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San Diego + North County, NYE with party of 9?

Spending New Year's Eve in San Diego this year and probably staying in Del Mar at the Marriott. Are there any good places to watch fireworks in San Diego or North County? How about a restaurant near the fireworks viewing spot serving a party of 9 for about $20 or less, each (without counting alcohol)? Should we venture to the Gaslamp (we're somewhat laid-back in our mid-twenties and not that "clubby") or can we stick to Del Mar/La Jolla area for a fun count down?

We also need some recommendations on good $12 or less eats around Del Mar and surrounding areas. Taco Joints, local burger places, and good coffeehouses with breakfast all sound great. Little snack spots for a cone of ice cream or kettle corn are also welcome. I guess "paper napkin eateries" kinda describes this category.

I've done some research and here are a few places we're hoping to visit:
Extraordinary Desserts
Cafe 222
Sammy Sushi (1 person doesn't eat sushi or chicken, 1 person prefers non-seafood, 1 person loves rolls, I love great sashimi)
Fidels or other Mexican in Solana Beach?

A little background on the party for tailored recommendations-
Group is from Seattle, St. Louis, throughout SF Bay Area (we're friends doing a road trip from San Jose)
We'll have a car and while we're not afraid to drive, we're not exactly used to So.Cal traffic.
Places we're going probably include Legoland and possibly the Zoo or Wild Animal Park.
Trip Duration: 3 nights in San Diego
SF has really good Chinese food so no need to include that unless it is really outstanding (like Vancouver or Hong Kong outstanding)

Thanks so much for the advice.

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  1. For good Mexican in Solana Beach/Encinitas I would pick Don Chuy, Bety's Restaurant or El Callejon.
    For a good pizza I would go to Pizzicato in Encinitas.
    For good (but not excellent) cooffeehouses in this area, go to E Street Cafe (Encinitas) or Vinaka (Carlsbad).
    For breakfast place there is Honey's Bistro & Bakery in Encinitas, Daily Newscafe in Carlsbad.
    And just a comment on the Zoo and Wild Animal Park. In my opinion the Zoo is way overrated but the Wild Animal Park is very good,

    12 Replies
    1. re: honkman

      I will second honkman's choices. Also add Yu Me Ya in Encinitas to the list, small plates and good sake prices. Easy to grab a small snack or two and drink for $12. On the otherhand, Yumeya with nine people is most of the restaurant!

      1. re: honkman

        For the $12 and under list I'd also add La Especial Norte for their homemade Mexican soups, and if you don't mind a bit of a drive, Bruno's in San Marcos' Restaurant Row for their singular standout: their olive-oil pizza...

        BTW when you mention Cafe 222 (Gaslamp) and Extraordinary Desserts (Little Italy & Hillcrest), both excellent choices by the way, those are both well out of the Del Mar area... Will you also be considering recommendations for places as far as those establishments are relative to Del Mar?

        For fireworks, (assuming the Del Mar racetrack has a New Year's fireworks show), I usually go to the parking lot of St. James by the Sea Catholic Church in Solana Beach on Nardo. It's perched up on the top of a nearby coastal hill just to the north of the racetrack, so has a good view of the fireworks. Just get there early, as it gets pretty crowded and parking, though plentiful, can get overrun...

        And to honkman's recommendation of E Street Cafe, I agree it's not excellent, but it can also be at times downright awful. If you do go ask if James, a former Portland-area barista, can pull your shot, especially if it's a ristretto or espresso that you're looking for. He's the only consistent barista that I've found there.

        1. re: cgfan

          Yes, we're willing to go out of our way to different areas away from Del Mar (as long as it is north of the border) if there are other things to do in the area.

          1. re: cgfan

            Cgfan, could you tell me a little bit more about Bruno's and their pizza?

            I Second Norte.

            1. re: kare_raisu

              Please do cgfan, I am a fan of Pizzicato in Encinitas. Bruno's sounds interesting.

              1. re: Pablo

                kare_raisu/Pablo: Great questions... Actually I was going to "jump the gun" on my first post by describing their crusts, but I figured that I'll keep my post (uncharacteristically, perhaps?) on the short side.

                Regarding crusts, I like a rustic and thin, somewhat cracker-like crust that's bubbling and even charred in places (the rustic part...). Since I throw pizzas at home myself, my gut tells me that that requires both a "strong" higher protein flour and a very hot oven (I run mine at around 500-600 degrees, the most I seem to be able to get it to...).

                First off, though I like Bruno's pizza, it's not a cracker-thin crust, (but it's not a thick crust either). It's more thin crust than thick, perhaps in-between in thickness to those thin pencils that you get in those pocket day planners and those short ones that you get at the starter's office at the golf course...).

                But the bottom of the crust is so nicely baked that I don't mind it's not the cracker-thin crust that I prefer. I'm going from memory here, but complementing the crust is a set of toppings that's unusually restrained (given that this is basically a family-style restaurant where one would expect mounds of bubbling cheese and a laundry list of toppings to overwhelm the palate) and well-chosen. Topping the pizza are: olive oil (it's cheeseless), which keeps most of the top surface a bit moist and tender, and a bit more bleached, the fleshy part of the tomato cut into a small dice, finely chopped cilantro, and a fine brunoise of jalapenos. They somehow incorporate garlic, which I cannot recall how it's done, as well as a bit of salt to point out the flavors.

                The overall taste impression is the clear taste of olive oil combined with a refreshingly mild saltiness complimented by the taste and aroma of a freshly baked bread, with the remaining flavors of garlic, tomatoes and jalapenos cooperatively playing their supporting roles.

                And regardless of the size ordered, these pizzas are huge. I never left Bruno's without taking home some leftovers. As might be expected, though, the leftovers lose the crispness at the bottom of the crust, though I imagine that throwing it onto a pizza stone in a hot oven may revive it to some extent. One unusual part of their pizzas are that although the entire pie is round, they are cut into square pieces, leaving odd-shaped "slices" all around, good if you want to hunt for pieces that are mostly crust to assess its flavor...

                I'm almost tempted to desire Bruno's toppings with Pizzicato's crust, but now that I think about it I think I like it just the way it is. (And I find that Pizzicato's crust could be crisper, but than again it's not bad for a chain. Re. chains, though, I once came across a Z Pizza in L.A., not sure where they are in S.D., which surprised me by the quality of their cracker-thin crusts...)

                And as I've mentioned in an earlier post (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/32380... ), I find Bruno's to be a one-hit wonder. And as you step up to the restaurant and certainly by the time you step in, you will probably wonder if they can serve a good pizza here. They do, but theirs just doesn't fall into the neat categories of having a thin or thick crust.

                1. re: cgfan

                  Z Pizza is in La Jolla/Ralphs mall across WholeFoods next to Daphne's

                  1. re: honkman

                    Thanks for the tip, honkman! Will have to try the local shop the next time I'm in the area...

                  2. re: cgfan

                    thanks cgfan, Bruno's sounds delicious, going to have to go there soon. Pizzicato could go a little longer in the oven, I had one a few weeks ago that was little over done and it was perfect! Next time I will order a "well done pizza" and see what happens!

                    1. re: Pablo

                      Pablo: a great tip and observation... I'll have to do the same the next time I order from them. "Well done, per favore!"

              2. re: cgfan

                I really like Bruno's. I would go there with my late grandfather, and has he progressed in age, he was not in the best of health, the owner always took the time to talk to him and prepare a special pizza for him. For that, I think Bruno's is a great resteraunt.

                We started going there in the late 70's, when it was tiny, it has since expanded many times.

                1. re: normalheightsfoodie

                  A wonderful story, normalheightsfoodie, combining family, food, and memories.

                  To this day there are certain restaurants that I clearly associate with memories of my father, especially Langer's, the great pastrami-house in L.A.

            2. I'm not a North County denizen, but I'd steer clear of Fidel's. I agree with honkman's choices for Mexican food.

              Drive up north to Oceanside to either the Longboarder or the Beach Break Cafe. Both are good and inexpensive. Beach Break usually has a wait on weekends.

              Cafe 222 is very good, but it's small and parking can be an experience in and of itself. Extraordinary Desserts is also one of those places that can have a wait, depending on what time you go.

              Nice to see you've done your homework. I do hope you and your friends have a GREAT time here in San Diego! And, if you have a chance, report back on your dining experiences.

              1. Pacifica Breeze in Del Mar is a very good place to have a bite to eat. I've only had breakfast and lunch, but it's always been great.
                I'll second Bety's Tacos in Encinitas (they do very good chicken mole and quesadilla with cheese & epazote). I'll also second an avoidance of Fidel's.
                Vinaka in Carlsbad has excellent quiches. Pannikin in Leucadia is another coffehouse that's interesting to visit.
                For San Diego, I'd check out Cafe Chloe (a few blocks east of the Gaslamp quarter). Very good food.
                I'm not sure where to view fireworks, but a place like Terra would be nice (if they're open for New Year's). They did a fantastic Thanksgiving dinner.
                Are you looking for any particular ethnic food?

                1. in Del Mar:
                  Pacifica Breeze Cafe has great breakfast, brunch and casual lunches. It's all outdoor seating w/ a view of the ocean over the buildings in front of it. Gets breezy and cool, so bring a jacket.

                  Americana has great breakfasts as well (kitty corner from Pacifica Breeze Cafe). They also do casual lunch and dinners. I think their breakfasts are their best meals, although I've enjoyed lunch and dinner too.

                  SKIP Sbicca's in Del Mar. Overpriced, overrated and very inconsistent food.

                  En Fuego has pretty good Mexican food, all outdoor seating with outdoor heaters. Supposed to have great margaritas. Not overly expensive either.

                  I think there's a sub shop on Camino del Mar called Board and Brew. Great sub sandwiches, great for taking down to the beach.

                  If you go east of the 5 freeway into Carmel Valley (which is actually where you'll be staying), there is a Souplantation off Carmel Creek Rd, just down the street from the Marriott. In the same plaza, Nico's Taco Shop isn't too bad, although if you're willing to drive south, you can find much better and cheaper Mexican food. Spices Thai Cafe in the same plaza is "ok." I only go if I'm really desperate for Thai. If you're from SEA and SF, you have WAY better Thai.

                  I'm guessing since you are going to Legoland that there are kids involved. There is a Pat and Oscar's across the street from Souplantation. Pizzas, salads, pastas, breadsticks and take out. Good place to take kids.

                  Come On In! is a little cafe in La Jolla and Carmel Valley. The Carmel Valley one is inside one of the office buildings on El Camino Real about 3-5 minutes south of the Marriott. It's only open during business hours. They have good pastries, muffins, etc.

                  Champagne Bakery and Cafe in Carmel Valley in the Del Mar Heights Plaza has a pretty good bakery, casual breakfast, lunch and dinner food. Parking can be a pain sometimes.

                  There is an Einstein's Bagels in the Del Mar Heights Plaza as well. If you like chocolate, hit Chuao Chocolates next to Starbucks in the same plaza.

                  I think there is a Pannikin in the Flower Hill Mall in Del Mar, on Via de la Valle (1-2 freeway exits north of the Marriott, depending which on-ramp you take). There is also a phenomenal cheese shop called Aniata Cheese Shop in the same mall. Milton's Deli is ok, passable for a deli but nothing special. Taste of Thai is "ok" Thai as well. Tends to be Americanized. A step above Spices Thai (see above).

                  One of the better deals around the area is Market Bar and Restaraunt further east on Via de la Valle. It is owned and operated by Carl Schroeder, the ex-chef of Arterra. Really good food for surprisingly reasonable prices. Apps run $8-10, entrees about $20-25. For the quality, creativity and execution of the meal, you'd be easily charged 15-20% higher for his level of cooking elsewhere. Large wine list as well.

                  For fireworks, I'd check out going into Coronado and watching fireworks across the bay. That's where "everyone" goes for 4th of July. Peohe's restaraunt has bay front tables (food is ok, I think it's overpriced).

                  I think the Hyatt in UTC (aka The Aventine) often does their version of Times Squareon New Year's Eve. Fleming's Steakhouse and Cafe Japengo are in the complex and both are good. Both will run more than $20/person.

                  If you're going to Legoland, there is an In-n-Out Burger in Carlsbad, off the 5 freeway (the exit escapes me. It's the same exit as the Carlsbad Outlets).

                  Skip SD Chinese food. You have some of the best in SF and Vancouver!

                  1. Thanks for all the replies! I think we're much better off for finding affordable and good food than we were.

                    I think the cheese and chocolate shops will be getting a group of visitors.

                    Keep the recommendations for fireworks viewing and dining spots coming! We're trying to figure out which places do a "champagne and kiss" only with no fireworks show (I can watch the ball drop tv in my hotel room with 8 other people, no need to involve an entire restaurant doing the exact same thing)**.

                    We might go to Legoland for the 31st and they have a kiddie version of NYE fireworks at 6pm, but we'd also appreciate having a venue that runs to the over-21, bedtime after 9pm crowd.

                    ** I take that back. If there is an exploding lava chocolate cake the size of a table that erupts at midnight or a champagne waterfall-esque type of thing, that might be worth it. Midnight Buffet with Champagne would punch my ticket, considering San Diego seems to do an awesome Champagne Brunch (just trot out the desserts).

                    1. Pacific Breeze is great for breakfast or lunch, but is not open for dinner. Pacifica Del Mar just adjacent and Pacific Breeze's owner is excellent for dinner and has an ocean view. Fidels is my choice for Mexican in the area Don Choys is a tiny cafe with ok food. But Fidels is an institution with more variety and a lot more fun. Also Le Bambou in Del Mar has excellent Vietnamese food. It's a small family run restaurant with good service, a serene environment, and inexpensive. Anothe good place for lunch is Naked Cafe in Solana Beach across from the beach.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: PGB

                        Le Bambou tends to be Americanized. If you're coming from LA, SF, Seattle, you'll be disappointed by Le Bambou.

                        1. re: daantaat

                          (Oops... I replied to the wrong posting level...)

                          Though in a sense most Mexican restaurants are somewhat Americanized, Fidel's seems to be particularily so; one could do better elsewhere in San Diego, and many choice suggestions abound in the California Chowhound board.

                          1. re: daantaat

                            You may disappointed by it, but I know several chefs from local top restaurants that love it on their days off. In fact that's how I learned about it, and I think it's excellent.

                            1. re: PGB

                              are you referring to Le Bambou?

                                1. re: PGB

                                  no amount of "chefs" can change the fact that the rice in claypot dish that I ordered was dry, tasteless and had more rice than goodies in it!

                                  not all "chefs" necessarily know all "cuisines." witness one of the Top Chef contestants who worked in a Vietnamese restaurant but didn't know how to pronounce "pho" correctly. Ming Tsai had to correct her several times.

                        2. I would add a breakfast or brunch at the Beach Grass Cafe in Solana Beach (http://www.beachgrasscafe.com/ ), a wonderful way to start your day. If you wish you can follow this up with a leisurely walk by taking the pedestrian bridge across the R/R tracks. This will take you to the Cedros Design District, a collection of independent shops situated in a row of quontset huts just 1 block to the east of the cafe.

                          If you're there on a Sunday a reasonably-sized (for San Diego, that is) Certified Farmer's Maret is held in a parking lot at the south end of the Design District. (Nothing like the Farmer's Markets you get in the Bay Area, and I'm sure the Seattle area as well, but I always find these markets to be interesting places to walk through while on travel...


                          (Off topic, but where are the large Farmer's Markets in S.D.? The largest I've seen is the La Jolla market on the schoolgrounds... Any others?)

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: cgfan

                            The Hillcrest Farmars Market on Sunday is pretty large.

                          2. Extraordinary desserts is a GREAT choice!Go to the less crowded one on 1430 Union street. When I went to Vinaka in Carlsbad & E street Cafe in Encinitas, the bread was stale(never went back!)..The Pannikin is consistently good with fresh pastries & coffee (their specialty for many years), and if you love bread, try going to Bread and Cie downtown..I really liked the Beach Grass Cafe in Solana Beach as well, they have interesting dishes and is closeby for you. "Fidel's" is Mexican-AMERICAN (ie use cheddar cheese & sour cream--a site unseen as you drive further from the US border), so if you like that style, then it's ok..Truly, the best Mexican is found in Tijuana, but it is a PAIN to cross the border(you can try parking the car on US side and using cabs in TJ). My humble advice is DON'T go to Le Bambou--you come from SAN FRANCISCO--are you kidding me?? You've got *THE* best asian cuisines up there! I wouldn't waste my time if I were you because you'll be disappointed..I know you said you aren't "clubby", but there's the "Red Pearl" downtown where you can order several plates and share for a reasonable price, it is Asian style, but they are creative and mix styles--I think they may fall under "fusion".. Check out their menu: http://www.redpearlkitchen.com/sandie... ..If you're willing to drive down to the Mission Beach area there's a place called "Mission Cafe" on 3795 Mission Blvd, San Diego which is very good for Breakfast/Brunch, or similar one called "Cantina Panaderia" on 966 Felspar St in san diego-you can make reservations here, but not at the mission cafe..This is their website: (http://www.cantinacollective.com/..It... like latino-asian, very good! Mission/Pacific Beach are towards downtown, and there are some places in Mission Beach you can sit at and watch the fireworks in downtown and Sea World. LOTS of them! You can even watch them from the beach (since Mission Beach faces downtown). I noticed you mentioned you wanted to have sushi. If you go to Sushi on the Rock for happy hour before 6pm in Carlsbad (they have one closer to you in La jolla, not sure about Happy Hour?), everything is half price and you can have a FEAST for cheap! My personal favorite is the one downtown called "Sushi-Ito" because they combine latino flavors and use some chile..I *love* their sushi..! Wherever you go, enjoy your stay!!!

                            1. Oh I just remembered a fun place!! It looks like a dive from the outside and not the best neighborhood, but very unique. This is like a pub/bar where you get to choose and grill your own steak. If you're with a group of friends I would think it would be fun, and thought I'd throw it out there! It's a bit southeast of San Diego, like I said, not the best neighborhood--but it's more like an "experience"..Google "Turf Supper Club San Diego" and check out what people say about it!

                              1. Oh--and it's VERY cheap($6-$9), you also have a choice of chicken & fish..It gets crowded, and opens Mon-Fri 5pm-2am, Saturdays and sundays 1pm-2am..It is quite funky!

                                1. Thanks for all the info melovechocolate! I'll take all those into consideration. Funny Thing, I'd already taken a look at Red Pearl and think it might be fun. Great Rec! I think it strikes the perfect balance between laid-back and hoppin' for the other 8 members of my group.
                                  Also, Thanks to everyone who has suggested places to watch Fireworks shows. We will double check with the hotel and web sites as the dates get closer. Hopefully the weather will cooperate!

                                  1. Fireworks can be seen in Mission Bay and Downtown (probably including Gaslamp) on New Year's Eve in San Diego. I met someone who grew up in Del Mar and he graciously provided the answer.