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Long weekend in San Diego / Tijuana: research in progress, comments welcome

I am charged with finding good eatin' for a group of guys (most from NYC) visiting San Diego for a long weekend in December in honor of our buddy's upcoming nuptials.

We're staying at the Marriott Hotel & Marina (by the convention center).

Below are our plans and what we're looking for in each meal.


Casual but nice with a decent wine list or BYO. Preferably walking distance from the Marriott. Likely choice = Cafe Chloe

FRIDAY LUNCH (5-6 people)

Inexpensive take-out we can bring back to the hotel--something we can't (or ordinarily wouldn't) get in NYC. We will likely have a car available and be on our way from the Mission Bay area to downtown, so anywhere roughly on the way will work. Likely candidates = In-N-Out Burger or a fish taco place (Bahia? El Zarape? South Beach Cafe?).

FRIDAY DINNER (8-9 people)

Top-notch restaurant with a solid winelist where we can be a bit boisterous without disturbing other patrons (too much), but where the room isn't too loud (we want to be able to hear each other around the table). We will likely have a van available, but would prefer to find something within walking distance of the hotel. Budget comes second to great food/wine/ambiance. From poking around this board, it seems Donovan's is the top steak place, if we decide to go that route. But we'd probably prefer a place that has more non-steak options. Would Parallel 33 be a good choice? AR Valentien? Something else?


Probably another take-out option like Friday. This time we'll be headed back downtown from Escondido, so something along I-15 would be ideal.

We'll be headed to Tijuana in the afternoon, though, so maybe we should just wait until we cross the border and grab some tacos on the other side? Is El Guero still in business? Still good?


La Diferencia seems to be the most consistently recommended Tijuana joint on chowhound. Does it still get the thumbs up? Is it walkable from Ave. Revolucion? If not, is it safe to take taxis there? Do we need reservations?


Take-out we can bring back to the hotel, preferably something we can't get in NYC (i.e., not bagels or donuts). Any good breakfast take-out joints near the Marriott?

Any other tips, criticisms, or suggestions are welcome.

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  1. For your Friday lunch thing, South Beach Bar and Grill in OB is a great choice for fish tacos, but they're not going to travel well. If you can swing it, I'd strongly advise you to eat them on the premeses. If that's not an option, and you really do need something to take back to the hotel, I've heard good things about the fish tacos at Tin Fish in downtown San Diego.

    For Friday dinner, I'd suggest Cafe Cerise. It's on 6th between B and C, and has awesome food and a very nice wine list. It's not a loud place, but you can be loud if you want to.

    Saturday lunch, if time allows, you might want to consider hitting up the Stone Brewing Company's bistro. They're in Escondido, on a hill overlooking the 78 and the 15. The food is unusual and good, and they have a great beer selection.

    Another option you might consider is O'Brien's Pub in Kearny Mesa, they're off the 163, which is what you'll be taking from the 15 to get back to Downtown. They have a great beer selection as well, and pretty solid food. Nothing fancy, but it would be a good way to sample some of San Diego's great craft brews that you don't see in NYC.

    1. A couple questions & comments. For your Friday night dinner I highly recommend Cafe Chloe but you may want to call ahead and reserve as they only seem to have one large table. For your Sat night dinner do you want to go "out" afterwards? If so, you might want to think about Confidential or Stingaree downtown. Both have remarkably good menus and after 9ish turn into very "happening" spots. Have fun!

      1. Thanks for the responses so far. Keep 'em coming! The clubby suggestions were great if that was our kind of scene, but I'd say we're more nerdy than clubby.

        Another place we're considering for Friday dinner is Bertrand at Mister A's. It's a lot closer than some of the other places, and sounds pretty good. Any thoughts?

        In particular, the "romantic-ness" of the place concerns me. Will we not fit in?

        After speaking with some of the other attendees, it seems we have a fair number of non-red-meat eaters in the group, so a steak place probably isn't ideal. What are the best fish places in town?

        3 Replies
        1. re: themicah

          Tin Fish for casual dining isn't bad and is within walking distance of your hotel. Parallel 33 does really well with fish. Oceanaire Seafood Room does fish extremely well and is, once again, within walking distance of your hotel. Anthony's Fish Grotto is a high volume operation and has been in business for about 60 years. If you grew up in San Diego you probably have fond memories of it. If you didn't, you might think it rather average, but they are quick, fairly inexpensive and the fish and chips pretty darn good. Anthony's is within walking distance of your hotel. And finally, don't discount your hotel. Molly's in the hotel is pretty good.

          1. re: DiningDiva

            How does Oceanaire compare with McCormick & Schmick's? I've been to M&S in NYC and Philly, and from Oceanaire's website it looks like a similar chain.

            Are there places like these that are more unique to SD?

            1. re: themicah

              I have not eaten at the McCormick & Schmicks in San Diego, though I ate at the one in San Francisco many times when I lived in the Bay Area. Oceanaire in San Deigo is better. It is my understanding, however,that McCormick & Schmicks here in San Diego does an amazing Happy Hour that is worth checkign out. It's within walking distance of your hotel.

              Anthony's is a homegrown seafood restaurant. You'll find it has mixed reviews here. You can hop the Orange trolley to American Plaza and transfer to the Blue line trolley going to Old Town. Go to the Little Italy stop, should be the second one, get off and walk up 1 block to India St. This is Little Italy, there are a ton of restaurants here, many of them doing seafood, usually Italian style. Start at Sogno di Vino for wine and apps and then just kind of work your way down the street. No chains here, I'm not even sure there's a Starbucks

        2. Folks-

          Tijuana chow is discussed on the Mexico board, please post any queries or recommendations for chow south of the border on the Mexico board.


          1 Reply
          1. re: The Chowhound Team

            Sorry for breaking the rules. Looks like part of this thread was shunted off to the Mexico board:


            Is it not common policy on Chowhound to provide cross-referencing links when breaking up threads?

          2. For your friday night dinner my personal experiences are always much better in La jolla/Prospect than Downtown.

            if you dont mind driving about 15 minutes, the restaurants in Prospect are classy and well done, much more NYC style than downtown San diego.

            to rattle of a few i like, nine-ten, george's, crab catcher. All wonderful

            1. I don't know if Ensenada is a bit too far for your liking, but the San Francisco Chronicle (sfgate.com) just had a great article in their Sunday travel section (Nov. 12)on eating in Ensenada...my mouth was watering and i was ready to hop in the car for the 11 hour trek!

              1. A few comments:

                I like Lou and Mickey's downtown for steak and seafood, also has a private room and, if I remember correctly, a few large booths for large groups. Great oysters, and I think it's just what you're seeking. I'd go there rather than drive up to UTC for Donovan's anyday. UTC= ugh.

                I would not take a South Beach Fish Taco any further than the bar itself. It's actually lucky to last 5 mins from serving ; ) But, seriously, fish tacos are rarely good take-out. Don't do it. For that matter, I can't think of a decent breakfast take-out at all.

                You may want to consider Sally's near the Grand Hyatt. I've been to two chef's tables there (granted a few years ago) and had gread meals.


                1. Friday night dinner--Donovan's would be a great choice b/c they have private rooms where you can be as boisterous as you want while enjoying great steak and service!

                  Another option is Modus in the Banker's Hill area, about 5-10 min north of downtown. They have an enclosed patio area that looks into the bar. Great food (one of my favorite dinners of late), although our service for a party of 14 was on the slow side and took several attempts to get the owner's attention that we didn't have a waiter/waitresss in the beginning.

                  If you're willing to drive up to La Jolla, Jack's La Jolla has great food and can handle a lot of noise.

                  Mister A's and AR Valentien have good (the latter, great) food but AR Valentein's atmosphere is quiet, hushed and not conducive for a lot of noise. Mister A's can handle a moderate amount of noise.

                  Parallel 33 has really awesome food but is a small place. I'd call ahead to see if they can take a larger group.

                  Cafe 222 is walking distance from the Marriott but I don't know if they do takeout. It's a breakfast/brunch only place.

                  Horton Plaza is a 5 minute walk from your hotel and they have a food court and Nordstrom's Cafe. Nordstrom's food is pretty good and they have decent baked goods as well.

                  1. For your Friday dinner, I'd also recommend Chive, Modus, Vagabond or the Linkery. I love Cafe Chloe - but they only have one table that seats more than two or three people, and it only seats four. It will be pretty busy on a Friday and you might have to wait a while.

                    Fish tacos do not travel well, so definitely don't get those to go. They have good ones at El Zarape, and Rubios' aren't too bad if you want something quick. I had one mediocre experience at So. Beach Bar and Grill - I thought it was dirty and the food was pretty bad, but it overlooks the beach and it's very popular - so maybe my experience was an anomaly. Hodad's is a good burger joint that is also in the same neighborhood.

                    For your top notch dinner, I'd suggest Jack's in La Jolla, Wine Sellar Brasserie (if you're really wine nerds) or Tapenade. You might also want to try JRDN @ Tower 23. I have not been, but it might fit the bill.

                    For breakfast, try the Hob Nob in Banker's Hill (I had thought it had gone downhill, but we just tried it again recently and had a really good meal with no wait). Richard Walker's Pancake House is a new place downtown, Cafe 222 is popular, and Bread and Cie in Hillcrest has good pastries, etc.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: Alice Q

                      I've eaten at South Beach too many times to count (I lived in OB for many years). If your food was bad it was definitely an anomaly, though some things on their menu aren't worth ordering. The best things there are the fish tacos, and the fried calamari. Any of the plates that come with sides of rice and beans are just OK - beans out of a can, and below average rice. I do agree it's not the nicest dining atmosphere.

                    2. Probably was unclear- their mahi tacos won't travel because I EAT them. They are lucky to last 2 mins on my plate.

                      Sorry if I failed to express my appreciation. ; )


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Fake Name

                        Mahi is good. Other favorites are the wahoo, grilled lobster, and fried oyster.

                      2. To clarify some earlier posts, Cafe Chloe is proposed for Thursday night (not Friday night). It's also now looking like we'll only have four people at that dinner (not five, as I originally thought). I assume four people on Thursday night shouldn't be so difficult? Waiting a few minutes for a seat is no problem--an opportunity to try out the bar.

                        For Friday night, I'm pretty sure we're going to do Oceanaire.
                        Steakhouses are out since we have three non-red-meat-eaters in the group. Plus Oceanaire is very close to our hotel, which is a big bonus. I've searched some other threads, and haven't read a bad thing about Oceanaire yet. The only negative is my knee-jerk suspicion of anything that's a chain, but I can get over that. Plus we don't have one in NYC.

                        2 Replies
                        1. re: themicah

                          Oceanaire is a chain, but it's a small, upscale chain. I don't think you'll be disappointed.

                          August 14th post is about Oceanaire, complete with photos.

                          Service could be a little iffy or aloof, but if you're nice to your server it should warm up accordingly.

                          1. re: DiningDiva

                            Thanks for the link! I'm now even more excited about this choice. I think it's going to be perfect.

                        2. If you like good beer make sure to sample local beers that you cannot get regularly in NYC. Stone, Ale Smith and Port Brewing all make excellent products. And while not from SD, Russian River is also hard to find on the East COast and they make outstanding beers.

                          1. A follow-up is looooong overdue. We had a great bachelor party weekend in San Diego, and ate extremely well largely thanks to the folks on this board.

                            We ended up hitting the following places:

                            Thursday late-lunch: Cafe Chloe (downtown)
                            Thursday dinner: In-N-Out Burger (near airport)
                            Thursday late-dinner: 3rd Corner (Ocean Beach)
                            Friday lunch: Stone World Bistro (Escondido)
                            Friday dinner: Oceanaire (downtown)
                            Saturday lunch: Wahoo's Fish Tacos (La Jolla)
                            Saturday dinner: La Diferencia (Tijuana)

                            Following are brief reviews of each.

                            CAFE CHLOE http://cafechloe.com/

                            We showed up at Cafe Chloe mid-afternoon after flying in from New York. We'd eaten "lunch" on the plane, but weren't really full, and although it was a little late for lunch and a little early for dinner, we didn't have anything else scheduled, so we wandered over to Cafe Chloe and found we had the place to ourselves. Unfortunately one member of our party doesn't really like French food (wish I'd realized this earlier) so he didn't really eat. But everything the rest of us ordered was absolutely delicious. I love casual French places like this that serve tasty, light food. I don't remember what the others had, but my smoked trout and apple salad was exactly what I wanted, with all the right mixtures of flavors, textures and freshness.

                            IN N OUT http://in-n-out.com/

                            Later that night another member of our party was arriving, so we headed out to the airport to pick him up. We planned to pick him up and then go wine shopping and grab some dinner, but his flight was delayed and we were getting hungry. And hungry New Yorkers when in California head for In N Out Burger. Those who love burgers were very, very satisfied. I don't eat mammals, so my options were rather limited, but they made me a grilled cheese that definitely took care of my cravings. The service was also friendlier than any fast food place I'd ever been to. I don't think I'll go out of my way to go back, though (unless I'm with carnivorous friends).

                            3RD CORNER http://the3rdcorner.com/

                            The guy we were picking up is an oenophile and a foodie, and had asked a local friend of his for wine store and late-night restaurant recommendations. The friend had whole-heartedly recommended a place called 3rd Corner--both for wine and for dinner. The delayed flight didn't get in until about 11pm, but we headed toward 3rd Corner anyway and were promptly seated at close to midnight. We weren't the only ones there, either, although it wasn't exactly bustling.

                            None of us had ever been to a place that was both a restaurant and a wine store. We're not talking about a dining room next to a store. You dine among the wine racks, and you walk among the tables to choose your wine. Once orders were placed, we browsed and found lots of good stuff. It's not a super high-end wine store, but they had a lot of unusual, mid-priced bottles that made the oenophile among us very happy.

                            After Cafe Chloe and In N Out, two of us were pretty stuffed and just snacked on the olives and bread they brought to our table (which were great). But our late arrival and the anti-French-food guy dug in. I forget what one had, but the other had a salmon dish that he was thrilled with. And the whole menu looked great to me. Next time I'm in San Diego, I'm definitely heading back to this place.

                            STONE WORLD BISTRO http://stoneworldbistro.com/

                            Friday morning we did the Photo Caravan Safari tour at the Wild Animal Park, which was a ton of fun. Afterwards we headed over to the Stone World Bistro in Escondido. If you go, definitely print out the map from their website, as the road they are on doesn't yet show up on any of the major online mapping/directions services. Their directions were easy to follow, though, and while the building doesn't look like a restaurant (it's primarily a brewery, and therefore looks like a big warehouse), it was clear from the smell of the beermaking we were in the right place.

                            We didn't really know what to expect here, since we chose it based on a passing remark in this Chowhound thread (thanks, Josh!) and a glance at the menu on their website. But once again we were impressed. It was a chilly but beautiful day, so we sat outside with a heater over our table. The brews and food were all delicious. I would describe the food as extremely creative California bar food. We had things like onion rings and burgers, but everything with a very interesting twist or three. I had the rocket salad, which was fresh and interesting and wonderful. And I had the tempeh "fuego" burger, which was spicier than I expected, but very good. It was a homemade veggie burger filled with all kinds of delicious grains and on a big piece of fresh focaccia. Definitely not the typical Gardenburger on a bun veggie burger I've found in most places. It wasn't as well balanced as some of the other dishes (a lot of grain in both the burger and the bread), but it was still very tasty and quite unlike anything I'd had before, so I was very happy. Everyone else was equally happy.

                            I highly recommend this place if you're in the neighborhood.

                            OCEANAIRE http://theoceanaire.com/sandiego/

                            Oceanaire was perfect for our group. It was loud and boisterous enough that we didn't feel like jerks being loud and boisterous. And it wasn't so loud that we couldn't have a great conversation. We had a nice big round table where we could all see each other, our waitress was wonderful (she was even a good sport about the somewhat inappropriate comments of one older member of our party), and the food was superb. For a far more thorough review than I have time for, check out the Dining Diva's review linked above. We couldn't have asked for a better place, though.

                            WAHOO's FISH TACOS http://wahoos.com/

                            We went to Wahoo's after a morning of sea kayaking at the urging of one of the members of our group, who claimed that Wahoo's was THE place to go in California for fish tacos. I was tempted to try one of the other fish taco places discussed in this thread, but he was quite insistent, and it was close to our kayaking spot, so to Wahoo's we went.

                            I'm running out of time for these reviews, so I'll keep it brief: everything there was perfectly edible, but I really didn't think it was anything special. I found my fish tacos to be pretty bland and uninteresting. Next time I'm going to try one of the places you guys recommended, since your other recommendations have all held up so well. Again, Wahoo's isn't bad. It's just not anything worth going out of your way for.

                            LA DIFERENCIA http://ladiferencia.com.mx/

                            See my review in the broken-off Tijuana portion of this thread for La Diferencia:


                            For breakfasts, we ended up getting comped breakfast at the hotel, which was very good (lots of excellent, fresh options in addition to the usual hot-table hotel breakfast buffet). It's probably expensive if you have to pay, but it's well above average in terms of quality for a hotel breakfast buffet.

                            All in all, we had a superb weekend, both in terms of our activities and (of course) our food. And we wouldn't have eaten nearly as well without all of your help. Thanks, ChowHound!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: themicah

                              thanks for a great report! It's good to know how recommendations go!