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San Diego Worst Meals of 2006

Saw the "Worst Meal of 2006" thread on the Los Angeles board and thought it would be fun to start one for San Diego. How about SD Chowhounds, what's the worst meal you've have this past year? Doesn't necessarily had to have been at a restaurant.

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  1. Mardi Gras Cafe on Midway. I'd been to the MGC a few times before to get a somewhat acceptable Oyster Po'Boy (not great, but any Po'Boy in a storm...). Last time I made the unfortunate mistake of trying their Jambalaya. Awful. I can do better starting with Rice A Roni. And their sticky tables are disgusting.

    Some close runner-ups:

    The new Hawaiian chain fast-food place on Sports Arena near Rosecrans. OK, I get it, loads of white rice with loads of bland liquid smoke-flavored mystery meat for a cheap price. If I didn't care what I ate and wanted to weigh 400 lbs, I'd eat here 3 times a day. As it is, I'll pass. I'm a huge Moko-Loco fan, and I'm not even tempted to bother trying it here.

    Bud's Cajun (next to the Waterfront) - a disappointment relative to its rep, though an improvement over Mardi Gras Cafe. Do all Cajun restaurants think it's cool to have sticky tables? I may not be able to do better starting with a box of Rice A Roni, but it'd be a close run...

    3 Replies
    1. re: mikec

      Sigh, I guess that's the problem when you try to do a yearly overview in mid-December, there's always a chance that something better or worse comes up. Kindof like voting for the NFL Pro Bowl before the end of the season.

      Anyway, maybe not the worst "meal" of the year, but definitely worst dish of the year, yesterday for lunch at Vagabond: Their Chinese Calamari appetizer. WTH were they thinking? Were the busboys cooking? Horribly rubbery overcooked Calamari with what seemed like a whole head of garlic cloves (without the papery stuff removed?), a whole package of dried chili peppers with enough sugar to put a diabetic into immediate shock. Served by itself without any rice to somewhat ameliorate the heat. Awful. Inedible.

      If this is an example of what they're going to do in their rotation, this (if it hasn't already) will become a big pass.

      1. re: mikec

        I had the calamari appetizer for dining at Vagabond and it was actually one of the more successful dishes on the table. It wasn't rubbery and the garlic/chili hit not bad. Unfortunately, a couple of the other dishes weren't so great and I was wondering who was in the kitchen cooking. Vagabond is a much needed addition to that neighborhood, but it think it tends to be a bit inconsistent.

        1. re: DiningDiva

          Sorry to hear you've been disappointed. I've been there about 6 times, since they opened. Been pleased with each dish I've tasted, including the calamari appetizer. I guess any place can have a bad night.

    2. World Curry in PB. That was an entertainment coupon meal and I went there a few times before over the last years and it wasn't great but this time it was just really, really lousy.

      1 Reply
      1. re: honkman

        Really? I'm sorry to hear that. It was really good when I lived in SD, about six years ago. I loved their Japanese curry. I'll agree that the service was spotty.

      2. AR Valentien.

        No complaints about the food. We were a party of 2 celebrating our 50th birthdays. It was an early Sunday evening and the place was half empty. We were seated in a side room with two families with 5 kids between them. The kids were badly behaved and the parents oblivious. The noise escalated throughout the evening. Our waitress pretended it just wasnt happening and then tried to make light of it after the families left (at that point we were halfway through our entrees). She became defensive when I expressed my dissapointment at the seating: "we dont discriminate". Then the manager came over and tried to pawn us off with some dessert wine. He was also defensive and repeated "we dont discriminate". I think the hotel should avoid issuing judgemental statements, but whatever. I wrote a respectful letter to the hotel explaining my dissapointment at the experience. Never heard squat and I will never go back to AR Valentien.

        1. Blue Fire (Grill?) in Carlsbad. We went during Restaurant Week, though I don't really know why. (Fortunately, that wasn't our only reservation for the week.)
          I just remember the food being "blah." I can't imagine paying full price to eat there. As it was, $30 was far too much. I will say that their dessert trio included an nice green tea creme brulee, but that was the only high point.

          1. Maybe its just not my cup of tea -- but the dduk bok ki (stir fried rice cake) at the Korean restaurant in Zion market. Think ultra-dessert-sweet chef boyardee sauce. Panachan passable though.

            1. For me it was probably the first meal that I ever had at China Max. I had never eaten there before since for the price I would usually go to Jasmine or Emerald, but I had heard good things about China Max and one evening my GF and I decided to give it a try. We ordered the duck in lettuce cups, clams in black bean sauce and some soup. The duck had too much hoisin in it and was horribly oversauced, the clams were not fresh, dirty and rubbery. The soup was edible but nothing special. After that meal we vowed to never eat there again, but one of my friends persuaded us to go back for dim sum one day and we found it to be excellent. Now China Max is the default place that we go for dim sum on the weekend. We haven't been back for dinner however, although I am willing to give them another chance. Perhaps they are one of those places where you have to order the right thing.

              1 Reply
              1. re: mliew

                I have to concur my first meal at China Max was a big disappointment. While my food was fine, my companion's was dismal. Worst of all was the service. However, since then, I've been back several times and I really like it. It seems that new restaurants - which China Max was when I first went - either start off with a bang, then go downhill or start off shaky and learn from their mistakes. Fortunately, China Max seems to fall in the latter category.

              2. Chicken Pot pie in Poway... that place is nasty. It reminded me of my high school cafeteria food in 1992.... UGH!

                1. Hands down Kalua pig at L&L, six months ago and I'm still burping liquid smoke.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: stevuchan

                    Right. L&L is the Hawaiian place I mentioned... L&L's Lau Lau is a pathetic joke.

                  2. Actually, haven't had a decent Korean cheap lunch near Convoy since I moved work locations to the area two months ago. They all serve mediocre Bento boxes and sometimes we have to ask for panchan. Last place I tried was Buga, any suggestions (less than $10)? Can one get decent bulgogi for less than $10?

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: ac3197

                      Inside Zion Market (just North/adjacent to the the Mercedes dealership at 163 and Balboa)- Happy Meal.

                      1. re: ac3197

                        Try Boo Cho (or whatever name it is now), it's on Engineer Rd. one block East of Convoy, in the same tiny strip mall as Frank's Happy Chef (IIRC). They're better for dinner than lunch (they're the only Korean BBQ place that uses charcoal rather than gas grills that I know of, but they only cook in the kitchen for lunches). They're usually packed to the gills at night with few occidentals in sight...

                        Also the Korean place in the same strip mall as O'Brian's pub on Convoy. Not sure what the name of it is, but it's the one with all the pictures of dishes displayed outside.

                        1. re: mikec

                          the "new" Boo Cho went downhill from it's prior incarnation. Panchan is average, nothing exciting and all the portions are small. Buga has much better BBQ and panchan. The ideal BBQ would be their charcoal grills with Buga's food.

                        2. re: ac3197

                          i agree with you ac3197. i've been disappointed with the korean bbq around convy. the panchan was great at buga, but i thought the bulgogi was only ok. i tend to like mine a little sweeter, but that's just personal preference. and at boo cho, i had to ask for kim chee! and what's with getting tempura and california rolls with my korean lunch...is that normal? i'd rather them mix in some japchae.

                          1. re: daimyo

                            I've found that the Bulgogi and Kalbi are a bit on the sweeter side at Seoul BBQ on Convoy.

                        3. Por Favor in La Mesa is absolutly the worst excuse for a Mexican restaurant bar none! Unfortunately there are several around east county and all of them, I've been to all of them, are the same, BAD! My family and I walked out of the El Cajon locations because of service and what I saw being served around us.


                          1. Island prime, on several occasions-friends wanted to try it. The view is one of the best in the city's, but the food is unbearable, and the drinks lack innovation. I've eaten on both sides of the restaurant, C-level was the worst by far. Everything is so processed you could almost taste the bag it came out of.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: foodforthought

                              totally agree with you foodforthought on island prime. very disappointing. on that same note, i love the location of peohe's in coronado, but have been disappointed by the meals i've had there as well.

                              1. re: daimyo

                                When I heard that the Cohns bought Thee Bungalow I was sorely disappointed.

                                What kills me is how many people applaud their restaurants. I've never been to one I liked. Average at best. I guess it shows the power of marketing.

                              2. re: foodforthought

                                Funny, as I was reading this thread, I immediately thought of Island Prime! Only went once. When you pay $30 bucks for an a la carte steak, the crab garnish shouldn't by so old and stinky you are afraid to eat it! I was shocked and disappointed. Cohn Group usually gets it right. That crab was unforgiveable!

                                1. re: Ms Verde

                                  > Cohn Group usually gets it right

                                  I guess that depends on your defininitions of "usually" and "right"... ;-)

                              3. The worst is the hawaiian plate lunch chain in the parking lot by big lots/ Costco in Santee. cant remember the name but the service and prices were very disapointing.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: callmetomforshort

                                  The place in Santee you are talking about is called Shaka and has only been open for about a month or two. Anyone who has complaints about L&L should stay FAR away from this place! It is an absolute disgrace to island style plate lunch or Hawaiian food in general. Seriously, they are over priced, their food is nasty and service is terrible! I could not believe how one of the employees was being berated in front of customers and then how rudely we were treated. I think a little thing called bachi (kind of like karma) will be taking care of them though.

                                2. ahhh yess..... island prime. i forgot about that place. thanks for reminding me!

                                  my girlfriend STILL talks about that place as being one of the worst in SD. I spent about $200 there for dinner and drinks and honestly, it was a total ripoff. I wanted to try something new other than ruth's where we go alot. bad decision. i remember that we went on a friday night.. and there was no one there! we sat to the right of the restaurant, in the main area? anyway, food was very uninspired. oh well, that is part of the dining out experience sometimes... you win some, you lose some.

                                  1. I've been to each side of Island Prime once - which tells you something in and of itself. On the Island Prime side, I liked my steak a lot, but that might have had more to do with the fantastic bottle of wine we had than anything else. The lobster twice baked potato was dried out and stale, but we liked the corn side dish and the chocolate trio dessert. Overall, it wasn't awful, but for the price (and given the other options around town) it's not a place we'd go back to. It would be ok for a dinner with people from out of town who aren't too adventurous, maybe family or something like that. It kind of reminded me of the Chart House of the old days - it sort of fills that niche.

                                    Having had a decent experience on the formal side, I was really disappointed with C level. We were served warmed over fish and chips (no excuse for bad fried food!) and an overcooked burger. The other two dishes were the bisque and lobster club sandwich - which was waaay too rich to be a combo, and the lobster mac and cheese. It seems like they really go in for the lobster and truffle and other indulgent ingredients - but unfortunately they are simply wasted if they aren't good quality and aren't prepared right. Unless they have improved (and it sounds like they haven't) this one is definitely a miss. It's too bad, because it's a good idea and a great location.

                                    As far as my worst meal of 2006 - I guess I've been really lucky and haven't had anything that I'd really want to blast someone for. I did get served two ice cold side dishes with a beautiful steak at Laurel, which was annoying, but I have been pretty lucky other than that. We've had some pretty bad crappy Chinese food lately from local places - trying to find some good takeout in or around the East County - so I guess that would have to take the prize. If anyone has any ideas please let me know!

                                    5 Replies
                                    1. re: Alice Q

                                      Reading this thread actually reminded me of my worst meal in '06. It was at a Cohn restaurant (shock). Went to Indigo Grill, and had one of their Earth Pies. It was sweet frybread, topped with sweet tomato sauce, and sweet tomato sauce-saturated overcooked ground buffalo. In a word: terrible. Never been back since.

                                      1. re: Josh

                                        that's very sad... i love Indigo Grill and Kemo Sabe. Squash Soup and Baked Brie at Indigo is awesome. The Desserts at both are great. I've never had anything less than excellent service at both and the presentation of the food is beautiful.

                                        1. re: SRosie

                                          You can't eat service.

                                          Funny you should mention the baked brie - someone at our table ordered that and I had a bite. It was pretty good.

                                          1. re: Josh

                                            Ive never had a bad meal there.

                                      2. re: Alice Q

                                        Alice, do you mind sharing the names of the East County Chinese take-out places you were unhappy with? We have plans to try Royal Szechuan Restaurant on Cuyamaca in Santee for dinner tonight. So far we've tried Panda Country on Mission Gorge and Flaming Wok on Mast & Magnolia and have been disappointed.

                                      3. We've been going to Panda Country for years, and, while it's not great, it's not bad either, IMO. Flaming Wok, on the other hand, is just plain awful. Haven't tried Royal Szechuan. The best Chinese food in the East County, again IMO, is Kip's. It's in a strip mall off Second Avenue in El Cajon close to Rite-Aid. They do take-out!

                                        1. Their parmesean truffle fries were good if you don't like truffles or parmesean (since I could not taste either).

                                          1. can someone fill me in on what Cohn Restaurants are? Why are they so bad and why have i never heard of them except for in here? is that the ownership group? give me some insight....

                                            you guys know im from seattle. we dont have them up there... (i dont think)...!

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: long_ballers

                                              The Cohn Group owns a large number of restaurants in San Diego. Their places are all fairly average, but the name has become a brand. Costco sells certificates for their family of restaurants that allow you to eat there with a nice discount.

                                              My meal at Indigo Grill was something of an exception - their restaurants don't usually sell terrible food. It's usually of average to above-average quality, but marketed as exceptional, which is where they get irritating.

                                              1. re: long_ballers

                                                The Cohn Restaurant Group is the largest single owner of restaurants in San Diego. Here's a link to their web page - http://www.cohnrestaurants.com/cohn/c... . Their properties cover a wide range of styles and cuisines. They also own Iowa Meat Farms and Sisel's Meats, both of which are very good sources for good meat.

                                              2. Portugalia in Ocean Beach "San Diego's first and only Portuguese Restaurant" the food and service were awful and there were parts of the restaurant where the walls/ceilings are not finished.
                                                we actually passed up 3rd corner and South beach to try it, not going to make that mistake again.

                                                1. Here's another one: Dumpling Inn on Convoy. Such a promising name, such a complete disappointment. Ordered Dan Dan noodles, but what I got was, literally, inedible. A bowl of boiled noodles with some kind of pale brown sauce that was gritty, gloppy, and totally without flavor simply dumped on top. YUCK! It was the first time I was ever unable to finish a restaurant meal. To top it off, we were seated right next to the kitchen door, which was propped open, affording me a bird's eye view of one of the cooks dropping several peeled cucumbers on the floor, pick them up, and continue prepping -- WITHOUT RINSING THEM OFF!!! Don't go there.

                                                  6 Replies
                                                  1. re: SDgirl

                                                    Weird - always had great meals at Dumpling Inn. But then, I haven't had the noodles.

                                                    1. re: SDgirl

                                                      I've heard only good things about this place. we were planning to go for dim sum this morning.... maybe, we'll consider Emerald instead.

                                                        1. re: Josh

                                                          I don't know, maybe it was a fluke, but this was truly one of the worst restaurant experiences I've ever had. I even consulted the one recipe I have for Dan Dan noodles just to make sure I had the correct understanding of the dish. What the recipe and its picture told me was so different from what I was served at Dumpling Inn -- the two were from different planets. I do like Emerald, in fact I just now placed an order with its sister Pearl up here in north county. Hubby and kids are gone for the day and I'm treating myself to a dim sum fest.

                                                          1. re: SDgirl

                                                            I too am not a big Dumpling Inn fan. The jellyfish salad is good and the dumplings are OK. Haven't gotten past those to try other things.

                                                            Had great dim sum at Emerald this morning. Excellent variety of choices, everything fresh and tasty, service reasonably good and friendly.


                                                      1. re: SDgirl

                                                        I've always had great food at Dumpling Inn. The Dan Dan noodles are not my favorite-but it's much better to order the dishes with the house made noodles(but you have to ask which ones those are or they might give you the spaghetti noodles, I'm not a fan of those either). The dumplings are fantastic! As far as the food droppings go, I've never seen that happen-and you can see into the kitchen from pratically every seat in the house. I've had many dishes here and I prefer it over many places in SD. China Max, Spicy City, Tajima, and Jasmine are some of my other favorites, but I usually eat late lunch and some of them are closed during those hours.

                                                      2. The Cohn group does a great job at PR, but their food is mediocre. They couldn't do nearly as well in San Francisco or LA. I was also put off when I was helping raise funds for a major San Diego non profit charity. While every restaurant we approached donated $50 or $100 gift certificates for the charity auction, the Cohn group donated $20.

                                                        1. I'm sure this will put me on the Most Unpopular Response board, but I think Fidel's in Carlsbad is the MOST. OVERRATED. MEXICAN. FOOD. EVER.
                                                          Bland. Overly Crowded. Too young wait staff. Blecch.

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: nmatthews02

                                                            Actually, nmatthews02, many SD Chowhounds agree with your entirely on Fidel's. I'd say that if you did a poll of people here that have eaten there, you'd probably find about 50% against, 25% OK (but would not return), and about 25% that like it.

                                                            I've heard many people recommend the place, but very few on Chowhounds (and I feel sort of sorry for those that do, because the anti-Fidel's gang always will come out in force).

                                                            1. re: RB Hound

                                                              Thanks for the reassurance, RB Hound! Thought I was going to be a Lone Wolf on this.

                                                          2. MODUS, BY FAR WAS THE WORST MEAL I HAD IN 2006