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best restaurant in san diego

need to know what is the city's best restaurant price unimportant.
we are both restaurant people from philly and have eaten at the best
(le bec fin,striped bass,daniel)obviously french is our cuisine of preference. read about el bizcocho but not really impressed.

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  1. For French food, I recommend Cavaillon, Pamplemousse and Tapenade. Not necessarily in that order, but definitely in my recent order of preference. Cafe Chloe is another one we really like.

    Another consideration is Winesellar and Brasserie, although their menu is more California influenced than French IMO. I have also heard La Bastide is really good (former El Bizochco chef) though I've not been there yet.

    9 Replies
    1. re: mimosa

      The food and ambiance at Pamplemousse are on par with a restaurant you'd find in a Marriott or Sheraton (i.e. not impressive)

      1. re: ceegee

        wow, it's been about a year since we were at Pamplemousse-- did they remodel? I think this comment is a bit harsh regardless.

        As for the other 2, did they at least warrant Hilton status?

        1. re: mimosa

          I haven't been to the others, but I was at Pamplemousse last October...cheesy murals and biker dudes painted on bathroom doors do not appeal to me...especially when I'm spending $100+ per person for a mediocre meal. The service was excellent, otherwise I found it to be a HUGE disappointment.

          1. re: ceegee

            I agree 100% with this. I was very disappointed by Pamplemousse. I think the Zagat rating is way off on this place.

          2. re: mimosa

            Cavaillon is on the top of my list.

            They showed me what really well prepared tasty food should be. I look forward to making it a regular stop, especially for Monday's Prix Fixe -$32.00, which has to be the bargain of the year anywhere in San Diego!
            I have been looking for 8 years for good food, and it appears, that they have caught up with me. It is no longer a culinary wasteland around here.

            1. re: nutrition

              The problem is after being there several times over a few months the menu was essentially the same.

              1. re: PGB

                It appeared to me to be a 4 week rotation on the menu. But it may be a seasonal rotation also.
                But I had no problem finding choices on the menu, that I enjoyed ordering, again.

          3. I think it will be hard to find an agreement between all the people here writing their opinions but my votes are for Mille Fleur, Tapenade and Bertrand at Mister A's.

            3 Replies
            1. re: honkman

              I must admit the food at Mille Fleur is good but if you have a modest appetite you will need to stop on the way home to top off the tank as the portions are very small. It just seem like for the price you pay you should be comfortably full.

              1. re: honkman

                I concur with Honkman on Tapenade.

                1. re: Captain Jack

                  I too concur. MF portions are tiny, the prices are steep and there's an attitude of snobiness. MrA's is very good, but also very steep prices.

              2. You are clearly looking for the best fine dining experience, given the restaurants you mention. You're right to suspect El Bizocho--not bad, but not tops. Sadly, San Diego does not excel at French.

                I have found the best all-around restaurant in SD to be AR Valentien (in the Lodge at Torrey Pines). Elegant and complex, excellent service, beautiful setting.

                Tapenade is in the next rank of restaurants.

                Below that--excellent food, atmosphere, but not haute--are Cafe Cerise, Laurel, Cavaillon.

                Cafe Chloe get lots of attention, and is just fine, but is really a very casual bistro. Great for lunch or a glass of wine and cheese.

                Avoid Pamplemousse, Mister A's, the Winesellar. These are not terrible places, but each is off is some way or other (location, ambiance, etc.)

                1. Cheframbo, your best bet is to skip San Diego altogether, and drive an hour and a half into Baja California. There, in the Guadalupe Valley, is the best restaurant - Laja.

                  The chef at Laja worked for several years at Daniel, in fact.


                  They raise their own produce, and serve food all grown in the Guadalupe Valley, paired with wines from the valley as well. It's quite an experience, and sounds like it'd be right up your alley.

                  Keep in mind, the prices listed there are in pesos - it winds up being around $60 per person if you get wine pairings with each course.

                  Laja is an amazing experience that should not be missed.

                  1. I have to agree wtih Josh and DrK's comments. French isn't really a cuisine that is done well in San Diego. Why such a limiting criteria when there are an ever growing number of good choices in the county?

                    If you've got the time and the inclination, take Josh's suggestion and go to Laja,it's good and even worth the return trip border wait. DrK's suggestions for A.R. Valentein and Tapenade are also good. There have been some reported chinks in the A.R. Valentein armor of late, so go, experience it and tell us what you think. Last time I was at Tapenade there was some attitude from the waitstaff, but the food was really good.

                    It's August and there should be a Hide Tide breakfast and dinner menu for the Marine Room. Chef Bernard Guilles (I think I spelled that right) is tres French and is consistently named the "Best" - FWIW - chef in San Diego. The view is spectacular and the food usually superb. Sort of French, sort of tropical, sort of Asian, sort of....ummm.....really good, and very San Diego. If you don't want to do dinner, go for brunch, for $40 it's one of the best ones in San Diego.

                    Some of the most interesting and inventive food is being served up at Asia Vous in Escondido. Not French, not Asian, maybe, kinda fusion, but unique and very good. (As is 150 Grand if you're in the area)

                    But please keep one thing in mind, the West Coast is more informal than the East Coast and it is reflected in our restaurants as well. And I don't mean ambiance or service because there are plenty of places on the West Coast that do that exceptionally well. I'm talking about the approach and attitude towards food; there is, perhaps, a willingness to be a little less traditional and a little bit more freewheeling with the food and flavors. IOWs a little more willingness to color outside the lines :-).

                    1. I was at Pampelmousse a few weeks ago and it was great. If it's comparable to a Marriot restaurant, then I'd put it in the same class as Arterra in the Del Mar Marriott, another favorite. But overall west coast San Diego restaurants can't compare to the selection and quality in San Francisco and LA. Even Zagat's discontinued doing a San Diego book.

                      1. I would suggest Jack's Fine Dining Room. I also like Tapenade and Wine Sellar Brasserie - great food but a bit fusty as far as atmosphere. Cafe Chloe is fun for a bistro dinner or lunch. Great cheese plate, steak frites and desserts. I like it a lot - but it's not fine dining.

                        I have not been personally, but I have heard good things about Mille Fleurs, Cafe Cerise, Modus, Red Dahlia, 1500 Ocean (at the Hotel Del) and Blanca in Solana Beach.

                        We have a trip planned at the end of September to try Laja - it is pretty much THE foodie destination around here, so you might want to seriously consider the journey if you have time.


                        1. overall, SD is below par compared to LA, SF, NYC, etc. I vote for AR Valentien, Tapenade as the best ones mentioned.

                          Mille Fleur is good but not outstandingly great and will not knock your socks off. If you're not in the Rancho Santa Fe area, I'm not sure if it's worth the drive inland, unless you want to look at nice houses on your way to dinner.

                          Pamplemousse is above average and they overcooked my lamb about 2 months back.

                          Blanca just opened--I thought the food and presentation were uneven. Appetizers and dessert were good (not great) but my filet mignon was cold, overcooked and the foie gras was cold and didn't melt in my mouth. I'm hoping it is only growing pains since they just opened. Service was friendly and attentive.

                          Mister A's is generally good, although it won't knock your socks off either. However, the 180 degree views of the city make up for the "need to knock your socks" off part.

                          I just heard that Arterra has really gone downhill since Carl Schroeder left. It is unfortunate, since it was an excellent restaraunt.

                          We went to The Marine Room over SD Restaraunt Week. Food was good, but thought Tapenade and AR Valentein were better. Can't beat the view of the beach and birds below, though.

                          8 Replies
                          1. re: daantaat

                            Dantaat - Thanks for all the detailed info! We also went to Marine Room over Restaurant Week, and I wasn't blown away. I also thought it was a little stuffy. Too bad about Blanca, I've been looking forwad to trying it. Nothing ruins a good meal like food served at the wrong temperature. We had that problem on two visits to Laurel and haven't been back, though I am hoping to go for happy hour sometime. It goes till 7 and they have drinks and appetizers for $7.


                            1. re: Alice Q

                              Last time I had been to the Marine Room (about 8 years ago) for dinner, the tide was coming in and a sea kayaker almost smashed into the glass window right next to our table. He was paddling very hard to resist hitting the restaurant. It was terrifying, but certainly spiced up the experience.

                              1. re: Alice Q

                                Marine Room's Restaurant Week menu is not how I would judge the restaurant. Seriously - you don't expect a menu priced at half of what a typical dinner there costs, prepared for hundreds of diners, is going to be at the same quality level as their standard menu, do you?

                                The Restaurant Week menu was just OK. When I've dined there ordering off the standard menu, the experience is quite a bit different. I'm also not sure I'd describe it as stuffy - it's nice and quiet, the service is very professional and friendly, and the atmosphere is relaxing.

                                I can think of nothing bad to say about the Marine Room. Well, OK - they should have a better beer list. Other than that I have no complaints.

                                1. re: Josh

                                  Why not? The food was the same as their normal menu, and they take only as many reservations as they can fill, I hope. We also ordered some items off the regular menu.

                                  The atmosphere didn't really appeal to me, but that's just my opinion. The view is spectacular though. At the very least I would recommend stopping for a drink before heading up to the village for dinner.


                                2. re: Alice Q

                                  Ladies (Alice and daantaat) I'm not sure I'd really judge The Marine Room by Restaurant Week. That's like judging a house for sale by the number of lookie-lous that come through during a Sunday open house.

                                  From a service standpoint, it's some of the best in the city because of the level of professionalism. A.R. Valentein, El Biz and Arterra also provide professional service,and the oprative word here is "professional". Much of the service in San Diego is friendly, decent, efficient, and really not too bad, but it lacks the fine tuning and attention to detail that accompanies professional service. Service is an art and it's not one I've seen mastered by many places in SD.

                                  I like the Marine Room pretty well and have been going there since, well, probably since before both of you were born ;-D, and no one would EVER mistake me for an old-fart, stick-in-the-food puree, over-the-hill diner.

                                  1. re: Alice Q

                                    just read on your blog about 1500 ocean and it sounds great. any information will be greatly appreciated.

                                    1. re: cheframbo

                                      If you guys have time, you should at least grab lunch at Super Cocina. It's a hole-in-the-wall, mom-n-pop place that specializes in traditional Mexican home cooking. Had lunch there today, and it's one of the few places in San Diego that seems incapable of disappointing. You won't find carne asada burritos or fish tacos, but you will find regional Mexican specialties that just aren't served anywhere else.

                                      A nice bonus is that you can taste anything before you choose. I had some cochinita pibil today that was to die for.

                                      1. re: cheframbo

                                        I have not been yet, but it would be fun to try. If you do go, let us know how it was!

                                  2. allow me to clarify a little. we are in search of the best food and service offered in san diego. we can tell when the effort is made to do the best with what is available. we don't really like hotel restaurants and can't stand anymore asian fusion. in philly we have some great small husband and wife owned places that put so much pride into quality of expeience that the lack of pomp and ceremony doesn't matter. we crave great cuisine de terrior.

                                    7 Replies
                                    1. re: cheframbo

                                      Cuisine de terroir in San Diego doesn't really exist. The problem is that the local agriculture is produce-based. So unless you're interested in only eating vegetables, you're not going to experience local flavors.

                                      Laja, in contrast, only serves ingredients that are raised in the valley where the restaurant is located. The butter on your table is from a local dairy farmer. The olive oil is from a nearby olive grove. The pigs are raised up the road. Nothing is served there that isn't produced in the Guadalupe Valley, with the exception of fish, which obviously comes from the coast. This extends to the wine, which is also produced in the valley. In terms of cuisine de terroir, you're not going to find a better example than Laja in Southern California.

                                      Given your new explanation though, I think you guys should definitely pay a visit to The Linkery in North Park. It's not fancy, but they use local produce, and they make an effort to purchase their meat from small producers. For example, they recently served Ossabaw pork, which is a variety of pig that the Spaniards left on an island off the East coast on their way to North America. It's the closest thing we have in the US to the pigs in Spain.

                                      The owner of Linkery is a huge fan of Laja, and he tries to bring some of their sensibilities to his own operation. If you read his blog, you'll get a sense of where The Linkery is coming from philosophically. It doesn't hurt matters that their food is really good. Like I said, it's more casual dining than upscale, but the flavors in the food are decidedly unique and come from that local sensibility. Another way they reinforce this is by selecting wines and beers that come from climates similar to San Diego.


                                      1. re: Josh

                                        When do you think is the best time of year to get tdown to Laja? I was thinking of going in September

                                        1. re: MVNYC

                                          September should be good. Their menu changes quite frequently, so it will be current with what's available.

                                          Just make sure you call for reservations - it's a popular place.

                                          Also, it's not on the menu, but they offer a pre-dessert cheese plate with wine featuring cheeses made in the Valley. NOT to be missed.

                                      2. re: cheframbo

                                        Cheframbo, I'm going out on a limb here. Not sure it's the cuisine de terrior experience you're looking for, and as others have noted, that's not exactly San Diego's dining MO. However, there is a restaurant on the border between Bird Rock and La Jolla that flies under the radar but is home to a lot of very old money in La Jolla. It's called Maitre'D. Traditional fine dining, traditional find dining service, traditional fine dining ambiance. A non-traditional friend of mine with a long background in fine dining service in L.A. has been and says the food and service are both excellent, but it is a little bit on the formal side, toned down side. This may or may not suit your needs.

                                        1. re: DiningDiva

                                          Dining Diva,
                                          I know both Marco and Louise, the owners of Maitre 'D. I have been dining there since I was a undergrad at UCSD. Louise stopped doing the cooking several years back and they have had a few different Chefs since. I have had some amazing meals there, and some not so. There has been some talk lately that Louise and Marco are looking to sell.

                                          1. re: Captain Jack

                                            Thanks for the info. Goes to show, most restaurants are usually only as good as whoever is in the kitchen on any given day.

                                        2. re: cheframbo

                                          I will echo the sentiments of a few others - you will be disappointed with the 'fine dining' establishments in SD. LA, SF, Chicago and I am sure Philly, all have outstanding restaurants that will wow you. Unfortunately, SD's supposed best are located in hotels or country clubs.

                                          My experience in SD at Mille Fleurs, Tapenade, Laurel, George's, et al is that they are stuffy, overpriced and underwhelming. If you are a true foodie and want to be wowed, make the drive (or take the train) to LA and enjoy A.O.C, Cafe Pinot, Mimosa, or many others. Otherwise, you can come to our house where last night I made a pretty decent Fish Soup w/ fennel, saffron, pernod and garlic.

                                          However, what you can find in San Diego is good Mexican and some pretty good divey Asian fare in the Kearny Mesa area (Dumpling Inn, Sakura, etc).

                                        3. Then I would definitely recommend that you make the trip to Laja - you won't find much "cuisine de terroir" in San Diego. 910 and Region both focus on local ingredients, but I have had uneven experiences with both. I know some people really like them though.

                                          I would also still recommend Jack's Fine Dining Room (or the Grill for something more casual) and the Wine Sellar Brasserie - especially if you are into wine.

                                          Also not clear on whether you have been to SD before and where you are staying - if you provide that info you might get more targeted recommendations.


                                          1. Wow! From all of the replies here so far, it sounds like visitors from the East would eat better and spend less on air fare if they went to Des Moines instead.

                                            Having said that, if you *do* decide to visit the lower left-hand corner of the continental US, I can assure you that there's a lot of good food to be had at a lot of nice places, most of which have been mentioned in various posts.

                                            Of course everyone has their own taste, their own preferences, but if I were entertaining out-of-town visitors who loved good food, I might take them to Tapenade, George's at the Cove, the Marine Room, Region, Oceanaire (a golden chain), or Bertrand at Mr. A's (good food, fantastic city and bay views). As my money was nearly gone, I'd pick up some In 'n' out burgers, perhaps some carne asada burritos from Compadres in La Mesa (near my house), or some tortas from the nearby La Torta in La Mesa village. If the card wasn't completely maxed out, we'd do lunch at the Fishery in PB or Cafe Chloe downtown, or at my beloved little Trattoria di IV in Santee. For breakfast/brunch (provided I could get up in time), we'd go to Adams Avenue Grill in Uni Heights, or perhaps try the newly added Sunday brunch at Cafe 11 in Hillcrest, or open our eyes with a tequila sunrise and some juevos rancheros at Casa de Pico.

                                            If you *do* come to San Diego, I bid you a warm welcome, and I promise that you will not starve. Bon appetit.
                                            . . . . jim strain in san diego.

                                            6 Replies
                                            1. re: Jim Strain

                                              Get your card out Jim, I'm certainly willing to run it up on your (great little) list even if the East Coasters aren't ;-)

                                              1. re: Jim Strain

                                                No one mentioned sushi?! And I know we have better sushi than anything in PA. San Diego Uni is very good and shouldn't be missed. Sushi Ota seems to be the "the best", however there are few others to note as well. I will list them if cheframbo has any interest.

                                                1. re: Pablo

                                                  not exactly a huge sushi fan, also unsure if your sushi is better than the omikase at morimoto phila.

                                                  1. re: cheframbo

                                                    The sushi out here is generally better than what you find back east. Sushi Ota is very good, dont miss out on SD Uni, it is some of the best in the world, and as you know does not travel very well.

                                                    1. re: MVNYC

                                                      Two of my favorite sushi places are in/around Philadelphia (although calling Morimoto a "sushi place" is kind of ridiculous), and one of my worst sushi experiences was an off day at Sushi Ota. Unless cheframbo is looking for uni, I don't thing sushi's the way to go here.

                                                      A good night at Region or 910 are very SoCal for this Philly girl.

                                                2. re: Jim Strain

                                                  If we're getting away from French and spendy, the best things I've eaten recently in SD have been the nahm kow (sp) at Asia Cafe, and the bun bo hue at Thien Thanh. For more money, the live uni at Sammy's, and just about everything at Sakura.


                                                3. Have to give Manhattan's in La Jolla some love. Best Cannelloni in town and the Filet Oscar is superb.


                                                  1. re: SD Restaraunt Week and judging a place only based on this week...this was debated a bit on earlier boards. No, I do not expect "the same" as I would going on a regular night, given that meals are $30 for 3 course prix fixe. However, I do expect "the same" or "similar" quality experience and food. Meaning that, if they have to use a cheaper cut of meat or fish, give smaller portion sizes to make some profit off a less expensive meal but still maintain their quality and creativity, this shows how good the kitchen is in improvisation and flexibility. We went to Tapenade in the same week and we all thought their food and execution was up to par. Another trip later to Tapenade demonstrated the same quality as during Restaraunt Week. Perhaps it was an "off" night for The Marine Room, but what was "off" was that it was lacking that extra "something" that makes food "sing" above other restaraunts. The food was good, but not the best I've had in SD (or other cities).

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: daantaat

                                                      And year before last when I tried these exact 2 restaruants during Restaurant Week my experience was just the opposite. The food at The Marine Room was stellar and merely good at Tapenade. The service at The Marine Rooms was great, our waiter at Tapenade was aloof, haughty and clearly put out with having to serve the "riff-raff" looking to "eat cheap in an expensive restaurant". That attitude really put me off even though the food was good. Do I think that's the attitude Tapenade wants to project or one that the owners what their employee projecting? No, but that's what came through loud and clear. If a restaurant isn't prepared for to deal with the 3-course/$30 mentality engendered by Restaurant Week, then they shouldn't participate.

                                                      It's also the problem with trying to say one this or that place is good (or not). Different days, different experiences, different points in time, different points of view.

                                                      1. re: DiningDiva

                                                        I have to say I had the _exact_ experience you describe for Tapenade at the Marine Room. My favorite line after ordering a bottle of wine (and 5 glasses) "_Just_ one bottle?". My answer, which was 'No' before she spoke became 'Yes'. And the food was good, not great on that night.
                                                        I do think the Marine Room does have extremely good food. I think it was overrated for so long it has become underrated. Although I think you can get similar or better high-end food for cheaper - the location is pretty tough to beat.
                                                        I also completely agree that if a place can't deal appropriately with Restaurant Week (service and food that make people want to pay full price) then they shouldn't participate.

                                                    2. doesnt anyone like 'california cuisine' anymore?

                                                      3 Replies
                                                        1. re: honkman

                                                          Crab Catcher in downtown La Jolla is exquisite

                                                          1. re: honkman

                                                            Thanks for this posting honkman. I have not been here in a while and was wondering if it was still as good as it used to be. Will have to try it again.


                                                        2. My best two bets for French in San Diego would be El Bizcocco and Tapenade. Gavin Kayson at El Biz is amazing. Although the atmosphere at El Biz is somwhat stuffy, the food and service are always spot on. Try the mercy of the chef tasting menu. You will not be disapointed. Chef Diot at Tapenade is equally talented. The service at Tapenade is always excellent. I have eaten at both places 3 to 4 times each in the last six months and have not had a bad experience at either. Both places do a great job pairing wines by the glass with their food. My only dig on both places is that they don't change up their menues frequently enough. As far as the Marine room is concerned, they are extemely inconsistent. One night, my wife and I had a magical evening watching the Leopard Sharks swimming outside our ocean front window. The food and service matched the spectacular view. We went back two weeks later with out of town guests and had the opposite experience. The hostess was snotty, we got a crappy table and they brought my wife a raw rack of lamb. It took them another half hour to bring her her food. Not ideal.
                                                          Other venues (not neccessarily French) that I have had good experiences at are George's at the cove (although they can be inconsistent), Region, Wine Sellar and Brassarie, and Molly's (Hotel restaurant...I know, I was skeptical, but I have to give them props). There are plenty of other choices in town. San Diego is not the culinary wasteland that many of the other posters would lead you to belive!

                                                          1. Amen. El Bizcocho and Tapenade are the two best French restaurants in San Deigo. The two best bistros are Cavillon (the former sous-chef at Tapenade) and Patick Ponsetay's Bastide in Scripps Ranch (the former chef de cuisine at El Bizcocho).

                                                            Gavin Kaysen (the el biz chef) is representing the United States in the Bocuse d'or competition in France later in the year.

                                                            The Marine Room and Mille Fluer are very good, if somewhat overpriced French restaurants.

                                                            1. I have been to Tapende a few times and they also catered our Christmas party. I like Valentin at the Lodge but my favorite SD restaurant is Asia Vous in Escondido. It is a French/Asia mix. My favorite meals are the Karabuto (sp?) pork confit, the tuna tartare, the yuzu curd dessert, the Snake river Farm steak and whatever fish they ususally have. WE have been there about 10 times now and it is always great.
                                                              I just came back from 2 weeks in France and I cannot compare any meal in SD to the culinary experience there. But I have not tried MF and some of the other mentioned French restaurants yet so we may be in for a surprise.

                                                              1. Best restaurant in SD..gosh, le bec fin and Daniel's is in another galaxy and I wish we had that caliber of restaurants here!
                                                                I love Mille Fleurs in the Ranch and love that Martin has been cooking for Bertrand for over 20+ years..
                                                                Marine Room is average to me and I have been going there way before Bernard was Executive Chef..the view is better than the food..IMO
                                                                Tapenade is really good and I like George's..
                                                                I have had great food at Pamplemousse and love Cavallion.
                                                                Maitre'D's is quite good in Bird Rock and I enjoy Nine-Ten and Top of the Cove.
                                                                Haven't been in awhile to El Biz but it was outstanding.
                                                                For Mexican Food, love love love Hacienda de Vega in Escondido..
                                                                Sushi Ota is the best for Sushi and for Italian, love Baci's.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: Beach Chick

                                                                  The chef at Laja apprenticed at Daniel. You should check it out sometime.

                                                                2. I went to Market in Del Mar last week and it was really top-notch. Food was excellent - fresh, good portion sizes and many interesting entrees and appetizers to choose from. Service was very good - the waitstaff was plenty attentive and we received a great wine recommendation from the wine director. Decor is classy casual.

                                                                  1 Reply
                                                                  1. re: jwobkk

                                                                    I second that.. I just told someone it was my new favorite place.. all around it was perfect!!!