesting desserts! :)

                            1. It may have been mentioned elsewhere, but I just want to note that Trattoria di IV has moved to the Best Buy shopping center on Mission Gorge and is now called La Trattoria. I ate twice at the old place and have been to the new place once. There is a new restaurant called Fiore in the old location. Haven't tried it yet. Anyone? Also, Aliberto's on Mission Gorge at Carlton Hills was previously mentioned and it is gone as well. I second the recommendation of Cotija. It is my favorite taco shop in Santee. I am not a fan of Marieta's or Casa Picante. The food at the taco shops far surpasses them, but if you must have a "sit-down" restaurant, I guess they will do. I also have been to Oiishi and love both their sushi and Thai food. Has anyone tried Scootz in Santee?

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: marymbs

                                Scootz is excellent. Broasted chicken, great ribs, fancy side salads, fresh bread sticks. Haven't tried pizza and sandwiches yet. Family owned and run. www.scootzeatz.com There is a coupon at www.get1free.com

                                1. re: Cathy

                                  I'm going to have to get over there and try this place - I saw that you guys recommended it on the Citybeat list you submitted. Sounds like a better version of Pat and Oscars basically - though we had a Greek Salad from there for dinner earlier this week and it was pretty good!

                                  1. re: Alice Q

                                    I blogged about Scootz on February 6, Alice. Yes, in a way similar to Pat and Oscar's, but having broasted chicken puts it over the top for me. Also, being family owned and run makes me want to patronize it a bit more if I can.

                                    1. re: Cathy

                                      That's what I figured - we feel the same way! I will check out the post.

                                2. re: marymbs

                                  Also the Taco shop at Cuyamaca one light south of Mission Gorge-northeast corner- is excellent; (Rosa's?) has breakfasts and you sit inside.
                                  Los Michoican, on Mission Gorge west- Closer to Pinnacle Peak is an eat in taco shop. Also very good: Wide variety of soups,especially good in winter/rainy season...OK, rainy days..

                                3. Brigantine at Fuerte in La Mesa is great for happy hour..love the fish tacos
                                  Antonelli's Deli is one of the best in El Cajon off Bradley/67..
                                  Jamacha Grille is a great place to have drinks and app's on Second Street in EC.
                                  Filippi's is always cheap and good..I get their 1/2 lasagna for $5 thats huge and yummy...pizza is good too.
                                  Oggi's in Santee has great happy hour beer prices and Oggi's sticks..

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Beach Chick

                                    Uh.....when was the last time you were at The Brig in La Mesa? It used to be pretty good. The operative word here is "used to".

                                  2. DiningDiva..
                                    I was just at the Brig in La Mesa and the fish tacos and marg's were great..$2.25 for a huge fish tacos..
                                    We are talking East County...being native La Jollan, I only get out here once and awhile but the "operative word" is it's good eats and cheap!

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Beach Chick

                                      I had a great burger there last week at the bar, with a very good spinach salad. No, it's not Laurel or nine-ten, but it was a good, solid meal. Great burger. Redundant.


                                      1. re: Fake Name

                                        It sounds as if they've improved. My last visit - which wasn't that long ago - was pretty dreadful. Service was about as poor as I've had in this city, slow, inattentive and nearly non-existant and the food only a half-step better. My 90 year old aunt lives on Mt. Helix, this is her "go-to" restaurant and she L-O-V-E-S it. My family has been in the East County for 60+ years, longer than The Brigantine has been in existence. I've had more meals there, even when it wasn't The Brig, than I care to remember. I think this location is wildly inconsistent ranging from really very good to unbelievably awful.

                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                          I tried Scootz and it was ok....not that impressed. Basically a step-up from Pat & Oscar's. I did try a new place tonight-KB's BBQ in Santee on Carlton Hills near the library. Very good ribs and cole slaw. Has anyone tried Fiore on Mission Gorge yet? It's where Trattoria di IV used to be.

                                    2. I like both Scootz and KB's.

                                      Scootz: The fresh & hot rolls, border caesar salad, broasted chicken and potato wedges we had were really good and the quality and service were definetely a few notches above Pat & Oscar's.

                                      KB's: First off the owners of the place are very accomodating and friendly. We tried the pulled pork & brisket sandwiches, greens and cajun fries which were all good. Can't wait to try the ribs and sweet potato pie next time!

                                      1. I noticed that Hillcrest's Arrivederci is opening a new branch in the Rancho San Diego shopping center, near Target and the Coldstone. I don't know when it will open, but it should be a good addition to the area!

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: Alice Q

                                          Yay for that. We could use another good additon besides La Trattoria, which I do adore but would hate to burn out on. We had lunch there for the first time a couple of weeks ago before heading to the Zoo, and we all enjoyed what we ordered.